ron hextall

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

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

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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.

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. 

Silent night from top line dooms Flyers in shutout loss to Wild

Silent night from top line dooms Flyers in shutout loss to Wild

BOX SCORE

Keep the Flyers' potent top line off the scoresheet and there is a good chance you'll keep the entire team off the scoreboard.

That proved to be the case for the Minnesota Wild on Saturday night, as they relied once again on the two hottest players in the NHL to beat the Flyers, 1-0, at the Wells Fargo Center (see observations).

"Yeah, it's a really boring game they play," Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere said. "It's just a sit-back system. Those are the type of teams that you are going to run into. You have to adjust and make plays in a different way."

Wild netminder Devan Dubnyk stopped all 32 shots he faced for his second consecutive shutout while increasing his shutout streak to 136 minutes and 20 seconds. Jason Zucker scored the game's lone goal. Zucker has been Minnesota's only goal scorer over the past three games, amazingly scoring all six of the Wild's goals.

"I have no idea," Zucker said when asked how he scored his goal. "Honestly, it was an empty net and it had a lot of spin off the board. It went onto my stick and kind of just shot off. It was just a lucky bounce."

Wild defenseman Matt Dumba's shot deflected and then ricocheted off the boards behind the net right onto Zucker's stick.

“You’re just trying to get over there and cover, and it just went off me a weird angle and went in, Flyers goaltender Brian Elliott said. “It’s not something you want, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles I guess.”

Coming into the game, the Flyers knew Minnesota’s style would force them to grind away in front of the net and find a means to manufacture what is often described as a “greasy” goal requiring blue-collar effort. The Flyers found ways to get shots through traffic in the first period, but they couldn’t find those open lanes over the final 20 minutes, as the Wild blocked 11 shots in the third period alone.

“We didn’t finish on one. It was one of those nights where it wasn’t going to be easy to score,” Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said. “We couldn’t find a rebound or a puck around the net to finish one of those. That’s kind of the way the night was both directions.”

Aside from the top line, the Flyers' fourth line of Taylor Leier, Scott Laughton and Michael Raffl was arguably the only other line that generated any sustained offensive pressure, and much of their work also revolved around containing the Wild’s top line of Tyler Ennis, Mikko Koivu and Mikael Granlund.

Minnesota’s defense also protected Dubnyk in front of the crease, taking away the cross-ice pass and jammed up any open space. Credit much of that to shutdown defenseman Ryan Suter, who was on the ice for over 11 minutes in the final period.

“We had some really good sticks tonight,” Dubnyk said. “It felt Suets (Suter) was just eating pucks left and right.”

“I wouldn’t say it was a tough night,” said Sean Couturier, who had a team-high six shots. “I thought it was a grind out there. The shooting lanes are hard to find, so at first, you have to create that lane and then go to the net. It was a battle.”

The Flyers have now been shut out four times in their first 17 games, an NHL high, and all against Western Conference opponents. While there hasn’t been one proven formula for the opposition, it has to be concerning for the Flyers that when the Claude Giroux-Couturier-Jakub Voracek combination is held in check, there hasn’t been another line capable of stepping up and delivering lately.

Here are some of the droughts of the Flyers' skilled forwards:

Wayne Simmonds — 0 goals in his last nine games.

Travis Konecny — 1 goal in his last 13 games.

Jordan Weal — 1 goal over his last 14 games.

On the related topic of scoring, general manager Ron Hextall seemed to be the only concerned party.

"It's something we need to get better at, we've discussed it," Hextall said before the game. "Those guys you're referring to, we have a lot of good players there.

"For whatever reason, the chemistry just hasn't been there. They haven't been getting a ton of breaks, so hopefully, they can break through. We need more scoring from other parts and lines other than Couturier's line."

"Something has to break," Simmonds said. "So we have to work a little bit harder and a little bit smarter and hopefully, we get it going on Tuesday."

And the Flyers can only hope the end result is a little bit better Tuesday in Minnesota.