Travis Sanheim

Flyers not surprised, but look it on Broadway

Flyers not surprised, but look it on Broadway

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK — Flyers players lifted their massive equipment bags onto carts outside the visiting locker room of Madison Square Garden.

There wasn't much energy or zealousness to such a mundane task.

Shortly before doing so, the Flyers made skating in the world's most famous arena seem just as mundane, allowing the New York Rangers to turn Broadway into breakaway on Tuesday night to the tune of a 5-1 loss (see observations).

"We just made too many mistakes that cost us," Jakub Voracek said. "Four goals out of five came off our mistakes, so it's tough."

The Rangers, not once, but twice during the first period, bolted behind the Flyers' slow-reacting coverage for nothing but open ice and Brian Elliott to beat. On both occasions, New York scored easily and took control of the evening.

It was a full exploitation of a Flyers team that had won four straight but wasn't "engaged in this game enough," as head coach Dave Hakstol put it.

With the Flyers holding a 1-0 lead just over six minutes into the contest, Pavel Buchnevich fed a stretch pass to Rick Nash streaking up the middle of the ice, leaving defensemen Radko Gudas and Brandon Manning in the dust. Both the delivery from Buchnevich and the speed of Nash appeared to catch Gudas and Manning by surprise.

"The first one, probably a better read by me and Gudy," Manning said. "We talked before the game, we knew that's what they were going to do, they were going to try and stretch us out. That one we can probably eliminate."

The second was deflating in every way imaginable. As the Flyers sputtered through their first man advantage, a pass behind Jordan Weal bounced off the side boards and right to Peter Holland. With most of the Flyers' second power-play unit pinching on the attack, New York rushed up ice and beat Manning in retreat as Holland hit Paul Carey for a shorthanded marker.

Whatever life the Flyers still had, it was sucked out of them.

At the time, before it unfolded, they seemed to be in OK position. The Flyers were down, 2-1, but vying for an equalizer by turning to their power play, which had been 7 for 14 over the four-game winning streak. However, what transpired was New York taking a surprising 3-1 lead with 10 seconds remaining in the opening frame.

"Those are ones we can prevent," Hakstol said. "They're a good transition team, so when you give them opportunities, whether it's a turnover out of their defensive zone or a turnover entering the zone, they're a good transition team. But our awareness on those plays was not what it needs to be.

"I just thought in the first half of the game, in all the areas of the game that mattered, they were the quicker and hungrier team."

The Rangers showed it some more when they went on another semi-breakaway, this time midway through the second period for a 4-1 edge. Michael Grabner came swooping in to pick Voracek's pocket before quickly flicking a shot past Elliott, who watched another blue jersey barrel down untouched toward his crease.

"We put him in pretty tough spots tonight with the opportunities that we gave up in the first 30 minutes of the game," Hakstol said.

The goalie making his 18th start in the last 19 games still took blame.

"It's not the easiest way, but that's my job," Elliott, who was yanked ahead of the third period, said. "I didn't have them tonight. Go back to work and try to feel good about my game. That's not where I wanted to be tonight. I didn't really give ourselves a chance to win and I've got to own a lot of that."

Tuesday marked the Flyers' first outing against the Rangers this season.

Were they surprised by the opposition's transition game?

"No," Hakstol said.

Manning sounded like he will be far more ready when the Flyers come back to Madison Square Garden on Feb. 18 for the second of four meetings.

"I don't know if surprising is the right word, they have some guys who can skate and I think we were expecting that," Manning said. "We haven't played them this year, it's the first time. When you see it for the first time, it's something a little different."

The Flyers on Thursday night will see the Maple Leafs for the third time. The previous two matchups were won by the Flyers. Interestingly enough, Manning had his best game of the season with a goal, an assist and three hits in the October victory, while rookie blueliner Travis Sanheim played in the December win.

Hakstol will have to decide between the two for Thursday.

One will be an extra, the other will want to make sure breakaways are at a minimum.

Bye week doesn't slow Couturier-led Flyers

Bye week doesn't slow Couturier-led Flyers

BOX SCORE

NEWARK, N.J. — Sean Couturier has been the Flyers' goal-to guy all season. 

Saturday night was no different.

The Flyers' top-line center had his third straight two-goal game in a 5-3 win over the New Jersey Devils.

