Michal Neuvirth

Which player can the Flyers least afford to lose?

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Which player can the Flyers least afford to lose?

When Sean Couturier briefly left Friday’s game in Columbus, his absence ignited a conversation around the NBC Sports Philadelphia newsroom which led to the Hot Take question: What player could the Flyers least afford to lose to injury? In other words, which Flyer is the most indispensable to the team’s overall success? Here's my ranking, starting at the top, of the players the Flyers can least afford to lose. Let the debate begin.

1. Michal Neuvirth 
This may come as a surprise considering that just a few weeks ago, Neuvirth was serving in a reserve role behind Brian Elliott who was the clear cut No. 1 in net. Since stepping in as a starter, Neuvirth has promptly delivered with a .950 save percentage and a 1.93 goals against. The reason Neuvirth falls under the heading as most indispensable is rather simple: the drop-off from Neuvirth to Alex Lyon is significantly steep. Lyon struggled in his two starts adapting to the NHL’s level of pace and skill, and right now, Lyon’s not a viable option to handle the No. 1 job over an extended period. Without Neuvirth, Lyon and Phantoms goalie Dustin Tokarski, who has 34 games of NHL experience plus five playoff games with the Montreal Candiens, would serve as the Flyers' 1-2 punch in net. 

2. Ivan Provorov 
The Flyers' shutdown defenseman logs more than three minutes of ice time more than the next Flyers defenseman, and his playing partner, Shayne Gostisbehere, has elevated his game (both offensively and defensively) since he’s been paired with Provorov. Andrew MacDonald’s flaws weren’t quite as exposed playing side-by-side with Provorov prior to the switch. While Provorov hasn’t quite been his steady self over the past several weeks and his puck handling at times can be adventurous, you can’t disregard his importance because his work along the boards and his ability to separate the player from the puck is unquestionably the best among the Flyers blueliners. If the Flyers lost Provorov, rookie Robert Hägg or veteran Andrew MacDonald would likely join Gostisbehere on the top pairing, with Radko Gudas moving up to the second pairing and Mark Alt becoming a regular contributor again.

3. Sean Couturier 
The Flyers' No. 1 center has logged some monster minutes this season. Among forwards, only Kings captain Anze Kopitar has been on the ice more than Couturier, who also ranks fourth in average ice time. Couturier plays a vital role in all situations and will likely be a finalist for the Selke Trophy as the league’s top defensive forward, not to mention, he’s also on pace to score a mind-blowing 41 goals this season. When Couturier registers a point, the Flyers record is 23-4-9 this season. Few players can drive to the net with and without the puck as effectively as Couturier. Senators coach Guy Boucher recently called him a “buy-in guy,” who will essentially do anything that is asked of him and then some. It's difficult to envision how the Flyers would adapt without Couturier. I can't see Nolan Patrick, Scott Laughton or Valtteri Filppula stepping into his role as the No. 1 center, so moving Claude Giroux to the middle and Jake Voracek to left wing on the fist line would likely make the most sense.

4. Jake Voracek 
When healthy, Voracek makes an entire line better, no matter who he’s with. While Voracek commits his share of turnovers and giveaways, his ability to carry the puck into the offensive zone is such an important part of the team’s puck possession metrics. He started the season with Giroux and Couturier before Hakstol was forced to break up that trio in a desperate attempt to snap the Flyers' 10-game winless streak.  His numbers have remained consistent regardless of who he has played with, and while he’s not a primary scoring option, the Flyers' power play funnels in Voracek’s direction with his league-leading 25 power play assists. No one Flyer can step into Voracek’s role and do precisely what he does on a nightly basis.

5. Claude Giroux 
Hard to believe that the Flyers' leading scorer, and the NHL’s fourth-leading scorer would be fifth on this list, but it speaks more to the depth of the Flyers than it does to Giroux himself. Without Giroux, Couturier would not be enjoying the career season he’s had, and even Travis Konecny for that matter. Giroux is back playing in the 20-minute range after an injury-plagued season, and like Couturier and Voracek, redistributing those minutes would not come easily. There’s the intangibles to Giroux’s game that are hard to quantify. Giroux's absence would create several holes — the ability to create offense with his vision and hockey IQ, his leadership, and the importance of winning crucial face-offs. At 58.5 percent, Giroux ranks third in the NHL in face-off percentage. 

