John Boruk

Flyers flip switch in Western Canada, finish off rare sweep of trip

Flyers flip switch in Western Canada, finish off rare sweep of trip

BOX SCORE

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Where else can the Flyers work in a game between now and Tuesday?

Medicine Hat? Red Deer? Saskatoon? 

Whatever the case, Western Canada has turned around the Flyers' fortunes as the team swept the Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver portion of its schedule all in regulation for the first time in 21 years. Thursday, the Flyers knocked off the Canucks in a convincing 4-1 victory at Rogers Arena, winning three games in a four-day span (see observations).

“Since I’ve been with the Flyers, I don’t think we’ve swept the West like that,” Claude Giroux said. “It’s good for our confidence. We changed a couple of things, the way we play and our identity as a team, and everybody’s bought into it.”

The Flyers have strung together their longest winning streak of the season off the heels of a 10-game winless streak, while working their record back to .500 at 11-11-7. 

Several key changes have benefited the Flyers greatly during their current run:

• Switching up all four lines, including pairing Jakub Voracek with Valtteri Filppula and Michael Raffl. 

• Utilizing a 1-2-2 zone at key moments, which has given the opposition trouble, especially late in games. 

• Shortening the bench by not putting late-game pressure on some of the younger players.

“We had to buy into something,” goaltender Brian Elliott said. “Everybody’s understanding their role and where they’re supposed to be on the ice, and simplifying things a little bit. Along with that we’re making the smart decisions and not turning pucks over at the blue line.”

Michael Raffl applied his golden touch, scoring his fifth goal, all in the last eight games (see highlights). In fact, Raffl scored the game-winner in each of the three games of the road trip and has found some chemistry with Voracek, who collected seven assists and now leads the NHL with 30.

“We knew it was going to come,” Voracek said. “We’ve played some good hockey the past three games. We could have scored more than one tonight, especially in the third, we had lot of chances.

“I think I’m more experienced now. I’m almost 30 years old. I’m making more simple plays than I used to, so that’s a good thing.”

Starting games on consecutive nights for the first time this season, Elliott bailed out his teammates in the opening seven minutes when the Canucks outshot the Flyers, 9-0, to start the game (see video)

“He did a great job,” said defenseman Andrew MacDonald, who passed the Ric Flair robe over to Elliott as the Flyers' Player of the Game. “It’s never easy for a goalie to be put in a back-to-back situation. We were a little slow out of the gate and they came out pretty hard, and he made some crucial saves early that let us just calm down. That’s the veteran goaltending presence that he brings.” 

Overall, Elliott stopped 36 of 37 shots, and 103 of the 108 shots he faced on the road trip for a .950 save percentage. He also earned his 200th career victory, becoming the 87th goalie in NHL history to reach that milestone.

“My goalie coach just sort of shook my hand and said 200,” Elliott, a ninth-round selection in 2003, said. “It’s pretty special for me. You get your first win and you just try and stay in the league and play your game and try and win a Stanley Cup. Reaching milestones like that means a lot. Hopefully, I can go for another 100.”

The Flyers' power play came to life, scoring two goals for the first time since Oct. 10 — a span of 25 games. Defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere opened the scoring when his slap shot from the point was deflected by Sam Gagner and past goaltender Jacob Markstrom.

“We have a lot of character in this room, and like I’ve said before, it’s one of the tightest groups I’ve been with," Giroux said. "We’re playing as a team and let’s keep rolling here."

Western Canada has been so good to the Flyers, they’re staying an extra day as they’ll enjoy a day off in Vancouver before flying back to Philadelphia Saturday morning. 

Whatever they’ve discovered, they need to bottle it up when they open a five-game homestand starting with the Maple Leafs on Tuesday.

Flyers-Canucks observations: Sweeping the nation

Flyers-Canucks observations: Sweeping the nation

BOX SCORE

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — With the help of the power play, the Flyers swept their Western Canada road trip for the first time since 2013, beating the Vancouver Canucks, 4-1, at Rogers Arena.