Couturier, who was left off the Metropolitan Division All-Star team announced Wednesday, was arguably the best player on the ice for both teams with a three-point night and a plus-2 rating.

Travis Konecny, Wayne Simmonds and Michael Raffl also scored for the Flyers, who have reeled off four straight wins while the Devils have dropped their last six.

The Flyers also snapped a three-game losing streak at the Prudential Center. Their last win there came on Feb. 16, 2016.

This was the first of four meetings between divisional rivals with all four games being played in a span of exactly one month. Their next matchup comes Jan. 20 in Philadelphia.

• The Devils struck first with the Nico Hischier line taking advantage of the Nolan Patrick line and the Flyers' third defensive pairing of Travis Sanheim and Radko Gudas. Hischier connected with Jesper Bratt, who made it 1-0. The Flyers simply lost coverage, as the Devils gained time and space after crossing the blue line. Gudas made the situation worse by leaving his feet and with Sanheim misplaying the puck along the boards, the Flyers were completely lost defensively.

• With the Patrick line facing the Hischier line for their second shift, Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol found a way to get Couturier out on the ice with Jordan Weal and Wayne Simmonds. It was Couturier who won a puck battle along the wall and then moved it out to the point, where the rebound came straight out to Couturier. He then outmuscled two Devils, including Hischier, to score his 24th goal of the season.

• With Patrick out there, I gave the Devils the clear advantage against the Hischier line. With Couturier against the Devils' top line, the Flyers had the edge with that matchup.

• On their fourth attempt, the Devils' power play finally answered. Jersey moved the puck around the umbrella before setting up Kyle Palmieri with a one-timer that he ripped past Brian Elliott for a 2-1 Devils lead. Elliott couldn't quite make it to the post to seal off the shot. Typically, Elliott has anticipated those one-timer shots, but this may have caught him by surprise.

• On their first power-play opportunity, the Flyers capitalized. They broke down the Devils' four-man box. It all started with Couturier drawing a pair of defenders around the goal line and then finding the open passing lane to Jakub Voracek in the slot, as he used the back of his skate to kick it to Claude Giroux for the one-timer.

Sure, Voracek makes a nice kick pass, but Couturier, coupled with a Simmonds screen and an eventual tip-in on Cory Schneider, set up the goal and a 2-2 game.

• The one guy unaffected by the bye week is Couturier, who scored a power-play goal as he worked his way into the soft spot in the Devils' slot. Couturier blasted a one-timer past Schneider. That’s now three straight two-goal games for Couturier, and a big 3-2 lead after two periods.

• Travis Konecny was patiently waiting for several seconds for the two-line pass to spring him for a breakaway, and it all started with Couturier doing the grunt work below the goal line, winning the puck battle, and working the puck to Ivan Provorov, who found Konecny at the Devils' blue line, and the 4-2 Flyers lead.

• Penalties were a real problem for the Flyers in this game, as they were whistled for the first five minors — all stick infractions. In fact, Patrick committed a pair of high-sticking penalties in a span of 47 seconds of ice time. Aside from the Palmieri goal, the Flyers' PK was very strong. On their fifth opportunity, they pressured the Devils, not allowing Jersey to even set up.

• The Flyers' blue line appeared to be completely out of sorts early on, especially Brandon Manning, who committed a penalty, lost an edge, got beaten on a play and then nearly put a puck in his own net off his skate. With Shayne Gostisbehere out of the lineup because of an illness, Hakstol had to reconfigure his pairings, and with a five-day layoff, the bottom two pairings weren’t in sync at all.

Like it or not, boring is working for Flyers

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USA Today Images

Like it or not, boring is working for Flyers

We are deep into the season of giving and the Flyers just keep giving fans exactly what they want: wins.

OK, sorry for that seasonal yet corny intro, but the fact remains the Flyers are on a tear right now, and it continued this past week with three more sound wins to push their winning streak past a handful to six games.

This week got off to the right skate with a come-from-behind 4-2 victory Tuesday over the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs. The good vibes kept coming Thursday with a grind-it-out 2-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres. And the week ended on the highest of notes Saturday night with a 2-1 OT win at home over the Dallas Stars.

Well, well, well … they’re back, aren’t they?

And before the Flyers push for seven straight Monday night against the Los Angeles Kings, let’s look back at the successful week that was, shall we?