Flyers exorcise some demons thanks to Sean Couturier

Flyers exorcise some demons thanks to Sean Couturier

BOX SCORE

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The losing streak at Nationwide Arena is finally over.

After 11 straight losses on Columbus’ home ice, the Flyers added a pair of crucial points in the standings Friday behind Sean Couturier’s overtime game-winner for a 2-1 win over the Blue Jackets (see observations).

“It’s been a long time,” said Wayne Simmonds, who opened the scoring with a tip-in goal in the second period. “I’ve been here for seven years; that feels like an eternity, but I felt we had a strong team effort tonight and the boys showed up.”

Although the outcome in Columbus favored the orange and black for the first time since Dec. 13, 2005, Friday night’s divisional contest didn’t veer too far out of the ordinary. Nemesis Sergei Bobrovsky (24-18-5) made his seventh home start against his former team, and was once again stellar, stopping 23 of the Flyers’ 25 shots.

The two-time Vezina Trophy winner put on a magic show, starting in the first period with acrobatic saves against Jordan Weal, Couturier and Claude Giroux.

“He’s a good goalie,” Simmonds said. “You've just got to keep shooting and second opportunities, third opportunities — he doesn’t give up very many goals, and I thought Neuvy (Michal Neuvirth) played just as well, if even better.”

As the default starter with Brian Ellliott on injured reserve, Neuvirth (8-7-3) was outstanding, earning the team’s Ric Flair robe. With Columbus coming off of three consecutive outings of firing 50 or more shots on goal, the 29-year-old goalie faced a barrage of shots, stopping 35 of 36 en route to his eighth win of the season.

“I felt pretty good; I feel confident,” Neuvirth said. “Obviously, [it was a] great team effort. The guys played unbelievable in front of me and I was seeing the puck well. It was a good two points.”

After letting Tuesday night’s game against New Jersey slip away in a 5-4 shootout loss, the rare pair of points in Columbus were crucial for Dave Hakstol’s team to stay ahead of the Devils, who won for the second consecutive time with a 5-2 win on Thursday (see standings).

Adding to the familiarity to the feel of a showdown in Ohio’s capital, the contest remained a one-goal game from Simmonds’ tally in the second to Cam Atkinson’s equalizer at the 16:32 mark of the third.

“Both goaltenders played really well tonight,” Hakstol said. “It was a tight, grinding game; there were some great opportunities [in] both directions. I think both teams made enough plays for it to be more than a 1-1 game, but both goaltenders were really good. We’re more and more comfortable in these games. We’ve won a lot of these games and that’s a lot of credit to our guys just staying with it.”

In addition to yet another one-goal game between these two teams, Friday’s tilt marked the seventh time in the last 13 meetings that a game was decided in overtime. Despite some trends between these teams remaining true, however, the Flyers were able to buck a few trends, as well. Couturier’s game-winner not only added to his team-leading goal total in a career year (29), it was also just the fifth overtime blemish for the Blue Jackets all season (12-5). The result was also Bobrovsky’s first home loss against the orange and black (6-0-1), and just his third overall career loss against the team with which he debuted.

“You never want give up a late goal like that, especially two games in a row,” Couturier said of Atkinson’s overtime-inducing goal. “But the key is we focused on what was next, and we came back hard and battled and got that extra point, and that’s what matters.”

Couturier’s impact was felt in Friday night’s game, much as it’s been all year. The first-line center made life difficult for Bobrovsky in attacking the net and dishing out creative centering passes. The 25-year-old is now one goal away from doubling his previous career-high mark (15), while matching linemate Giroux for the team lead in ice time for forwards (20:30).

The redeeming win in Columbus may have been exactly what the Flyers needed, but they’ll have only a day to enjoy it. The orange and black are back in action on Sunday as they travel to the Big Apple to square off against the New York Rangers in what will be the start of a five-game stretch in nine days that will include their third meeting against the Blue Jackets.

Depending on how the stretch run turns out, the Flyers very well could point to getting the proverbial monkey off their back at Nationwide Arena on Friday night as the start of something special.

