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Flyers Weekly Observations: Secondary scoring behind Western Canada surge

Flyers Weekly Observations: Secondary scoring behind Western Canada surge

A three-game win streak?!?!?! All through the daunting Western Canada road gauntlet?!?!?!

Here’s something we haven’t said in a while: what a week it was for the Flyers.

Ah, refreshing, isn’t it? I’m sure the guys in the locker room will tell you it is.

The Flyers’ kicked off the winning run with a 5-2 win Monday night vs. the Flames in Calgary to snap the dreadful 10-game losing skid. On Wednesday night, they skated past the Oilers in impressive fashion with a 4-2 victory in Edmonton. And capping things off the next night with by jumping out to a big lead in Vancouver and holding on to it for a 4-1 triumph.

Per usual, plenty of things to go through this week, but on the good side this time around.

So let’s get this party started, shall we?

• In their three victories this week, the offensively challenged Flyers scored 13 goals. They scored just 20 goals total throughout the prolonged misery of the 10-game losing streak. So what changed?

Like Frankenstein, the Flyers’ secondary scoring sat up and came to life. While Sean Couturier, Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek each still put up their points, they weren’t forced to do all of the heavy lifting this week. In Calgary, Scott Laughton scored for the first time in 22 games, Valtteri Filppula tallied for the first time in 18 games, Wayne Simmonds struck for just the second time in 19 games and Michael Raffl cashed in for just the third time all season. In Edmonton, Jordan Weal scored for the first time in 13 games and just the third time all year while Dale Weise beat a netminder for just the second time in 16 games. And in Vancouver, Shayne Gostisbehere scored for the third time in 20 games.

Now that … that is what the Flyers were drastically missing during the skid. If Giroux, Voracek and or Couturier weren’t scoring, it was basically game, set and match from the get-go and the Flyers would be fortunate to even get a single marker on the board. Heck, at one point a few weeks ago that trio had accounted for nearly 50 percent of the Flyers’ goals for the entire season.

Giroux, Voracek and Couturier will continue to get theirs. That’s just what they do. But when the others get theirs as well, you see it makes all the difference in the world.

• Have a good number of Dave Hakstol’s lineup decisions dating back to last season raised eyebrows and garnered legitimate questions? Yes, absolutely. But you have to give credit where credit is due as he made a bold decision and broke up the potent Giroux-Couturier-Voracek trio heading into the Calgary game Monday.

That was a gutsy decision to break up a line that was that lethal and one of the best in the league. I’m sure that decision raised a few more eyebrows across the Delaware Valley, but when you’re on a putrid skid and haven’t won a game in almost a month, you can try some crazy things.

This crazy thing worked as the Flyers’ goal-scoring pulse is alive again with those 13 goals in the last three games. Hakstol deserves a lot of credit for pushing the right button there.

• Perhaps the biggest beneficiary of the recent line changes has been Raffl.

The 29-year-old Austrian started the season as part of an effective fourth line with Scott Laughton and Taylor Leier. But as the Flyers started to flounder like a fish out of water, Raffl was juggled up and down the lineup with no set spot. That was until this week when Hakstol injected Raffl into the top six on the second line with Voracek and Filppula. It was one of Hakstol’s bold moves, considering Raffl hadn’t scored since January prior to his goal vs. the New York Islanders on Nov. 22, a span of 42 games (Raffl missed the final month and change last season with an injury).

And the confidence the coach put in the winger is paying off. Raffl looks like a new player out there. He’s using his speed and strength to his advantage, barreling down the ice and setting up shop in front of the net to wreak havoc and cash in. And that’s his game — he’s got a power game and is more than capable of putting the puck in the net. And he’s got noted chemistry with Voracek. Remember, the two were on the Flyers’ top line three seasons ago when Raffl potted a career-high 20 goals. Raffl could be quite the important piece moving forward if the Flyers are to dig out of this hole.

• I’d be remiss beyond comprehension if I didn’t show Brian Elliott some love here. He was pretty darn good for the Flyers over that 10-game losing skid when he went 0-3-5 with a 3.06 goals-against average and .906 save percentage. The best numbers in the world? No. But he made the saves he needed to make and gave the Flyers chances to win night in and night out, exactly what they needed. Elliott’s teammates in front of him just couldn’t pick him up.

But Elliott took his game to another level this week as he was stellar in the three games the Flyers took out in Western Canada. All told, he made 103 stops on 108 shots with a 1.67 goals-against average and .954 save percentage. His best showing of a sterling week came Monday vs. his old mates in Calgary when he stopped 43 of 45 shots faced. The Flames were pouring it on, especially in the second period when they fired 21 pucks on net. But Elliott stood firm and righted the Flyers’ ship with his play. He then stopped 24 of 26 Wednesday in Edmonton and 36 of 37 Thursday in Vancouver.

