jakub voracek

Flyers not surprised, but look it on Broadway

Flyers not surprised, but look it on Broadway

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK — Flyers players lifted their massive equipment bags onto carts outside the visiting locker room of Madison Square Garden.

There wasn't much energy or zealousness to such a mundane task.

Shortly before doing so, the Flyers made skating in the world's most famous arena seem just as mundane, allowing the New York Rangers to turn Broadway into breakaway on Tuesday night to the tune of a 5-1 loss (see observations).

"We just made too many mistakes that cost us," Jakub Voracek said. "Four goals out of five came off our mistakes, so it's tough."

The Rangers, not once, but twice during the first period, bolted behind the Flyers' slow-reacting coverage for nothing but open ice and Brian Elliott to beat. On both occasions, New York scored easily and took control of the evening.

It was a full exploitation of a Flyers team that had won four straight but wasn't "engaged in this game enough," as head coach Dave Hakstol put it.

With the Flyers holding a 1-0 lead just over six minutes into the contest, Pavel Buchnevich fed a stretch pass to Rick Nash streaking up the middle of the ice, leaving defensemen Radko Gudas and Brandon Manning in the dust. Both the delivery from Buchnevich and the speed of Nash appeared to catch Gudas and Manning by surprise.

"The first one, probably a better read by me and Gudy," Manning said. "We talked before the game, we knew that's what they were going to do, they were going to try and stretch us out. That one we can probably eliminate."

The second was deflating in every way imaginable. As the Flyers sputtered through their first man advantage, a pass behind Jordan Weal bounced off the side boards and right to Peter Holland. With most of the Flyers' second power-play unit pinching on the attack, New York rushed up ice and beat Manning in retreat as Holland hit Paul Carey for a shorthanded marker.

Whatever life the Flyers still had, it was sucked out of them.

At the time, before it unfolded, they seemed to be in OK position. The Flyers were down, 2-1, but vying for an equalizer by turning to their power play, which had been 7 for 14 over the four-game winning streak. However, what transpired was New York taking a surprising 3-1 lead with 10 seconds remaining in the opening frame.

"Those are ones we can prevent," Hakstol said. "They're a good transition team, so when you give them opportunities, whether it's a turnover out of their defensive zone or a turnover entering the zone, they're a good transition team. But our awareness on those plays was not what it needs to be.

"I just thought in the first half of the game, in all the areas of the game that mattered, they were the quicker and hungrier team."

The Rangers showed it some more when they went on another semi-breakaway, this time midway through the second period for a 4-1 edge. Michael Grabner came swooping in to pick Voracek's pocket before quickly flicking a shot past Elliott, who watched another blue jersey barrel down untouched toward his crease.

"We put him in pretty tough spots tonight with the opportunities that we gave up in the first 30 minutes of the game," Hakstol said.

The goalie making his 18th start in the last 19 games still took blame.

"It's not the easiest way, but that's my job," Elliott, who was yanked ahead of the third period, said. "I didn't have them tonight. Go back to work and try to feel good about my game. That's not where I wanted to be tonight. I didn't really give ourselves a chance to win and I've got to own a lot of that."

Tuesday marked the Flyers' first outing against the Rangers this season.

Were they surprised by the opposition's transition game?

"No," Hakstol said.

Manning sounded like he will be far more ready when the Flyers come back to Madison Square Garden on Feb. 18 for the second of four meetings.

"I don't know if surprising is the right word, they have some guys who can skate and I think we were expecting that," Manning said. "We haven't played them this year, it's the first time. When you see it for the first time, it's something a little different."

The Flyers on Thursday night will see the Maple Leafs for the third time. The previous two matchups were won by the Flyers. Interestingly enough, Manning had his best game of the season with a goal, an assist and three hits in the October victory, while rookie blueliner Travis Sanheim played in the December win.

Hakstol will have to decide between the two for Thursday.

One will be an extra, the other will want to make sure breakaways are at a minimum.

Debating Brayden Schenn trade? Sean Couturier playing role in it

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USA Today Images

Debating Brayden Schenn trade? Sean Couturier playing role in it

NEW YORK — For two straight seasons, Brayden Schenn made a living doing it.

Roaming the middle from circle to circle on the power play, ready to let a shot rip, punch home a tip pass or flush a rebound.

Schenn mastered the role by understanding how to complement the playmakers surrounding him. He turned the art into 28 man-advantage goals from 2015-17, fourth-most in the NHL over that span.

When Schenn was traded to the Blues on draft night last June, the Flyers' top power-play unit suddenly had a job opening.

It caught Couturier's eye.

"Yeah, I saw an opportunity," he said Tuesday following morning skate at Madison Square Garden. "Didn't get it early in the year, but as the year went on, got the chance to get a look in that spot and just trying to capitalize on it."

As part of a career year that still has half a season to go, Couturier is seizing the opportunity to fill Schenn's skates. Three of his seven goals during the Flyers' four-game winning streak have come on the power play. On the season, he has six man-advantage markers in 43 games after scoring just three over 416 games the six seasons prior.

"He's a smart player, he watched someone for such a long time like he did with Schenner," Jakub Voracek said. "He knows what to do and we talk about it a lot, we talk a lot of power play, how to get better, what to do when we have a bad game to make sure it doesn't happen again."

With perimeter weapons in Voracek, Claude Giroux and Shayne Gostisbehere to go along with a net-front presence like Wayne Simmonds, Couturier's intelligence of proper spacing and finding open areas has made the transition for the power play seamless.