Flyers finally break a 13-year hex

Flyers finally break a 13-year hex

BOX SCORE

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The curse of Nationwide Arena is finally over. Sean Couturier's overtime goal Friday lifted the visiting Flyers over the Columbus Blue Jackets, 2-1, snapping an 11-game losing streak in the Blue Jackets' home building.

On the heels of three consecutive games in which the Blue Jackets recorded 50-plus shots, the Flyers were able to halt that streak, but were still outshot in regulation, 36-25. Entering overtime for the seventh time in their last 13 meetings with the Blue Jackets, the Flyers were able to add to their point total, which now stands at 68 (see standings).

Facing their nemesis Sergei Bobrovsky in net, the Flyers looked to remove the Nationwide hex with Michal Neuvirth in net. After a scoreless first period that played out like an opening round of a boxing match, with both teams feeling each other out, the pace picked up in the second, with Wayne Simmonds depositing the game’s first goal between Bobrovsky’s five-hole — a tip-in goal off the stick of Shayne Gostisbehere. Cam Atkinson’s third-period goal would get the host Blue Jackets to overtime, but it wasn't enough to collect the extra point.

• With his 20th goal of the campaign, Simmonds became the team’s second 20-goal scorer, trailing only Couturier (29) for the team lead. Gostisbehere and Nolan Patrick were credited with helpers on the tally.

• The lead would hold until the 16:32 mark of the third period, when Atkinson found the back of the net after the Flyers iced the puck.

• As per the norm, Bobrovsky was terrific in net. The former Flyer demonstrated his prowess with ridiculous saves throughout the contest, denying Jordan Weal and Couturier, and later sniffing out a one-timer attempt off the stick of Claude Giroux in the first period alone.

• Neuvirth kept the puck out of his own net in the first stanza as well, although in a more unconventional way. The interim starting goalie was able to disrupt a shot by Atkinson, but was unable to secure the rebound. With the puck sitting next to the net, a chaotic scene made for an interesting clear for the Flyers. Despite throwing 11 shots on goal in the first, Dave Hakstol’s team provided help for the goalie by picking off pucks in the neutral zone and serving as a shield for Neuvirth in its own zone.

• After switching ends for the second period, Neuvirth was able to stave off a close-range attempt from Lukas Sedlak, who nearly potted the game’s first goal in the first on a midair one-timer attempt.

• With the Flyers entering the third period holding a rare lead (in Columbus), the Blue Jackets upped the pressure with an aggressive forecheck early in the period before teeing off on Neuvirth in the latter half. The barrage of shots, of course, resulted in Atkinson’s game-tying goal late in the third.

• Referees Jon McIsaac and Wes McCauley were spectators on skates in the early going, as both teams played 5-on-5 for the entire first period. That’s not to say linesmen Tim Nowak and Jonny Murray weren’t active, as they whistled multiple offside violations on the Flyers, and several icing stoppages on Columbus.

• The clean play would ensue until the 13:07 mark of the second, when offsetting penalties to Dale Weise and Sedlak left the contest at 4-on-4 for a pair of minutes. Despite each participant’s penalties, neither team was given a man-advantage through the first 40 minutes.

• In the third, the orange and black were granted the game’s first power play thanks to a too many men on the ice penalty. The Flyers were unable to capitalize on the power play, though, Jakub Voracek was denied by the post with Bobrovsky moving side to side.

• Leading goal scorer Couturier demonstrated slick puck distribution through the early portion of the contest. The 25-year-old showed creativity in slinging centering passes to the slot, generating early scoring chances for his teammates. Couturier’s career year especially made for a scary moment in the second, as the Arizona-born center briefly left the bench area after taking a skate from Pierre-Luc Dubois to his groin area. Couturier would return, though, as fans both in attendance and back home breathed a sigh of relief.

• Despite owning the status of the team’s career-leading point-getter against Columbus (6-13-19), Giroux remains one goal shy of career goal No. 200, and three assists shy of the seventh on the team’s all-time assist list.

• With an assist on Simmonds’ second-period goal, Gostisbehere now needs four assists to reach career assist No. 100.

• The Flyers will return to action on Sunday when they visit the Rangers for a matinee at Madison Square Garden. Sunday’s divisional matchup will mark the first of six games with a single day off between each game to finish out the month, which also includes two showdowns against Montreal, and single games against Columbus and Ottawa.