Minus a goalie, Flyers treading murky water

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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).

Who deserves credit for Konecny's breakout party?

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USA Today Images

Who deserves credit for Konecny's breakout party?

In the immortal words of legendary Eagles announcer Merrill Reese, “It’s goooooooooooooooooood!”

Yes, that’s true about the local football club, but also at this moment of the local hockey club, the Flyers, who rode into the weekend’s All-Star break winners of three of their four games last week and winners of eight out of 10 overall.

Last week included a 3-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils last Saturday afternoon in South Philly, a 2-1 OT win in Washington over the Metropolitan Division-leading Capitals last Sunday afternoon, a 3-2 OT triumph over the Red Wings in Detroit on Tuesday evening and a manhandled 5-1 defeat at home at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning Thursday night.

But even that ugly thud had a tough time souring the good vibes the Flyers have piled up recently, especially over the last week and change.

So let’s jump right in and dissect because Flyers Weekly Observations are back.

• There has been no greater revelation for the Flyers over the last week, and dating back before that, than Travis Konecny. The 20-year-old winger has just been setting the ice ablaze for the Flyers recently. He’s now up to 10 goals and 12 assists on the campaign. So where was this earlier in the season?

Well, for starters, it’s not the easiest thing in the world to contribute in this fashion when you’re getting third- and fourth-line minutes and having your ice time cut dramatically in the third period and in OT.

But when you put someone who possesses the offensive flair of the high-risk, high-reward Konecny alongside stars who can score and play both sides of the ice like Sean Couturier and Claude Giroux, it fosters the perfect environment for Konecny to blossom. While his lineup decisions have rightfully raised eyebrows in the past, Dave Hakstol deserves credit for this one. It’s allowed Konecny to play to his strengths. And when he plays to his strengths, the confidence exudes by Olympic long jumper-sized leaps and bounds.

And that confidence was on full display this week with tallies in all four games. His game-winner in Washington was a thing of beauty, as he powered through a defender at center ice, weaved his way into the slot and fired a wrister past Braden Holtby. Chances are Konecny wouldn’t have had the confidence to even try that earlier in the year, let alone be on the ice in OT. Same goes for his winner in Detroit two nights later when he made the smart play and got back onside before firing the puck home.

A confident Travis Konecny is a dangerous Travis Konecny, and the Flyers have a dangerous Travis Konecny on their hands.

• There’s an old adage that says the good teams find ways to win games they have no business winning. The Flyers did just that twice this week — Sunday in D.C. and Tuesday in Detroit.

On Sunday, the Caps fired 28 shots Brian Elliott’s way and he was a brick wall to keep the Flyers in the game. The Caps were controlling the flow and pace and the ice was tipped in their favor after Michael Raffl’s tally early in the second period. The Flyers had 23 shots of their own, but nowhere near the quality of chances the Caps had. But still, they persevered and stole one from the division leader. There’s something to be said for that.

In Detroit two nights later, the typically underwhelming Red Wings brought it and the Flyers were fortunate to have the game head to OT with the way they were playing late. Remember, Tyler Bertuzzi had a glorious chance late, but couldn’t finish with a basically wide-open net. But Elliott stood tall again and the Flyers left the Motor City with two more points.

If the Flyers want to instill belief, winning games like these are a good way to do just that.

• With as well as the Flyers have played recently, they are still prone to their hiccups and duds thanks to their noted inconsistency. Remember the beatdown they took at the hands of the Rangers at MSG a few weeks ago? Well, the league-best Lightning showed the Flyers who’s boss Thursday.

Tampa asserted control early and often while jumping to a 3-0 lead and Andrei Vasilevskiy locked the vault in net. The Flyers threw 37 shots at him, but he had every answer save for one.

The Lightning surely remembered how the Flyers stormed into Tampa after Christmas and ended the Bolts’ long home win streak. So consider this one payback.

And consider it a lesson learned for the Flyers because they got walloped in all phases on home ice by the league’s measuring stick.

• One absolute must for the Flyers heading into the second half of the season while pushing toward the playoffs: fix the black eye that is the penalty kill.

Here at the All-Star break, the Flyers’ penalty kill is sporting a 75.3 percent success rate, “good” for the fourth-worst mark in the NHL. Only the Ottawa Senators, New York Islanders and Edmonton Oilers have worse PKs.

That number just isn’t anywhere near good enough for a team that has its sights set on a serious playoff push.

That’s something that can be a serious Achilles Heel down the stretch here and cost the Flyers games. And every point will be oh-so-precious as the months and days of the season continue to drip away.

And that’s especially true with the parity right now in the Metropolitan Division. Speaking of which …

• That’s what we in the business call a “tease.” Anyway, back to the point at hand …

After the Flyers beat the Red Wings on Tuesday, they vaulted into third place in the Metro with 56 points. It was the highest they’ve been in the standings since the end of the 2013-14 regular season, a span of nearly four calendar years.

Two days later after the regulation loss to Tampa, the Flyers fell to the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference, dangling on to a playoff spot by just a single point. Parity anyone?

Chew on this for a bit: Washington leads the division at the break with 63 points. The New York Islanders are two spots out of the playoffs with 55 points. Just eight points separate first in the Metro and two spots out of the playoffs. Heck, just two measly points separate second-place Columbus, which has 57 points, and two spots out of the playoffs.

What I’m saying is this division is wide open. Am I saying the Flyers are the best in it? Nope. But it is still wide open for the taking. It’s anyone’s ballgame. And the Flyers still have 17 games left in the division. It’s on them to make their move.

