Scott Hartnell

Flyers-Predators thoughts: Looking for best start since 2007-08

Flyers-Predators thoughts: Looking for best start since 2007-08

Flyers (4-2-0) vs. Predators (3-2-1)
7 p.m. on NBCSP, NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports App; Pregame Live at 6:30

The Flyers felt like they let one go last week against the Nashville Predators.

They'll have a chance at a little redemption Thursday night as the Flyers welcome the defending Western Conference champions to the Wells Fargo Center.

It's Game 3 of the Flyers' five-game homestand, and Game 7 of the season.

Let's get into some thoughts before puck drop.

• The Flyers should be happy to see the Predators again so soon. Last time these teams met, the Flyers had a 5-4 lead turn into a crushing 6-5 loss over the final 1:17 of regulation. How it transpired was wild. The Flyers were done in by two penalties and a failed coach's challenge resulting in a third. A victory would have capped a season-opening four-game road trip at 3-1-0. Credit to the Flyers, though, for moving on and winning the first two games of their extended homestay.

• Speaking of which, the Flyers have been ultra impressive on the homestand thus far. In wins over the Capitals and Panthers, the Flyers have outscored their opponents by a combined 13-3. Claude Giroux has three goals and three assists, Shayne Gostisbehere a goal and four assists, Sean Couturier three goals and an assist, while the penalty kill has been strong (7 for 8) along with the goalies (Brian Elliott, 21 saves on 23 shots faced; Michal Neuvirth, 40 saves on 41 shots faced). The Flyers are seeing their potential when all key phases are executing.

• With a win over Nashville, the Flyers would improve to 3-0 at the Wells Fargo Center. The last time they won their first three home games was the 2007-08 season, when they started 6-0 on home ice. A victory would also mark the Flyers' best start through seven games since that same season, when the club opened 6-1-0. Giroux made his NHL debut during the 2007-08 campaign, playing a pair of games in February.

• A huge reason for the Flyers' early success is sustaining energy and skating from the second period to the final buzzer. In fact, it looks like the Flyers take it up notch after the first intermission. They've gotten stronger as the game wears on and the numbers show it. The Flyers have scored the NHL's most second-period goals with 12 and are outscoring the competition, 20-11, in the final two periods.

• It doesn't look like Predators center Nick Bonino (lower body) will play tonight while defenseman Ryan Ellis (knee surgery) remains out and on injured reserve. A player to watch is winger Filip Forsberg, who put up three points (two goals, one assist) in Nashville's 6-5 win over the Flyers last week. That game, which included the winning goal, kick-started a stretch of four markers and four assists in his last four contests. Also, Scott Hartnell is back in town tonight.

• Wayne Simmonds, who missed most of Tuesday's back end of the third period because of a lower-body injury, said Thursday that he's fine.

He's expected in the lineup, as is rookie defenseman Travis Sanheim, who was a healthy scratch the last two games.

And a roster note: Matt Read has been recalled from AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley, which was expected. The Flyers' roster is now at 23 and he'll be a routine extra.

Here is the Flyers' projected lineup:

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

Defensemen
Ivan Provorov-Andrew MacDonald
Shayne Gostisbehere-Robert Hagg
Travis Sanheim-Radko Gudas

Goalies
Michal Neuvirth
Brian Elliott

Scratches: Forwards Jori Lehtera and Matt Read, and defenseman Brandon Manning.

Questionable calls, challenge lead to Flyers' 'frustrating' loss to Predators

Questionable calls, challenge lead to Flyers' 'frustrating' loss to Predators

BOX SCORE

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Bags tossed. Doors slammed. Players cursing. A frustration this team hasn’t experienced in a long, long time. 

Without question, Tuesday’s 6-5 loss to the Nashville Predators was a game the Flyers felt wasn’t lost but simply taken away from them (see observations).

Or perhaps not.

“Oh, we gave it away. I don’t think anybody took it,” goaltender Brian Elliott said. “That’s why it’s frustrating.”

Some Flyers were still searching for answers.

“Honestly, it feels like we won. It’s weird right now,” defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere said. “I’m not sure if that’s ever happened to me in my life — that type of game like that.”

