Edmonton Oilers

Flyers Weekly Observations: Secondary scoring behind Western Canada surge

Flyers Weekly Observations: Secondary scoring behind Western Canada surge

A three-game win streak?!?!?! All through the daunting Western Canada road gauntlet?!?!?!

Here’s something we haven’t said in a while: what a week it was for the Flyers.

Ah, refreshing, isn’t it? I’m sure the guys in the locker room will tell you it is.

The Flyers’ kicked off the winning run with a 5-2 win Monday night vs. the Flames in Calgary to snap the dreadful 10-game losing skid. On Wednesday night, they skated past the Oilers in impressive fashion with a 4-2 victory in Edmonton. And capping things off the next night with by jumping out to a big lead in Vancouver and holding on to it for a 4-1 triumph.

Per usual, plenty of things to go through this week, but on the good side this time around.

So let’s get this party started, shall we?

• In their three victories this week, the offensively challenged Flyers scored 13 goals. They scored just 20 goals total throughout the prolonged misery of the 10-game losing streak. So what changed?

Like Frankenstein, the Flyers’ secondary scoring sat up and came to life. While Sean Couturier, Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek each still put up their points, they weren’t forced to do all of the heavy lifting this week. In Calgary, Scott Laughton scored for the first time in 22 games, Valtteri Filppula tallied for the first time in 18 games, Wayne Simmonds struck for just the second time in 19 games and Michael Raffl cashed in for just the third time all season. In Edmonton, Jordan Weal scored for the first time in 13 games and just the third time all year while Dale Weise beat a netminder for just the second time in 16 games. And in Vancouver, Shayne Gostisbehere scored for the third time in 20 games.

Now that … that is what the Flyers were drastically missing during the skid. If Giroux, Voracek and or Couturier weren’t scoring, it was basically game, set and match from the get-go and the Flyers would be fortunate to even get a single marker on the board. Heck, at one point a few weeks ago that trio had accounted for nearly 50 percent of the Flyers’ goals for the entire season.

Giroux, Voracek and Couturier will continue to get theirs. That’s just what they do. But when the others get theirs as well, you see it makes all the difference in the world.

• Have a good number of Dave Hakstol’s lineup decisions dating back to last season raised eyebrows and garnered legitimate questions? Yes, absolutely. But you have to give credit where credit is due as he made a bold decision and broke up the potent Giroux-Couturier-Voracek trio heading into the Calgary game Monday.

That was a gutsy decision to break up a line that was that lethal and one of the best in the league. I’m sure that decision raised a few more eyebrows across the Delaware Valley, but when you’re on a putrid skid and haven’t won a game in almost a month, you can try some crazy things.

This crazy thing worked as the Flyers’ goal-scoring pulse is alive again with those 13 goals in the last three games. Hakstol deserves a lot of credit for pushing the right button there.

• Perhaps the biggest beneficiary of the recent line changes has been Raffl.

The 29-year-old Austrian started the season as part of an effective fourth line with Scott Laughton and Taylor Leier. But as the Flyers started to flounder like a fish out of water, Raffl was juggled up and down the lineup with no set spot. That was until this week when Hakstol injected Raffl into the top six on the second line with Voracek and Filppula. It was one of Hakstol’s bold moves, considering Raffl hadn’t scored since January prior to his goal vs. the New York Islanders on Nov. 22, a span of 42 games (Raffl missed the final month and change last season with an injury).

And the confidence the coach put in the winger is paying off. Raffl looks like a new player out there. He’s using his speed and strength to his advantage, barreling down the ice and setting up shop in front of the net to wreak havoc and cash in. And that’s his game — he’s got a power game and is more than capable of putting the puck in the net. And he’s got noted chemistry with Voracek. Remember, the two were on the Flyers’ top line three seasons ago when Raffl potted a career-high 20 goals. Raffl could be quite the important piece moving forward if the Flyers are to dig out of this hole.

• I’d be remiss beyond comprehension if I didn’t show Brian Elliott some love here. He was pretty darn good for the Flyers over that 10-game losing skid when he went 0-3-5 with a 3.06 goals-against average and .906 save percentage. The best numbers in the world? No. But he made the saves he needed to make and gave the Flyers chances to win night in and night out, exactly what they needed. Elliott’s teammates in front of him just couldn’t pick him up.

