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Observations from Flyers' big weekend out West

Observations from Flyers' big weekend out West

From “Let’s Go Flyers!” chants to “E-A-G-L-E-S, Eagles!” ringing throughout T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Sunday’s inaugural contest between the Flyers and the Golden Knights felt like a home game at the Wells Fargo Center. I’d be interested to see how many orange (and black) sweaters were actually in the crowd as the Flyers' official Twitter account posted this tweet from the press box in Las Vegas. If I had to guess, I’d say there were four to five thousand Flyers fans in the crowd.

But on the ice, the Flyers continued their surge with two huge wins and four crucial points in the standings.

Let's take a deeper look at the Flyers' successful two-game swing through Arizona and Vegas this past weekend:

• Perhaps the most encouraging sign from the two-game desert sweep was the performance and resiliency of Michal Neuvirth, who became the first goaltender in NHL history to earn a win after entering the game during the shootout. You can never script when your number will be called, but Neuvirth has singlehandedly helped the Flyers earn five points in his last three appearances, the first of which came in relief of Alex Lyon in a 4-3 shootout loss to the Ottawa Senators last Saturday. Since entering that game nine days ago, Neuvirth has stopped 44 of 45 shots and 10 of 11 in the shootout.   

• The Flyers handed the Golden Knights just their fourth regulation loss at home this season and apparently the presence of a Czech netminder is part of the secret ingredient for success. Neuvirth joins fellow countrymen Petr Mrazek (Red Wings) and Jaroslav Halak (Islanders) to win in regulation in Vegas. American Ben Bishop (Stars) is the other.

• Sean Couturier and Claude Giroux continue to haunt Marc-Andre Fleury’s crease no matter where the netminder goes. The Flyers' top line dominated Fleury Sunday in a game reminiscent of the 2012 Eastern Conference quarterfinal series between the Flyers and Penguins. In Game 2 of that series, both Couturier and Giroux recorded their only hat tricks. Giroux scored on the power play, shorthanded and with an empty net and finished with six goals in the six-game series. Couturier, then only 19, posted the only three goals of his rookie playoff campaign in that game. The torment continued Sunday night. Both Giroux and Couturier scored in the 4-1 win and the Flyers' top line finished with a seven-point night.

• Speaking of Giroux, ever since he called out his lackluster play in the game against the Hurricanes this past Tuesday, he’s been on an offensive rampage with three goals and three assists over his last three games. That was enough for the NHL to award him First Star of the week honors. This latest three-game stretch proves yet again why Giroux’s teammates respect him as a captain and a leader. If you listened to his postgame comments following the win in Arizona, you could clearly tell that Giroux was battling an illness. There was a belief that Giroux’s sickness would force him to miss Saturday’s game against the Coyotes, but he was able to gut it out and turn in a very solid performance that included a power-play goal. It’s this type of lead-by-example moment that forms bonds and creates character for successful teams.

• It took Radko Gudas 155 attempted shots and 730 minutes of ice time this season, but finally, the Flyers' defenseman registered his first goal of the season. His empty-net tally secured the Flyers' 4-1 win in Vegas and also prompted an entertaining exchange on the Golden Knights' twitter account. You could see Gudas’ teammates were genuinely happy for him as Shayne Gostisbehere had some fun with Gudas on the bench.

• According to Brian Smith, the Flyers' manager of broadcasting and media services, Sunday’s game against the Golden Knights marked just the eighth time in team history the Flyers' opponent did not commit a single penalty. The last time the Flyers won a game when the opponent did not commit a penalty came nearly 40 years ago — a 4-2 decision over Los Angeles on April 1, 1978.

• For whatever reason, some of the Flyers' more impressive wins this season have taken place on the road in the second game of a back-to-back set against Western Conference opponents. After coming up short to the Kings, 2-0, on their season-opening road trip, the Flyers have ripped off three straight in the above mentioned-scenario with wins against the Blues (2-0 on Nov. 2), Canucks (4-1 on Dec. 7) and now Sunday's triumph over the Golden Knights. The Flyers are now 8-4-1 on the road against the West with two games remaining — a back-to-back set against the Stars and Avalanche on March 27 and 28.

• Of the Flyers' remaining 26 games, their upcoming back-to-back set in Dallas and Denver features the only two games outside of the Eastern time zone. In those two games in Texas and Colorado, they’ll cover 3,315 miles. Conversely, the Flyers will travel just 6,513 miles over their remaining 11 road games. With their season-opening four-game road trip as their longest of the season, the Flyers may have one of the most favorable 82-game schedules they've had to navigate.

