Observations from Flyers' big weekend out West

Observations from Flyers' big weekend out West

From “Let’s Go Flyers!” chants to “E-A-G-L-E-S, Eagles!” ringing throughout T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Sunday’s inaugural contest between the Flyers and the Golden Knights felt like a home game at the Wells Fargo Center. I’d be interested to see how many orange (and black) sweaters were actually in the crowd as the Flyers' official Twitter account posted this tweet from the press box in Las Vegas. If I had to guess, I’d say there were four to five thousand Flyers fans in the crowd.

But on the ice, the Flyers continued their surge with two huge wins and four crucial points in the standings.

Let's take a deeper look at the Flyers' successful two-game swing through Arizona and Vegas this past weekend:

• Perhaps the most encouraging sign from the two-game desert sweep was the performance and resiliency of Michal Neuvirth, who became the first goaltender in NHL history to earn a win after entering the game during the shootout. You can never script when your number will be called, but Neuvirth has singlehandedly helped the Flyers earn five points in his last three appearances, the first of which came in relief of Alex Lyon in a 4-3 shootout loss to the Ottawa Senators last Saturday. Since entering that game nine days ago, Neuvirth has stopped 44 of 45 shots and 10 of 11 in the shootout.   

• The Flyers handed the Golden Knights just their fourth regulation loss at home this season and apparently the presence of a Czech netminder is part of the secret ingredient for success. Neuvirth joins fellow countrymen Petr Mrazek (Red Wings) and Jaroslav Halak (Islanders) to win in regulation in Vegas. American Ben Bishop (Stars) is the other.

• Sean Couturier and Claude Giroux continue to haunt Marc-Andre Fleury’s crease no matter where the netminder goes. The Flyers' top line dominated Fleury Sunday in a game reminiscent of the 2012 Eastern Conference quarterfinal series between the Flyers and Penguins. In Game 2 of that series, both Couturier and Giroux recorded their only hat tricks. Giroux scored on the power play, shorthanded and with an empty net and finished with six goals in the six-game series. Couturier, then only 19, posted the only three goals of his rookie playoff campaign in that game. The torment continued Sunday night. Both Giroux and Couturier scored in the 4-1 win and the Flyers' top line finished with a seven-point night.

• Speaking of Giroux, ever since he called out his lackluster play in the game against the Hurricanes this past Tuesday, he’s been on an offensive rampage with three goals and three assists over his last three games. That was enough for the NHL to award him First Star of the week honors. This latest three-game stretch proves yet again why Giroux’s teammates respect him as a captain and a leader. If you listened to his postgame comments following the win in Arizona, you could clearly tell that Giroux was battling an illness. There was a belief that Giroux’s sickness would force him to miss Saturday’s game against the Coyotes, but he was able to gut it out and turn in a very solid performance that included a power-play goal. It’s this type of lead-by-example moment that forms bonds and creates character for successful teams.

• It took Radko Gudas 155 attempted shots and 730 minutes of ice time this season, but finally, the Flyers' defenseman registered his first goal of the season. His empty-net tally secured the Flyers' 4-1 win in Vegas and also prompted an entertaining exchange on the Golden Knights' twitter account. You could see Gudas’ teammates were genuinely happy for him as Shayne Gostisbehere had some fun with Gudas on the bench.

• According to Brian Smith, the Flyers' manager of broadcasting and media services, Sunday’s game against the Golden Knights marked just the eighth time in team history the Flyers' opponent did not commit a single penalty. The last time the Flyers won a game when the opponent did not commit a penalty came nearly 40 years ago — a 4-2 decision over Los Angeles on April 1, 1978.

• For whatever reason, some of the Flyers' more impressive wins this season have taken place on the road in the second game of a back-to-back set against Western Conference opponents. After coming up short to the Kings, 2-0, on their season-opening road trip, the Flyers have ripped off three straight in the above mentioned-scenario with wins against the Blues (2-0 on Nov. 2), Canucks (4-1 on Dec. 7) and now Sunday's triumph over the Golden Knights. The Flyers are now 8-4-1 on the road against the West with two games remaining — a back-to-back set against the Stars and Avalanche on March 27 and 28.

