Buffalo Sabres

Brian Elliott's case for Flyers MVP

Brian Elliott's case for Flyers MVP

While it didn’t hit the most screeching of halts, the Flyers’ recent sleigh ride of success did a few road bumps this week before the clock struck Christmas Eve.

The six-game win streak is a thing of December past now and the Flyers hit the holiday break losers of three of four games this past week.

The streak was snapped Monday with a 4-1 defeat at the hand of the visiting Los Angeles Kings. The winning ways returned Wednesday with a hard-fought 4-3 at home over the Detroit Red Wings. Then is right back on the losing track Friday with a dud of a 4-2 loss to the lowly Buffalo Sabres. And then the week was capped with yet another loss in Columbus, this one a 2-1 decision in a shootout.

You might have some holiday cookies or some eggnog to get to, so let’s not wait any longer and hop right into this week’s Flyers observations.

• As we sit here at the holiday break, a popular exercise is to look back on the first three months of the season and try to name a Flyers MVP thus far.

Sean Couturier rightfully could be at the top of many observers’ lists with his team-leading 16 goals. Claude Giroux is back to his point-producing self with 13 goals and 29 assists for 42 points. Jake Voracek is tied for the NHL lead with 36 assists and leads the team with 44 points. And Ivan Provorov is an indispensable rock on the blue line. But my vote would go to netminder Brian Elliott.

Elliott has been a tremendous, steadying anchor for a Flyers team that has lost its way more than once this season. On the campaign, he’s 13-8-7 with a .916 save percentage and a 2.59 goals-against average. But he’s been so much more than that. He’s given the Flyers chances to win almost every night in and night out. That’s all these Flyers could ask for and more with an offense that has struggled so mightily at times. Even during the brutal 10-game skid, Elliott was rock-solid in net.

But he proved his worth to the team again this week as he was solid against both L.A. and Detroit and superb against both Buffalo and Columbus in losing efforts. Thursday in Buffalo, he stopped 33 of 35 shots faced, many of which were supreme testers. Yes, he let a leaky one in, but that happens to every goalie every now and then. Against Columbus, his 11th straight start, no less, he took a hard-luck shootout loss with 35 saves on 36 shots faced. That’s all been a microcosm of what he’s done all season. He’s held the Flyers above water to be where they’re at as of Sunday, just four points out of a playoff spot.

• What an ugly effort Friday night in Buffalo. Save for the final five minutes of the second period and the late, two-goal flurry in the third, the Flyers were overmatched by a struggling Sabres club that entered the contest as the worst team in the Eastern Conference.

Not even Elliott’s heroics in net could save the Flyers from a pitiful loss that saw the Sabres out-compete them at almost every turn, including a 1 for 5 power-play effort that doesn’t rightfully depict how bad it was.  

Look, bad losses are going to happen all throughout the season, but that one was just inexcusable. Those are games the good teams — *cough* the playoff teams *cough* — win. That kind of effort just isn’t going to work for these Flyers. They don’t have enough to get by like that.

• The loss in Buffalo left such a bad taste in Dave Hakstol’s mouth he decided to throw his lines into the proverbial blender and shake things up.

The biggest change saw Wayne Simmonds moved off the first line and 20-year-old Travis Konecny bumped up to that spot. It’s an intriguing move and one that is worth trying.

Despite recent success, the Flyers are still yearning for offense. And Konecny has oodles and oodles of offensive talent that’s just waiting to get unleashed. Playing alongside such skilled players as Couturier and Giroux can only help unleash that offensive firepower in the second-year winger.

Now, Konecny has found himself in Hakstol’s doghouse a time or two for his high-risk, turnover-increased style of play. But that’s where being alongside Couturier and Giroux can also help. Those two players are so defensively responsible that it can allow Konecny to have more offensive freedom to roam and therefore enhance his creativity.

He didn’t have shot on goal in Columbus, but Konecny was very noticeable on his new line. This is a big opportunity for him, and it’s up to him to capitalize on it.

• It was a week of ups and downs for rookie defenseman Robert Hagg.

On Wednesday, he ripped home his first NHL goal when he powered a slapper from above the circle through Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard and then earned the Ric Flair victory robe from his teammates.

