Wayne Simmonds

Flyers-Flames observations: Losing skid is finally over

Flyers-Flames observations: Losing skid is finally over

BOX SCORE

CALGARY, Alberta — The Flyers stampeded into Calgary and put an end to their longest losing skid since 2008 with a 5-2 win over the Flames on Monday night at the Scotiabank Saddledome.

It was the Flyers’ first win in almost a month after their previous victory came back on Nov. 9 over the Chicago Blackhawks.

Dave Hakstol elected to break up the Flyers’ top line and the decision yielded positive results as the line of Valtteri Filppula, Michael Raffl and Jakub Voracek combined for seven points and a plus-8 rating.

The Flyers jumped on the Flames in the second period with three goals in a span of 1:11.

Voracek assisted on three of the Flyers' first four goals, and Scott Laughton scored twice.

Brian Elliott was spectacular in victory as he stopped 43 of 45 shots. 

• Elliott had to produce some key saves during the first 5½ minutes. The Flames were looking to come out of the chute with some jump after they were completely flat against the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday. They fell behind, 6-1, in an eventual 7-5 loss. Elliott may be criticized for some of the rebounds, but they’re mostly controlled where he’s in position for the next shot or the rebound is in the vicinity of a teammate.  

• The first goal was an example of when Elliott expected the defense of Travis Sanheim and Brandon Manning to clear the puck. Manning wasn’t in position and Sanheim took a weak backhanded swipe and whiffed. With that said, if Elliott protects the five-hole, he likely prevents Troy Brouwer’s rebound goal, but it’s a bang-bang play. 

• The Flyers had a big opportunity early in the opening period when Ivan Provorov threaded a beautiful breakout pass to Jordan Weal. Unable to really make a move, Weal had his shot glance off Mike Smith’s right pad. If Weal had been playing with confidence (like last season), he likely would have challenged Smith a little more. Not a very challenging save for the Flames’ netminder.

• I liked the early pressure generated by that new-look line of Raffl, Voracek and Filppula. Raffl and Voracek are very strong on the puck and their size and physicality help them carve out space down low. Together they answered with a goal one minute after the Flames got on the board. Andrew MacDonald pulled the trigger on a shot from the slot, which created a rebound chance and Filppula connected right in front of the Flames’ crease.

• Nolan Patrick prevented an early goal when he covered up the back post on a play during which Elliott got caught in traffic on the other side. A good, smart play by the rookie to deny Matthew Tkachuk of a shot on net.

• The Flyers’ power play once again looked stale and failed to generate a shot on net in the first period. Sean Couturier had a good look in the slot but his shot clanged off the post.

• I didn’t like Provorov’s game through the opening 25 minutes. Coupled with a couple of unnecessary icings, he had the turnover that sprung Johnny Gaudreau free for a breakaway. MacDonald took a hooking minor in an attempt to slow Gaudreau down. The Flyers’ PK did a solid job of not giving the top unit the time and space it had in Philadelphia.

• There was a beautiful give-and-go between Raffl and Voracek to set up the Flyers’ third goal. It was a play that started when Raffl forced a turnover in the Flyers’ zone. Raffl has been playing some of his best hockey since his 21-goal season playing alongside Voracek and Claude Giroux.

• The Flyers’ power play wasted no time going to work just 10 seconds after Couturier drew a high-sticking penalty. Brouwer committed a giveaway, and Voracek threw it in front where the Flyers had all sorts of net-front presence with Couturier on one side and Wayne Simmonds on the other. Couturier banged away and Simmonds finally stuck it home for a cushy 4-1 lead.

• Sean Monahan loves games against the Flyers. Coming off a hat trick in the contest in Philadelphia, Monahan and the Flames capitalized off a Patrick turnover. Monahan picked the top right corner on a perfectly placed shot on Elliott.

• The Flames’ defense has been turnover-prone, especially behind the team’s own net. That led to some excellent chances for the Flyers. Weal made Calgary pay when he jumped on a turnover and tried to stuff it home, which created an easy rebound opportunity for Laughton and the Flyers’ fifth goal of the game.

• Flames defenseman Travis Hamonic collided with Dale Weise. Hamonic was ejected for an illegal check to the head even though replay showed that Hamonic didn’t clip Weise. I’m not sure it deserved a match penalty regardless.  

Lineups, pairings and scratches

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

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

Goalies
Brian Elliott
Michal Neuvirth

Scratches: Forward Jori Lehtera (healthy), and defensemen Mark Alt (healthy) and Radko Gudas (suspended).

Flyers breaking up top line Monday vs. Flames

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USA Today Images

Flyers breaking up top line Monday vs. Flames

CALGARY, Alberta — There’s been so much bad karma lately, that it’s come time to break up the one positive on this Flyers team.

