Ivan Provorov

Flyers ready to welcome Andrew MacDonald back vs. Penguins

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Flyers ready to welcome Andrew MacDonald back vs. Penguins

VOORHEES, N.J. — For a team that has coughed up two-goal leads recently like mucusy phlegm during flu season, having Andrew MacDonald back on the ice paired with Ivan Provorov was a welcome sight for the Flyers at practice Sunday before heading out to Pittsburgh to battle the two-time Stanley Cup champion and rival Penguins Monday night.

“It’s great to have Mac back. He’s a great leader,” Provorov said. “He makes a great impact on the team. We understand each other. We read off each other. He’s in great position most of the times and that’s why he’s able to get great blocks and good sticks.”

MacDonald has been skating and practicing for the past week, looking to regain the flexibility and motion with his skating muscles after blocking a slap shot off his leg in the Oct. 21 game against Edmonton. After all, it was just a week ago MacDonald ditched the walking boot.

“It was simply getting some strength back into it,” MacDonald said. “I wasn’t putting any weight on it for a while and you’re losing some muscle in there. At this point, you just have to build it up a little bit and make sure there’s no setbacks.”

At the time of MacDonald’s injury, the Flyers were 5-3 and had given up an average of 2.25 goals per game. In the 15 games MacDonald has missed, the Flyers have an Eastern Conference-worst three wins during that span and have surrendered on average 3.6 goals.

The return of MacDonald certainly gives the Flyers more balance on the blue line, as head coach Dave Hakstol has been forced to rely on three rookies interspersed among his three pairs.

“When you have to shift your D pairings due to an injury, it depends sometimes how you’re making your shift or who you’re shifting for,” Hakstol said. “For us, the last couple of games we’ve had Mac out and [Radko Gudas] out. Two players that are very distinct in their roles. Today, Mac had a heck of a good day and looked good. He’s got a real presence in our dressing room and he also has a real presence for us on the ice, and the domino effect throughout our pairings.”

Along with Provorov, MacDonald will also help solidify the Flyers' top penalty-killing unit, a group that has plunged to 28th in the NHL while surrendering nine power-play goals over the last five games.   

Looking for buzz with new bees
Apparently the "Honey Bees" aren’t generating enough honey these days.

After keeping the line of Taylor Leier, Scott Laughton and Michael Raffl intact for the first 19 games of the season, Hakstol has elected to completely dismantle that line, as Laughton centered Jori Lehtera and Dale Weise during Sunday’s practice.

“Those two veterans have been out of the lineup for a couple nights,” Hakstol said. “There’s certain elements that they bring that are a little bit different than what Taylor and Jordan bring. Jori has played good, hard two-way hockey. He brings a heaviness to whatever line he’s on. For me, it’s more of looking for factors like that.”

The move also means Jordan Weal and Leier will serve as the healthy scratches for the Flyers' first game of the season against their cross-state rivals. 

“As an offensive guy, the numbers haven’t been there, and when that happens, it’s part of the game,” Weal said. “We need a little secondary scoring in the lineup. There’s no excuses. As an offensive guy, you’ve got to produce offense no matter where you are and what part of the lineup. I wasn’t doing my job and that’s what I was paid and brought here to do.”

“[Weal] wants to help and produce offensively,” Hakstol said. “He’s working hard and he hasn’t changed anything with his work ethic or his tenacity. Things haven’t happened and haven’t gone well for him.”

Interestingly for Leier, he scored his first goal of the season Wednesday against the Islanders.

“I don’t think I’ve changed the way I’ve played,” Leier said. “It’s a long year and we’re on a losing streak right now. I try not to get too high or too low. Sometimes you can tend to overthink during a year like this. There’s always a lot of variables that go into every situation. Sometimes you have to mix it up when there’s a losing streak and everyone wants results, including myself.”

Weise, with one goal in his last 11 games, has been a healthy scratch over the past three contests and Lehtera, still looking for his first goal in a Flyers sweater, has sat out in three of the team's last five games.   

“Two big bodies that can get in on the forecheck,” Laughton said of Weise and Lehtera. “We’re definitely building chemistry as practice went on, and I guess talk and see where we’re going to be in the offensive zone and things like that. I think it comes with communication. I’ve played with both of them in a couple of games and it’s just figuring out where everyone likes to be.”

