Andrew MacDonald

After players-only meeting, Flyers unable to put a finger on issues

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USA Today Images

After players-only meeting, Flyers unable to put a finger on issues

VOORHEES, N.J. — If a players-only meeting lends the appearance the Flyers are grasping at straws, that’s probably because the team can’t explain how it has managed to lose nine in a row. Or, more importantly, how exactly it's going to turn its season around.

Back at practice on Thursday, the Flyers divulged little from the closed-door conversation that followed a 3-1 loss to the Sharks two days earlier. But they did put on a united front and promised there will be no finger-pointing to come.

“It’s frustrating going through this stretch, but it was more or less we have each other’s backs,” Flyers defenseman Andrew MacDonald said. “We got into this together, we’re going to get out of it together.”

With the defeats beginning to pile up, and concerns over Flyers coach Dave Hakstol’s job security intensifying, perhaps players simply felt the need to address the atmosphere inside the locker room.

“It’s not nice air around here when you don’t win for nine games in a row,” said Flyers defenseman Radko Gudas, who’s currently serving a 10-game suspension. “The guys have a little better feeling of which way we’re going to head and what we need to do to get the two points in our next game.”

As far as solutions to halting a skid that’s almost three weeks in the making, it didn’t sound as though the Flyers touched on anything overly specific during the meeting.

“No one is happy about what’s going on, but we’re sticking together,” Flyers center Sean Couturier said. “Everyone has their part of responsibility during this stretch. We have to look at ourselves in the mirror and be better.”

The question is: Better at what exactly?

To be honest, the Flyers don’t seem entirely certain of the answer.

The Flyers have lost games when they couldn’t score goals, others when they couldn’t hold leads. There have been games when the power play has failed them, others when they weren’t able to kill enough penalties.

It’s little things. And it’s a little bit of everything.

“There’s probably a couple of areas of our game where we have to simplify things for sure, even mentally, trying to do things with a real clear purpose,” Hakstol said. “But we still have to continue adding detail to our game.”

Even when looking at one phase under the microscope, such as a struggling Flyers penalty kill that’s allowed 10 goals over the last six games, the dilemma is multifaceted and complex.

“We’ve looked at trying to change it up a little bit with some of the personnel, but it’s not that easy,” Hakstol said. “If it was that simple, you would flip that switch right away.

“You can say we’ve given up PK goals, but it’s different areas that we’ve given them up in terms of the type of goals.”

Despite inconsistencies across the board, some Flyers players also don’t necessarily feel the team has played as poorly as the 0-4-5 record would indicate.

“We’re not playing bad for nine games,” Couturier said. “There’s a bit of bad luck. We have to keep working hard, sticking together and create our own bounces, creating our own luck. Things eventually have to go our way.”

The proliferation of overtime and shootout losses might support Couturier’s case. Just one play here, one play there, and we’re not talking about how the Flyers have merely been mediocre in November as opposed to being mired in a weeks-long losing streak.

Others feel while the performance on the ice hasn’t been as unsatisfactory as the results, players are pressing as the slump drags on.

“Even though we were playing well during the start of this drought, we weren’t getting wins, we weren’t scoring goals, and during those kinds of times, you tend to reach a little bit more,” MacDonald said. “Guys maybe tried to do too much.

“It’s certainly not a fault for effort or anything like that. It’s more than anything wanting to help the team win even more. It’s tough when those things happen. You try to do a little bit too much, then you’re out of position and it kind of snowballs a little bit.”

Still, the only common thread here is the lack of a common thread at all. It’s the little things, and it’s the big things. The game plan is neither simple nor detailed enough. It’s mental, but it’s bad luck.

Maybe the Flyers, with a young, retooling roster that missed the playoffs last season, are growing through some inevitable growing pains.

“We just have to be better,” Couturier said. “It’s plain and simple. It’s a lot of little things, but we just have to be better overall.”

Stuck in last place in the Metropolitan Division with 23 points in 25 games, the Flyers need to get a lot better — and that’s not going to be easy if they haven’t figured out what the problem is.

Hakstol on Martel, Weal
Despite returning Danick Martel to the Phantoms on Wednesday, the Flyers were impressed with the rookie forward’s speed. The 22-year-old’s stamina, on the other hand, is still a work in progress.

“He really added a ton of energy, especially early on,” Hakstol said. “The last game here we had a lot of tired legs, and he was one of them, but he showed he has that burst that can impact games a little bit offensively.”

Martel appeared in four games for the Flyers, registering a minus-1 and six shots on goal. However, he was limited to just 12 shifts and under nine minutes of ice time in each of his last two contests, a decision Hakstol made as the winger’s speed diminished.