Head coach Dave Hakstol has elected to split up his trio of Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier and Jakub Voracek, a line that has generated 43 percent of the team's offensive production at even strength, including an NHL-leading 25 goals between them.

“It’s the right time to do it,” Hakstol said. “Over the past two, three games and coming down with our last game at home, we just felt it was a good time to make a change.”

“When a team’s not doing well, you obviously want to switch things up,” Giroux said. “Hopefully we’ll get some new chemistry and that’s what we’re trying to find right now.”

The Flyers enter Monday night's game against the Calgary Flames on another dreadful scoreless drought, this time stretching over 119:12. Every line has failed to generate a sustained offensive attack, much stemming from a miserable performance against the San Jose Sharks last Tuesday.

While Voracek has been sloppy throughout this recent losing stretch, Hakstol believes Wayne Simmonds deserves a crack at playing on a line that brings more skill and is capable of generating more chances.

“We’ve seen Simmer’s game be on track here in the last few games, and I think it’s a good time for him to have that opportunity, as well,” Hakstol said. “Just a little bit of a change and look for the three guys who have been on that line.”   

After scoring the game-winning goal in four of the Flyers' first five wins, Simmonds' production has dipped dramatically with just one goal over his last 18 games. 

“I think it balances out a little bit more,” Simmonds said. “Jake’s a guy who can carry his own line. He’s a guy if he’s on the ice, he’s usually got the puck. I’m just going to try and play my game and hopefully it complements [Giroux and Couturier].”

But the lack of secondary scoring has been a primary issue for the Flyers as they’ve generated just two or fewer goals in eight of their last 14 games, including four shutouts. Voracek will try to spread the wealth playing alongside Michael Raffl and Valtteri Filppula, the latter of whom has just one even-strength goal in his last 15 games.   

“Well, you have to change something,” Voracek said. “Ten games? Four games is a long one (losing streak). Ten is too long. Obviously try to shake things up. Hopefully we’ll get some goals out of those lines and help us win a game. That’s what we’re focusing on right now and let’s hope it works.”

The Flyers enter their three-game Western Canada stretch staring at potentially breaking the club’s all-time winless streak of 12 games that saw the Flyers go 0-8-4 (four ties) from Feb. 24 to March 16, 1999.

“I think mentally it’s really tough,” Giroux said. “You question the way you’re playing. You question if you’re a good team, but at the end of the day, we do believe we can fight for a playoff spot. We've just got to prove it on the ice.”

Jagr keeps on rolling
If he stays healthy for the remainder of this season, Calgary's Jaromir Jagr will become the NHL’s all-time leader in games played, surpassing Gordie Howe’s 37-year record of 1,767. Of course, Jagr would be closing in on 2,000 games played had he not elected to play in the KHL. Jagr turns 46 in February and is not looking at playing past this season.

“I don’t have any plans. I just want to be healthy," Jagr said. "It’s fun, but health is the most important. How is it right now? It’s not perfect, but I just go day by day. I just want to wake up in the morning.”

Flyers fans fondly remember Jagr and the excitement he brought to the Flyers' top line playing with Giroux and Scott Hartnell during Jagr's return to the NHL in 2011-12, which happens to be the last time the Flyers advanced past the first round of the playoffs.

“Look at how many guys are left there,” Jagr said. “That team was one of the most talented teams I was on. Talented and mean. You could play on the first line or the fourth line and it didn’t matter. You could create plays. Coots was on the fourth line back then. G, Danny Briere, JVR (James Van Riemsdyk), (Brayden) Schenn. Just the centermen only, it was fun to play.”

Expected lineup vs. Flames

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

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

Goalies
Brian Elliott
Michal Neuvirth

Flyers Weekly Observations: Crushing loss in Pittsburgh the tipping point?

Flyers Weekly Observations: Crushing loss in Pittsburgh the tipping point?

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse and that it was OK to step outside in your orange and black gear again, this past week happened.

The bruises got darker and the cuts got deeper this week as the Flyers’ prolonged misery and embarrassment continued with three more painful losses, each in unique fashion, to push the losing streak to 10 games. It’s the longest losing streak for the Flyers since 2008, when they also lost 10 in a row. For those keeping score at home, the longest winless streak (losses and ties) in franchise history is 12 games way back in 1999.

The week kicked off in stunning fashion with a disheartening 5-4 loss in OT to the rival Penguins on Monday in Pittsburgh. It continued back home Tuesday night with a lifeless 3-1 loss to the San Jose Sharks. And then the week ended with yet another dud, a 3-0 shutout loss at home to the Boston Bruins on Saturday afternoon.

So, as you may be able to infer, there is plenty to get to in this week’s observations, and not much, if any of it, is good.

Let’s get to it.

