Jordan Weal

Flyers' win streak gone in a New York minute

Flyers' win streak gone in a New York minute

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NEW YORK — The Flyers looked lost on Broadway while the Rangers put on a show.

A four-game win streak vanished into the New York night for the Flyers, who lost badly to the Rangers, 5-1, on Tuesday at Madison Square Garden.

Not long after Jordan Weal handed the Flyers a 1-0 lead just over two minutes into the game, things went south and never got better.

Dave Hakstol's club was slipshod in all phases, from the power play (which had been terrific) to neutral-zone coverage. You name the area and the Flyers were not sharp. They allowed three breakaway goals, one of which was a shorthanded marker.

At first intermission, the Flyers trailed 3-1. By second intermission, it was 5-1 and all but over. Goalie Brian Elliott was pulled ahead of the third period as Michal Neuvirth finished off the ugly loss.

The Flyers (20-16-8) are now 1-5-2 in their last eight games against New York.

The Rangers (23-17-5), who had lost two straight out of the bye week by a combined score of 12-4, regrouped rather impressively.

The defeat was also not the way the Flyers wanted to kick off their four-game regular-season series with the Rangers. They missed an opportunity to catapult past New York in the Metropolitan Division standings as a regulation win would have done the trick. Instead, the Flyers (48 points) remain behind the Rangers (51) and Islanders (50).

With that said, let's get into the observations:

• Over the four-game winning streak, Sean Couturier had four goals and nine points, Claude Giroux seven assists and eight points, and Jakub Voracek seven assists. Those three were neutralized as the trio went scoreless and had only four shots on goal.

Voracek had an ugly sequence of events in the second period, resulting in the Flyers' deficit ballooning to 4-1. Voracek committed a questionable hooking penalty (he visibly disagreed with the call) and when he left the box after the Flyers had killed off his infraction, the right winger was stripped of the puck by Michael Grabner, who netted his 20th of the season on a semi-breakaway look. The goal felt like a dagger in the fashion it was scored halfway through the middle stanza.

• Third-pair defenseman Brandon Manning had a rough first period. New York scored a pair of breakaway goals (Rick Nash at even strength, Paul Carey at shorthanded) and Manning was on the ice for both in which a Ranger snuck behind the defense for broad daylight. On the first, Nash beat both Manning and Radko Gudas. On the second, Manning was seeing some power-play time and a miscue by the Flyers resulted in a rush for the Rangers as a lead pass beat Manning.

The 27-year-old undrafted Manning hasn't been as bad as the criticism he receives, but he'll have to be better than Tuesday's performance if he wants to keep 21-year-old Travis Sanheim in the press box.

• The Flyers' power play was out of sync on its first chance late in the first period. The first unit nearly allowed a shorthanded marker before the second unit actually did. Overall, the man advantage looked passive at times and went 0 for 3. In its defense, the power play was 7 for 14 over the team's four-game winning streak with the NHL's best percentage since Jan. 4, the start of its run. Meanwhile, the Rangers' power play was 3 for its last 31 but went 1 for 2.

• Weal likes to play with speed and shiftiness, but when things haven't gone his way, he's worked his tail off around the net, where he's found production. He did it just over two minutes into Tuesday's game by standing right on Henrik Lundqvist's doorstep and deflecting a shot for the 1-0 lead. Give the 5-foot-10, 179-pounder credit for his willingness to adjust styles in order to make an impact as he has three goals and five points in his last six games. That was one of few positives on Tuesday for the Flyers.

• The NHL's sixth-ranked power play of the Flyers was going up against the league's third-ranked penalty kill of the Rangers. New York clearly won the matchup of this special teams battle.

• Travis Konecny, now on the first line, entered with six points (two goals, four assists) in his previous seven games, but went scoreless against New York.

• Elliott, making his 18th start in the last 19 games, did not have much help from his defense. The Rangers also got a power-play tally in which two bodies lined up in front Elliott, with J.T. Miller redirecting a point shot by Ryan McDonagh. Elliott's final goal allowed was one he'd like to have had back as Nash beat him on a straight shot from the circle late in the second period for the 5-1 hole.

• Lundqvist, who turns 36 years old on March 2, is now 35-14-4 in 55 career games against the Flyers. He made 25 saves on 26 shots.