Considering the implementation of rule 78.7 (b), approved by the NHL’s Board of Governors just a week before the start of the season, a game like this has never happened in the history of the league, and probably nowhere ever in the game of hockey.

The rule stems from a coach’s challenge on an offside play and states, “If the result of the challenge is that the play was ‘on-side,’ the goal shall count and the team that issued the challenge shall be assessed a minor penalty for delaying the game.”

After former Flyer Scott Hartnell took advantage of a 5-on-3 chance and tied an already wild game at 5-5 with 1:17 remaining, Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol elected to challenge the zone entry of the play. Replays showed that Filip Forsberg was able to get one skate over the blue line before the puck cleared. However, replays were inconclusive whether Hartnell’s skates were completely over the line as the linesman appeared to be staring down at Forsberg and was paying no attention to Hartnell, who was right there next to him (see video).

“That’s my call,” Hakstol said on the decision to challenge. "Absolutely it’s worth it, but it wasn’t overturned, so it wasn’t the right call. I don’t want to get into the details of it."

Hakstol said he was surprised it wasn't overturned, but also knew if he lost the challenge that the Flyers would be faced with killing another 5-on-3 power play for 1:22. 

That is precisely what happened when Hartnell’s goal stood. The Flyers killed off the remainder of the two-man advantage only to have Filip Forsberg score the game-winner just five seconds into the coach’s challenge penalty, which was a 5-on-4 (see highlights).

“It happens so quick. You’re getting the feeds on the bench when you’re getting them, and 15, 20 seconds to make a decision,” Predators coach Peter Laviolette said. “I give him credit. He’s trying to help his team any way he can. You’re going to get caught in those situations. We all are. Everybody’s going to get caught in them. 

“To be honest, I didn’t get a good look at it. We actually talked about it in the coach’s office. Those decisions are tough, and a lot of people said they would go for it. You’ve got to live by the sword and die by the sword.”

Prior to that, one can seriously debate the series of events that led to Nashville’s initial 5-on-3 power play as the Flyers were whistled for a pair of minor penalties with 2:41 remaining in the game leading, 5-4.

First, left winger Dale Weise was whistled for holding as he attempted to chase down the puck in the offensive zone. Then, as the Flyers gained possession of the puck, defenseman Andrew MacDonald was called for tripping.

“The last 10 minutes it seems they were putting the whistles away and letting the boys play,” Weise said. “I don’t know about make-up calls, but on my penalty I’m trying to swim past my guy. That happens 20 times a game and you don’t call a penalty on that. It’s just really frustrating.”

“The guy coming in on me, he crossed over and I put my stick over and he stepped on it and they called me too,” MacDonald said.

Until those two-minute minor penalties, the Flyers had played a very disciplined game. Their only penalty kill came early in the first period when Craig Smith scored Nashville's first goal. 

There was an awareness among the Flyers that calls would likely not go their way at some point in the third period.  

“Obviously, we were aware. It’s tough when you get two in one shot like that, that late in the game,” MacDonald said. “It happened and it was unfortunate. It’s something that we would have liked to kill and have gotten a big character win here, but unfortunately it was out of our hands.”

The series of unfortunate circumstances for the Flyers and the bogus new rule change, which I wrote about during the preseason, negated what could have been a tremendous comeback.

After going down, 3-0, the Flyers scored five unanswered goals, including three in a second-period span of 4:46. Valtteri Filppula scored his second goal of the game with 13:12 remaining in regulation to give the Flyers a 5-3 lead at the time.

“There’s a ton of character in that room,” Hakstol said. “We got down 3-0, but we were playing well. I didn’t feel like other than the first five minutes we weren’t back on our heels. We knew there would be a big push to start this hockey game with the energy they had in the building.”

"It says a lot about our group, how we did come back,” Gostisbehere said. "Going down 3-0 in a building like this, coming back to 5-3. It’s an unfortunate series of events there. There’s a lot of positives we can take away from this game.”

All of which had the lyrical makings of a country song straight out of Nashville’s Music Row. Now it’s up to the Flyers to change their tune in time for Saturday’s home opener against the Washington Capitals.

