Brian Elliott

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 Weekly Observations: The Wayne Train hasn't skipped a beat

Flyers Weekly Observations: The Wayne Train hasn't skipped a beat

Flyers hockey is finally back in our lives.

Feels pretty darn good to say that, right? It’s been too long.

You guys know what else is back?

Flyers Weekly Observations! Woo-hoo!

I know, it’s so hard to contain your excitement. I understand.

Anyway, the Flyers started things off with a bang with a hard-fought 5-3 win on opening night Wednesday in San Jose vs. the Sharks, endured a tough 2-0 loss Thursday evening vs. the Kings in Los Angeles and finished up the California portion of the trip with a strong 3-2 OT victory over the Ducks in Anaheim Saturday night.

Still sleepy from staying up for all those West Coast games?

That’s OK because there’s plenty to discuss after a busy first week of the season. Let’s hop right into it, shall we?

• Through all the change the Flyers have gone through both externally with player movement and internally with line changes, prospects filtering themselves into more prominent roles and veterans still in orange and black losing a step in the eyes of some, one constant has remained a driving force — Wayne Simmonds. He picked up right where he left off with his hat trick Wednesday at the Shark Tank. He was right there in his office in front of the net, deflecting two pucks from the point past Sharks goalie Martin Jones. His second tally on the evening was as stealthy as it gets as he tipped a chest-high shot right by Jones. But here’s the thing you have to like about his empty-netter to seal the victory — sure, it was an empty-netter, but Simmonds is trusted enough to be out there on the 4-on-4 as the Flyers desperately nursed a one-goal lead. He also played 3:30 of shorthanded time in that game. Yes, he’s a goal-scorer, but he’s the Flyers’ Mr. Do-It-All. He’s their steady rock. And that OT winner in Anaheim was just an another example of the complete player he is who possesses a heck of a wrister.  

• Let’s get into the kids now. Specifically, the ones who patrol the blue line. I questioned the decision to bring Travis Sanheim and Sam Morin to California only for both to be healthy scratches in the opener vs. San Jose. Sanheim eventually got in Thursday in L.A. (more on that in a bit) and stayed in for the OT triumph in Anaheim. But Morin has yet to suit up this season and play. What’s the point of having him there if he’s not going to play? These are important times in the development of a 22-year-old defenseman who already has to live with the pressures that come with being a high first-round pick. If he’s not playing with the big club, he should be getting reps in Lehigh Valley. The guy needs to be playing somewhere, not sitting somewhere.

• So, now, back to Sanheim, who made his debut at STAPLES Center on Thursday evening. The nerves were obviously there for the 21-year-old, especially early on as he tried to get his legs underneath him. And that’s to be expected. Try and put yourself in his shoes, or, in this case, his skates. You would feel the same way. The nerves should be there. But the game was a tougher one for Sanheim, as he tried to get adjusted to regular-season NHL speed and precision all night and wound up taking a bad four-minute high-sticking call in the third. He was critical of himself and his play afterward, saying he needed to be better. And you have to like that out of a kid, especially after his first game. He wasn’t happy just being there. He rebounded with a solid outing Saturday night in Anaheim. He can keep building and keep getting more and more comfortable in the NHL. He’s got the right attitude.

• Speaking of the kids, how about keeping Nolan Patrick and Travis Konecny on the same line for a long, long time?

• One area that had my particular interest coming into this week was the goaltending. Both how each goaltender played and how head coach Dave Hakstol would rotate them because you just knew he would split the starts one way or another. I will say that I’m still not sold on the Brian Elliott-Michal Neuvirth tandem, but each was very solid in net this week in their respective starts. Elliott hung in there in a tough environment in San Jose and earned the victory with 32 stops. Perhaps his best one came in the first period when Kevin LeBanc found himself all alone with a loose puck in front of the net and Elliott stuck out the arm to make an impressive stop. Neuvirth was very good the next night in Los Angeles as he took a hard-luck loss with 25 saves. That incredible sprawling stop he made on Anze Kopitar, though? My groin hurts more and more every time I watch it. Elliott retook the reins Saturday in Anaheim and excelled with 21 saves in the OT triumph. So, while Neuvirth played well in Hollywood, Elliott is still the one with two victories. Knowing how Hakstol tends to ride the hot hand in net, don’t be surprised to see Elliott see the fair share of starts coming up. Speaking of goaltending, how good was Jonathan Quick on Thursday? When healthy, he’s got a legit claim to being the best goalie in the NHL.

• Have to like what we’ve seen from the Flyers’ newfangled top line of Claude Giroux on left wing, Sean Couturier at center and Jake Voracek on the right wing. The triumvirate opened the scoring on the season with Giroux’s first-period tally in San Jose and has combined for two goals, seven assists, nine points and 21 shots on goal on the young season. Keep that kind of offensive pressure up and the goal numbers will come. And remember, those three could still benefit from more time to jell together.

