Claude Giroux

Still quiet outside top line as Flyers give one away to Jets

Still quiet outside top line as Flyers give one away to Jets

BOX SCORE

WINNIPEG, Manitoba — Now that the Flyers have seemingly rediscovered their scoring touch, they must next find a way to win a game again.

Mark Scheifele provided the game-tying goal with 49 seconds remaining in regulation Thursday after the Flyers had led for nearly 57 minutes before finally losing to the Jets, 3-2, in a shootout (see observations).

The defeat marks the Flyers' first three-game losing streak of the season.

“It’s something that hurts," Jakub Voracek said. "We were up 2-1 with a minute left. That’s a game you have to control and find a way to win. I think in overtime we were better. We had a lot of scoring chances, but again, it hurts."

Scheifele’s goal came after the Jets had pulled goaltender Connor Hellebuyck for the extra attacker. The Jets' No. 1 center worked a nice play with forward Blake Wheeler, as he sneaked his way between four Flyers and snapped a shot over the shoulder of Brian Elliott (see highlights).

“We had some tired coverage, and part of that is we had a couple of forwards that were tired on that coverage play and we had five D that played a lot of minutes through Periods 2 and 3,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “That’s still no excuse. We don’t want to give that goal up obviously, but we played a pretty good road game tonight.”

Voracek gave the Flyers their initial lead just 2:27 into the game when he jumped on Sean Couturier’s rebound shot and wristed it past Hellebuyck for the 1-0 advantage. Voracek’s fifth of the season snapped the Flyers' scoreless drought at 158 minutes and 36 seconds. Less than three minutes later, Couturier answered with a rebound goal of his own.

“We knew we were going to score today," Voracek said. "It’s kind of a relief that after two games we scored two quick ones. We couldn’t close it. Too bad for us."

“For sure, it helps mentally,” Couturier said of the goals. “At the same time, we were prepared tonight to come out and it was behind us our last two games. We worked on it Wednesday trying to be more in front of the net, more in front of the goalie. I think we did a better job, for sure.”

The problem with the Flyers' goal scoring is how it continues to be pumped out of the same well. The Flyers' top line has been counted on to score the team’s past five tallies with the last goal from someone not named Claude Giroux, Voracek or Couturier coming in a 5-4 loss to the Avalanche on Nov. 4. 

With the return of rookie Nolan Patrick, Hakstol switched up his second and third lines for a second straight game. Patrick was eased back into the Flyers' lineup and played just 7:32 after sitting out the previous nine games with suspected concussion-related symptoms, centering a line with Dale Weise and Wayne Simmonds.

“I thought his game was good,” Hakstol said. “He didn’t play on the power play, but he was limited in his minutes. I thought he was sharp. He was strong on the puck. For not being in the lineup and coming into a pretty heavy game, I thought he played a pretty good hockey game.”

The Flyers were also forced to play shorthanded with five defensemen after Radko Gudas was assessed a five-minute major for slashing Mathieu Perreault in the back of the head while he dropped to his knees on the ice (see video). Initially, referees Jon McIsaac and Gord Dwyer assessed matching minor penalties to Gudas and Perreault but reconvened shortly after the play was shown on the scoreboard and the crowd collectively gasped in horror over the hit.

Not long afterwards, Gudas was given the major/misconduct penalty and ejected from the game. 

“I’ll assume they didn’t look at video,” Hakstol said. “They have a process they go through. If they have something in question, they huddle up and they make their best judgement. I would absolutely assume they did not have video involved."

The Jets converted 3 of 4 shootout attempts with Scheifele, Patrick Laine and Bryan Little beating Elliott, who was superb once again, but it was Laine’s goal Elliott would like to have back.

“He does [that move] every time. I knew he was doing it and he still scored," Elliott said. "That’s on me. If you look at every tape he does, it’s every shootout. He does the same thing and he still put it in. I don’t know what happened. He hit my stick and it went in.” 

The Flyers picked up a point, but giving one back hurts even more. They’re now 2-4-3 in one-goal games, having dropped their last five by the slightest of margins.

Flyers Weekly Observations: As the top line turns

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Flyers Weekly Observations: As the top line turns

Only two games were played over the past seven days, but we still have plenty to talk about in the world where the Flyers roam.

Of course, we do … there’s always plenty to talk about with the Flyers.