Flyers notes, quotes and tidbits: Nolan Patrick adjusting offensively

usa-nolan-patrick-flyers-sharks.jpg
USA Today Images

Flyers notes, quotes and tidbits: Nolan Patrick adjusting offensively

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — It’s still a feeling out process for 19-year-old rookie Nolan Patrick, who continues to acclimate himself to the speed and style of the NHL’s brand of hockey. While he’s been defensively reliable in his own end of the ice, we’re beginning to see where Patrick prefers to do his damage offensively.

Patrick has utilized his 6-foot-2, 200-pound frame to create space down low around the goal line and behind the net. In one of most dazzling plays of the preseason, Patrick fed a blind pass to Oskar Lindblom for a quality scoring chance, and Saturday in Anaheim there was a similar play to Travis Konecny. 

“I’ve always felt I had a good vision to make plays from down there,” Patrick said. “I don’t know if I pride myself on making plays from down there, but I think in this league, there’s not much off the rush. Everyone tracks back pretty hard. I think that’s where the offense is going to come from down there, so I just try to make quick cutbacks and make plays, so that’s something I’ve been trying to focus on.”

“He’s got great vision from below the goal line, from down low in tight spaces,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “He made the play from down low on (Ivan) Provorov’s goal the other night. He had a similar type play to (Konecny) at the end of the game there. Those are strengths of his game, and we’re starting to see those things come out more and more.

Flipping the switch
After starting the season 3 for 3, the Flyers' power play is now 0 for its last 12. Hakstol will continue to leave Valtteri Filppula on the No. 1 unit, as they worked on their setup and puck movement during Monday’s practice. 

“Part of that role is shooting,” Hakstol said. “He hasn’t spent a lot of time in that spot. I think just overall adjusting to that position and that role on the power play is something that he’s done pretty well. It’s a real puck support role as well. You’re in a support role with anybody on the rink that has the puck and you’re in a puck retrieval role. I think he’s adjusting to it really well.”

Sour jam
Peter Laviolette is one of three coaches since 2010 to take two different teams to the Stanley Cup Final only to come up short on both occasions. Peter DeBoer led the Devils in 2012 and Sharks in 2016 and was on the losing end twice. Alain Vigneault went with the Canucks in 2011 and again with the Rangers in 2014.

After the Predators bowed out to the Penguins in six games, Laviolette is now attempting to draw off his experiences in the year after he guided the Flyers to the Cup Final, when they finished with 106 points, third best that season behind the Canucks and the Capitals. However, he still hasn’t moved past the gut-wrenching loss to the Blackhawks.

“It’s never easy to get over,” Laviolette said following Monday's morning practice. “Anytime you go that deep and lose it leaves a pit in your stomach, and you carry that pit forever. I look back at Philadelphia as a missed opportunity for all of us, and certainly in Nashville I look back at it the same way. You’re here to do one thing and that’s win championships and when you don’t do it, it hurts.”  

Laviolette will be reminded of that once again as the Predators raise their Western Conference Champions banner in front of their fans prior to their game against the Flyers.

Hartnell down in Nashville
Philly fan favorite Scott Hartnell returns to the Predators, the franchise that selected him in the first round (6th overall) of the 2000 NHL draft. 

Entering his 17th season, Hartnell is one of 21 active players with at least nine or more 20-goal seasons, and he believes he can reach that mark again filling the hole left by James Neal. (Neal was selected by the Vegas Golden Knights in the NHL expansion draft.) Laviolette still views Hartnell as an important part of the team’s power play and has him working with the No. 1 unit Monday.

For the first time in his career, Hartnell is taking his career year-by-year after signing a one-year, $1 million deal with the Predators.

“It’s a young man’s game now and the speed of it is incredible, and you just got to do your thing,” Hartnell said. “My game’s still pretty simple, it doesn’t change much from when I started at 18. I go to the net and that’s where I score my goals. That’s where all the action happens, and just looking forward to this year. I’m so excited to be a part of this and we’re looking forward to getting in the playoffs and making a run like last year.”

Hartnell got married for the second time over the summer after he exchanged vows at The Country Club at Muirfield Village in Dublin, Ohio. Many of Hartnell’s Flyers teammates were in attendance including Claude Giroux, Kimmo Timonen, Brayden Schenn, Sam Gagner and Nick Schultz.