Wayne Simmonds

Alex Lyon lets 1st start literally slip right through his grasp

Alex Lyon lets 1st start literally slip right through his grasp

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NEWARK, N.J. — Alex Lyon’s first NHL start was a memorable one, although right now it’s one he’d rather forget.

Devils rookie Nico Hischier scored the game-winner with 1:27 remaining in regulation to give the Devils a 4-3 victory over the Flyers on Thursday. Hischier redirected a pass that seeped through Lyon’s five-hole and across the line.

Lyon finished the night with 18 saves on 22 shots, as the Flyers failed to pick up a point when leading after two periods for the first time this season.

The Flyers and Devils combined for four power-play goals in the first period alone. Claude Giroux and Wayne Simmonds connected for the Flyers, while Kyle Palmieri and Drew Stafford found the back of the net for New Jersey.

Shayne Gostisbehere hit double digits with his 10th goal that gave the Flyers a 3-2 lead.

This was the third matchup between the Metropolitan Division rivals in a span of just 17 days.

• Let’s start with the Radko Gudas interference call. If you watched him all the way down the ice, Gudas skated hard into the Devils’ zone and fired a shot on goal. Afterward, he was simply looking to get back to his right side spot on defense. I don’t think there was intent to plow over Palmieri. I believe Gudas saw him at the last second and made a last-ditch effort to protect himself. However, by leaving his feet, it certainly didn’t look good. Two minutes for interference was the right call.

• For Gudas, that was his first penalty of any kind dating all the way back to Nov. 16 when he was tossed from the game in Winnipeg for his vicious slash on Mathieu Perreault. If the league looks at this and hands down a suspension, it’s only because of reputation.

• Gudas also had a horrendous turnover in the defensive zone right on the stick of Blake Coleman in the second period. Considering the play of Brandon Manning in the game against the Capitals, I’m a little surprised Dave Hakstol elected to stick with this pairing again.

• The Flyers’ penalty kill has been the best tonic for any struggling power play. The Devils’ PP came into this game scoreless in its last 11 tries. However, it must feel like its clicking now after scoring on the first two attempts. The first goal was really bothersome for a couple of reasons: Why is Jori Lehtera still killing penalties? Lehtera was out there for the Devils’ first PP goal with Valtteri Filppula as they gave New Jersey all sorts of room to operate in the offensive zone. Lyon simply couldn’t move to the near post and reposition himself for Palmieri's shot. Outside of Sean Couturier and Michael Raffl, the Flyers are running out of dependable forwards on the PK.

• The second power-play goal was a shot Brian Elliott is so good at reading and stopping and probably one Lyon wishes he could have had back. Stafford was manning the high slot area when he was able to redirect the pass that slid through Lyon’s five-hole. Of course, the Flyers could have done a better job at defending the pass as well.

• Four first-period power-play goals. Giroux scored his 15th goal on a 5-on-3, an easy tap-in from the left side circle. Then Simmonds netted the game-tying goal later in the period. Simmonds did a solid job of knocking a New Jersey penalty killer off the puck from behind the net and keeping the play alive in the zone. That was a key as the Flyers worked around to Jakub Voracek, who created a low-angled shot that set up Simmonds’ rebound goal. I’m still not sure how he was able to switch over and wrist a backhand sandwiched between two defenders.

• Gostisbehere had a very silent night offensively in Washington as he failed to register a shot on net in over 24 minutes of ice time. “Ghost” more than made up for it against the Devils. He has had six shots on net and jumped in the play with the fourth line to score the go-ahead goal. New Jersey’s Coleman made no effort to play effective defense on this play.

• The Devils tied it up at 3-3 with nine minutes remaining in regulation on a play that started with the puck tied up along the boards. Once the Devils’ Pavel Zacha broke out of the pack with the puck, the Flyers were in scramble mode and lost coverage. Defenseman Damon Severson pinched in from his right defense position and Travis Konecny simply failed to pick him up in time.

• It was a rough opening 20 minutes for Lyon in his first NHL start, but he certainly wasn’t helped out by the guys in front of him. It was important for Lyon to come out in the second period and make some big saves early on. I liked how he skated to the top of his crease and cut down the angle on Mirco Mueller. Then midway through the second, Lyon challenged Jesper Bratt and cut down the angle. I thought it was important how the two power-play goals didn’t deter his confidence.

