Jordan Weal

Bigger goalies like Wild's Devan Dubnyk pose problem for Flyers

Bigger goalies like Wild's Devan Dubnyk pose problem for Flyers

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Four shutouts in their first 17 games.

Or you can break it down in a way that sounds a little more alarming: the Flyers essentially have given themselves no shot at winning 24 percent of their games this season which, in part, explains why they’re in last place in a very tightly-packed Metropolitan Division.

“It’s tough to say,” forward Scott Laughton said Tuesday. “I think we’re aware of it for sure. We’ve been shut out four times now and it’s not fun.”

“Everyone’s got pride in their offensive game, and when you get shut out, it doesn’t feel good,” forward Jordan Weal said. “I think if we can really get to our game and do it for a full 60 minutes tonight, I see something going in.”

The Flyers had a similar stretch of offensive ineptitude last season when they were blanked five times over a 19-game stretch from late December to early February, and they finished the season on the wrong side of eight shutouts, which ranked in the bottom five of the league. 

The logic is rather simple: when you can’t score, you can’t win, and that has been the case against some of the better goaltenders in the league. L.A.’s Jonathan Quick, Nashville’s Pekka Rinne, Chicago’s Corey Crawford and Minnesota’s Devan Dubnyk are big, rangy netminders who cover a lot of area.

“Three of those guys are really big goalies who fight through traffic,” Laughton said. “I thought last game Dubnyk was good but we've got to get more traffic on him, and create better chances for ourselves. If our first line doesn’t score, we’ve got to have other guys who step up.”

Perhaps a little overdue in switching up his second and third lines, head coach Dave Hakstol recognized a needed change after Saturday’s loss to Minnesota in which the Valtteri Filppula and Jori Lehtera lines failed to generate anything off the rush playing with little speed through the neutral zone.

“There’s no need for a desperate mentality or anything like that,” Hakstol said. “A couple of games where we didn’t score, maybe we could have done a little more, gotten to the net a little bit harder, could have found a rebound here or there. In all of those games, we ran into good goaltending performances, but again, you have to find a way to alter that. We can do a little more.”

Whatever the message, the Flyers have been quick to fix their flaws this season. In each of the three games proceeding a shutout, they’ve responded with a win in their next game, outscoring their opponents, 7-3.

“We’ve addressed a few things after the game, and we talked about those things after the games we were shut out and I think we came up with good energy and a mentality,” defenseman Ivan Provorov said. 

However, tonight’s game is different. It’s a rare home-and-home against a Western Conference opponent they don’t see too often and once again facing Dubnyk, who will be looking to extend his shutout streak of 138 minutes and 20 seconds following his 1-0 victory Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center. 

Wayne Simmonds believes the Flyers can alter their offensive approach by not jamming up the area in front of the crease. 

“We had some chances, we just didn’t bury it,” Simmonds said. “They played pretty much five guys packed right in front of the net. We probably needed to maybe pop a guy out or pop a guy up top or something.”

Patrick still out
Flyers rookie Nolan Patrick skated with teammates for a second straight day, however, he’ll miss his ninth straight game with an upper-body injury that he suffered in a game against the Anaheim Ducks on Oct. 24. Patrick has now skated in some capacity in five of the last six days, providing the possibility he could return to the lineup against the Winnipeg Jets Thursday night.

General manager Ron Hextall hinted that Andrew MacDonald could return to the team Monday, but the defenseman did not skate then, and although he traveled with the team, MacDonald was not on the ice for Tuesday’s morning skate at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. MacDonald will miss his 10th straight game with a lower-body injury and likely won’t return until Saturday’s game against the Calgary Flames at the earliest.

Zucker going wild
Minnesota’s Jason Zucker is on a remarkable tear, scoring the Wild’s last six goals over their past three games. No Flyer has done that in their 51-year history and the last Flyer to register six goals over a three-game span was Simmonds when he had multi-goal games in December of 2013.

“You obviously have to be aware,” Hakstol said of Zucker’s presence on the ice. “He’s on a heck of a run. He’s obviously feeling good and he’s a good player and a good offensive player who’s feeling it. So you have to be aware.” 

