Michal Neuvirth

Flyers blitzed by Canucks as losing skid extends to 5 straight games

Flyers blitzed by Canucks as losing skid extends to 5 straight games

BOX SCORE

There were so many mistakes to be found in the Flyers’ 5-2 loss to the Vancouver Canucks Tuesday night that head coach Dave Hakstol surprisingly admitted even he could have done things differently by pulling Michal Neuvirth after the goalie gave up a third goal in the opening minutes of the second period.

“That one was on me,” Hakstol said. “I should have done that after the third goal to give our team the best opportunity. Once it got to four (4-1), it’s tough to dig out of that hole. The change after three may have been the spark that our team would have needed, but hindsight is 20/20.”

Starting for the first time in 17 days, Neuvirth was pulled with 5:20 remaining in the second period after making 18 of 22 stops. He wasn’t nearly a sharp as he’s been in his previous outings.

“Obviously, I need to be better than I showed today,” Neuvirth said. “It was difficult not skating. I had three days off over the weekend and I had one practice (Monday), so it was difficult. I need to be better.”

With Radko Gudas serving the second game of a 10-game suspension, the Flyers turned in one of the worst defensive games of the season as they allowed the Canucks a handful of prime opportunities based on turnovers, missed assignments and even a poor line change (see observations).

“We had a tough time starting in the neutral zone,” Jake Voracek said. “A couple of times, the defense tried to skate it through. We just didn’t generate enough speed. On the odd-man rush we had a couple of good looks in the second [period]. It is always more open in the second.”

The pairing of Brandon Manning and Shayne Gostisbehere had an especially tough time and it started when Daniel Sedin snuck behind Gostisbehere for an early, first-period breakaway goal.

“That first goal is probably preventable,” Manning said. “Me and Ghost talked about it and we can probably sniff that one out a little bit better. The second one is tough with the young guys trying to get off for a matchup.”

Canucks leading scorer Brock Boeser capitalized on a bad change from the Flyers’ defense when he rifled the first of his two goals far post over Neuvirth’s blocker.

“We gave up two easy goals that we didn’t make our opponent work for,” Hakstol said. “You’ve got to have one defenseman out there. You can’t have two D going. That’s the reality of it.”

“It’s just little details that are costing us games right now, and I think the PK needs to be better,” Sean Couturier said. “On the defensive side, we need to be sharper. Little details, whether that’s picking up your guy or chipping it out or line change. It’s all those little things that add up.” 

For a team that has been in every game at some point of the third period this season, that simply was not the case Tuesday night. Forward Wayne Simmonds admitted some bad habits are creeping into the Flyers’ game.

“I would agree with that,” Simmonds said. “We have to find a way to break those habits. We have to find a way to get a win here, no matter what it takes. We can’t be leaving them for 2-on-1s, 3-on-1s, 3-on-2s or whatever it may be. That’s going to hurt and it did.”

After winning their season opener in San Jose, the Flyers’ abysmal record against the Western Conference dropped to 5-8-4. They’re currently the only team in the Metropolitan Division with more regulation losses than regulation wins. 

“You’ve got to own it,” Hakstol said. “We’ve got to do better. You can’t sit back and rest on a lack of confidence. You give yourself confidence by preparation, work ethic, togetherness and those are things we have to put back into our game tomorrow night.” 

On Wednesday, the Flyers will travel to Brooklyn to face the Islanders for just the second divisional game of the season after blowing out the Washington Capitals, 8-2, in the home opener at the Wells Fargo Center.

Changes coming?
While the rest of the team loaded up for Wednesday night’s game on Long Island, Flyers defenseman Mark Alt took his equipment with him as he’ll rejoin the Phantoms. With Matt Read clearing waivers, general manager Ron Hextall could quite possibly make a couple of call-ups from Lehigh Valley.

“You evaluate everything on a daily basis depending on what happens,” Hextall  said. “You just don’t know. Someone gets hurt, we just can’t put them on IR. We need the flexibility for tomorrow.”

Don’t expect defenseman Andrew MacDonald to be available until Friday at the earliest. MacDonald’s skating still isn’t 100 percent even though he has practiced with the team since last Thursday. 