But Elliott took his game to another level this week as he was stellar in the three games the Flyers took out in Western Canada. All told, he made 103 stops on 108 shots with a 1.67 goals-against average and .954 save percentage. His best showing of a sterling week came Monday vs. his old mates in Calgary when he stopped 43 of 45 shots faced. The Flames were pouring it on, especially in the second period when they fired 21 pucks on net. But Elliott stood firm and righted the Flyers’ ship with his play. He then stopped 24 of 26 Wednesday in Edmonton and 36 of 37 Thursday in Vancouver.

The guy has been the steadying veteran presence in net and in the locker room. He’s been invaluable to the team so far. He’s taken the reigns of the No. 1 job, and that was even before Michal Neuvirth’s most recent injury. The Flyers clearly have their No. 1 goalie. And Elliott has earned every ounce of that role.

• If you haven’t yet, check out my colleague Jordan Hall’s column from Saturday morning on Hakstol and how the Flyers’ current philosophy has put him in a tricky spot behind the bench.

The Flyers have been toeing this line between development and trying to win for a while now and it’s been a tug of war for Hakstol with his coaching decisions. While some are rightfully questioned, he is still in a tricky spot. It’s a deep dive into that position for Hakstol. Well worth any Flyers fan’s time.

Coming up this week: Tuesday vs. Toronto (7 p.m. on NBCSP), Thursday vs. Buffalo (7 p.m. on NBCSP), Saturday vs. Dallas (7 p.m. on NBCSP).

Pressure-free Flyers win 2nd straight behind secondary scoring

Pressure-free Flyers win 2nd straight behind secondary scoring

BOX SCORE

EDMONTON, Alberta — The last time the Flyers won back-to-back road games came nearly a full calendar year ago last season in New York.

Now, they’ve strung together consecutive victories in Western Canada — which has been the perfect getaway following a 10-game winless streak — by playing simple, basic road hockey.

“Yeah, we talked about that. These aren’t our fans out here. We don’t have to entertain them,” goaltender Brian Elliott said. “We've just got to come away with the two points. We’re playing that good road-style hockey when you have nothing, you've got to get it in deep and live to fight another day, and I think our guys are really buying into that right now.”

The Flyers on Wednesday night completed a season sweep of the Oilers, winning, 4-2, at Rogers Place, and they finally received some secondary scoring from some unlikely contributors (see observations).

“This is a real solid road win,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “I thought from start to finish, this was a real good way to follow up a good win in Calgary. I just thought all parts of our game were pretty good tonight.”

Jordan Weal chipped in with a power-play goal on a perfectly executed tic-tac-toe play that started with Claude Giroux’s slap pass to Sean Couturier, who then found Weal stationed in front of the crease for the tap-in goal. Weal had taken Wayne Simmonds' spot momentarily with the other members on the top power-play unit.

“It’s been a long time coming," Weal, who scored his first goal in his last 13 games, said. “I think Simmonds had something with his skate. I just jumped out. It’s nice when you can get out with special players like that. Coots made a helluva play to get it to me.” 

Dale Weise scored his first goal in a month taking a feed from Claude Giroux, who outraced the defense to a loose puck in setting up Weise (see highlights).

“It definitely feels good,” Weise said. “I’ve really liked the way we’ve played the last two games. We made some adjustments throughout our neutral zone and really clogging teams up. They’re not coming with as much speed and we’re getting out of the zone a little cleaner.”

More importantly, Weal’s goal came about five minutes after the Oilers jumped on the board first with a shorthanded tally when Connor McDavid stripped Couturier of the puck and led a 2-on-1 the other way, resulting in Leon Draisaitl’s goal that gave Edmonton a 1-0 lead.

Outside of McDavid’s assist, the Flyers executed textbook defense against the Oilers' superstar, much like they did in the game in Philadelphia, holding him to just one shot which came late in the third period.

“That’s what he does — he builds up that speed and catches you flat-footed," Elliott said. “Our guys did a [good] job to limit him and keep him to the outside there. He didn’t really get a grade-A shot off. Hats off to the guys in front of me, for sure.”

“Our forecheck was really good tonight in the neutral zone,” Weal said. “We were a five-man group. We were all connected. If you beat one guy, there’s a couple other guys there to support. Whenever their skill guys tried to cut to the middle, I thought we had good back pressure and they weren’t able to make plays they wanted to.”

Jakub Voracek and Simmonds accounted for 16 of the Flyers' 33 shots on goal, and it was Simmonds' last shot on an empty net that sealed the game in the final minute.

Elliott stopped 24 shots and he’s expected to play on back-to-back nights after Michal Neuvirth was placed on injured reserve Wednesday morning (see story).

