Taylor Leier

Flyers-Maple Leafs observations: The win streak travels

Flyers-Maple Leafs observations: The win streak travels

BOX SCORE

The Flyers brought their recent road success back to the Wells Fargo Center, beating the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday night, 4-2, for their fourth consecutive victory.

Sean Couturier scored the game-winner with 2:55 remaining in regulation when he beat Frederik Andersen glove side top shelf.

Couturier matched a career high with his 15th goal of the season.

Claude Giroux, Travis Konecny and Scott Laughton also scored for the Flyers, who trailed, 2-1, entering the third period.

After surrendering the first goal of the game, Brian Elliott settled in and stopped 20 of 22 shots for his fourth straight win. Elliott has allowed two or fewer goals in each of those four starts.

The Maple Leafs were forced to play without superstar Auston Matthews, who was out with an upper-body injury. Prior to Tuesday night, the Leafs were a perfect 5-0 in games Matthews had missed. 

• In the opening minutes of the first period, Leo Komarov got behind Radko Gudas. William Nylander’s pass was a little too far in front of Komarov, who would have had a wide-open look at Elliott. 

Gudas, who returned to the lineup after a 10-game suspension, had some early mixups with defensive partner Travis Sanheim. That is to be expected after a long layoff.

“It’s unbelievable, it feels great,” Gudas said at the first intermission. “I’ve had this date circled on the calendar. I’m looking forward to getting the two points and doing everything I can to help the boys out.”

• The Leafs had another excellent scoring chance after Nolan Patrick won a defensive faceoff. The Flyers got caught up along the boards when the Leafs gained control of the puck and James van Riemsdyk was able to maneuver in front of Patrick for a dangerous chance that went just wide of the net. If Patrick isn’t contributing offensively, he can still be responsible and protect the ice in his own end.

• Jordan Weal’s been playing better than Konecny lately and has been bumped up to the third line with Patrick and Dale Weise. Early on, Weal had a nice move but couldn’t extend his backhand shot around Andersen for the goal. Weal had an early burst in the first period.

• The Flyers ran a set play off the faceoff as Couturier backhanded the puck to the top of the circle and Giroux one-timed for a shot. It looked like Andersen wasn’t anticipating it and was slow to react. The goal was Giroux’s 13th of the season and he is now one shy of his 2016-17 total.

• Just 27 seconds later, the Leafs scored in transition when Patrick Marleau came down the left wing and snapped a shot past Elliott. The puck seemed to catch Elliott under his right arm. Elliott was square to the shot but it somehow trickled underneath his blocker for a goal he would certainly like to have back. 

• The Maple Leafs got away with a clear tripping as Komarov got his stick in the skates of Shayne Gostisbehere, who stumbled and then fell to the ice. Not sure what the referee was looking at, but if called the Flyers would have had a 5-on-3 power play for about 1:25. It was Komarov with a wicked boarding play on “Ghost” the last time these two teams faced each other on Oct. 28.    

• It’s always interesting to see the different methods that Ivan Provorov utilizes to play defense in his zone. Late in the opening period, Provorov dug his left shoulder into the rib cage of high-flying Mitch Marner in an effort to slow him down and separate him from the puck. 

• The Flyers opened up the second period with a sustained shift of around a minute with the line of Michael Raffl, Valtteri Filppula and Jakub Voracek doing the dirty work down low. The Flyers were able to generate four shots on Andersen. In fact, the Flyers outshot the Leafs, 7-0, in just the first three minutes of the second period.

• Elliott flashed some quick reflexes off a double deflection after Dominic Moore got a stick on the slap shot that went off Provorov. Elliott was quick to snag it with his glove. Minutes earlier, Nazem Kadri’s snap shot deflected off the left post.

• Gudas made a poor pass to Couturier, which led to a turnover. As the Leafs regrouped, Josh Leivo got behind Gudas on a clear breakaway when Elliott made his best save of the night to get enough of the glove on the puck and keep the game tied at 1-1. Gudas struggled in his first game back.

• Following a Voracek tripping penalty, the Leafs capitalized on their first power play of the game. Defenseman Morgan Reilly wristed a shot that JVR was able to deflect up and over Elliott. That was the first power-play goal allowed in five games after the Flyers’ PK was a perfect 6 for 6 on the recent three-game road trip.

• In the opening minute of the third period, Giroux had a grade-A opportunity. Couturier took a shot low that Andersen extended his pad on to create a perfect rebound opportunity for Giroux, who cut across the crease. Andersen was able to turn aside Giroux’s chance as well.

• After outshooting the Leafs by a wide margin, the Flyers finally tied the game up at 2-2 on a sequence that all started when Andersen hesitated on what he wanted to do with the puck from his net. As he tried to pass it out, the puck hit off Konecny and stayed in the offensive zone. Eventually, Konecny launched a shot that went off two Leafs players and past Andersen. For Konecny, he’ll take any goal he can get with just two over his last 20 games.

• After giving up that first goal, Elliott was locked in. The Leafs had a centering pass from behind the goal line right to Connor Brown, who got off a point-blank shot. Elliott seemed to read it perfectly and made a dangerous play look rather easy.

Lineups, pairings and scratches

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

Defensemen
Ivan Provorov-Andrew MacDonald
Robert Hagg-Shayne Gostisbehere
Travis Sanheim-Radko Gudas

Goalies
Brian Elliott
Alex Lyon

Scratches: Forward Jori Lehtera (healthy) and defenseman Mark Alt (healthy).

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).

Flyers ready to welcome Andrew MacDonald back vs. Penguins

ap-andrew-macdonald-flyers.jpg
AP Images

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