Frustrated Flyers on wrong end of reviews in loss to Senators

Frustrated Flyers on wrong end of reviews in loss to Senators

BOX SCORE

OTTAWA, Ontario — Wayne Simmonds described playing the Ottawa Senators as similar to working your way through a maze.

The Flyers almost got that piece of cheese at the end, only to lose, 5-4, Thursday night at the Canadian Tire Centre (see observations).

In what appeared to be the Flyers’ game-tying goal with 56 seconds remaining in regulation, Sean Couturier pushed the puck across the line and into the webbing of Craig Anderson’s glove just before referee Steve Kozari had blown the whistle. 

As Dave Hakstol came out of the coach’s room to address the media, he had just viewed the play from the overhead angle that provided conclusive evidence.

“We tied it up,” Hakstol said. “It’s there. I just watched it on our own video in the coach’s room and it’s clear as day. I watched the puck go over the line. It’s 100 percent a goal.

“I don’t know how that’s missed. That bothers me because the guys fought their rear ends off to get back into this game and tie this thing up.”

Hakstol said he was provided no explanation, but the NHL handed down this ruling from the NHL’s situation room in Toronto

“The referee informed the Situation Room that he was in the process of blowing his whistle to stop play when he lost sight of the puck under Craig Anderson’s skate. According to Rule 78.5 section (xii) apparent goals shall be disallowed ‘when the referee deems the play has been stopped, even if he had not physically had the opportunity stop play by blowing the whistle.’ This is not a reviewable play, therefore, the referee’s call on the ice stands — no goal Philadelphia.” 

“I didn’t even know it went in,” Couturier said. “I tried to jam it and I didn’t really know where it was. When I found out it was in his glove I thought maybe it was in, but I don’t know. I don’t know what the explanation was.”

That was the first of two goals that went against the Flyers in the third period. The first one came with 10:22 remaining in the game when Brandon Manning blasted a shot past Ottawa’s Anderson, which would have cut the Senators’ lead to 4-3. 

However, Sens coach Guy Boucher challenged the marker on account of goaltender’s interference. Flyers forward Jordan Weal backed his way into the crease, but it was Anderson who initiated contact. Weal had left the crease as Manning was firing off the shot. 

After further review, the NHL’s situation room had determined the contact was worth waving off the goal.

“(Valtteri) Filppula had the puck and I realized I was a little close and he kind of shoved me,” Weal said. “I got out of the way as the shot was coming in and I guess in their eyes they saw something different. We got a couple of tough calls against us there. It seems like we’re getting that every couple of games — a couple of tough calls against us. We played strong and sometimes those things happen.”    

“The first overturned goal — those are judgement calls,” Hakstol said. “I don’t get involved in second-guessing them. I thought it was a goal, but they’ve got to make that call when they watch it. But that’s a judgement call.”

Roughly a minute later, the Senators converted a 2-on-1 when Tom Pyatt wristed a shot far post to beat Flyers netminder Michal Neuvirth blocker side. In the span of 57 seconds, the Flyers went from possibly being a goal down to staring at a 5-2 Ottawa lead.

“We dug ourselves a hole, but the big thing is we dug out of that hole. Yeah, it’s frustrating,” Hakstol said.   

“It always sucks getting the goal called off, but I think we responded pretty well,” Couturier said. “We kept going. We scored two goals and almost the tying goal. We battled hard to get back but we need to have a better start.”

For a second straight road game, the Flyers trailed 3-0 in the opening period. It took all of 91 seconds for the Senators to jump on the board as Dion Phaneuf’s wrist shot from just inside the blue line found its way through a line of players to the top right corner of the net.

“I didn’t see it. I’ve got to watch the replay, but I don’t think it was a hard shot,” Neuvirth said. “But we’ve got to block those on the PK.”

After giving up two or fewer goals in his first three starts, Neuvirth had his toughest night of the season as the Senators touched him up for five goals on 28 shots.

“It was a tough game,” Neuvirth said. “Five goals against is way too much. Got to be better.”

The Flyers were well aware of Ottawa’s 1-3-1 neutral zone play that clogs up the middle of the ice, and yet Hakstol’s club was turnover-prone in the first 15 minutes of the game, which led to the 3-0 deficit.

“I think we were just sloppy,” Jakub Voracek said. “There’s no way around it. Bad start and they score right away. Second goal was a blown coverage by me. We played better from the second period, but sometimes it’s not good enough. We just didn’t skate and if you don’t skate, you don’t have the openings. You don’t skate, you get scored on and there goes the first period.”