• The feeling heading into this week was that the Flyers, losers of seven straight contests, could benefit from the energy, ill will and overall rivalry with the Penguins, and get some momentum going to turn the ship around. And for 40 minutes, it looked like that feeling was reality.

Until the third period began and the Flyers blew yet another two-goal lead, the fourth such lead they’ve blown during this streak. But they struck back thanks to a sweet power move by Michael Raffl, only to have that lead evaporate with less than a minute left. So of course you knew the nightmare would come full circle with a Sidney Crosby OT winner.

This loss was so demoralizing on so many levels. Here, you had the defending two-time Stanley Cup champs and your blood rival on the ropes to end a long losing streak, and then in the blink of an eye it all swirled down the drain in a most painful, needling fashion while your goalie, Brian Elliott, basically stood on his head with 47 saves and gave you a chance to win yet again.

The question that still lingers almost a week after: was that the tipping point for the Flyers? Was that black eye what finally pushed them off the cliff? If we’re status quo in April and we look back at when the wheels fell off for good, will that be what we point back to? Shake the orange and black Magic 8-ball right now and “all signs point to yes” will appear. And the proof was in how the Flyers responded in the next two games.

• Last week, I wrote that the 5-2 loss to Vancouver on Nov. 21 was the Flyers’ worst performance of the season. Well, ladies and gentlemen, we have an new leader in the clubhouse and it’s the dismal showing back home vs. San Jose on Tuesday night, just 24 hours after the meltdown in Pittsburgh.

After Claude Giroux scored just 48 seconds into the contest, the Flyers barely had a pulse for the next 59:12. The Sharks grabbed the game by the throat and the Flyers put up little resistance or pushback.

Yes, the Flyers were a tired team coming off a heartbreaking loss and the Sharks are a big, strong contender from the Western Conference. But still, the Flyers should have more than five measly third-period shots when trailing by two goals. The night was a breeze for Sharks goalie Aaron Dell, who had to make just 22 saves, and not many of the challenging variety.

Just not a good effort whatsoever. And more importantly, an awful response to adversity from the night before.

• The Flyers lost again Saturday, of course, to the Bruins, 3-0, and were shut out for the sixth time in 26 games. That marks the most in the league. But while the Bruins carried the game, the Flyers shouldn’t have been shut out as Giroux cleanly beat Tuukka Rask on the power play near the end of the second period to cut Boston’s lead to 3-1.

But not so fast, as the officials erased the tally for supposed goalie interference on Wayne Simmonds, who had cut in front of Rask and made contact with the Bruins’ netminder, according to the powers that be. And it was an egregiously terrible call by the powers that be.

Simmonds, who is entitled to his ice, barely grazed, if even touched Rask, who was inching out of his crease. That was and still is a good goal, except to the league, which has different rules and standards on different days. That move by Simmonds will be goalie interference one game and not even an afterthought the next. The lack of consistency is baffling. If you’re going to call it tight, call it tight all the time. If you’re going to let some things go, let those things go all the time.

The way the rule is enforced one game and period and play to the next is laughable, to be quite frank.

• Some curious lineup decisions by Dave Hakstol this week, benching young forwards Jordan Weal and Taylor Leier as healthy scratches and inserting veterans Dale Weise and Jori Lehtera into the lineup Monday in Pittsburgh and Tuesday vs. San Jose.

OK, a veteran presence is one thing. But it doesn’t help all that much when those veterans are giving you next to nothing right now. Weise has only two goals on the season and just one point in his last 14 games played. The stats are just as ugly for Lehtera, who has just two assists in 17 contests this season.

Yes, the scoresheet isn’t pretty for Weal or Leier, respectively. Weal, who was counted on coming into the season to provide a secondary scoring jolt in a top-six role, has just two goals and four assists on the campaign and is scoreless in his last 11 contests. Leier, pegged into a fourth-line role that isn’t asking for offense all the time, has a goal and two assists on the season.

But what those two guys do bring night in and night out is energy. And if there’s anything this Flyers team needs desperately right now, it’s an injection of energy. Those two guys should be playing every night.

• Funny (alright, maybe not so much in this case) how things can change over the course of a year. On Dec. 3 last season, the Flyers topped the Chicago Blackhawks to win their fourth of eventually 10 straight games. Fast forward a year and the Flyers are drowning in the quicksand that is this 10-game skid and morale is as low as has been in recent memory. "It's f----ing brutal," according to Shayne Gostisbehere. "Everything we touch right now turns to s--," explained Jake Voracek on Saturday.

Hey, nowhere to go but up, right?

Right?

Coming up this week: Monday at Calgary (9:00 p.m. on NBCSP+), Wednesday at Edmonton (9:30 p.m. on NBCSP), Thursday at Vancouver (10:00 p.m. on NBCSP).