Andrew MacDonald

Questionable calls, challenge lead to Flyers' 'frustrating' loss to Predators

Questionable calls, challenge lead to Flyers' 'frustrating' loss to Predators

BOX SCORE

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Bags tossed. Doors slammed. Players cursing. A frustration this team hasn’t experienced in a long, long time. 

Without question, Tuesday’s 6-5 loss to the Nashville Predators was a game the Flyers felt wasn’t lost but simply taken away from them (see observations).

Or perhaps not.

“Oh, we gave it away. I don’t think anybody took it,” goaltender Brian Elliott said. “That’s why it’s frustrating.”

Some Flyers were still searching for answers.

“Honestly, it feels like we won. It’s weird right now,” defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere said. “I’m not sure if that’s ever happened to me in my life — that type of game like that.”

Considering the implementation of rule 78.7 (b), approved by the NHL’s Board of Governors just a week before the start of the season, a game like this has never happened in the history of the league, and probably nowhere ever in the game of hockey.

The rule stems from a coach’s challenge on an offside play and states, “If the result of the challenge is that the play was ‘on-side,’ the goal shall count and the team that issued the challenge shall be assessed a minor penalty for delaying the game.”

After former Flyer Scott Hartnell took advantage of a 5-on-3 chance and tied an already wild game at 5-5 with 1:17 remaining, Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol elected to challenge the zone entry of the play. Replays showed that Filip Forsberg was able to get one skate over the blue line before the puck cleared. However, replays were inconclusive whether Hartnell’s skates were completely over the line as the linesman appeared to be staring down at Forsberg and was paying no attention to Hartnell, who was right there next to him (see video).

“That’s my call,” Hakstol said on the decision to challenge. "Absolutely it’s worth it, but it wasn’t overturned, so it wasn’t the right call. I don’t want to get into the details of it."

Hakstol said he was surprised it wasn't overturned, but also knew if he lost the challenge that the Flyers would be faced with killing another 5-on-3 power play for 1:22. 

That is precisely what happened when Hartnell’s goal stood. The Flyers killed off the remainder of the two-man advantage only to have Filip Forsberg score the game-winner just five seconds into the coach’s challenge penalty, which was a 5-on-4 (see highlights).

“It happens so quick. You’re getting the feeds on the bench when you’re getting them, and 15, 20 seconds to make a decision,” Predators coach Peter Laviolette said. “I give him credit. He’s trying to help his team any way he can. You’re going to get caught in those situations. We all are. Everybody’s going to get caught in them. 

“To be honest, I didn’t get a good look at it. We actually talked about it in the coach’s office. Those decisions are tough, and a lot of people said they would go for it. You’ve got to live by the sword and die by the sword.”

Prior to that, one can seriously debate the series of events that led to Nashville’s initial 5-on-3 power play as the Flyers were whistled for a pair of minor penalties with 2:41 remaining in the game leading, 5-4.

First, left winger Dale Weise was whistled for holding as he attempted to chase down the puck in the offensive zone. Then, as the Flyers gained possession of the puck, defenseman Andrew MacDonald was called for tripping.

“The last 10 minutes it seems they were putting the whistles away and letting the boys play,” Weise said. “I don’t know about make-up calls, but on my penalty I’m trying to swim past my guy. That happens 20 times a game and you don’t call a penalty on that. It’s just really frustrating.”

“The guy coming in on me, he crossed over and I put my stick over and he stepped on it and they called me too,” MacDonald said.

Until those two-minute minor penalties, the Flyers had played a very disciplined game. Their only penalty kill came early in the first period when Craig Smith scored Nashville's first goal. 

There was an awareness among the Flyers that calls would likely not go their way at some point in the third period.  

“Obviously, we were aware. It’s tough when you get two in one shot like that, that late in the game,” MacDonald said. “It happened and it was unfortunate. It’s something that we would have liked to kill and have gotten a big character win here, but unfortunately it was out of our hands.”

The series of unfortunate circumstances for the Flyers and the bogus new rule change, which I wrote about during the preseason, negated what could have been a tremendous comeback.