The Flyers can only hope whatever maze they navigate in Toronto Saturday night doesn’t have quite the same steep, uphill climb.

Flyers-Sharks observations: Wayne Simmonds sparks opening win

Flyers-Sharks observations: Wayne Simmonds sparks opening win

BOX SCORE

SAN JOSE, Calif. — The "Wayne Train" was a freight train of goals on opening night Wednesday as Wayne Simmonds notched his second career hat trick in the Flyers' 5-3 season-opening win over the San Jose Sharks.

The Flyers blew a 2-0 lead and a 3-2 lead, but their power play bailed them out as they were able to pull out a win at the Shark Tank for just the third time in their last 22 matchups in San Jose dating back to 2002.

Simmonds scored the Flyers' final three goals of the game, the last of which was an empty-netter with 36 seconds remaining in regulation. The hat trick marked the Flyers' first on opening night in franchise history, according to NHL public relations.

• Brian Elliott got the start in net and appeared to struggle tracking the puck throughout the first period. However, he settled down and closed the door over the final half of the third period to collect his first win with the Flyers. Elliott stopped 32 of 35 shots. 

• One of my preseason keys was how the Flyers had to develop a potent second power-play unit. On its first rush following a change, it worked a perfect give-and-go as Travis Konecny flipped a pass to Jordan Weal, who beat Martin Jones with a cross-ice shot. Weal’s shot was perfectly placed, but it’s still a shot Jones should stop from that angle.

“It was a good breakout and we executed what we wanted to do,” Weal said. “I just put it in a spot where I thought I could either put it in, or if it didn’t go in, it would create a rebound for a guy going to the net. But it found a way in.”

• All of that preseason concern and panic over the Flyers’ power play was a worthless exercise. The Flyers’ two PP units needed just 1:09 to convert its first three power-play opportunities.

• Sharks goaltender Jones essentially put the Flyers on the board first when he hesitated behind his net and then sent a perfect tape-to-tape pass right to Jakub Voracek, who quickly tapped it over to Claude Giroux for a one-time goal in the opening period. Interestingly, Elliott nearly handed the Sharks a goal in the first few minutes of the game when he misjudged a puck, which resulted in an awkward lunge. However, San Jose couldn’t convert on Elliott’s turnover.

• Who in the world is Kevin Labanc and what was he doing on the Sharks’ top line? Well, Labanc proved just what type of player he is with a pair of first-period goals. San Jose’s sixth-round selection (171st overall) in 2014 brought some speed and energy alongside veterans Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski. That’s what the Flyers were hoping for from their 2014 fifth-round pick Oskar Lindblom. One knock on Labanc: he committed the Sharks’ first three minors, two of which resulted in goals for the Flyers.

• On Labanc’s first goal, defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere was caught deep in the offensive zone and the Sharks broke out with what was shaping up to be a 3-on-1. However, the Flyers recovered nicely in their end, and if Elliott would have controlled the rebound, the team would have avoided that early goal. 

• If the Flyers’ top line is to have any sustained success, Sean Couturier has to develop some sort a finishing touch working with Voracek and Giroux. Couturier had a breakaway and after putting a nice move on Jones, the Sharks’ netminder got a piece of the shot with his right pad. Couturier would have scored a goal had he elevated the puck. Still, one benefit with Couturier on that line is the players will have more possession time in the offensive zone. Overall, he was very assertive and he makes that top line tougher to defend.      

• In his NHL debut, Nolan Patrick, the Flyers’ second overall pick, played 13:30 with three shots on net. He also won 5 of 9 faceoffs. Patrick played a responsible game and rarely seemed out of place. For Patrick, I’m sure it’s good to get that first one out of the way. 

• The Flyers are 23-19-8 all-time in season openers, and they’ve now won back-to-back season openers on the West Coast.

Lines, pairings and scratches

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

Defensemen
Ivan Provorov-Andrew MacDonald
Shayne Gostisbehere-Robert Hagg
Brandon Manning-Radko Gudas

Goalies
Brian Elliott
Michal Neuvirth

Scratches: Jori Lehtera, Sam Morin, Travis Sanheim.