Things did not go as well Friday in Buffalo when Hagg, normally steady as can be, endured perhaps his worst game as a Flyer. He had an awful giveaway that led to a breakaway and eventually an Evander Kane penalty shot Elliott had to stop. Then he took a bad holding penalty on Zemgus Girgensons moments after. That all set the stage for a rough outing overall.

With as good as Hagg has played, it’s tough to remember sometimes that he’s a rookie. Games like Friday in Buffalo harsh reminders. But such is the life of a rookie in the NHL.

• You guys know who’s pretty good? That Sergei Bobrovsky guy, that's who. Sheesh.

Coming up this week: Thursday at Florida (7:30 p.m. on NBCSP), Friday at Tampa Bay (7:30 p.m. on NBCSP)

Flyers take too long to find power-play groove

Flyers take too long to find power-play groove

BOX SCORE

BUFFALO, N.Y. — A power-play surge helped the Flyers turn around their season and get back in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

The special team's success didn’t continue into Friday night’s 4-2 loss in Buffalo, as the Flyers couldn’t take advantage of their opportunities until it was too late (see observations).

Michael Raffl managed to score a goal with 15 seconds remaining in the Flyers’ fifth power play of the game but not before the Flyers pulled goaltender Brian Elliott to gain a 6-on-4 advantage — nor before the Sabres had built a two-goal lead.

Philadelphia couldn’t convert with two extra skaters earlier in the third period, failing to put a shot on net during 40 seconds of a 5-on-3 opportunity within a 3:20 power play.

In 9:08 of total time with a man-advantage, the Flyers forced Sabres goaltender Robin Lehner to make just six saves before Raffl ended Lehner’s shutout bid with 2:10 remaining.

“You can narrow it down to power plays, you can narrow it down to a lot of things,” said Shayne Gostisbehere, who scored the Flyers' other goal with 32 seconds left in the game. “But I think our readiness as a team collectively wasn’t there tonight.”

Coach Dave Hakstol agreed that the power play outage was a symptom of a larger problem with the Flyers’ overall effort.

“We weren’t sharp enough, a lot like the rest of our game,” Hakstol said. “We didn’t make enough plays under pressure tonight, whether it was 5-on-5 or on the power play.”

In winning seven of eight heading into Friday night’s game, the Flyers had scored eight goals on 29 power play opportunities (27.5 percent). The string of victories brought the Flyers within three points of the idle New York Islanders for the final Eastern Conference Wild Card spot.

After winning five of six on a homestand, the Flyers started a four-game road trip that consists of two back-to-backs with a four-day holiday break in between. They play in Columbus on Saturday night.

“We did some good things at home on the homestand,” Gostisbehere said. “But it’s one thing to win at home. You have to do it on the road too. You’re not going to be a playoff team if you can’t win on the road.”

The Flyers' scoring struggles squandered a solid outing from Elliott, who made 28 of his 33 saves through the first two scoreless periods.

“(Elliott) gave us every chance possible to win that game and just to be in that game was pretty lucky,” Gostisbehere said. “He stood on his head and made some great saves. But I don’t think we are going to win too many games playing like that.”

The Flyers did kill off both of their penalties and have allowed two or fewer power play chances in nine of their last 10 games. They put two shots on goal while playing shorthanded.

Despite being on the power play for an additional five minutes, the Flyers were out-shot 37-35 by the Sabres. Shot attempts were even at 58 each. The Flyers had 14 shots blocked and missed the net on nine shots, including a one-timer from Jake Voracek in the third period that was the Flyers best power play scoring chance. Voracek assisted on both of the Flyers’ late goals to bring his league-leading tally to 36.

“We had a good push there at the end but we have to get that push earlier than we had it,” said Claude Giroux, who also had two assists. “It’s frustrating but at the same time we have to put this behind us and be ready for tomorrow.”

Brian Elliott's outstanding effort goes to waste

Brian Elliott's outstanding effort goes to waste

BOX SCORE

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Shut out for nearly 58 minutes on Friday night, the Flyers got goals from Michael Raffl and Shayne Gostisbehere on the closing shifts but couldn’t finish the comeback job in a 4-2 loss to the Buffalo Sabres.