Coming up this week: Wednesday at Washington (8 p.m. on NBCSN), Thursday at New Jersey (7 p.m. on NBCSP), Saturday vs. Ottawa (1 p.m. on NBCSP).

Fitting final week of 2017 for Flyers

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USA Today Images

Fitting final week of 2017 for Flyers

The Flyers closed out the 2017 calendar year in style.

Well, in the style we’ve all become accustomed to the past 52 weeks, and even beyond.

The Flyers closed 2017 in a fittingly inconsistent and frustrating matter. How? First, an uglier-than-it-looks 3-2 loss Thursday to the host Florida Panthers. But then that was followed up 24 hours later with an impressive 5-3 win over the NHL-best Tampa Bay Lightning that snapped the Bolts’ eight-game home win streak.

Just because there were only two games this week doesn’t mean we don’t have plenty to dissect as 2017 reaches the brink of existence.

Let’s dive right in.

• This week was just so incredibly apropos of what we’ve seen from these Flyers, wasn’t it? We’ve seen this club come out of the gate strong, fall into the dark abyss of a 10-game losing streak, power out of that hole by reeling off six straight and then have its pulse even out with a win here and a loss there.

It’s this Jekyll and Hyde show that seems to have no end for this group. This week was the latest example with the uninspiring loss in South Florida and then the total 180 for an earmarked win over the powerhouse Bolts in their own barn, where they hadn’t lost in almost a month.

This inconsistency with these Flyers isn’t anywhere close to breaking news, but when you look back at these two games this past week, it’s the overwhelming theme. And that overwhelming theme of this week is a microcosm of why the Flyers are where they are, four points behind the New York Islanders for the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference as of Sunday morning.

Atop the list of 2018 resolutions, well, you fill in the blank. It’s the same one that’s been near the top of that list each year for a while now.

• The Flyers’ return from the Christmas break in South Florida was almost doomed from the beginning.

They kicked things off with a bang (not really) by taking three penalties in the first period, taxing their penalty killers and forcing lines to be jumbled. They wound up outshot by a 13-5 margin in that period. Then Brian Elliott wasn’t his sharpest, giving up three goals, including an early softie to Jared McCann, on 27 shots.

Then it was the power play. And, oh, was it ever the power play, and not in a good way. The man advantage was a dismal 0 for 4 with just six shots on net and it continually shot itself in the foot, including allowing a shorthanded goal to Derek McKenzie.

Almost everything that could have gone wrong for the Flyers did, before they turned it on late with two goals turn the heat up a bit, but not nearly enough. The Flyers aren’t good enough right now to continually play catch-up like that against any team in the NHL, no matter if it’s the worst or the best. They can’t just play 10 minutes and expect to win. And that was another hard reality Thursday.

• Lesson learned Friday in Tampa, where the Flyers put forth a complete, sound effort in topping the league-best Bolts, snapping their long home win streak and making a statement in the process.

Yes, the Flyers caught a break as the Lightning started backup goalie Peter Budaj over Andrei Vasilevskiy and yes, the Flyers found themselves in a hole again courtesy of an unstoppable Steven Stamkos power-play laser beam. But from that point on, they controlled the flow of the game and had the Lightning on their heels for the rest of the evening.

A major difference, you ask? The power play that was dreadful the night before laid the groundwork with two quick second-period tallies, one off the stick of Wayne Simmonds, the other off the stick of Shayne Gostisbehere. What else did those tallies do? They gave the Flyers a much-needed jolt of confidence — confidence that not only could they hang on the road with the best team in the league, but also that they could go on the road and take it to the best team in the league.

It was a complete effort that also included goals from Sean Couturier and Brandon Manning and an empty-netter by Valtteri Filppula.

If only that effort could be bottled up and spread out over a full season.

• What else more can be said about Couturier and the complete player he’s evolved into this season? He again displayed his evolution on the offensive end in the two games this week.

On Thursday, he collected goal No. 17 on the season when he got a piece of Gostisbehere’s point drive late in the third. On Friday, he set up Simmonds with a gorgeous backhand saucer pass across the crease before he slammed home a rebound at the end of the second period for goal No. 18.

So what’s changed for Couturier to get him here? It’s not talent. He’s always had that offensive talent dating back to junior. Sure, playing on the top line with guys like Simmonds and Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek also helps.

But he is supremely confident now in the offensive end. There’s no hesitation. But also look at where the majority of his goals have come from this season — in and around the crease. He’s getting into the greasy areas around the net and putting his 6-foot-3, 211-pound frame to work. And it shows.

That's how you become a top center.

• There were only two games last week, so let’s look into the orange and black crystal ball and take a peek at the week coming up. The Flyers are about to embark on a four-game homestand vs. the Pittsburgh Penguins, the New York Islanders, St. Louis Blues and Buffalo Sabres. And that’s before hitting the mandated bye week, which starts Jan. 8.

Yeah, so, needless to say, this is a pivotal week for the Flyers if they are to make some type of push toward the postseason. It will officially be January and the nitty-gritty is approaching if it’s not already here. The Pens and Isles both sit ahead of the Flyers in the standings. The Sabres are the worst team in the East as of Sunday morning and are more-than-beatable. The Blues are a feisty squad out of the Central Division, but the Flyers already shut them out earlier in the season in St. Louis.

Better grab some points now before the bye week passes you by.

Coming up this week: Tuesday vs. Pittsburgh (7 p.m. on NBCSN), Thursday vs. New York Islanders (7 p.m. on NBCSP), Saturday vs. St. Louis (1 p.m. on NBCSP), Sunday vs. Buffalo (1 p.m. on NBCSP).