DOA in OT
Following their Black Friday loss to the Islanders, the Flyers have dropped six straight games decided after regulation, four in overtime and two by shootout. It’s the longest such winless streak since March 3-April 4, 2015, when the Flyers lost seven straight after regulation.

Historically, the Flyers have been brutal in shootouts, but more recently, the breakdowns have occurred defensively during the five-minute 3-on-3 session.

“You've got to be communicating a lot and I think that may be one of our downfalls,” Wayne Simmonds said. “Sometimes we don’t talk a lot. We’ve got a lot of younger guys and communication is like having an extra guy out there on the ice sometimes. A lot more communication will do this team really, really good as well.”

“We’ve made mistakes that have led to point-blank opportunities,” Hakstol said. “Those have to change. Those have to be cleaned up immediately."

Over the past few games, Hakstol has also gone away from the trio of Jakub Voracek, Claude Giroux and Shayne Gostisbehere that has been OT gold in previous seasons.

“Are those combinations that we’ll go back to? Absolutely,” Hakstol said. “They were together up until the last two games. There were reasons for that. We’re creating and have created enough opportunities to win games in overtime. We've got to make sure we don’t start pressing to win those games.”

The Flyers are currently tied with the Ottawa Senators with six overtime losses.

Projected lines, pairings and goalies 

Forwards
Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
Danick Martel-Nolan Patrick-Wayne Simmonds
Michael Raffl-Valtteri Filppula-Travis Konecny
Jori Lehtera-Scott Laughton-Dale Weise

Defensemen
Ivan Provorov-Andrew MacDonald
Shayne Gostisbehere-Robert Hagg
Brandon Manning-Travis Sanheim

Goalies
Brian Elliott
Michal Neuvirth

Flyers-Canucks observations: Losing streak reaches 5 straight

Flyers-Canucks observations: Losing streak reaches 5 straight

BOX SCORE

The last-place Flyers continue to lose ground in the Metropolitan Division as they suffered a 5-2 loss to the Vancouver Canucks at the Wells Fargo Center Tuesday. The loss was their fifth in a row and sixth in their last seven home games. 

The Canucks' leading scorer, rookie Brock Boeser, scored twice as Vancouver ripped off four unanswered goals after falling behind, 1-0.

Making his first start in 17 days, Michal Neuvirth surrendered four goals and was pulled at the 14:40 mark of the second period in favor of Brian Elliott. Elliott stopped all 13 shots he faced.

Vancouver’s power play was 2 for 3 as the Flyers have allowed five power-play goals over their last two games.

The Flyers’ record (8-9-4) dipped below the .500 mark for the first time this season. 

• From just inside the left circle, Jakub Voracek ripped home a big shot that beat Jacob Markstrom glove side high in the third period. That seemed to wake up the Flyers, who had been sleepwalking through the previous 30 minutes.

• Dave Hakstol elected to switch up his second and third lines, pairing Michael Raffl with Nolan Patrick and Wayne Simmonds.

• The Flyers had another defensive breakdown, which led to a Canucks’ 2-on-1 opportunity. Robert Hagg stepped up to deliver a hit on Sven Baertschi, which allowed the Canucks to break out of their zone — a real problem area throughout this game.

• Travis Sanheim was called for a very minor slashing penalty during the second period, but anything with a stick near the hands will be called.

• On Vancouver’s power play in the second, the Canucks had a clean entry over the blue line after Taylor Leier had a shorthanded chance. Once again, the Sedin brothers teamed up. Brandon Manning stepped up in coverage, which allowed Boeser to slide into the slot unguarded and score an uncontested shot that Neuvirth had no shot to stop.

• The Flyers were actually outshooting the Canucks 6½ minutes into the second period, 24-12. Yet they trailed in the game, 3-1. Once again, the Canucks’ quality superseded the Flyers’ quantity of shots.  

• Not sure what Valtteri Filppula was looking for on the Flyers’ first power play of the second period as he flipped the puck out to the point with nobody home. That gave the Canucks a shorthanded chance.

• The Canucks extended their lead to 4-1 with their fourth straight goal. Neuvirth failed to corral a somewhat easy rebound and allowed Baertschi to bat in the puck out of midair. At that point, Hakstol elected to replace Neuvirth with Elliott.