After going down, 3-0, the Flyers scored five unanswered goals, including three in a second-period span of 4:46. Valtteri Filppula scored his second goal of the game with 13:12 remaining in regulation to give the Flyers a 5-3 lead at the time.

“There’s a ton of character in that room,” Hakstol said. “We got down 3-0, but we were playing well. I didn’t feel like other than the first five minutes we weren’t back on our heels. We knew there would be a big push to start this hockey game with the energy they had in the building.”

"It says a lot about our group, how we did come back,” Gostisbehere said. "Going down 3-0 in a building like this, coming back to 5-3. It’s an unfortunate series of events there. There’s a lot of positives we can take away from this game.”

All of which had the lyrical makings of a country song straight out of Nashville’s Music Row. Now it’s up to the Flyers to change their tune in time for Saturday’s home opener against the Washington Capitals.

Flyers notes, quotes and tidbits: Strong 3rd periods helping team finish

Flyers notes, quotes and tidbits: Strong 3rd periods helping team finish

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Finishing up strong is a message NHL coaches typically preach on the final game of an extended road trip.

You’re tired of living out of a suitcase. Ready to sleep in your own bed. All while acclimating your body to a change in time zones.

Essentially, the Flyers have taken that approach into their game-to-game preparation as they’ve been the stronger team over the final 20-plus minutes in each contest so far.

Even though they’ve been outscored 3-2 in the third period of their first three games, they have outshot their opponent by a wide margin (a 49-20 total). Here’s the breakdown: 17-11 in San Jose, 17-5 in Los Angeles and 15-4 in Anaheim.

So what can this disparity be attributed to for the orange and black? The Flyers on Monday had a number of reasons for being a considerably stronger third-period team early in the season.

1. “Guys came into camp in really good shape,” defenseman Andrew MacDonald said. “We’ve got lots of speed. Guys can skate. When you have fast forwards and you get in on the forecheck hard, you can wear teams down and create more opportunities for yourself.”

2. “I think the depth is a huge part of our team,” defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere said. “When you take over third periods like that, it’s obviously a team effort, not just a couple lines and a couple of guys. I think it’s huge for us as a team — to come out there and be ready for those third periods and come with a good start.”

3. “I think we’re in really good shape, the whole team,” defenseman Ivan Provorov said. “We’re well-conditioned and we stick with it. We had a really good, hard camp — two hard weeks of battling and competing, and I think that prepared us for the season.”

General manager Ron Hextall believes it’s a product of all of those factors.

“I think rolling four lines certainly helps,” Hextall said. “The commitment our players made in the summer to coming to camp in great shape. We had a difficult training camp in terms of the workload, and I think that’s played into our third periods.”

The most impressive of those performances was the effort the Flyers exuded in the game in Los Angeles when they were on the second leg of a back-to-back after flying in from San Jose 24 hours prior.

“Mostly, it’s the players in the dressing room in between periods — just continuing to stay with the game,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “Having a real mentality to build our game. All three of those games were tight hockey games in the third, so we needed a push in order to get the result we wanted. Hopefully that can become a real characteristic of our team.”

There’s a new goalie in town
The Flyers acquired goaltender Dustin Tokarski, 28, from the Anaheim Ducks on Monday in exchange for future considerations. 

Hextall finally found a depth goalie he’d been searching for after losing Anthony Stolarz, who had meniscus surgery in September.

“We just wanted to upgrade our depth. We feel like Dustin has experience in the regular season, the playoffs, and felt like it's an upgrade,” Hextall said. “Number one is he’s competitive, he works hard. He’s a little bit of an undersized goalie (6-foot, 205 pounds). He’s quick, agile, does a good job and we think he’s going to be a good fit.”

In a corresponding deal, the Flyers sent Leland Irving, 29, to the Ducks’ AHL affiliate, the San Diego Gulls. Irving was on an AHL-only contract, which made it necessary to complete a deal with two separate transactions.

With Alex Lyon penciled in at No. 3 on the organizational depth chart, it’s worth noting the last time the Flyers utilized four goaltenders in a single season came in 2012-13 (Ilya Bryzgalov, Brian Boucher, Steve Mason and Michael Leighton).

