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Flyers Weekly Observations: No need to read between the lines

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Flyers Weekly Observations: No need to read between the lines

That week for the Flyers?

To poach a line from a Charlie Brown movie you may have watched over the last few days … “Good grief.”

This past week saw the Flyers hit the ice three times and fall three times in disheartening fashion, pushing their losing streak to seven games, the longest for the club since it lost 10 straight in 2008.

On Tuesday, they sleepwalked to a bowling-shoe ugly 5-2 loss to the visiting Vancouver Canucks. On Wednesday, they suffered 4-3 OT loss to the New York Islanders in Brooklyn. And in the annual Black Friday matinee, they blew a two-goal lead to the Islanders in the third period and fell yet again in OT, 5-4.

There is plenty to get to as the natives get more and more restless, so let’s hop right into this week’s observations.

• Moments after the Flyers sewed up their longest losing streak in nearly a decade Friday, head coach Dave Hakstol stood in front of the media and made some interesting comments regarding his team’s recent play.

“You’ve got to evaluate it for what it is,” he said. “I think in seven of our last ten we’ve gotten a point. Five of those are shootout or overtime losses.”

Hmmmm.

A point is a point, sure, but a loss is also a loss. The Flyers, before Sunday’s games around the league, have 22 points and are last in the Metropolitan Division. They also still have seven straight losses and the season could be on the verge of unraveling before we even hit December. 

Hakstol also hinted at veteran merit as a reason for throwing a Claude Giroux-Valterri Filppula-Brandon Manning three-man unit out against the Isles in OT rather than playing a younger, more offensively gifted defenseman such as Shayne Gostisbehere or Travis Sanheim, or even Robert Hagg or Samuel Morin in OT.

Again … hmmmm.

Merit is one thing, the best chance to win the game and end a long losing streak is another. Odds are the younger players give the Flyers a better chance to win there with their offensive gifts.

Look, many coaches aren’t going to be negative to the media, especially after a hard loss. And Hakstol is “coach-speak” royalty. Very rarely are you going to get something out of him in a press conference — and that’s fine, that’s just who he is.

But who are the Flyers right now? No need to read between any lines, the Flyers just aren’t a very good team right now, in all phases.

• While he didn’t find the scoresheet in the two games against the Isles this week, Danick Martel left a nice impression after his call-up from the Phantoms.

Martel, who earned his promotion to the big club by scoring 14 goals in the Phantoms’ first 17 games of the season to lead the entire AHL, fired four shots on goal and made himself noticeable on the ice. You have to like the scrappiness he displayed as he played an integral role in any scrums when he was on the ice and wasn’t afraid to get his nose dirty.

Those are the types of things that can provide energy and that’s a player himself who can provide energy. And if there’s something the Flyers need a desperate injection of right now, it’s energy.

• Remember the shootout narrative that has forever plagued the Flyers? That was a rhetorical question, of course, you do. Well, there’s a new narrative forming to bog the Flyers down because they can barely get to the shootout without falling flat.

The Flyers are now 2-10 in one-goal contests through 23 games played this season. They are 1-4 in overtime games and 0-2 in shootouts this year, as well. 

So let’s do everyone’s favorite activity, math, and add up the numbers here. That’s six extra points left on the table in the OT and shootout losses and another helping of six more points left on the table in the remaining three one-goal losses. That adds up to 12 potential points the Flyers have left hanging there.

Even worse, the Flyers have held leads at some point of each of the last five games of this miserable losing streak.

• The effort Tuesday against the Canucks may have been the most futile of the still-young season for the Flyers. After Ivan Provorov’s first-period tally that opened the scoring, the Flyers were just lifeless as Brock Boeser and the Canucks dominated from there on out. The boos that played the night’s soundtrack at the Wells Fargo Center that night were well-earned.

That black eye Tuesday ended a stretch that saw the Flyers play 10 straight games against Western Conference foes. They went 2-4-4 in that span and were shut out four times.

• Observation (kinda) from the future: The Flyers will face the blood-rival Penguins for the first time this season Monday evening. And while the many of the main characters who made the Battle of Pennsylvania must-see television in recent years remain in their respective sweaters, some of the luster has been wiped away, as the Flyers have been so inconsistent and the Pens have dominated all comers. 

