Brandon Manning

Flyers must respond to unfamiliar territory

Flyers must respond to unfamiliar territory


You could see a game like this coming from a Carolina country mile.

After finding ways to overcome stretches of sluggish play to win games throughout the month of February, finishing with a 10-1-2 record, the Flyers (34-20-10) turned in a lackluster performance Thursday in a 4-1 loss to the Hurricanes at the Wells Fargo Center (see observations).

“Obviously that is not what you want to do especially this time of year,” Jakub Voracek said. “No loss is a good loss. It’s hard to say if you feel it coming. You feel winning, you don’t think about losing the game.”

“We didn’t have a lot of energy tonight, but there’s no excuse for that. That’s a fact,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “I’ve said before, after some of the games that we’ve won, you have to take it for what it is.”

The opening five minutes of the first and second periods set the tone as Carolina played suffocating defense on the Flyers, who struggled to transition the puck out of their end and were responsible for bad turnovers. Brandon Manning and Andrew MacDonald combined for five of the team’s 10 giveaways.

“They sat on top of us pretty well. They didn’t give us a lot of time and space,” Hakstol said. “When you’re not doing things at full speed and real crisp and real sharp, it’s hard to make things happen and that was the case tonight.”

After bailing out the Flyers Monday in Montreal, Petr Mrazek didn’t have his best start, either. Carolina opened the scoring just as its power play expired. Former Flyer Justin Williams worked behind Manning and tapped in a rebound that Mrazek couldn’t control (see highlights).

“At the beginning of the game, I felt pretty good,” Mrazek said. “I made a couple of mistakes, a couple of rebounds that I should have had. I didn’t like the first goal, too. The puck got on the edge a little bit. It went to me and it gave them the momentum to be up 1-0 in our building.”

The Hurricanes were motivated by the return of their top center Jordan Staal. He and his wife Heather are recovering from the loss of their stillborn daughter. Staal's presence gave the entire Carolina team that emotional boost.

“That’s what you need,” head coach Bill Peters said. “You need your best players to be your best players and you miss them when he’s not here. I think it’s good for both us and him.”  

For the Flyers, it’s one loss that could be nothing more than running over a pothole on I-95, now with their eyes squarely focused on a two-game weekend road trip to Florida to face the Lightning and Panthers this weekend.

“We've got to make sure we give ourselves a boost out of this,” Hakstol said. "It’s a quick turnaround time. We have a short workday [Friday]. We get on the plane and head south. This team has handled reality very well, and that is what we will do again in this case.”

2 maligned pieces have Flyers' trust

2 maligned pieces have Flyers' trust

VOORHEES, N.J. — Who can forget Game 1 of the 2010 Stanley Cup Final? 

Ryan Parent, a 22-year-old defenseman, took his first shift to only be overwhelmed in his own end of the ice, which led to Chicago’s first goal of the series. There would be many more goals, but you couldn’t blame any of those on Parent.

That was his only shift of that series. He had lost Peter Laviolette’s trust, and the promising first-round pick acquired in the Peter Forsberg trade with Nashville in 2007, never played for the Flyers again.

Sometimes a team is as only good as its last line of defense or its third defense pairing.

If the Flyers' February success can be attributed to something as wildly mystifying as the Eagles' Super Bowl, then there has to be some merit to think the pairing of Brandon Manning and Radko Gudas has also contributed to the team’s overall defensive play. 

There may be isolated moments in a game when they’re caught in their own end (along with the fourth line), but together, they certainly don’t give Dave Hakstol reservations about playing them during crucial moments.

“No. 1, they have a good veteran presence to them,” Hakstol said. “The chemistry they’ve built with that experience has been very important to our team. They defend hard and they’ve been a very efficient pair back there.”

Efficient and experienced.

The Manning-Gudas combo has more combined games played on the Flyers' blue line with 510. You can also trace their partnership back to the 2016 Eastern Conference quarterfinals and the valuable experience they gained in slowing down Washington’s high octane offense to just two goals over the final three games of that series.

“It starts with a relationship off the ice,” Manning said. “When you know someone that well, it’s easy to talk to about your play on the ice or whatever’s going on. Even looking back at the playoffs in Washington, I think it was the same thing — 20 to 25 games together down the stretch. When you play with someone that much, it makes everything else that much easier.”

Having Manning and Gudas log significant minutes not only helps fortify the Flyers defensively but affords Hakstol from having to overextend his top pairing of Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere, especially in the manner in which Provorov has struggled over the second half of the season.