• The Flyers improved to 16-2-4 this season when scoring at least four goals. That includes 13 straight wins.

Minus a goalie, Flyers treading murky water

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AP Images

Minus a goalie, Flyers treading murky water

We are flooded by so many good Philadelphia sports vibes these days, it’s almost kind of weird. We’re not used to this. We don’t know what to do with it. It’s like this unheard of fog we never want to shake.

And the Flyers did their part last week to make sure the fog didn’t lift and that the good vibes kept rolling into town.

The Flyers went 3-0 last week with a frantic 2-1 OT win over the Hurricanes in Carolina on Tuesday night, a sound 5-3 victory back home over the Montreal Canadiens to cap parade day and then finished things up with a hard-fought 4-3 shootout victory in Arizona over the Coyotes on Saturday night.

Let’s continue to express our feelings in a deeper manner with this week’s Flyers observations.

• On Saturday night, the Flyers got over whatever it is about the lowly Coyotes that brings out the worst in them as they topped Arizona for the first time in four tries. And in a shootout no less. But the obvious black mark is how Brian Elliott skated gingerly off the ice during the shootout with what GM Ron Hextall is calling a lower-body injury.

A big reason for the Flyers’ success this week was the play of Elliot, a rock-solid presence in net who was clearly sorely missed in the four-game losing streak that extended across the All-Star break. He was excellent in Carolina on Tuesday with 27 saves. And then he gave the Flyers what they needed against Montreal and Arizona. Simply put, he’s been very reliable and the results have shown for the Flyers.

Conversely, Michal Neuvirth hasn’t been all that reliable this season Again, injuries have played a role, as his career arc continues to dictate. But when he’s been healthy in net, the consistency just hasn’t been there. And as the Flyers head into an important stretch with four of the next six games against teams nipping at their heels in the Metropolitan Division, they need consistency in net.

With as jumbled as things are, if Neuvirth can’t provide that this time around as Elliott is on the shelf, the Flyers could be looking up again in the standings.

• What a beautiful mess that OT was in Carolina on Tuesday night. The Flyers had no business coming out on top in that overtime session as the Hurricanes carried play, controlled the puck, skated circles around the sloppy Flyers and fired six shots on Elliott in the 4:56 played.

That sequence late where Elliott made a save and then Claude Giroux batted the puck out of the air to prevent the winner from going in behind Elliott was a wacky as it gets, but it worked.

Jordan Weal then scooted down the wing and slipped a softie past Cam Ward for the winner.

The 3-on-3 is designed to be fast-paced and action-packed, but that was a disaster that you just couldn’t take your eyes off of. And it worked.

• Remember how discombobulated the Flyers’ power play seemed prior to Thursday’s game vs. the Habs? The power play was just 3 for 30 in the previous 10 games prior to Thursday and things were not smooth, to say the least.

Enter a scoop of the perfect medicine, the Montreal PK, a unit that entered Sunday ranked 25th in the league and surrendered power-play goals to Giroux, in his office at the dot, and Jake Voracek, who whistled one off Carey Price’s ear on Thursday.

The power play struck two more times in the desert on Saturday courtesy of Giroux and Wayne Simmonds.

When this power play is clicking, it can carry the Flyers. With questions looming in net, the power play is going to come more in focus as the Flyers may find themselves in offensive barnburners more often than not. If the last two games are any indication, that’ll be just fine. But we know how streaky this power play is and things can turn sour again in the blink of an eye.

• Ok, so maybe I’m thinking too much into this, but I was watching the shootout in Arizona on Saturday night and it just seems like most of the Flyers’ shootout attempts are missing something. It’s like they struggle to get the goalie moving and then have no option but to shoot right into him.

I watch other teams’ shootouts and their shooters are getting the goalies shifting around the crease. So many times, the Flyers have nothing to shoot at because the goalie isn’t moving.

Am I crazy?

• Seriously, though… let’s take a peek at the Metropolitan Division standings. There are so many cooks in the kitchen right now. Washington is ahead of the pack with 69 points. After Pittsburgh won Sunday afternoon, the Penguins are second in line with 66 points. Prior to Sunday night’s contest in Vegas, the Flyers check in at third with 63 points. And then there’s New Jersey (62 points) and Carolina (61 points) in the wild-card spots. And Columbus and both New York teams are lurking just behind.

The Flyers just happen to play the Devils, Blue Jackets and Rangers in four of the next six games. Those are eight critical points on the table for all those teams.

