Flyers' Radko Gudas set to return from suspension, but did he learn his lesson?

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Flyers' Radko Gudas set to return from suspension, but did he learn his lesson?

He plays the game as if he’s preparing to be attacked in a dark, damp alley, but once you get Radko Gudas away from the rink, the guy teammates call “Gudy” is good for a few laughs. He may have the most easygoing personality on the Flyers outside of Michael Raffl, and over the past three weeks, Gudas has been counted on for a little comic relief.

“I try and help the guys out as much as I can,” Gudas said recently. “Try to make guys laugh every once in awhile. We’ve had a pretty tough stretch. Everything’s not going our way so I’m trying to find anything that will help the guys get in better spirits.”

That may have been Gudas’ toughest job of all throughout the Flyers' 10-game winless streak. Now he resumes his role of team tough guy after serving a 10-game suspension — the longest of his six-year career — for his nasty slash to the back of Mathieu Perreault’s neck in Winnipeg. 

Unlike the NFL — where suspended players can’t be anywhere near the team or their workout facilities — Gudas has been skating and practicing as if he was preparing to play.

When the Flyers return to the practice rink Sunday, Gudas will be reinstated and eligible for the Tuesday's game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the opener of a five-game homestand.

“I’m looking forward to it — playing the next home game against Toronto — so I’ve got that date circled on my calendar. I’m looking forward to helping the boys out,” Gudas said. “Family kept me together. I think they helped me out a lot through this. Just giving me encouragement, being there for me.”

“We’ve missed him, for sure,” general manager Ron Hextall said. “I think it’s not an excuse. You've got him, you've got [Andrew MacDonald] out, it’s that veteran presence. Not only on the ice, but off the ice, and guys go back to the bench. The young guys were reeling a little bit here. Guys get their heads back on track with the veteran influence. It’s important. Of course, we miss Gudy.”

As strange as it may sound, Gudas provides a calming presence to some of the rookies. The question moving forward is who plays that role with Gudas when tensions start to run high? Two seasons ago, management met with Gudas after his overaggressive play was starting to become a detriment to the team.

Coming into Thursday’s game against the Canucks, Gudas was tied with Jakub Voracek and Wayne Simmonds on the Flyers with 12 individual penalties taken. But if you measure that number by minutes played, Gudas leads the team by a long stretch, with one penalty for every 21.9 minutes he’s on the ice, including two major penalties.

“Radko hits hard. He hits as hard as anybody in the league,” Hextall said after Gudas received a major for boarding earlier this season in Ottawa. “His hits are impact hits.”

Gudas is also quickly learning the NHL hits back, and hitting Gudas where it hurts. As a result of his past two suspensions, Gudas has missed 16 games and has forfeited over $650,000. For a league looking to rid itself of its wild-west mentality pertaining to illegal hits to the head, there’s now a "Wanted" poster of Gudas nailed somewhere in its New York headquarters. However, the Flyers' defenseman believes he has a better understanding moving forward following a meeting with George Parros, head of the NHL’s Department of Player Safety.

“I think it was pretty good to meet with each other,” Gudas said. “I found out what they want from me and what they would like to see differently in case anything like this happens. I got good feedback from him and I’m looking forward to adapting to these things and trying to be as best as I can for my team.”

Can the Flyers maintain their disciplined ways with Gudas returning to the lineup? In their recent three-game road trip, the Flyers stayed out of the box, killing off just two power plays in each of those three wins. Now comes Gudas with his own bull's-eye that opponents will be targeting, goading him to step over the line just one more time.

“He’s done a really good job over the last year,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “I don’t think it will be something that will be in the back of his mind. I think it’s something he’s looked at, he’s evaluated. You have to take it and evaluate it for what it is, try and learn a little bit from it. You've got to park it and move forward, and that’s what he’ll do.”

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).