Here’s hoping the rivalry can soon find that same disdain and boiling blood that we all know and are gluttons for.

Coming up this week: Monday at Pittsburgh (7 p .m. on NBCSP), Tuesday vs. San Jose (7 p.m. on NBCSP), Saturday vs. Boston (1 p.m. on NBCSP).

Flyers ready to welcome Andrew MacDonald back vs. Penguins

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Flyers ready to welcome Andrew MacDonald back vs. Penguins

VOORHEES, N.J. — For a team that has coughed up two-goal leads recently like mucusy phlegm during flu season, having Andrew MacDonald back on the ice paired with Ivan Provorov was a welcome sight for the Flyers at practice Sunday before heading out to Pittsburgh to battle the two-time Stanley Cup champion and rival Penguins Monday night.

“It’s great to have Mac back. He’s a great leader,” Provorov said. “He makes a great impact on the team. We understand each other. We read off each other. He’s in great position most of the times and that’s why he’s able to get great blocks and good sticks.”

MacDonald has been skating and practicing for the past week, looking to regain the flexibility and motion with his skating muscles after blocking a slap shot off his leg in the Oct. 21 game against Edmonton. After all, it was just a week ago MacDonald ditched the walking boot.

“It was simply getting some strength back into it,” MacDonald said. “I wasn’t putting any weight on it for a while and you’re losing some muscle in there. At this point, you just have to build it up a little bit and make sure there’s no setbacks.”

At the time of MacDonald’s injury, the Flyers were 5-3 and had given up an average of 2.25 goals per game. In the 15 games MacDonald has missed, the Flyers have an Eastern Conference-worst three wins during that span and have surrendered on average 3.6 goals.

The return of MacDonald certainly gives the Flyers more balance on the blue line, as head coach Dave Hakstol has been forced to rely on three rookies interspersed among his three pairs.

“When you have to shift your D pairings due to an injury, it depends sometimes how you’re making your shift or who you’re shifting for,” Hakstol said. “For us, the last couple of games we’ve had Mac out and [Radko Gudas] out. Two players that are very distinct in their roles. Today, Mac had a heck of a good day and looked good. He’s got a real presence in our dressing room and he also has a real presence for us on the ice, and the domino effect throughout our pairings.”

Along with Provorov, MacDonald will also help solidify the Flyers' top penalty-killing unit, a group that has plunged to 28th in the NHL while surrendering nine power-play goals over the last five games.   

Looking for buzz with new bees
Apparently the "Honey Bees" aren’t generating enough honey these days.

After keeping the line of Taylor Leier, Scott Laughton and Michael Raffl intact for the first 19 games of the season, Hakstol has elected to completely dismantle that line, as Laughton centered Jori Lehtera and Dale Weise during Sunday’s practice.

“Those two veterans have been out of the lineup for a couple nights,” Hakstol said. “There’s certain elements that they bring that are a little bit different than what Taylor and Jordan bring. Jori has played good, hard two-way hockey. He brings a heaviness to whatever line he’s on. For me, it’s more of looking for factors like that.”

The move also means Jordan Weal and Leier will serve as the healthy scratches for the Flyers' first game of the season against their cross-state rivals. 

“As an offensive guy, the numbers haven’t been there, and when that happens, it’s part of the game,” Weal said. “We need a little secondary scoring in the lineup. There’s no excuses. As an offensive guy, you’ve got to produce offense no matter where you are and what part of the lineup. I wasn’t doing my job and that’s what I was paid and brought here to do.”

“[Weal] wants to help and produce offensively,” Hakstol said. “He’s working hard and he hasn’t changed anything with his work ethic or his tenacity. Things haven’t happened and haven’t gone well for him.”

Interestingly for Leier, he scored his first goal of the season Wednesday against the Islanders.

“I don’t think I’ve changed the way I’ve played,” Leier said. “It’s a long year and we’re on a losing streak right now. I try not to get too high or too low. Sometimes you can tend to overthink during a year like this. There’s always a lot of variables that go into every situation. Sometimes you have to mix it up when there’s a losing streak and everyone wants results, including myself.”