• The Flyers' three wins this week were good, solid wins over the Leafs, Sabres, and Stars. When you’re still trying to claw out of the hole a 10-game losing streak put you in, all wins are good, solid wins right now. But these three Flyers wins this past week weren’t of the most exciting variety. Let’s be blunt, all three wins were mostly boring.

Tuesday’s triumph over the Leafs was sleepy until Travis Konecny’s tying seeing-eye shot in the third and then Claude Giroux’s fantastic through-the-legs pass that led to Sean Couturier’s wicked wrister of a winner. Thursday’s win over Buffalo was a snoozer for the better part of 50 minutes. And Saturday’s victory over Dallas, while chippy, didn’t have much action to it outside of Shayne Gostisbehere’s heroics.

But the Flyers aren’t caring about being exciting and neither should you right now because it’s working for them. Jake Voracek’s quote after the Buffalo game says it all.

“I thought this was a boring game,” Voracek said. “Honestly, I don’t think we played good today, but we got the win, which is really important. You’re not going to play great every night. We played well when we needed to, but we can play a lot better, which is positive.”

Yes, they can play better. But two points are two points right now, no matter how boring. Simply put, boring is working.

• So why the sudden turnaround for the Flyers? There’s a multitude of reasons — timely scoring, better defensive efforts and Brian Elliott playing like a rock in net, just to name a few.

But one major reason: discipline. In the three games this past week, the Flyers took three penalties total, on in each game. Dating back to Dec. 4 when this six-game win streak began in Calgary, the Flyers have faced just nine power plays against. Compare that to the 22 power plays the Flyers have had in the same span.

That’s a gigantic boost for a team that, as of Sunday morning, is still 29th in the league with a 76.7 percent success rate on the PK.

How do you cure something that ails you? Don’t put yourself in the situation.

• When Gostisbehere is at his very best, he can just dominate a game with his elusiveness, booming shot and dynamic offensive ability. And that’s just what we saw Saturday night against the Stars as Gostisbehere was a dangerous entity all over the ice and controlled the game when the puck was on his stick.

He brought the Wells Fargo Center to life with his second-period power-play goal that saw him dive a lift a rebound past Dallas goalie Ben Bishop. And then he unglued the place with his game-winner in OT on the 4-on-3 man advantage.

“Ghost” is such a key piece for the Flyers as so much of the offense tends to be filtered through him when he’s on the ice, and especially so on the power play. We saw what happened when he wasn’t playing up to his abilities during the 10-game skid. But the Gostisbehere we saw against the Stars is just what the doctor ordered for the Flyers. And it shows just why.

• Good for Travis Sanheim getting the monkey off his back and potting the first goal of his NHL career during Thursday’s victory over Buffalo.     

During the first period, Sanheim took a feed from Dale Weise and deposited home a one-timer from the circle to knot the game at 1-1. Sure, he got a little help from Buffalo goalie Robin Lehner, who lounged wildly at the shot. But still, Sanheim made no mistake as he went top shelf with it. And he got the puck and the Ric Flair robe after the game to boot.

It’s just a slight taste of what the 21-year-old offensive-minded blueliner can do. In three junior seasons with the Calgary Hitmen of the WHL, Sanheim scored 35 goals. He potted 10 in 76 games with the Phantoms last season.

He can score, and as he gets more and more comfortable at the NHL level, don’t be surprised to see him light the lamp more often.

• Here’s your obvious observation of the week: What a difference two weeks makes.

When the Flyers were shut out by the Bruins 15 days ago, morale was as low as it had been in a long time. Nothing was going right. No breaks went their way. No bounces even came close. The list of misfortunes could go on and on and on. On the morning of Dec. 3, the Flyers had just 22 points, fifth-fewest in the league. They were nine points behind the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins for the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.

Here we are two weeks and change (and six wins in a row) later and the Flyers have 35 points and are just four points behind the New York Islanders for the final wild-card spot in the East.

Hope you guys like roller coasters.

Coming up this week: Monday vs. Los Angeles (7 p.m. on NBCSP), Wednesday vs. Detroit (8 p.m. on NBCSN), Friday at. Buffalo (7 p.m. on NBCSP), Saturday at Columbus (7 p.m. on NBCSP).