The not-so-busy week gave the Flyers time to heal up. When the skates returned to the ice, we were shown glimpses of the potential the Flyers possess but also saw the deficiencies that could anchor them going forward.

The week kicked off in a big way Thursday with a commanding 3-1 victory over the visiting Chicago Blackhawks and swiftly ended with a thud thanks to a deflating 1-0 loss to the Minnesota Wild Saturday evening.

Let’s dive into this week’s main course, shall we?

• What you saw Thursday from the trio of Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier and Jakub Voracek, now that’s what an elite NHL top line looks like. The triumvirate made the Blackhawks look silly with the way they controlled the puck and had helpless defenders guessing the night away. Each player scored and each was sparkling in its own separate way. Giroux’s was a torpedo off a great Voracek steal and pass. Voracek's was a missile of his own off a threaded Shayne Gostisbehere cross-ice feed. And Couturier’s was the exclamation point of a lovely rush featuring a Giroux primary assist that was so good Corey Crawford’s head is still spinning and looking for the puck three days later.

Oh happy day, indeed. But … not so much two nights later as the Wild stymied the top line and the Flyers were left scoreless for a league-leading (?) fourth time already this season. There’s a theme here and it’s not the best one for the Flyers. Look, it’s great for them the top line is producing the way it is. But what about everyone else? The top line can’t score all the goals. That’s a recipe for disaster.

My colleague Tom Dougherty astutely pointed out earlier this week that Couturier’s scoring surge has been masking this secondary scoring wart. But as time goes on here, that mask will wash away. The top line has combined for 23 of the Flyers’ 50 goals thus far. That’s a whopping 46 percent. The unit has also combined for 60 of the 140 points the team has recorded. That’s good for 42.9 percent of the pie. This is not sustainable and something is going to have to change soon for the Flyers to find continued success. It’s not a coincidence they haven’t reeled together consecutive wins in almost a month.

• Is it time to worry about Nolan Patrick as a concussion has knocked the prized rookie out for the last couple weeks? I’ll put it like this: there is always worry about any concussion. But, sure, when a concussion has sidelined a player for this long, it’s worrisome. The plan is for Patrick to practice with the team Monday before the trip to Minnesota, but who knows from there. Remember he practiced back before the game in Toronto? GM Ron Hextall said prior to Saturday’s game Patrick hasn’t experienced any setbacks but is still trying to work back. It’s a scary thing because everyone responds differently to a concussion and you can’t push the envelope. The Flyers are rightfully being cautious with Patrick. Right now isn’t as important as the 19-year-old’s future.

• Wayne Simmonds hasn’t scored since he wired the game-winner Oct. 21 late against Edmonton, an uncharacteristic span of nine games. Hextall admitted Saturday evening Simmonds hasn’t been completely healthy in recent weeks but has been battling through for the team. And that has been evident as Simmonds hadn’t been his noticeable self over the last couple weeks. Something was just missing in his game. But this week, Simmonds was noticeable again. While he didn’t find his way onto the score sheet, he had that spark and jump that we’ve become accustomed to. And that’s excellent news for the Flyers. A healthy Simmonds obviously takes some of the scoring pressure off the top line, which is just what the doctor ordered right about now.

• Count this guy as one who thought Michal Neuvirth would take the lion’s share of starts in net this season. Well, that’s why they play the games, right? Brian Elliott has played very well in net and given the Flyers plenty of chances to win on most nights. In 11 starts this season, Elliott is 6-4-1 with a 2.73 goals-against average and .908 save percentage. Yes, Neuvirth’s numbers (2,17 GAA, .928 save percentage) are better, but that’s in only six games.

Elliott has the early trust of Dave Hakstol, who is notoriously fickle with his goalie decisions. And this was Elliott’s best week in a Flyers uniform yet. He was superb against Chicago, stopping 38 shots in the 3-1 win. His breakaway stop on Brandon Saad was excellent, as he waited Saad out and didn’t give him much real estate to shoot at. He followed that performance up Saturday with 27-save outing but took the hard-luck defeat after a bad bounce victimized him early in the third. Things can change with the snap of Hakstol’s finger, but it sure looks like Elliott has the No. 1 job on lock right now.

• The Blackhawks’ regular-season winless streak in Philadelphia, now at 14 since 1996, is just befuddling. How is that even possible? It’s like that 23-year winless streak the Flyers had at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit that was only snapped a few years back. I mean, it’s not like the Blackhawks have never won in South Philly … OK, I’ll just end that sentence and this column here for your health.