The guy has been the steadying veteran presence in net and in the locker room. He’s been invaluable to the team so far. He’s taken the reigns of the No. 1 job, and that was even before Michal Neuvirth’s most recent injury. The Flyers clearly have their No. 1 goalie. And Elliott has earned every ounce of that role.

• If you haven’t yet, check out my colleague Jordan Hall’s column from Saturday morning on Hakstol and how the Flyers’ current philosophy has put him in a tricky spot behind the bench.

The Flyers have been toeing this line between development and trying to win for a while now and it’s been a tug of war for Hakstol with his coaching decisions. While some are rightfully questioned, he is still in a tricky spot. It’s a deep dive into that position for Hakstol. Well worth any Flyers fan’s time.

Coming up this week: Tuesday vs. Toronto (7 p.m. on NBCSP), Thursday vs. Buffalo (7 p.m. on NBCSP), Saturday vs. Dallas (7 p.m. on NBCSP).

Flyers flip switch in Western Canada, finish off rare sweep of trip

Flyers flip switch in Western Canada, finish off rare sweep of trip

BOX SCORE

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Where else can the Flyers work in a game between now and Tuesday?

Medicine Hat? Red Deer? Saskatoon? 

Whatever the case, Western Canada has turned around the Flyers' fortunes as the team swept the Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver portion of its schedule all in regulation for the first time in 21 years. Thursday, the Flyers knocked off the Canucks in a convincing 4-1 victory at Rogers Arena, winning three games in a four-day span (see observations).

“Since I’ve been with the Flyers, I don’t think we’ve swept the West like that,” Claude Giroux said. “It’s good for our confidence. We changed a couple of things, the way we play and our identity as a team, and everybody’s bought into it.”

The Flyers have strung together their longest winning streak of the season off the heels of a 10-game winless streak, while working their record back to .500 at 11-11-7. 

Several key changes have benefited the Flyers greatly during their current run:

• Switching up all four lines, including pairing Jakub Voracek with Valtteri Filppula and Michael Raffl. 

• Utilizing a 1-2-2 zone at key moments, which has given the opposition trouble, especially late in games. 

• Shortening the bench by not putting late-game pressure on some of the younger players.

“We had to buy into something,” goaltender Brian Elliott said. “Everybody’s understanding their role and where they’re supposed to be on the ice, and simplifying things a little bit. Along with that we’re making the smart decisions and not turning pucks over at the blue line.”

Michael Raffl applied his golden touch, scoring his fifth goal, all in the last eight games (see highlights). In fact, Raffl scored the game-winner in each of the three games of the road trip and has found some chemistry with Voracek, who collected seven assists and now leads the NHL with 30.

“We knew it was going to come,” Voracek said. “We’ve played some good hockey the past three games. We could have scored more than one tonight, especially in the third, we had lot of chances.

“I think I’m more experienced now. I’m almost 30 years old. I’m making more simple plays than I used to, so that’s a good thing.”

Starting games on consecutive nights for the first time this season, Elliott bailed out his teammates in the opening seven minutes when the Canucks outshot the Flyers, 9-0, to start the game (see video)

“He did a great job,” said defenseman Andrew MacDonald, who passed the Ric Flair robe over to Elliott as the Flyers' Player of the Game. “It’s never easy for a goalie to be put in a back-to-back situation. We were a little slow out of the gate and they came out pretty hard, and he made some crucial saves early that let us just calm down. That’s the veteran goaltending presence that he brings.” 

Overall, Elliott stopped 36 of 37 shots, and 103 of the 108 shots he faced on the road trip for a .950 save percentage. He also earned his 200th career victory, becoming the 87th goalie in NHL history to reach that milestone.

“My goalie coach just sort of shook my hand and said 200,” Elliott, a ninth-round selection in 2003, said. “It’s pretty special for me. You get your first win and you just try and stay in the league and play your game and try and win a Stanley Cup. Reaching milestones like that means a lot. Hopefully, I can go for another 100.”

The Flyers' power play came to life, scoring two goals for the first time since Oct. 10 — a span of 25 games. Defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere opened the scoring when his slap shot from the point was deflected by Sam Gagner and past goaltender Jacob Markstrom.

“We have a lot of character in this room, and like I’ve said before, it’s one of the tightest groups I’ve been with," Giroux said. "We’re playing as a team and let’s keep rolling here."

Western Canada has been so good to the Flyers, they’re staying an extra day as they’ll enjoy a day off in Vancouver before flying back to Philadelphia Saturday morning. 

Whatever they’ve discovered, they need to bottle it up when they open a five-game homestand starting with the Maple Leafs on Tuesday.