Yes, these games have incredible importance and the pressure is on because heading south could happen quickly. But on the other hand, destiny is in your hands. And that’s true for the Flyers here.

Coming up this week: Sunday at Vegas (8 p.m. on NBCSP), Tuesday vs. New Jersey (7 p.m. on NBCSP), Friday at Columbus (7 p.m. on NBCSP), Sunday at the New York Rangers (12 p.m. on NBC).

Neuvirth an unlikely hero after Elliott leaves shootout with injury

Neuvirth an unlikely hero after Elliott leaves shootout with injury

BOX SCORE

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Flyers fans came out in bunches to Gila River Arena on Saturday night, as the Flyers defeated the Arizona Coyotes in a shootout, 4-3 (see observations).

While Flyers fans were serenading to “Let’s Go Flyers” and “E-A-G-L-E-S, Eagles," the team avoided a potentially ugly loss to the NHL’s last-place team.

The first five minutes of the first period looked promising for the Coyotes, as they were getting shots fast on Brian Elliott. The Coyotes surrendered three breakaways to the Flyers in the first period, and one arguably could have been a penalty shot.

Jason Demers got the scoring started for the Coyotes, as the puck couldn’t be cleared out of the zone by Shayne Gostisbehere and the 'Yotes took advantage. Demers’ shot was a weak tap off of a one-timer, right through the five-hole of Elliott.

That’s all the shine the Coyotes would get in the first period because the rest of it belonged to the Flyers.

Claude Giroux and Michael Raffl tallied goals just nearly two minutes apart from each other and gave the Flyers a 2-1 lead after one period.

The momentum wouldn’t last very long, as Elliott let in a shaky goal from a shot by Alex Goligoski over the blocker on the short side to tie the game at two.

Two minutes later, Wayne Simmonds was parked out in front of the net, per usual, and redirected a Gostisbehere shot to make it 3-2 Flyers. The assist for Gostisbehere marked his fifth in the last two games, two of those came on Saturday. The 11th-ranked power play for the Flyers finished 2-for-4 on the night, making it 4-for-8 in their last two games.

Ex-Flyer Zac Rinaldo scored his fourth goal of the season two minutes into the third period as Elliott allowed another stoppable puck to get past him to tie the game. The Flyers outshot the Coyotes, 18-4, in the final frame.

Neither team was able to put home the game winner in overtime and the Flyers looked to get their first shootout win this season.

That’s when the scare for Flyers fans came about.

In the second round, Coyotes forward Clayton Keller came in on Elliott and appeared to hit Elliott in the mask with his stick. Elliott stayed down on the ice and eventually came out of the game. Michal Neuvirth stepped in for the Flyers and went 5-for-5 to give the Flyers the win. It was announced after the game Elliott was diagnosed with a lower-body injury.

“I’m not going to speculate on how the injury occurred,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “I don’t know if the dots connect because he got a stick in the face or some kind of chain reaction that happened. But you hate to see that. I don’t think the stick was intentional, but that was a tough play for our goaltender."

Jakub Voracek roofed a wrist shot over the glove of Antti Raanta to tie the shootout at one. After three failed attempts, rookie Nolan Patrick scored the game-winner to put the Flyers in sole possession of third place in the Metropolitan Division.

“I knew what I wanted to do,” Patrick said on his shootout attempt. “I was watching on the monitor and saw that his glove was low so I was going there from the minute the shootout started if I got a chance to go.”

“Good saves by Neuvy coming in a tough situation and he did a good job,” said Hakstol. “Also nice to see (Patrick) go out there with that kind of confidence and make the play.”

For the Coyotes, they drop to 13-32-10 on the season. Raanta made 40 saves for Arizona while ex-Flyer Nick Cousins scored the lone goal in the shootout.

This wasn’t the first time the Flyers have had a tough encounter with the Coyotes. The Flyers lost back on Oct. 30 at the Wells Fargo Center, which marked the first win on the season for the Coyotes. The Flyers survived the scare this time around and now ride a three-game winning streak.

“They (Coyotes) play a pretty aggressive game and they play the right way,” Giroux said. “If you’re not responsible with the puck, they will hurt you. A couple times in the game, we weren’t playing our best and they were all over us. But we stuck with it and we were able to get the two points.”

The Flyers will wrap up their brief two-game West-Coast road trip tomorrow night in Las Vegas when they meet the Western Conference-leading Golden Knights at 8 p.m.