“I didn’t think he was all that effective as we were going through that game,” Hakstol said of Tuesday’s contest against the Sharks. “He has to have that burst in order to play the way he needs to play to generate offensive opportunities. Back end of a back-to-back, he didn’t have that burst.”

With Jordan Weal ready to return to the lineup after sitting out the last two games as a healthy scratch, it sounds like we’ve seen the last of Martel with the Flyers for a little while.

“He just needs to keep working towards it,” Hakstol said. “It was a real good opportunity for him to play his first National Hockey League games, and we saw a lot of things we liked in him.”

As for Weal, the Flyers are hoping the second-year player can get back on track. After recording two goals and four assists over his first 14 games this season, he is scoreless with a minus-3 rating in his last seven.

“He needs to hit the restart button and have a fresh start, and that’s exactly what this opportunity should provide for him is a fresh start,” Hakstol said.

“His work ethic, his passion, none of that is lacking, nor has it ever been. It’s a little bit of a restart for him so he can get back in the lineup and have that fresh feel and fresh start.”

Flyers ready to welcome Andrew MacDonald back vs. Penguins

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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

Flyers notes, quotes and tidbits: Nolan Patrick to return next week?

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Zack Hill/Flyers

Flyers notes, quotes and tidbits: Nolan Patrick to return next week?

VOORHEES, N.J. — At this point, Nolan Patrick is pushing the extremes of what qualifies as a day-to-day injury.

Patrick, who suffered an upper-body injury on Oct. 24, has made progress — doing individual drills before practice in his yellow “injured” jersey this week. 

Both general manager Ron Hextall and head coach Dave Hakstol acknowledged the injury, a suspected concussion, has taken longer than originally anticipated to heal. But the Flyers’ rookie isn’t far off from a return.

“It’s taken longer than we thought, certainly hoped,” Hextall said. “But he skated today and everything went good and worked out. Things are good and now it’s a matter of starting to ramp him up. You just can’t go from zero to 60, it’s gotta be zero to 20 and then up. So he’ll go a little harder tomorrow and then hopefully, continues to progress.

“He skated this morning, he’s making progress and it’s a matter of kind of ramping him up a bit every day and hopefully, things continue on the path they’re going right now.”

Since being hit awkwardly into the boards in a home loss to the Ducks, Patrick has missed each of the Flyers’ last six games and will very likely miss the next two, including tonight vs. the Blackhawks. 

“It’s always a concern when a player’s out of the lineup but at the same time, there’s people that are here to work with him and we have full confidence that all the right things get done and players work hard to get back in the lineup when they’re able,” Hakstol said.

The Flyers have managed to stay afloat without Patrick, going 2-2-2, but it’s clear the team is lacking the punch and depth Patrick provided. In nine games with Patrick this season, the team has averaged 3.3 goals per game, compared to 2.8 in the six games without Patrick. 

Veteran center Jori Lehtera has stepped in for Patrick on the third line, but with a large contract and his best days behind him, it’s easy to see why he was expendable in St. Louis and a healthy scratch to start the year.

“I think Jori’s done a good job for us,” Hakstol said. … “He came in on the left side and did a good job for us and when we needed him up the middle here over the past few games, I think he’s done a very good job in a two-way sense as a centerman for us. And obviously, he’s very comfortable. He’s a veteran player and a veteran centerman in this league."

Lehtera is a fine fill-in, adding one assist in nine games this season, but lacks the playmaking ability that allowed the Flyers to roll four productive lines to begin the season.

“Jori does a very good job down low defensively as well as down low offensively. If you watch carefully, closely, he creates a lot of good puck possession and makes plays in tight spaces so he provides a real strong middle-ice presence.”

So when can we expect to see Patrick back in orange and black? Dealing with concussions is a tricky business, but with two promising skates in the last three days, Patrick seems to be improving. 

Improving enough that Hextall wouldn’t rule out a possible return on the Flyers’ upcoming road trip to Minnesota and Winnipeg next week. 

Help is on the way
More good news on the injury front for the Flyers as it looks as though Radko Gudas (upper-body injury) has been cleared by the team to return tonight vs. the Blackhawks.

Fellow D-man Andrew MacDonald isn’t far behind, as Hextall anticipates the veteran to begin skating next week. MacDonald suffered a lower-body injury while blocking a shot on Oct. 21. 

“Mac sees a doc tomorrow,” Hextall said. “He’s right on schedule. Again, I’m not exactly sure what day we’re at now but he’s at the front end of the 4-6 (weeks) is what we expect. We hope he’s skating next week.”

Projected lines
Brian Elliott will make his first start in eight days. Winger Matt Read and defenseman Mark Alt are healthy scratches.

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

Defense: Ivan Provorov-Robert Hagg
Brandon Manning-Shayne Gostisbehere 
Travis Sanheim-Radko Gudas

Goalies: Brian Elliott
Michal Neuvirth