• Voracek had his second breakaway opportunity in the final period. This time, he cut back into the middle of the ice but he couldn’t finish the play as the Canucks’ defensemen tied him up.     

• Now that Raffl was moved off the fourth line, the unit doesn’t possess the same speed with Jori Lehtera at right wing. However, the line had good pressure early on in the game.

• Voracek seems to have more east-west speed with the puck than he does moving north-south. He didn’t quite have the burst on a potential breakaway as Canucks defenseman Alex Biega caught up with him and denied him of a quality scoring chance.

• The Flyers won 68 percent of their first period faceoffs. The biggest one came when Filppula won the draw in the offensive zone and allowed Ivan Provorov to make a move and throw the puck on net. The puck deflected off the right arm of Biega and past goalie Markstrom for the Flyers’ only goal of the first period.

• I just don’t like Shayne Gostisbehere’s game over the past few weeks. Obviously, his lack of discipline cost the Flyers a potential win against the Flames, and he allowed Daniel Sedin to get behind him on Vancouver’s first goal. Credit Henrik Sedin, who threaded a one-handed pass to his brother that allowed Daniel Sedin to make a move on Neuvirth. The Flyers’ netminder had it covered but the puck hit the post, deflected off Neuvirth and rolled past the goal line.

• Earlier in the first period, “Ghost” lost track of Markus Granlund, who separated himself from the coverage and got off a shot to Neuvirth’s right. Gostisbehere looks like a different player depending which side of the ice he’s on. He’s obviously much more confident in the offensive zone, where he blasted a point shot off the post.

• The Flyers had a neutral zone turnover, were also on a defensive change and failed to get the puck deep when the Canucks scored their second goal just 19 seconds after their first one. Boeser took a big slap from the right circle that beat Neuvirth blocker side. Neuvirth appeared to be slightly off his angle.

• A solid opening minute from the Flyers’ first power-play unit that generated three shots on net. It appeared as if Simmonds took a crosscheck in the back on a Gostisbehere slap shot as he couldn’t locate the rebound. 

Lines, pairings and scratches

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

Defensemen
Ivan Provorov-Robert Hagg
Brandon Manning-Shayne Gostisbehere
Travis Sanheim-Mark Alt

Goalies
Michal Neuvirth
Brian Elliott

Scratches: Forwards Dale Weise and Matt Read (healthy), and defenseman Radko Gudas (suspended).

Flyers' Robert Hagg proving polished beyond his years

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Flyers' Robert Hagg proving polished beyond his years

VOORHEES, N.J. — Robert Hagg needed just one game. One game to prove the NHL wasn’t completely out of his league.

“I was like, 'Give me one chance so I can feel how it is, how big of a difference everything is.' That’s the mindset I had, just give me one game,” Hagg said.

Last April 9, in the season finale against the Carolina Hurricanes, Hagg was provided the opportunity. In a meaningless game in the standings, it meant everything to the rookie defenseman. He finally had the chance to validate that his game was indeed good enough.  

“I got that one game, and after that, I just wanted to play and to prove to myself and prove to everyone else I could play at this level,” Hagg said Monday. “That’s the mindset I’m still having right now is to prove to everybody else that I can still play at this level. I want to stay up here and build a career here.”

If Shayne Gostisbehere’s ascension to the National Hockey League was more of preparation through a microwave, then Hagg is the result of having a player slowly braised in a pressure cooker. GM Ron Hextall took his time with the 22-year-old defenseman, ensuring Hagg was completely well-done at the AHL level before bringing him to Philadelphia to stay. Hagg logged over 200 games with the Phantoms, and arguably, he probably needed every one of them.

“I couldn’t see it back then, but I can probably see it better now when I’m up here,” Hagg said. “Especially in the past year, I felt I was playing more on a consistent basis. So I felt like I was a step closer. I probably didn’t want to see it my first or second year, but you can see it from a bigger point right now. What [Hextall’s] vision is. I think it’s a good system here.”

Now there’s apparently no task too tough for this Flyers rookie defenseman. From skating with Gostisbehere to begin the season, Hagg has now partnered with second-year player Ivan Provorov on the Flyers' shutdown pair.