Buffalo’s Robin Lehner stopped 33 shots and engaged in a goaltending duel with Philadelphia’s Brian Elliott (33 saves) for two scoreless periods before goals from the Sabres' Ryan O’Reilly and Evander Kane in the third built a 2-0 lead. Jack Eichel added two empty-net goals. 

The Flyers entered the night three points out of a playoff spot, having won seven of eight since the 0-5-5 skid that included three shutout losses. The Sabres are the lowest-scoring team in the NHL and have the worst record (9-19-7) in the Eastern Conference.

Raffl scored on a power play after the Flyers pulled Elliott to gain a 6-on-4 advantage with 2:10 remaining. Gostisbehere whistled in a wrist shot from the right circle with 38 seconds remaining, in between Eichel’s goals.

O’Reilly broke a scoreless tie four minutes into the third period when his shot from the behind the red line on the left side of the net burrowed behind the right pad of Elliott and into the net. Kane made it 2-0 with 8:52 left in the game when he deflected a high shot past Elliott.

• Elliott got his 10th straight start in net and played in his 400th NHL game. He entered the game 12-2-1 in his career against the Sabres

Elliott showed little sign of fatigue — or dizziness from standing on his head — while making 16 saves in the first period. He swatted away Kane, Buffalo’s leading scorer, on a penalty shot early in the first and slid across the crease to stuff Sabres star Jack Eichel at the doorstep on a power play later in the period.

With Michal Neuvirth (lower body) not yet cleared to return and rookie Alex Lyon yet to make his NHL debut, Flyers coach Dave Hakstol is leaning on Elliott to play every night. 

“He’s been real good for us, he’s feeling good, he’s feeling strong and there’s no reason we wouldn’t go back to him,” said Hakstol on Friday, morning while noting he had not yet decided who would start Saturday on the second night of a back-to-back in Columbus.

Hakstol said before the game he had not yet made a decision on who would start Saturday on the second night of a back-to-back in Columbus.

• The Flyers scored on the power play for the seventh time in nine games but struggled to create scoring chances on multiple opportunities with the man-advantage before falling behind 2-0.

Playing 5-on-3 for 40 seconds during the third period, the Flyers did not put a shot on goal. The best chance on what turned out to be a 3:20 power play came when Jake Voracek shot high on a one-timer from the right circle.

The Flyers put four shots on net during two power plays in the second period, but none challenged Lehner. He had to make just one save on the Flyers' second opportunity, while the Sabres cleared the puck three times. 

Buffalo has been perfect on the penalty kill over its previous five games.

• Jake Voracek assisted on both goals to bring his NHL-leading tally up to 36. He has a point in five straight. Claude Giroux also had two assists and extended his point streak to four games.

• Voracek shared some of the secret sauce fueling the Flyers’ recent surge following Friday’s morning skate.

“We got drunk,” Voracek told NHL.com reporter Joe Yerdon. “That helped. We sat down together, talked about some stuff we wanted to do better. We had some heart-to-hearts and it worked out so it was good.”

• Coming off a game in which he scored his first NHL goal, defenseman Robert Hagg made a couple rookie mistakes in the first period. Hagg’s giveaway in the neutral zone sent Kane on the breakaway that led to Gostisbehere’s takedown and the ensuing penalty shot. Hagg also took a hooking penalty in the period.

• Jori Lehtera replaced Taylor Leier (upper-body) on the fourth line for the second straight game. Defenseman Mark Alt was a healthy scratch.

• This was the Flyers’ only trip to Buffalo this season. They defeated the Sabres 2-1 at Wells Fargo Center on Dec. 14 and wrap up the season series in Philadelphia on Jan. 7.

• At Buffalo’s Memorial Auditorium, where the Sabres played from 1970-96, chairs in the cheap seats were painted orange. On Friday night, the color was smattered around several sections near the ice at KeyBank Center, with Flyers fans surely finding good prices on the secondary market from disgruntled Sabres’ season-ticket holders

• The Flyers play for the seventh time in 12 days Saturday night at Columbus before getting a four-day break. It will be Hakstol’s 200th game behind the bench.