• Since their 10-game losing streak, the Flyers were 12-4-1 with a plus-15 goal differential, outscoring the opposition, 58-43, coming into Tuesday. This was a clunker but the Flyers can't afford to keep this up against divisional opponents because that's the majority of the remaining schedule. The Flyers are 3-2-4 against Metropolitan competition thus far.

• The Flyers practice Wednesday and then host the Toronto Maple Leafs Thursday (7 p.m./NBCSP). Before puck drop, the Flyers will hold a special ceremony honoring Eric Lindros, who is having his No. 88 retired by the club (see story).

A rout at the hands of a rival for Flyers

A rout at the hands of a rival for Flyers

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The Penguins rolled into the Wells Fargo Center for the first time this season and buried the Flyers, 5-1, to keep the orange and black in last place in the Metropolitan Division.

After the Flyers tied the game at 1-1, the Pens ripped off three goals in a span of two minutes and 17 seconds. Pittsburgh’s fourth line did much of the damage with Ryan Reaves and Tom Kuhnhackl each scoring for the Penguins.

It was the first time this season the Flyers have allowed four goals in a single period.

Jordan Weal scored his fourth goal of the season and the Flyers’ only goal of the night.

Michal Neuvirth saw his first action since Nov. 28 once Brian Elliott was pulled after allowing four goals on 14 shots. 

The Penguins are now 13-6-2 in their last 21 games at the Wells Fargo Center. 

The two divisional rivals won’t face each other again until March 7 in Philadelphia.

• There was solid defensive hockey played over the opening seven minutes. I thought the Flyers needed to get off to a good start considering how poorly and inconsistent their first periods have been at times. There was tight checking and very little operating room for both teams. 

• The Flyers appeared to be aiming low on their shots in an attempt to catch rookie Tristan Jarry out of position for a rebound. Both Travis Konecny and Brandon Manning created shots that led to nice rebounds.

• The game started to open up midway through the first period with the Flyers on a 2-on-1 rush and a handful of 3-on-2s. However, their passing was all over the place for a team that hasn’t played in four days.

• Defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere broke up a number of odd-man rushes. “Ghost” has stepped up his defense over the past four to five games.

• A terrific cross-ice pass from Konecny to a streaking Claude Giroux down the left side for the Flyers’ best scoring chance in the opening period. Giroux’s initial shot was saved but he got the puck back and attempted a centering pass from behind the goal line that was just missed by Jakub Voracek.

• The Flyers drew the first penalty of the night as Kris Letang got caught with a high-sticking on Sean Couturier. 

• The Flyers’ power play was unable to generate much. On top of that, it nearly gave up a shorthanded goal as Ivan Provorov had a bad turnover that led to Jake Guentzel’s scoring chance that caught Elliott’s left pad. Moments later, there was good, sustained pressure from the Flyers’ second line as the unit was able to keep play in the offensive zone for nearly its entire shift. 

• The Flyers’ PK couldn’t contain the Penguins on their first power play of the night. The Pens perfectly executed a zone entry in the second period with Evgeni Malkin throwing a cross-ice pass to Phil Kessel, who pulled off a perfect give-and-go to Sidney Crosby and then snapped a shot past Elliott. The Flyers can’t give up the blue line that way.

• However, the Flyers struck right back — 1:06 later — as Radko Gudas did a solid job of opening up a shooting lane by backpedaling the blue line and throwing a shot on net. Weal did a great job of battling down low with Pens defenseman Letang before setting up in the high slot and redirecting Gudas’ shot from the point.

• The Penguins didn’t wait long to regain the edge. Actually, a span of 40 seconds. The first came when Pittsburgh’s fourth line just overpowered the Flyers’ fourth line as Reaves carved out territory in front of Elliott and banged home a shot just in front of the crease. Credit Reaves, who carved up Provorov to gain space in front of the net. Then on the next shift, the puck was held up along the boards, which led to a Conor Sheary breakaway. Robert Hagg was caught completely out of position, which allowed Sheary to outrace Andrew MacDonald to the puck and snipe a shot blocker side past Elliott.

• It was a rough period for Provorov, who had coverage on Kuhnhackl in the middle of the ice. As soon as the puck came out to Provorov, Kuhnhackl — in a microsecond — lifted his stick, gained possession of the puck and sniped a shot top shelf on Elliott. It was a very impressive goal and a rough night for Provorov, who was on the ice for both goals scored by the Pens’ fourth line.