• There was a working man’s shift from the Nolan Patrick line that kept the puck in the Devils’ zone in the neighborhood of 45 to 50 seconds. That spread out the Devils’ defense and allowed firing from just about every angle. Hakstol looked smart for putting Patrick, Simmonds and Voracek together as the rookie is playing with more confidence. All three forwards are really strong on pucks.

• The Flyers took over a five-minute stretch late in the second period, as they outshot the Devils, 8-0, until they were forced to kill Konecny’s penalty. The penalty kill made a few adjustments after the first period to confuse the Devils with a 1-3 formation in the neutral zone and didn’t allow New Jersey to skate freely into the offensive zone with the puck.

Lineups, pairings and scratches

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

Defensemen
Ivan Provorov-Shayne Gostisbehere
Robert Hagg-Andrew MacDonald
Brandon Manning-Radko Gudas

Goalies
Alex Lyon
Michal Neuvirth

Scratches: Forwards Dale Weise (healthy) and Tyrell Goulbourne (healthy), and defenseman Mark Alt (healthy).

Flyers' 'pretty good' not nearly good enough vs. NHL's best

Flyers' 'pretty good' not nearly good enough vs. NHL's best

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There’s nothing Dave Hakstol, or even a Super Bowl-bound coach, could have done to change the Flyers’ fate.

On a night when the Eagles’ Doug Pederson dropped the ceremonial first puck prior to the game (see story), the Tampa Bay Lightning showed why they’ve owned the NHL during the first half of the season. 

The Lightning struck fast and furiously during a three-goal second period to cruise to a 5-1 win over the Flyers Thursday night at the Wells Fargo Center (see observations). The victory was Tampa Bay’s 34th of the season as it also became the first team to reach 70 points this season.

With the All-Star Game convening in Tampa, Florida, this weekend, the Lightning showed why they have the largest contingency chosen to represent the Atlantic Division. 

All-Star center Brayden Point opened the scoring just 25 seconds into the second period when the Flyers overloaded their coverage to the far side of the ice and left him alone in front of Michal Neuvirth (see highlights).

“We knew how they play on the road,” Neuvirth said. “They shoot a lot of pucks and they are just playing with the puck and waiting for the big scoring chance, and we had a tough time in front of our net.”  

Nine and a half minutes later, winger Yanni Gourde increased the Lightning’s lead to 2-0 when he was left unaccompanied just to the right of Neuvirth as the Flyers had another breakdown in coverage.

“I think we played pretty good, but pretty good doesn’t cut it against teams like that,” defenseman Ivan Provorov said. “A couple of mistakes cost us the game. We fell behind but we were pushing. We scored a goal to make it 3-1, but gave up another one right after, which we cannot do.” 

Russian-born Provorov had to admire the play of his fellow countrymen Nikita Kucherov (two assists), Vladislav Namestnikov (two goals) and goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy, who showed precisely why he’s been the NHL’s best goaltender in the first half of the season as he denied 36 of the 37 shots he faced.

“He’s big. Even the pucks he doesn’t see he uses his body pretty well to still find a way to stop it,” center Sean Couturier said. “He seems to be athletic. He’s a good goalie. He made some big saves, kept them in the game, and the next thing you know we’re chasing.”

Perhaps most discouraging was to watch the Flyers’ power play cough up another shorthanded goal, its eighth this season. Ryan Callahan wheeled completely around defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere for a goal that essentially put the game out of reach at 3-0 in the final minutes of the second period.

“Whether you’re a fan of us or not, that was a really nice hockey play,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “That was probably the one that took the wind out of their sails. That was a heck of an effort.”

Hakstol expressed concern during the morning skate over how his team appeared mentally and physically exhausted just two nights earlier in Detroit. However, that didn’t appear to be the case against the Lightning, as the Flyers outshot them by a 37-22 margin.

“I thought we deserved a better fate,” Hakstol said. “Second period, we came out of it down 3-0 and that’s a pretty deep, deep hole. In the goals we gave up, there were a couple of individual mistakes and probably somewhere in there we need a save on one of those, at least.”

“Obviously we outshot them quite handily, but their opportunities were prime opportunities, and obviously they’re probably the highest-scoring team in the league,” forward Wayne Simmonds said.  

Despite the loss, the Flyers have won eight of 10 to propel them into a wild-card position. Only the Boston Bruins have earned more points in the Eastern Conference during that stretch.