"When you're such a smart hockey player, you know when to go the net, you know when to stop. I wish I had that gift. I always swing it away around the net," Voracek said with a laugh. "It's different with me, too, because I always try to create something. He knows when he plays with me and G that he's going to get the puck around the net eventually. So he stops there, he goes there and he's having a great year so far."

So is the power play, which entered Tuesday's game against the Rangers sixth among the NHL in success rate with a 21.9 percentage, while posting a 24.3 percentage on the road, good for third best.

"My job being in the middle is to be ready to jump on loose pucks, let the guys on the outside — Jake, G and Ghost — to do plays and I just try to create myself a shooting spot, or if it's a loose puck, try to be strong on it and get it back," Couturier said. "Just supporting all over the ice is probably the biggest thing."

Simmonds, second in the NHL since the 2013-14 season with 66 man-advantage tallies, said his teammates saw the ability in Couturier.

"He's done really well, extremely well, obviously you can tell by his 25 goals," Simmonds said. "Point-per-game player, I think a lot of people didn't expect this kind of offense to come out of Coots, but everyone knew he could do it. He's got his confidence, he's got his swagger and I think if you watch him with the puck, he's a completely different player. When you have your confidence, it just propels you to the next level.

"He's having a coming out party this year and it's really great to see."

Couturier continued the party last time out when the Flyers beat the Devils, 5-3, on Saturday night. The 25-year-old center scored two more goals, one off a nice power-play connection with Giroux.

"I think he's getting more opportunities. When you're in that spot on the power play, you get to showcase a few different abilities," Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said. "The quick release that he scored on the other night — first of all, it's a hell of a play from G through the three sticks and it's a real good finish by Coots. I think with success, you probably feel a little bit better about those opportunities, but I haven't seen a great difference because I've seen Coots score probably four of five goals this year on second and third opportunities at the goal crease. I think there's some depth to his abilities in and around the net."

Notes and tidbits
• The Flyers are looking for their fifth straight win as they open their four-game regular-season series with the Rangers tonight at Madison Square Garden (7 p.m./NBCSP). With a regulation win, the Flyers (48 points) can leapfrog the Rangers (49) in the Metropolitan Division standings. They come in two points behind the Islanders (50) for the Eastern conference's second wild-card spot.

• Forward Taylor Leier reenters the lineup after three straight healthy scratches. Tyrell Goulbourne, who made his NHL debut on Jan. 6 and has played the previous three games, will sit in Leier's place.

"Taylor's case, Taylor has been out of the lineup for the last couple of games, but he didn't come out because he played a poor game," Hakstol said. "We put a different player with different abilities in the lineup. So for Taylor, just come back, do the things that he does well and he'll help our team.

"Taylor is a confident player and the biggest challenge sometimes in that role, when you're in and out of the lineup, is the work that you do on the days when you're out. And Taylor does that work."

• Here is the Flyers' projected lineup, which sees the return of Gostisbehere, who missed Saturday's game with an illness:

Forwards
Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Travis Konecny

Michael Raffl-Valtteri Filppula-Jakub Voracek

Jordan Weal-Nolan Patrick-Wayne Simmonds

Taylor Leier-Scott Laughton-Jori Lehtera

Defensemen
Ivan Provorov-Shayne Gostisbehere

Robert Hagg-Andrew MacDonald

Brandon Manning-Radko Gudas

Goalies
Brian Elliott

Michal Neuvirth

Healthy scratches: Forwards Tyrell Goulbourne (healthy) and Dale Weise (healthy), and defenseman Travis Sanheim (healthy).

Were the Flyers snubbed for All-Star Game?

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AP Images

Were the Flyers snubbed for All-Star Game?

Throughout the season, we'll ask questions about the Flyers to our resident hockey analysts and see what they have to say.

Going End to End today are NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com producers/reporters Tom Dougherty and Jordan Hall.

The topic: Were the Flyers snubbed for the All-Star Game?

Dougherty
It's easy to find a gripe here since the Flyers had three viable candidates, but Claude Giroux will be the Flyers' lone All-Star representative at the 2018 NHL All-Star Game (see story).

Giroux makes his fifth All-Star Game and his 52 points are second in the league. That's fine and dandy, and since the Metropolitan Division is loaded, this was inevitable.

Sean Couturier's breakout season wasn't enough to earn him his first All-Star appearance, and it's a shame. It probably won't be the only honor he'll get snubbed from this season, either. The politics of NHL award voting are corrupt.

Couturier has 23 goals, which is fourth in the NHL and a career high. He has 42 points, which is also a career high. We could argue Couturier is behind Giroux's resurgence too.

All three deserve to be All-Stars, but that's not how it works. Only one Flyer made it when two probably should. Giroux's back to producing at a high-end level, but if there was going to be only one Flyers representative, I would have liked for it to have been Couturier.

Hall
This shouldn't come as a terrible surprise.

The selection of the All-Star rosters is a reputation-driven process. Outside of the fan-voted captains, the players are picked by the NHL hockey operations staff.

So when it came down to the most-deserving Flyers, Giroux likely jumped out. He's a face of the NHL, the name certainly has cachet and the captain is thriving in a rebound season featuring 52 points, tied for second in the NHL.

While Couturier's breakout season is duly noted in the Delaware Valley, it might not shine as brightly among the league and star-studded division. If Couturier continues to replicate his numbers down the line, then he'll become an All-Star at some point.

If anyone was truly snubbed, it's Jakub Voracek. The guy leads all of hockey in assists (43) and is tied for third in points (51). But not every team gets multiple representatives and Giroux, the trademark Flyer, was more than worthy.