“It’s kind of a progression thing and we’ll see where it goes and we’ll see how he progresses,” Hextall said.

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).

With Jets on tap, Flyers have proven better off without Steve Mason

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With Jets on tap, Flyers have proven better off without Steve Mason

WINNIPEG, Manitoba — Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth sat side by side in their cramped stalls Wednesday afternoon at Bell MTS Place in Winnipeg and shared a laugh after coming off the ice from their midday practice. 

The two NHL goaltenders have learned about sharing space, especially in net. If the NHL ever had a timeshare presentation, Elliott and Neuvirth could probably sell you on its benefits.

Financially, they’re both making nearly identical salaries, with Elliott at $2.75 million and Neuvirth $2.5 million.

Neither guy came into October expecting to be the No. 1 in net, and if they did, they certainly downplayed it within the media. It’s a ho-hum tandem that just goes about its business, which is quite the contrast from the past four seasons.

With Steve Mason, you knew what was on his mind, almost to a fault. 

He despised the shootout. He talked about facing the pressure, a lot. There was an admission a few years back that he vented to his parents, sometimes swearing, after a bad start or a string of rough outings. He was naturally upset he wasn’t named the starter for the season opener in Los Angeles. There was the disappointment of not having a contract after last season, and then the “clarity” of moving forward after the Flyers re-signed Neuvirth and not him. 

Whereas Ilya Bryzgalov was the organizational migraine, Mason was simply a wave of nausea. Perhaps he came at just the right time following the most disastrous contract ever. 

For a franchise that gets nearly as much grief for its goalies as the Cleveland Browns do with quarterbacks, finding one that is relatively low-key, along with a propensity for stopping the puck, should be high on the Flyers’ list.  

Privately, a few former and current Flyers told me Mason had a way about him that could rub players the wrong way. There was his body language and staredown after giving up a goal. Then on a few occasions he called out his teammates following a lackluster performance. Ironically, last season’s game right here in Winnipeg, a 3-2 loss, was a prime example: 

“It was up to us to make them feel uncomfortable,” Mason said after the March 22 game. “We're also facing a goaltender (Michael Hutchinson) who hadn't had a start in two months, and I don't think we made it hard enough for him. We need a better effort.

“We keep playing like this and we'll be mathematically eliminated before you know it. We've got to stop this win-one-lose-one [habit]. We have to have some growth on the team here.”

While there may have been some truth to Mason’s words, one could argue it wasn’t his place to point fingers. That’s especially the case on a team with a coach who keeps most of his criticisms in a clenched fist.

Not once can you recall Mason’s teammates calling out their netminder following a horrendous game or, say, giving up a goal in a first-round playoff game that slides right through the five-hole from 125 feet away.

However, Mason left Philadelphia ranked third on the franchise’s all-time games played list and wins list. Only NHL Hall of Famer Bernie Parent and Flyers Hall of Famer Ron Hextall had more. 

When Mason returns to Philadelphia, I’m sure the organization will have a video tribute for his four-plus years of service in orange and black. However, let’s face it, Hextall wanted no part of Mason moving forward.  

“I had wanted to go back there (to Philadelphia), but seeing that they wanted to go in a different direction, you take it as what it is,” Mason recently told The Winnipeg Sun. “Come the summer, there were no discussions, so you move on. I’m happy to be in Winnipeg.”

No discussions. No chance to stay at a reduced rate. No more Mason.

With the signing of Elliott, Hextall was able to save money, and so far, the Flyers’ pair of Elliott and Neuvirth has saved its share of pucks. The Flyers are currently tied for sixth in the NHL with a 2.61 goals against per game.

On the flip side, Mason has had to recover from a disastrous start, one that included surrendering five goals in each of his first three starts with the Jets. He has also been outplayed by Connor Hellebuyck. Mason finally earned his first win of the season this past Saturday against the Coyotes.

Goaltending may not be the Flyers’ greatest strength this season, but it’s clearly not a weakness. Perhaps more importantly, it’s a quiet corner in the locker room.