Coming up this week: Tuesday at Minnesota (8:00 p.m. on NBCSP+), Thursday at Winnipeg (8:00 p.m. on NBCSP), Saturday vs. Calgary (1:00 p.m. on NBCSP)

Flyers' top line delivers statement in win over Blackhawks

Flyers' top line delivers statement in win over Blackhawks

BOX SCORE

The Blackhawks want what the Flyers have right now.

A dominant No. 1 line.

The Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek trio scored all three of the Flyers' goals Thursday, dominating the Blackhawks' top line in the first 25 minutes of a 3-1 victory (see observations).

“When you get a chance to play against one of the top lines in the league, you get excited about it,” Claude Giroux said. “Coach told us that we were going to play most of the game against them. I think when you play with the same guys for a good amount of games, you feel more comfortable and the chemistry is more there.”

Giroux scored his ninth goal of the season 4:58 into the game on a perfect one-time feed from Voracek. A little more than seven minutes later, Shayne Gostisbehere teed up a similar pass for Voracek, who ripped home his fourth goal in his last seven games (see highlights)

Three goals, four assists and a plus-9 rating compared to Patrick Sharp-Jonathan Toews-Patrick Kane that finished with a minus-5 and no points. The Flyers' "Big Three" has combined for 60 points in the Flyers' first 16 games of the season. 

“It was a big matchup and a big challenge for us,” Couturier said. “We’re willing to go against anyone. We feel really confident about our game right now. We can outscore any line or any pairing. We've just got to keep going.”

“You’re talking about competitive people,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “There’s three good players on that line and they’re all different, they play the game differently, they have different elements, different strengths, but the three of them together, big credit to them — it has worked well for our hockey team to this point.”

Hakstol assembled the Flyers' top line by transitioning Giroux from center to left wing during the second week of training camp, and the Flyers' head coach has yet to deviate from that trio this season. On the other hand, the Blackhawks are desperate to try anything. 

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville shook up his lines again, this time pairing Toews and Kane together with Sharp in an attempt to rekindle some magic from the glory days of their Stanley Cup seasons. The Flyers proved the experiment to be an utter disaster as it barely lasted 20 minutes before Quenneville pulled the plug and switched Sharp with the speedier Brandon Saad.

Hard to believe this was the same Chicago team that put up 10 goals on the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins just a month ago. 

“[Ivan Provorov] and [Robert Hagg] did a great job against their top line and frustrating them," Gostisbehere said. "When you’re frustrating their top line, it’s kind of like cutting the head off a snake. The rest of the team will fold. I think we did a lot of good things out there of limiting time and space because they’re a skilled team."

Gostisbehere became the quickest defenseman to score 100 points in a Flyers uniform, reaching the milestone in 155 games

“Yeah, it’s awesome, a tremendous honor to do it but do it with my teammates and my coaches, they put me in those situations to go out there and get those points,” Gostisbehere said. “It’s huge. It’s a nice group effort — family support, everyone.”

After the Flyers jumped out to a 3-0 lead, they appeared to shift into cruise control and were outplayed over the final 35 minutes. Brian Elliott, who lost, 3-0, to the same Blackhawks just eight days earlier, bailed out the Flyers on more than one occasion with perhaps his best all-around game since joining the Flyers.

Elliott turned aside 38 shots and was vital in helping the Flyers kill off Chicago’s two-man advantage for 1:44 near the end of the second period.   

“It was huge," Elliott said. "They could have tied it up there at the end of the period and we would have been tied going in. Killing that off was big for our guys. We did a really great job. They didn’t do much on it. You keep things to the outside on that and they didn’t cross box us, so that’s good.”

When asked which save stood out the most, Elliott pointed to a pass he disrupted as the one play that was fresh in his mind.

“Taking away that pass from Kane in the 5-on-3 with my stick," Elliott said. "I was happy with that one because that’s an open net at the backdoor.”

“It’s big, to be able to get that at that time of the game and that situation," Hakstol said. "[Elliott] did a good job, made some saves for us. PK battled hard, big part of the game.”

The Flyers' win also marked the 14th consecutive regular-season win over the Blackhawks at the Wells Fargo Center, dating back to Nov. 9, 1996.

Quenneville might consider reuniting Stan Mikita and Bobby Hull on a top line if he thought it might bring the Blackhawks a win in Philadelphia.