Andrei Vasilevskiy

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.

No 2nd chances for Flyers against NHL-best Lightning

No 2nd chances for Flyers against NHL-best Lightning

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The Flyers discovered Thursday night at the Wells Fargo Center why the Tampa Bay Lightning have the best record in the entire NHL.

The Lightning scored three of their goals in the second period to defeat the Flyers, 5-1. Vladislav Namestnikov scored twice for Tampa Bay. Brayden Point, Yanni Gourde and Ryan Callahan also scored for the Bolts. Callahan’s goal came shorthanded, the eighth goal the Flyers have surrendered on their power play.

Red-hot Travis Konecny lit the lamp once again. The Flyers’ second-year winger now has a goal in four straight games and also reached the double-digit mark with his 10th of the season. Konecny is one goal shy of last season’s total of 11.

Michal Neuvirth made 17 saves on 22 shots. Andrei Vasilevskiy, the NHL’s best goaltender in the first half of the season, stopped 36 of 37 shots. 

Despite the loss, the Flyers enter the All-Star Break having won eight of their last 10 games.

The Flyers will open the post-All-Star break portion of their schedule next Wednesday with back-to-back road games against the Capitals and Devils.

• I didn’t like how the Flyers came out to start the second period. Just seconds after killing off a Lightning power play, Sean Couturier and Claude Giroux couldn’t corral a centering pass that led to a chain reaction in the Flyers’ coverage. 

Robert Hagg vacated his spot in front of the net, which left a wide-open passing lane to Point. Giroux couldn’t get between Point and the net and Andrew MacDonald positioned himself perhaps a little too high to allow for an easy goal that should’ve never happened.

Two Lightning players outworked four Flyers to grab a 1-0 lead. Tampa came into this game with a 22-4-0 record when scoring first.

• Point was flying around the Flyers’ zone for much of the second period. Defensively, the Flyers gave Point too much freedom and space with the puck.

• The Lightning took advantage of the Flyers’ fourth line and their third defense pair, in particular Brandon Manning, who was stationed on the right side (which is typically Gudas). Manning, for whatever reason, glided over and left the right side of Neuvirth completely unmanned as the rookie Gourde capitalized and flipped the puck over Neuvirth for a 2-0 Tampa Bay lead.

• The disastrous second period continued as the Flyers’ power play coughed up its eighth shorthanded goal of the season. Jakub Voracek came up from near the blue line to keep the puck in the offensive zone. Once it got past Voracek, Couturier raced back to take away the pass, which left Shayne Gostisbehere to play Callahan 1-on-1. Callahan, with one goal in 38 games this season, completely wheeled around Gostisbehere and beat Neuvirth for the score and a 3-0 Lightning lead.  

• The Flyers’ power play not only surrendered a goal, but failed to score for the fifth time in the last six games. The possession time is there and it has moved the puck, but it hasn't moved personnel around. Sometimes we’ve seen Giroux operate behind the net or “Ghost” position himself in the right circle. The power play also hasn't generated any quality scoring chances from in, around and below the hash marks. The Flyers’ PP has converted just once in the last 17 opportunities.

• Late in the third period, the Flyers finally found that open seam as Konecny worked his way into the slot in the middle of the Lightning’s four-man box. Voracek hit Konecny for a one-timer that beat Vasilevskiy. When you’re hot, you’re hot. Good to see Dave Hakstol reward Konecny with power-play time with that top unit. 

• The Flyers held the Lightning without a shot for the first 7:06 of the game. While on the surface it would appear the Flyers were solid defensively, they were actually sloppy to start with early icings, sloppy puck play in the neutral zone and a failure to work the puck deep into the Lightning zone. 

• However, I liked how the defense communicated and won the 1-on-1 battles. Hagg made a switch with MacDonald, who had the angle on Gourde and stripped him of the puck. After Ivan Provorov had a pass picked off, Gostisbehere erased Callahan with a solid individual effort. In both instances, the Lightning could have had quality scoring chances, but the defense stepped up.