Flyers-Oilers observations: A win streak!

Flyers-Oilers observations: A win streak!

BOX SCORE

EDMONTON, Alberta — The Flyers have followed up their 10-game skid with their first winning streak in a month and half after defeating the Edmonton Oilers, 4-2, at Rogers Place on Wednesday night.

Jordan Weal, Dale Weise and Michael Raffl all scored for the Flyers, and Wayne Simmonds added an empty-net goal. Weal scored his first goal in 13 games. For Weise, it was his first goal since Nov. 4. 

Raffl has been red hot with goals in four of his last seven games.

Brian Elliott stopped 24 of the Oilers’ 26 shots.

The Flyers completed the season sweep of the Oilers after beating them, 2-1, at the Wells Fargo Center on Oct. 21. They can sweep the Western Canada portion of this road trip with a win in Vancouver Thursday night. 

• Claude Giroux drew the first penalty when defenseman Matt Benning pretty much bear-hugged the Flyers’ captain. The Flyers’ first PP unit got a good down-low look early on, but not much more after that. The second PP unit moved the puck a little better, but couldn’t generate a shot on net as Travis Konecny’s attempt went just wide.

• Through the opening 10 minutes, there wasn’t much open ice for Connor McDavid and the Oilers’ top line. McDavid had a sliver of daylight entering the Flyers’ zone, but was swallowed up quickly by four Flyers defenders.

• The Flyers’ best chance early on came when Darnell Nurse attempted to clear the zone, but Shayne Gostisbehere jumped on the puck and kept it in before it crossed the line. That set up Jakub Voracek with a shot that Laurent Brossoit was just able to extend his right pad on and make the save.

• The Flyers earned a second power-play opportunity in the first period. The best look came when Weal worked down low on the goal line and fired a saucer pass to Nolan Patrick for a one-time attempt from the left circle.

• Sean Couturier showed why he’s a grade-A defender, essentially taking out McDavid and Jesse Puljujarvi with his strip of the puck behind the net. From that moment, the Flyers gained and maintained possession for a duration of 1:40, which resulted in a Voracek slap shot.

• Overall, it was a dreadful first period of action. I can’t remember so many stoppages of play (25 faceoffs) and a period that had very little flow.

• Patrick Maroon went after Taylor Leier with a cheap hit. Maroon received two minutes for interference and the Flyers got their third power play in the first 22 minutes of the game. 

• Not only did the PP look wretched in its two minutes, but Couturier had the puck stripped by McDavid. The result was nothing but open ice and a perfect 2-on-1 shorthanded opportunity that ended in a shorthanded goal for Leon Draisaitl. I know McDavid’s a great player, but Couturier has to do a better job of protecting the puck in that situation.

• The Flyers finally got a PP goal on their fourth attempt. Interestingly, Weal was in the spot occupied by Simmonds with the first power-play unit. The Flyers finally had some quick puck movement as Giroux made a slap pass to Couturier on the left wing (see highlights).

• Didn’t you love the perfectly executed hip check Ivan Provorov laid on McDavid? Textbook check!

• Credit Giroux with the Flyers’ second goal. Giroux won a foot race to the puck and left it for Weise. He fired a harmless shot through the legs of Oilers defenseman Eric Gryba that also went through Brossoit five-hole from between the circles in the high slot. A bad goal from a bad goalie.

• It appeared that Giroux lost coverage momentarily during the opening faceoff of the third period as Mark Letestu nearly scored on a shot that deflected off the post.

• Good passing set up the Flyers’ first three goals. For example, Voracek outraced his man to a puck along the boards and saw a streaking Raffl catch the Oilers’ defense flat-footed for a breakaway goal.

• The Flyers lost coverage on the Oilers’ second goal. Travis Sanheim followed his man behind the net and left Mark Alt as the only defender in front of the net. The Flyers just didn’t have the bodies down low as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was able to put in the rebound goal in a wide-open net. 

• Not a smart move on Scott Laughton’s part as he committed a holding penalty on the other end of his own net with three minutes to play and the Flyers nursing a 3-2 lead. Just an unnecessary penalty at that stage of the game.

Lineups, pairings and scratches

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

Defensemen
Ivan Provorov-Andrew MacDonald
Shayne Gostisbehere-Robert Hagg
Travis Sanheim-Mark Alt

Goalies
Brian Elliott
Alex Lyon

Scratches: Forward Jori Lehtera (healthy), and defensemen TJ Brennan (healthy) and Radko Gudas (suspended).