“I think we put ourselves in a good spot,” said Travis Konecny, who now has a four-game goal streak. “It’s tough saying that when you lose a game like this, but I think we’ve done a lot of good things up to this point. I think we can take these last 10 games going into the break as a positive even though we had a little slip-up, but those happen."

“It’s frustrating going into a break like this, but at the same time, we’ve got to look at what we have been doing for a month or so and we’ve got to build on it when we come back,” captain Claude Giroux said.

Since the start of 2018, an interesting trend has also emerged. One the Flyers would like to carry over coming out of the All-Star break:

• 5-1 loss to the Penguins on Jan. 2 followed by four straight wins

• 5-1 loss to the Rangers on Jan. 16 followed by four straight wins

• 5-1 loss to the Lightning on Jan. 25 …

Another four-game winning streak? We’ll see if the pattern continues next Wednesday in Washington.

Pleasant surprises in a first for Flyers

Pleasant surprises in a first for Flyers

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When asked what he thought about the current Flyers team prior to his retirement ceremony, Eric Lindros admitted he really didn’t know all that much regarding this year’s team. 

After Thursday night’s 3-2 win over Lindros’ hometown Maple Leafs (see observations), "Big E" and a sold-out Wells Fargo Center crowd learned something about the Flyers that no one in Philadelphia had been privy to.

The Flyers capped off their first win this season when trailing by two or more goals entering the third period. Interestingly, the only other third-period comeback that led to a victory was when they trailed this same Toronto team, 2-1, on Dec. 12. Prior to this game, the Flyers were 1-12-2 this season when trailing after two periods.

Certainly, the Flyers needed goal scoring, but more importantly, they also received a handful of momentum saves from goaltender Michal Neuvirth.

“Huge," Neuvirth said regarding his 29-save performance. “When we tied it, it was like, 'OK, here we go. You gotta be at your best right now.' So I was just focusing on the next shot. Just happy the way the guys responded in the third.”

Neuvirth had little, if any, margin of error after the Leafs scored twice in a 28-second span to grab a 2-0 advantage, but the Flyers' backup netminder provided a handful of momentum saves that allowed the Flyers to win in overtime.

• A minute after Wayne Simmonds tied the game at 2-2 with a shorthanded goal, Neuvirth stopped Auston Matthews and Connor Brown on back-to-back shots, including an impressive blocker save on Brown from up close.

• With 2:48 remaining in regulation, Neuvirth made the save of the game with the Leafs coming down on a 2-on-1. Neuvirth expected Nazem Kadri to shoot. Instead, he passed it to his left, forcing Neuvirth to make a full extension on Patrick Marleau, turning aside the shot with the tip of his right pad (see highlights).

• Neuvirth denied Matthews from in tight with another pad save just 10 seconds into overtime. That save created a 2-on-1 scoring chance resulting in Sean Couturier’s game-winning score. 

“At least three 10-bell saves by Neuvy. He was tremendous,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “We generated a lot in the third period, but when you give up those chances against, Neuvy stole the show in my opinion and you need those saves sometimes to win games. For me, he was first star.”

Neuvirth and the rest of the Flyers needed an initial spark and 19-year-old rookie Nolan Patrick was surprisingly the one to provide it. After taking a shot that hit the side of the net and caromed behind it, Patrick chased down Mitch Marner, stole the puck and fired a quick shot on goaltender Frederik Andersen for his first goal in his last 25 games.

“I tried to forget how many games it was in a row without a goal and just keep playing,” Patrick said. “I thought I was playing some good hockey lately and I knew it would come.”

A minute and 52 seconds later, Simmonds tied the game at 2-2 with the Flyers' second shorthanded goal of the season, extending his point streak to six games.

Struggling to find the right overtime combinations, Hakstol elected to go with the trio of Couturier, Travis Konecny and Ivan Provorov to start the extra session. Couturier continued his magical run and now has 11 goals in his last 12 games, while also providing five game-winning goals in the Flyers' last 10 victories. 

“He’s hot. We keep calling him ‘Rocket,’" Simmonds said, referring to Hall of Famer Maurice “Rocket” Richard. “You just keep giving him the puck and he’s going to find the back of the net. When you’re hot, you want to keep giving it to a guy like that. Hopefully, he’s going to continue to score for us.”

More Couturier goals and more game-changing saves, and the Flyers will find themselves rocketing up the standings.