Ron Hextall wasn’t looking to replace Manning or Gudas before the trade deadline but rather provide depth. As of Wednesday, Johnny Oduya had not made it to Philadelphia as he continues to work through some visa logistics on his way here from Ottawa, Ontario.

“We’ll see where he fits into our group, but we’re really happy with our group of six,” Hakstol said. “Our pairs have fit together very well. We’ve got some good chemistry there, and we’ll be cautious about any changes we make.”

Flyers use a sick day in return from All-Star break

Flyers use a sick day in return from All-Star break


WASHINGTON — Michal Neuvirth wasn’t quite himself. 

Then again, Neuvirth hasn’t been quite right for the past several days. Fighting a stomach bug over the All-Star break, Neuvirth started feeling uneasy once again after a solid opening period in Washington.

“I was trying to hydrate myself as [best] I could,” Neuvirth said. “I felt energy in the first and then I sat down after 20 minutes and I was just getting tired every minute. I haven’t really eaten much lately, so I was drinking a lot of water. I had one practice before the pregame skate. It is what it is.”

Head coach Dave Hakstol was not aware of his goaltender’s condition and elected to make a change after the Capitals scored five unanswered goals on their way to a 5-3 victory Wednesday (see observations).

“I’m not going to make too many comments on that,” Hakstol said. “I’ll talk to Neuvy first and that’s where it will stay. It’s the start that changed the complexion of the hockey game, the start of that [second] period. Obviously, the first goal against, that’s a tough bounce for us.”

Not just a tough bounce, but Neuvirth appeared to be completely shocked that a shot would be angled in his direction as he clearly wasn’t prepared to make a save. He was able to keep the initial shot out of the net, but wasn’t quick to react to Chandler Stephenson, who raced in and pushed the puck across the goal line at the 2:14 mark of the second period.

“I got surprised. It was a bad goal,” Neuvirth said. “It gave them life and the rest is history.” 

Neuvirth’s admission of feeling light-headed conjured up flashbacks from a game last April 1 against the Devils when he suddenly collapsed on the ice, left the game on a stretcher and was hospitalized for precautionary reasons. 

Without a healthy Brian Elliott, who has provided stability throughout the first half of the season, this Flyers team may be staring at a goaltending dilemma. For just the second time this season, it allowed at least five regulation goals in back-to-back games — both losses to the first-place Lightning and first-place Capitals.

Alex Lyon made his NHL debut with 10 minutes and 54 seconds remaining in the third period and stopped all five shots he faced.

“It was a good day,” the 25-year-old rookie said. “I got a little stain on my suit this morning. I was pretty pissed about that, but other than that, it turned out to be a pretty good day. I’m sure on the train up to Jersey tonight I’ll take a moment and be happy.”   

With Neuvirth not feeling quite right, all signs are now pointing to Lyon making his first NHL start Thursday night against the Devils at the Prudential Center.

“I think it will really help. I’ve been taking the same approach every day,” Lyon said.

“He went in and battled as we thought he would,” Hakstol said. “He’s got a very good demeanor about him and he’s got a nice confidence to him, and he’s very comfortable in and around our players. I wasn’t too worried about what that might do down the road.”

The Flyers’ problems extended well beyond goaltending. The team’s third defense pairing of Brandon Manning and Radko Gudas was burned for a breakaway just 47 seconds after the Capitals scored their first goal. Manning then allowed Andre Burakovsky to gain position for an easy redirected power play that allowed the Capitals to take their first lead of the game. 

“The second goal, you can’t let that happen,” Hakstol said. “That’s a sleepy play for us, a quick transition play that gets in behind our defensemen.”

“They’re two warriors for us,” Hakstol said of Manning and Gudas. “And they’ve been that for our team. I’m not going to start nitpicking on the one goal tonight. We’ll talk about it behind closed doors as we always do. We need them to be at the top of their game.”

Wednesday’s defeat was also the Flyers’ first regulation loss in which they held a lead after the first period. The Flyers raced out to an early advantage when rookie Nolan Patrick, on a newly-formed line with Jakub Voracek and Wayne Simmonds, scored a beautiful backhand goal just 78 seconds into the game (see highlights). Patrick added an assist for his first multi-point game of his career. 

“I might have put that puck over the net two months ago,” Patrick said about his goal. “Yeah, I’m feeling confident and I feel better every game. It’s a great opportunity for me to play with both guys.”

Now comes Round 3 against Devils rookie Nico Hischier, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 draft.

The Flyers just need a steady presence in net.