Flyers-Canucks observations: Sweeping the nation

Flyers-Canucks observations: Sweeping the nation

BOX SCORE

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — With the help of the power play, the Flyers swept their Western Canada road trip for the first time since 2013, beating the Vancouver Canucks, 4-1, at Rogers Arena.

Michael Raffl scored for the fifth time in his last eight games and the Flyers' power play converted twice for the first time since Oct. 10 in Nashville — a span of 25 games.

The Flyers also snapped the Canucks' three-game winning streak.

Brian Elliott started and won all three games on the road trip, stopping 36 of 37 shots against Vancouver.

Jakub Voracek added three more assists and now leads the NHL with 30 helpers this season, one better than Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos and Winnipeg’s Blake Wheeler.

The Flyers and Canucks split their season series after Vancouver took the previous meeting, 5-2, at the Wells Fargo Center on Nov. 21. 

• Jordan Weal picked up the game’s first penalty on a slashing call, which wasn’t really much of a slash. Weal actually held out his stick as Alexander Burmistrov skated by. 

• There was bad coverage on the Flyers' ensuing PK, with both defensemen guarding the post looking for the pass. Markus Granlund was left all alone in front of Elliott with a point-blank shot. 

• The Flyers had trouble in the opening seven minutes gaining any traction in the offensive zone. At one point, the Canucks held a 9-0 advantage in shots as the Flyers looked like a team playing its third game in four nights.

• Through the first 10 minutes of the game, I really liked the way Shayne Gostisbehere looked, stepping up into passing lanes, breaking up plays. He displayed good 1-on-1 defense and looked confident with the puck.

• Sean Couturier drew the Flyers' first penalty — a hooking call on Alexander Edler. Along with Wayne Simmonds, both players worked hard below the goal line, outworking the opponent. The Flyers finally seemed to have some energy after playing back on their heels in the first eight minutes of the game.

• Later in the first period, Gostisbehere gave the Flyers a 1-0 lead after ripping a slap shot from the point that deflected off Sam Gagner’s stick and pass Jacob Markstrom, who had no shot once it hit Gagner’s stick. 

• Voracek then had a pair of good looks. First was to a cutting Raffl that Markstrom had to reach out with his glove to make the save. The second came with Valtteri Filppula stationed in front of the crease. That second line has played well for Dave Hakstol since he made the change in Calgary.

• The third power-play opportunity was completely ineffective, as the Flyers failed to generate a shot on Markstrom. The only attempted shot came when Claude Giroux had a nice look inside to Couturier, who fired over the net. Shots were 15-12 Canucks after one period following a sluggish start by the Flyers. Their best player in the first was Brian Elliott by far — he made some key saves throughout.

• The Flyers grabbed a 2-0 lead when Voracek tried to dump the puck in and it deflected off Raffl in the neutral zone. Once they crossed the blue line, Raffl worked a nice give-and-go with Voracek and slid underneath Loui Eriksson, who had bad defensive coverage on the play.

“I’ve been working real hard the whole year,” Raffl said after the second period. “I had a tough stretch the first 20 games or so, but I had scoring chances and as long as you get scoring chances during a game, you shouldn’t change much. All you need is one goal to get your confidence up a little bit and that’s what’s happening right now.”

• The Canucks got the matchup they wanted with the Sedins out there against the Nolan Patrick line and the Flyers' third defense pairing, but credit Mark Alt for taking Daniel Sedin with the body and tangling up their sticks behind the net. Alt has looked very good in the two games he’s recently played. I like the manner in which he challenges shooters/puck-handlers in the offensive zone. He doesn’t sit back.

• In the second period, Giroux uncorked that patented one-time blast from the left circle, giving the Flyers a 3-0 lead.

• Floating around the blue line, former Flyer Gagner skated in uncontested only to take a shot that had a better chance of hitting me in the press box than it did of beating Elliott.

• Tough shift for Alt at the end of the second period. He got caught at the tail end of a shift and couldn’t get off for a change. Elliott wasn’t able to corral the rebound with Sven Baertschi along with Brock Boeser crashing the net. Boeser wristed a shot past Elliott and it was a painful goal to give up in the final minute of the second period.

• Not sure what Hakstol was looking at when he decided to challenge the goal for goaltender interference, but there was nothing that remotely indicated interference. 

• Simmonds iced things with his second empty-netter in as many games. He has now tallied a marker in three straight contests. 

Lineups, pairings and scratches

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

Defensemen
Ivan Provorov-Andrew MacDonald
Shayne Gostisbehere-Robert Hagg
Travis Sanheim-Mark Alt

Goalies
Brian Elliott
Alex Lyon

Scratches: Forward Jori Lehtera (healthy), and defensemen TJ Brennan (healthy) and Radko Gudas (suspended).