Weise, with one goal in his last 11 games, has been a healthy scratch over the past three contests and Lehtera, still looking for his first goal in a Flyers sweater, has sat out in three of the team's last five games.   

“Two big bodies that can get in on the forecheck,” Laughton said of Weise and Lehtera. “We’re definitely building chemistry as practice went on, and I guess talk and see where we’re going to be in the offensive zone and things like that. I think it comes with communication. I’ve played with both of them in a couple of games and it’s just figuring out where everyone likes to be.”

DOA in OT
Following their Black Friday loss to the Islanders, the Flyers have dropped six straight games decided after regulation, four in overtime and two by shootout. It’s the longest such winless streak since March 3-April 4, 2015, when the Flyers lost seven straight after regulation.

Historically, the Flyers have been brutal in shootouts, but more recently, the breakdowns have occurred defensively during the five-minute 3-on-3 session.

“You've got to be communicating a lot and I think that may be one of our downfalls,” Wayne Simmonds said. “Sometimes we don’t talk a lot. We’ve got a lot of younger guys and communication is like having an extra guy out there on the ice sometimes. A lot more communication will do this team really, really good as well.”

“We’ve made mistakes that have led to point-blank opportunities,” Hakstol said. “Those have to change. Those have to be cleaned up immediately."

Over the past few games, Hakstol has also gone away from the trio of Jakub Voracek, Claude Giroux and Shayne Gostisbehere that has been OT gold in previous seasons.

“Are those combinations that we’ll go back to? Absolutely,” Hakstol said. “They were together up until the last two games. There were reasons for that. We’re creating and have created enough opportunities to win games in overtime. We've got to make sure we don’t start pressing to win those games.”

The Flyers are currently tied with the Ottawa Senators with six overtime losses.

Projected lines, pairings and goalies 

Forwards
Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
Danick Martel-Nolan Patrick-Wayne Simmonds
Michael Raffl-Valtteri Filppula-Travis Konecny
Jori Lehtera-Scott Laughton-Dale Weise

Defensemen
Ivan Provorov-Andrew MacDonald
Shayne Gostisbehere-Robert Hagg
Brandon Manning-Travis Sanheim

Goalies
Brian Elliott
Michal Neuvirth

Flyers to host Penguins at Linc in 2019

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Flyers to host Penguins at Linc in 2019

The Flyers will host the Penguins at Lincoln Financial Field on Feb. 23, 2019, as part of the ongoing Stadium Series, the NHL announced Sunday night.

The 2019 “Battle of Pennsylvania” is a renewal of the first outdoor game between the two divisional rivals that saw the Penguins beat the Flyers, 4-2, at Heinz Field on Feb. 25, 2017.

“On behalf of the Philadelphia Flyers, we are thrilled to host the 2019 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series at Lincoln Financial Field,” Flyers president Paul Holmgren said.

“Lincoln Financial Field will provide a perfect setting for these cross-state opponents and their passionate fan bases,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said.

For a Flyers franchise in search of its first win outdoors, the 2019 game will mark the fourth outdoor game in team history. The Flyers played the Boston Bruins in the 2010 Winter Classic, losing 2-1. In 2012, the Flyers hosted their very first Winter Classic at Citizens Bank Park in a game that saw the New York Rangers win, 3-2.

With seven Stanley Cups between the two storied franchises, the Flyers and Penguins have produced some of the game’s greatest players, and details are still being worked out for an alumni event that will likely be held in Pittsburgh after a similar game was played at the Wells Fargo Center on Jan. 14, 2017, as part of their 50th anniversary celebration.

A Comcast Spectacor executive said other games, such as a Penn State collegiate game or an AHL event involving the Phantoms, could eventually be played prior to the Flyers-Penguins game, but those specifics still have to be worked out. 

“There is no doubt that the Penguins and Flyers will put on a great show for the passionate fans in Philadelphia, and those watching at home, adding to the history between these two teams,” Mathieu Schneider, NHLPA special assistant to the executive director, said.

On Saturday, the NHL announced the Chicago Blackhawks would host the Boston Bruins in the 2019 Winter Classic on Jan. 1, at Notre Dame Stadium.