“I think he’s a really good player, he competes hard. He keeps it nice and simple. He gets it out of the zone quick, limits the turnovers. I think he’s done a great job,” Provorov said. “Calm and consistent — definitely, those are the two words that describe him best. I think he’s very calm on the ice and very consistent.”

After exceeding the 20-minute mark once in his first 10 games this season, Hagg has been counted on to fill some of the heavy minutes that were reserved for Andrew MacDonald before the veteran's lower-body injury. Hagg has logged 21 minutes or more in four of the last five games. Part of that has been the loss of key personnel throughout the course of a game, which has forced the Flyers to play with five defensemen.

But still, it's a great responsibility the rookie is taking in stride.

“Hagger has shown a real good presence, and maybe I overuse that word, but for a younger player, that’s a big deal,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “He’s had his bumps in the road through the early parts of this year, but what tells you that he’s very much ready to be a very good player at this level is that he’s able to rebound from those pretty quickly and not have them affect his next shift or his next game.

“That’s not an easy thing for a young defenseman, especially for some of the roles that we’ve asked him to step into especially with the absence of [MacDonald] the last couple of weeks.”

“It’s all a big challenge for me. Those type of minutes against top players,” Hagg said. “The only thing I’m doing is trying to make my teammates better. If I’m playing with Ghost, I’m trying to make him better. If I’m playing with Ivan, I’m trying to make him better.”

Remarkably, Hagg has played 257:55 at even strength (second on the club to Provorov) in which he’s been on the ice for just four goals against, or one even-strength goal for every 64 minutes he’s on the ice. By far, the best on the Flyers and an astounding number when you consider the top defensemen in the league are in the 25-35 range.

If there’s a blueprint for success on the blue line, then Hagg thinks you’ll find it down in Tampa where the Lightning’s top duo consists of a pair of Swedes.

“You see guys, like the way Victor Hedman is playing, big strong man, they’re superstars in this league," Hagg said. "He’s playing with [Anton] Stralman, and he’s helping him to be better as well. Last few years, I’ve been watching Stralman and he’s been playing a hard and simple game — get the puck up to the forwards.”

Trying to make his teammates better and his opponents a little sorer, Hagg has brought an element of physicality that’s been missing from the Flyers' defense in recent years with some bone-jarring hits against the Ducks and most recently the Avalanche.

“You can’t be chasing around for the big hit. Sure, these last couple of games I’ve had a couple big hits, but it’s not something I’m looking to get every single game," Hagg said. "If it happens, it happens. I just want to be on the right side and check people and knock people off the puck. That’s the purpose of it. It’s not about throwing big-body checks where the whole crowd goes nuts.

“Of course, that’s awesome sometimes.”

Injury updates
Add Michal Neuvirth’s name to those who did not practice with the team on Monday. The Flyers said Neuvirth was given a maintenance day. Nolan Patrick and Radko Gudas were also held out of practice once again. Patrick has missed the past six games with an upper-body injury as he appears to be working through the team’s concussion protocol.

Gudas indicated that he was feeling better following Saturday’s game against the Avalanche, but he remains sidelined, as well. Gudas has missed the past two games after leaving last Wednesday’s game in Chicago early with an upper-body injury.

Special visitors
Following Monday's practice, Wayne Simmonds and Brian Elliott hosted 12 members from the United States Air Force for an on-ice hockey clinic. Based out of McGuire/Fort Dix in Lakehurst, New Jersey, the servicemen and women will also be attending Saturday’s Flyers game against the Minnesota Wild as part of the “Wayne’s Warriors” initiative.

“I mentioned it and everybody just kind of looked at me," Simmonds said. "It’s always cool to meet those guys and talk to them, just pick their minds and stuff like that. I think some of those guys are going off and start training soon. I think it’s nice to get them out to a game."

Elliott knows firsthand of the demands required in the military. His wife, Amanda, served as an intelligence officer in the Air Force before finishing up her commitment in 2011.

“It’s cool that they have a team out here. You don’t see that too often,” Elliott said. “Some of those guys just got off the plane from being overseas for six months. They’re out here excited to be out here. How can you not be happy to go out there and shoot the breeze with them. The goaltender just got back and said he had brand-new gear on. He was a target out there so he was pretty tired.”