• Mr. NHL Schedule Maker did the Flyers no favors to start the season. The California hell trip is hard enough, but then two of those games were the opponent’s home opener. The cherry on top: a trip to Nashville for the Predators’ opener and Western Conference championship banner ceremony.  But, hey, coming out of Cali with four points ain’t bad by any stretch of the imagination.

Coming up this week: Tuesday at Nashville (8 p.m./NBC Sports Philadelphia), Saturday’s home opener vs. Washington (7 p.m./NBC Sports Philadelphia)

Wayne Simmonds, power play lift Flyers to season-opening win

Wayne Simmonds, power play lift Flyers to season-opening win

BOX SCORE

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Not only do the Flyers finally know the way to San Jose, but they now also know the best mode of transportation to get here and to get the job done.

By train.

The "Wayne Train" delivered the cargo as he became the first Flyer in franchise history to score a hat trick on opening night. Two of those were vintage Simmonds parking the caboose in front of the goaltender and redirecting shots from the point. He capped his second career hat trick with an empty-netter that secured a 5-3 opening night victory Wednesday over the Sharks, just the Flyers’ second win in San Jose since the turn of the century (see observations).

It was Simmonds’ hand-eye coordination, coupled with an ability to screen a goaltender, that placed him in a very elite category.

“That’s pretty good,” Simmonds said. “I thought we started really well. I think we’ve got a lot more speed. I think if you watched the game, we just kept skating, skating and skating. I think it was because of our legs that we came away with the two points. The good thing about the young guys is they have a ton of energy and a ton of legs, so that’s good.”

“He’s the best in the business at that (working down low),” Shayne Gostisbehere said. “They always tell me if I get the puck through on net, don’t get it blocked. You’re going to get a point because it’s either going to go in or Simmer is going to tip it. It’s a good presence to have. It’s a weapon that we obviously have, and he showed it tonight.”

The Flyers utilized Simmonds and their power-play units to full potential. Not only did the Flyers’ power play complete a hat trick of its own, but collectively, the team’s two units also needed just 1:09 to accomplish the feat. 

First, Jordan Weal got the Flyers on the board on the PP before Simmonds followed suit with his pair.  

“Jokingly, we said we were saving them for the season,” Gostisbehere, who tied a career-high with three assists, said. “It was huge for us.”

The Flyers didn’t start working on their power play until a week into the preseason. They were never too distracted with their September struggles, especially in the game at Boston in which they finished 0 for 9.  

“The last three games of the preseason, things were clicking pretty well,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “Tonight, the puck went into the net. We had a real good shooting mentality. We scored a couple early by having great net-front presence. One or two passes and putting it to the net, and it was effective for us tonight.”

Brian Elliott earned the season-opening assignment in net and despite surrendering a 2-0 lead in the first period and a 3-2 lead earlier in the third period, he shut the door over the final 16:48 to earn his first win in orange and black.

“The first game of the season, you’re always figuring things out,” Elliott said. “But that was a good one for us to spoil a home opener.”

Rookie report
Making his NHL debut, Nolan Patrick played 13:30 and had three shots on goal. Patrick also won 56 percent of his faceoffs.

While he wasn’t noticeable on the offensive end, he played a responsible defensive game. 

“I thought he played really well,” Simmonds said. “I asked him if he was nervous before the game and he said no. I think it was [Jakub Voracek] who said, ‘Ah, you better be nervous.’”

Robert Hagg, paired with Gostisbehere, was on the ice for 16:13 with two shots on goal. He saw time in all situations, including nearly two minutes on the penalty kill. 

“You’d think he’d be nervous, but he was so calm,” Gostisbehere said. “He’s a cool, calm and collected guy. He just sees the game so well. He’s a good calming presence back there. I think he played really well out there tonight.”

Taylor Leier, playing right winger on the Flyers’ fourth line, saw significant ice time with 12:30 of action (4:35 shorthanded). Leier was not on the ice when the Sharks scored their two power-play goals.  

For the stat junkies
• Hakstol is now 2-0-1 in season openers.

• Claude Giroux’s first-period goal marked the fourth time he’s scored a goal in a season opener. With his first assist this season, Giroux will pass Mark Recchi for fourth place on the Flyers’ all-time list.

• With his three goals, Simmonds surpassed the 400-point mark for his career (401).

• Wednesday’s game was the third time in franchise history the Flyers started their season in California. Last season, the Flyers began in Los Angeles with a 4-2 win over the Kings. Their first season opener in the Golden State came in their inaugural season of 1966-67 when they lost to the California Seals, 5-1, at Oracle Arena, home to the NBA world champion Golden State Warriors.