• The Flyers had a multitude of opportunities to close the gap. Michael Raffl had a clear breakaway on a sprawling Jarry, but his backhand attempt slid completely across the crease and missed the net by inches. Late in the period, the Flyers’ power play came close as Gostisbehere’s slap shot hit the post and Valtteri Filppula had a shot from the right post.

• With four days in a six-game stretch, it only made sense that Dave Hakstol pulled Elliott after two periods and gave Neuvirth some time in the crease.

• Neuvirth was tested right away as he turned back five shots in his first six minutes. Not surprisingly, Neuvirth looked good considering it was a very low-pressure situation. Still, give him credit. It’s been five weeks since his last game action.

Lineups, pairings and scratches

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

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

Goalies
Brian Elliott
Michal Neuvirth

Scratches: Forward Taylor Leier and defenseman Travis Sanheim.

5 keys to Flyers making playoff push

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5 keys to Flyers making playoff push

When the Flyers begin the post-Christmas portion of their schedule Thursday night in Florida, they’ll be staring up at two Metropolitan Division teams (Rangers & Islanders) that are currently holding onto the two wild card positions in the Eastern Conference. 

Despite their recent 10-game winless stretch, the Flyers find themselves within a reach of the postseason. Here’s how they can get there: 

Dominate home ice
General manager Ron Hextall said earlier this season the Flyers need to improve on the road while also maintain at home. Through the first 36 games of the schedule, the Flyers have played better away from South Broad, but they haven’t exactly maintained that success at home like Hextall had anticipated. 

Looking back over the past four seasons, the Flyers have finished with 55, 54, 53 and 51 points on home ice. In order to reach the 53-point mark on home ice this season, the Flyers need 33 points over their remaining 22 games at the Wells Fargo Center, a mark of 12-6-6 or something similar would get them there, preferably picking up two points against divisional opponents, starting with Pittsburgh on Jan. 2. 

Improve penalty kill
In 2013-14, during Craig Berube’s first full season as head coach, the Flyers PK finished 7th in the NHL to help secure the second wild-card spot. During their final 29 games, they killed off an impressive 88.1 percent, and their 17-8-4 record during the stretch run reflected that.

Since that year, the Flyers PK has finished 27th, 20th, 21st and they’re currently 29th. There’s definitely room for improvement for a team that has already made strides defensively in their 5-on-5 play. As the league starts to bear down defensively, checking gets tighter, scoring will be harder to come by and special teams play will take on a greater emphasis. Finishing in the 20-22 range should be the aim from here on out.    
    
Offense from supporting cast
Playoff teams can’t solely rely on one stacked line throughout the 82-game slate. Look at the 2014-15 Flyers team that saw Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek finish with 154 points combined and still found themselves 14 points out of a playoff spot. 

Coming into this season, the players the Flyers were counting on to provide offensive assistance have failed to do so. Travis Konecny (four goals) and Jordan Weal (three goals) must increase their production over the next 40-plus games, while Nolan Patrick needs to be more assertive in the offensive end. The Flyers would certainly benefit from a little more offense out of their fourth line as well.   

Winning 3-on-3
With 23 of the Flyers remaining 46 games coming against divisional opponents and 39 of 46 against the East, we’re about to discover just how vital those three-point games really are. Losing overtime/shootouts will result in a two-point swing, and as their 2-8 record would indicate, the Flyers have performed very poorly after regulation, where winning half of those eight games would have them currently tied for the wild card.

Of the six teams with seven or more losses after regulation this season, only the Ducks — who barely hanging on — currently occupy a playoff spot. Considering the Flyers' history and even their performance in the shootout this season, they’re clearly better equipped to win games in overtime.

A steady Elliott
Starting 28 of the Flyers' first 36 games, Brian Elliott has clearly established himself as the Flyers’ No.1 netminder and can be counted on as the team’s most reliable goalie. Elliott is currently on pace for the heaviest workload of his 11-year career. He’s never received more than 51 starts in any season. 

There’s nothing to indicate that Elliott can’t handle 60-plus starts as Michal Neuvirth seems to be one quirky injury away from missing significant time. Breaking down his career splits, March has been Elliott’s best month with a 2.17 GAA and a .921 save percentage in 72 career starts. He was vital last season for the Flames when he went 15-1-1 to help Calgary into the playoffs. More importantly, the Flyers will need Elliott to maintain the same level of consistency that we’ve seen throughout the first three months of the season.