• Michael Raffl committed the only penalty in the first period on a holding penalty he telegraphed to the referees after he raised his arms, which served as a dead giveaway. Tampa’s power play wasn’t able to generate a shot with the Flyers’ PK nearly creating a chance of its own, but Jori Lehtera simply couldn’t make anything happen that included a 2-on-1 with Gostisbehere. 

• The Lightning look noticeably different without All-Star defenseman Victor Hedman with his 6-6 frame and long stick. In the final two minutes of the first period, the Flyers’ top line had sustained time in the offensive zone, cycling the puck and outworking Tampa’s defense.

Lineups, pairings & scratches

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

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

Goalies
Michal Neuvirth
Alex Lyon

Scratches: Forwards Taylor Leier (healthy) and Dale Weise (healthy), defenseman Mark Alt (healthy) and goalie Brian Elliott (lower body).

Best of NHL: Lightning use shutout to snap modest 2-game skid

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AP Images

Best of NHL: Lightning use shutout to snap modest 2-game skid

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Andrei Vasilevskiy made 34 saves in his second shutout this season, and the Tampa Bay Lightning ended a two-game skid with a 2-0 victory over the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night.

Defenseman Dan Girardi and rookie Mikhail Sergachev had goals for the Lightning in the third of a four-game trip. Tampa Bay is off to the best start in franchise history (17-5-2) but had lost consecutive games for the first time this season.

Vasilevskiy leads the NHL with 16 wins and has six career shutouts in 101 starts.

Robin Lehner stopped 24 shots for the Sabres, who were held scoreless for the second straight game and have lost nine of 10.

Sergachev scored his sixth goal of the year on a power play to give the Lightning a 1-0 lead late in the first period. Tampa Bay has scored a power-play goal in nine of its last 10 games and leads the NHL in conversion rate.

Girardi got his first goal of the season midway through the second period. Girardi's slap shot from the top of the right circle deflected in off Buffalo's Marco Scandella (see full recap).

Blue Jackets notch SO win over Hurricanes
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Cam Atkinson and Artemi Panarin scored in the shootout to give the Columbus Blue Jackets a 3-2 win over the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday night.

Zach Werenski had a goal and an assist, and Josh Anderson also scored for the Blue Jackets, who won their first game after their season-best six-game winning streak ended. Columbus has won five in a row at home.

Joonas Korpisalo, making a rare start in place of Sergei Bobrovsky, made 29 saves in regulation and overtime and stopped two more shots in the shootout for the Blue Jackets. Bobrovsky leads the league in save percentage and goals-against average and got his first night off in three weeks as Korpisalo made his fifth start.

Noah Hanifan scored in the first period for Carolina, and Brock McGinn tied it midway through the third. Scott Darling had 36 saves for the Hurricanes, who had gone 6-3-1 in their past 10 games.

Columbus outshot Carolina 5-2 in overtime (see full recap).

Kopitar, Quick lead Kings to victory
DETROIT -- Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar scored 2:10 apart late in the second period to put the Los Angeles Kings ahead and they went on to beat the Detroit Red Wings 4-1 on Tuesday night.

Jonathan Quick made 23 saves, including some spectacular stops in the second period that kept the Kings within a goal.

His teammates took advantage.

After Brown and Kopitar puts the Kings ahead, they pulled away in the third. Adrian Kempe scored early in the period and Kopitar's second goal of the game gave Los Angeles a three-goal cushion with 7-plus minutes left.

The Red Wings started strong, but couldn't recover when they failed to get another shot past Quick.

Detroit's Mike Green broke a scoreless tie late in the second period and Jimmy Howard finished with 32 saves.

The Kings have won two straight after losing three in a row and seven of eight.

The Red Wings have lost five straight, one shy of their season-long skid from last month, after winning six of the previous nine games (see full recap).