Michael Raffl scored for the fifth time in his last eight games and the Flyers' power play converted twice for the first time since Oct. 10 in Nashville — a span of 25 games.

The Flyers also snapped the Canucks' three-game winning streak.

Brian Elliott started and won all three games on the road trip, stopping 36 of 37 shots against Vancouver.

Jakub Voracek added three more assists and now leads the NHL with 30 helpers this season, one better than Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos and Winnipeg’s Blake Wheeler.

The Flyers and Canucks split their season series after Vancouver took the previous meeting, 5-2, at the Wells Fargo Center on Nov. 21. 

• Jordan Weal picked up the game’s first penalty on a slashing call, which wasn’t really much of a slash. Weal actually held out his stick as Alexander Burmistrov skated by. 

• There was bad coverage on the Flyers' ensuing PK, with both defensemen guarding the post looking for the pass. Markus Granlund was left all alone in front of Elliott with a point-blank shot. 

• The Flyers had trouble in the opening seven minutes gaining any traction in the offensive zone. At one point, the Canucks held a 9-0 advantage in shots as the Flyers looked like a team playing its third game in four nights.

• Through the first 10 minutes of the game, I really liked the way Shayne Gostisbehere looked, stepping up into passing lanes, breaking up plays. He displayed good 1-on-1 defense and looked confident with the puck.

• Sean Couturier drew the Flyers' first penalty — a hooking call on Alexander Edler. Along with Wayne Simmonds, both players worked hard below the goal line, outworking the opponent. The Flyers finally seemed to have some energy after playing back on their heels in the first eight minutes of the game.

• Later in the first period, Gostisbehere gave the Flyers a 1-0 lead after ripping a slap shot from the point that deflected off Sam Gagner’s stick and pass Jacob Markstrom, who had no shot once it hit Gagner’s stick. 

• Voracek then had a pair of good looks. First was to a cutting Raffl that Markstrom had to reach out with his glove to make the save. The second came with Valtteri Filppula stationed in front of the crease. That second line has played well for Dave Hakstol since he made the change in Calgary.

• The third power-play opportunity was completely ineffective, as the Flyers failed to generate a shot on Markstrom. The only attempted shot came when Claude Giroux had a nice look inside to Couturier, who fired over the net. Shots were 15-12 Canucks after one period following a sluggish start by the Flyers. Their best player in the first was Brian Elliott by far — he made some key saves throughout.

• The Flyers grabbed a 2-0 lead when Voracek tried to dump the puck in and it deflected off Raffl in the neutral zone. Once they crossed the blue line, Raffl worked a nice give-and-go with Voracek and slid underneath Loui Eriksson, who had bad defensive coverage on the play.

“I’ve been working real hard the whole year,” Raffl said after the second period. “I had a tough stretch the first 20 games or so, but I had scoring chances and as long as you get scoring chances during a game, you shouldn’t change much. All you need is one goal to get your confidence up a little bit and that’s what’s happening right now.”

• The Canucks got the matchup they wanted with the Sedins out there against the Nolan Patrick line and the Flyers' third defense pairing, but credit Mark Alt for taking Daniel Sedin with the body and tangling up their sticks behind the net. Alt has looked very good in the two games he’s recently played. I like the manner in which he challenges shooters/puck-handlers in the offensive zone. He doesn’t sit back.

• In the second period, Giroux uncorked that patented one-time blast from the left circle, giving the Flyers a 3-0 lead.

• Floating around the blue line, former Flyer Gagner skated in uncontested only to take a shot that had a better chance of hitting me in the press box than it did of beating Elliott.

• Tough shift for Alt at the end of the second period. He got caught at the tail end of a shift and couldn’t get off for a change. Elliott wasn’t able to corral the rebound with Sven Baertschi along with Brock Boeser crashing the net. Boeser wristed a shot past Elliott and it was a painful goal to give up in the final minute of the second period.