Banner night in Nashville
The Nashville Predators will delay the start of Tuesday night’s game with their home opener festivities that will include a banner raising ceremony as Western Conference champions.

“There will be a ton of energy in the building come tomorrow night, so I’m excited for that,” Predators defenseman P.K. Subban said.

The Predators hope Tuesday night’s game against the Flyers will give them a much-needed boost after dropping their first two games on the road (4-3 in Boston and 4-0 in Pittsburgh).

“They’re a good hockey team,” Hakstol said. “They play with a lot of pace. Their defense presents a pretty good challenge, not only up ice but in the zone. 

“They had a hell of a playoff run last year. It’s their home and I’m sure they’ll have a lot of intensity flowing through the building, and we’ll have to be ready to match that.”

With final cuts looming, Flyers' lineup at practice may give glimpse of roster

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USA Today Images/AP Images

With final cuts looming, Flyers' lineup at practice may give glimpse of roster

VOORHEES, N.J. — Ron Hextall is still sweating it out.

With three days remaining before the NHL roster deadline, the Flyers elected not to make final cuts prior to Saturday’s lengthy practice, keeping their extended roster through Sunday’s preseason finale against the New York Islanders at the Wells Fargo Center. 

“We’ve got a lot of good players here,” the Flyers' general manager said. “Two players have to go for your roster size, we’ll see how tomorrow night’s game goes, see if we have injuries and then we’ll finalize a couple decisions.”

Hextall said he will the final cuts following Sunday's game.

It seems as though the Flyers will use Sunday’s game as less of a dress rehearsal for the regular season opener Wednesday and more of a final exam for bubble players. Flyers coach Dave Hakstol denied that assumption.

“I wouldn’t read into it,” he said. “We’re going to try to get as close to our game night lineup as we can but we still have some pretty tough decisions to make.”

Hextall also pushed back. 

“You don’t make decisions based on one game,” he said. “It can play a small part of it but not a big part.” 

Either way, the decisions are expected to be grueling on both sides of the ice. 

On defense, Ivan Provorov, Shayne Gostisbehere, Radko Gudas, Andrew MacDonald and Brandon Manning are expected to make the roster in some capacity, leaving prospects Sam Morin, Robert Hagg and Travis Sanheim battling for two potential spots. 

“There’s a lot of factors that factor into these decisions,” Hextall said. “It’s not just the obvious of who played best. A lot of things play into it — the future, the past, a role, the type of player we need to finish off our roster. There’s a lot of things that go into it.”

As of Saturday, those things were looking good for Hagg. The 22-year-old was working with Gostisbehere, signaling that the team views him as a regular. Meanwhile, bubble players Morin and Sanheim were matched together as an extra pairing.

“I think I had a pretty good camp so far and seems like the coaches and staff are happy with me,” Hagg said. “I’m still here, so I guess I’m doing something good. I think I’ve done a pretty good job so far.” 

At forward, it’s a more complicated picture.

Two of Taylor Leier, Jori Lehtera, Oskar Lindblom and Matt Read will not make the starting roster Wednesday, with 21-year-old Lindblom, exempt from waivers, appearing like the odd-man out. The highly touted winger spent practice on an extra line with Lehtera and Read.

“Everyone wants to play in the NHL,” Lindblom said. “If the coaches want you here, you stay. I haven’t thought about it too much. Coaches decide. Hexy decides.” 

Meanwhile, Scott Laughton centered the fourth line featuring Leier and Michael Raffl.

“That line brings a lot of speed and it’s pretty exciting,” Laughton said. “Raffl gets in there on the forecheck. Leier is pretty good at making plays and finding you, so it felt good out there.”

Leier, who is not waiver exempt, appeared to be the big winner Saturday, working on the fourth line and heading the Flyers' 5-on-3 penalty kill unit. 

“I feel very comfortable,” he said. “Like I’m ready.”

But like many of the young guys pressing for an NHL job, Leier enters Sunday's finale feeling an elevated sense of urgency.

“There’s been anxiety throughout the whole camp,” he said. “That comes with the territory and business we're in. Everyone goes through it, but it’s something you have to push aside and get through.”