• Not sure what Hakstol was looking at when he decided to challenge the goal for goaltender interference, but there was nothing that remotely indicated interference. 

• Simmonds iced things with his second empty-netter in as many games. He has now tallied a marker in three straight contests. 

Lineups, pairings and scratches

Forwards
Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Wayne Simmonds
Michael Raffl-Valtteri Filppula-Jakub Voracek
Taylor Leier-Scott Laughton-Dale Weise
Jordan Weal-Nolan Patrick-Travis Konecny

Defensemen
Ivan Provorov-Andrew MacDonald
Shayne Gostisbehere-Robert Hagg
Travis Sanheim-Mark Alt

Goalies
Brian Elliott
Alex Lyon

Scratches: Forward Jori Lehtera (healthy), and defensemen TJ Brennan (healthy) and Radko Gudas (suspended).

Pressure-free Flyers win 2nd straight behind secondary scoring

Pressure-free Flyers win 2nd straight behind secondary scoring

BOX SCORE

EDMONTON, Alberta — The last time the Flyers won back-to-back road games came nearly a full calendar year ago last season in New York.

Now, they’ve strung together consecutive victories in Western Canada — which has been the perfect getaway following a 10-game winless streak — by playing simple, basic road hockey.

“Yeah, we talked about that. These aren’t our fans out here. We don’t have to entertain them,” goaltender Brian Elliott said. “We've just got to come away with the two points. We’re playing that good road-style hockey when you have nothing, you've got to get it in deep and live to fight another day, and I think our guys are really buying into that right now.”

The Flyers on Wednesday night completed a season sweep of the Oilers, winning, 4-2, at Rogers Place, and they finally received some secondary scoring from some unlikely contributors (see observations).

“This is a real solid road win,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “I thought from start to finish, this was a real good way to follow up a good win in Calgary. I just thought all parts of our game were pretty good tonight.”

Jordan Weal chipped in with a power-play goal on a perfectly executed tic-tac-toe play that started with Claude Giroux’s slap pass to Sean Couturier, who then found Weal stationed in front of the crease for the tap-in goal. Weal had taken Wayne Simmonds' spot momentarily with the other members on the top power-play unit.

“It’s been a long time coming," Weal, who scored his first goal in his last 13 games, said. “I think Simmonds had something with his skate. I just jumped out. It’s nice when you can get out with special players like that. Coots made a helluva play to get it to me.” 

Dale Weise scored his first goal in a month taking a feed from Claude Giroux, who outraced the defense to a loose puck in setting up Weise (see highlights).

“It definitely feels good,” Weise said. “I’ve really liked the way we’ve played the last two games. We made some adjustments throughout our neutral zone and really clogging teams up. They’re not coming with as much speed and we’re getting out of the zone a little cleaner.”

More importantly, Weal’s goal came about five minutes after the Oilers jumped on the board first with a shorthanded tally when Connor McDavid stripped Couturier of the puck and led a 2-on-1 the other way, resulting in Leon Draisaitl’s goal that gave Edmonton a 1-0 lead.

Outside of McDavid’s assist, the Flyers executed textbook defense against the Oilers' superstar, much like they did in the game in Philadelphia, holding him to just one shot which came late in the third period.

“That’s what he does — he builds up that speed and catches you flat-footed," Elliott said. “Our guys did a [good] job to limit him and keep him to the outside there. He didn’t really get a grade-A shot off. Hats off to the guys in front of me, for sure.”

“Our forecheck was really good tonight in the neutral zone,” Weal said. “We were a five-man group. We were all connected. If you beat one guy, there’s a couple other guys there to support. Whenever their skill guys tried to cut to the middle, I thought we had good back pressure and they weren’t able to make plays they wanted to.”

Jakub Voracek and Simmonds accounted for 16 of the Flyers' 33 shots on goal, and it was Simmonds' last shot on an empty net that sealed the game in the final minute.

Elliott stopped 24 shots and he’s expected to play on back-to-back nights after Michal Neuvirth was placed on injured reserve Wednesday morning (see story).