• Of the Flyers' remaining 26 games, their upcoming back-to-back set in Dallas and Denver features the only two games outside of the Eastern time zone. In those two games in Texas and Colorado, they’ll cover 3,315 miles. Conversely, the Flyers will travel just 6,513 miles over their remaining 11 road games. With their season-opening four-game road trip as their longest of the season, the Flyers may have one of the most favorable 82-game schedules they've had to navigate.

• The Flyers improved to 16-2-4 this season when scoring at least four goals. That includes 13 straight wins.

Penguins ruin Fleury's Pittsburgh homecoming

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Penguins ruin Fleury's Pittsburgh homecoming

PITTSBURGH -- Third-period goals by Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel ruined former teammate Marc-Andre Fleury's homecoming as the Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the Vegas Golden Knights 5-4 on Tuesday night.

Fleury, who won three Stanley Cups with the Penguins -- including the last two seasons -- returned to Pittsburgh for the first time since Vegas selected him in the expansion draft last summer. Fleury, who stopped 33 shots, beat his former teammates in December in Las Vegas.

In the first meeting between the teams in Pittsburgh, Malkin gave the Penguins a 4-2 lead with his 30th of the season at 3:09 of the third period. Malkin, who scored in his fifth straight game, became the fifth player in team history to score 30 goals on six separate occasions.

Kessel extended the lead to 5-2 a little more than three minutes later on a one-touch, backdoor feed from Malkin.

Jake Guentzel, Ryan Reaves and Ian Cole also scored for Pittsburgh, which won for the fifth time in six games.

Matt Murray, Fleury's former understudy in Pittsburgh, made 21 saves to top his mentor (see full recap).

Bruins win to close in on NHL-best Lightning
DETROIT -- Sean Kuraly and David Krejci scored in the second period, and the surging Boston Bruins rallied for a 3-2 victory over the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday night.

Boston is 17-1-4 in its last 22 games and only three points behind NHL-leading Tampa Bay in the Atlantic Division. The Red Wings never mounted much sustained pressure on goalie Tuukka Rask, who improved to 19-0-2 in his last 21 games.

Martin Frk scored a power-play goal in the second for Detroit, but the Bruins quickly wiped out that lead later in the period. Danton Heinen scored with 11:39 remaining in the third to put Boston up by two.

With their goalie pulled, the Red Wings moved within one when Frans Nielsen scored with 1:24 to play, but Boston held on (see full recap).

Backstrom’s late score lifts Capitals over Blue Jackets
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Nicklas Backstrom scored the winning goal with 43 seconds left, Braden Holtby made 37 saves and the Washington Capitals beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 3-2 on Tuesday night.

Brandon Dubinsky tied the score for Columbus late in the third period and the game appeared headed to overtime before Backstrom jumped on a pass from T.J. Oshie and beat Sergei Bobrovsky for his 200th career goal.

John Carlson and Tom Wilson also scored as the Capitals rallied to break a two-game skid and hang onto first place in the Metropolitan Division.

Bobrovsky had 22 saves for the Blue Jackets, who have lost four in a row and nine of 11. They're still in playoff contention, but so are all the teams in the division.

Washington (31-17-5) won the first leg of a home-and-home this week with Columbus (27-22-4) (see full recap).

A record-setting night for Golden Knights

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A record-setting night for Golden Knights

WINNIPEG, Manitoba -- David Perron scored 3:57 into overtime to lead Vegas past the Winnipeg Jets 3-2 on Thursday night for the Golden Knights' 34th victory, the most by an NHL expansion team in its debut season.

The Jets had the puck rolling in the crease three times in the extra period, but it couldn't get it into the net. Perron then fired a high shot past Connor Hellebuyck to win it.

Winnipeg's Kyle Connor had tied it with a high shot to Marc-Andre Fleury's glove side with 2:36 left in the third period. Joel Armia also had a goal and one assist for Winnipeg.

Hellebuyck made 28 saves for the Jets (30-13-9), who were trying to set a franchise record with their eighth straight home win.

Fleury stopped 24 shots for Vegas (34-12-4). It was his 389th win, putting him into a tie for 13th among NHL goaltenders (see full recap)

Ward, Hurricanes blank Habs for 3rd straight win
RALEIGH, N.C. -- Cam Ward stopped 27 shots in his second shutout of the season, and the Carolina Hurricanes beat the Montreal Canadiens 2-0 on Thursday night.

Brett Pesce and Brock McGinn scored to help the Hurricanes win their third straight, sweep the season series from Montreal and keep themselves in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race. Carolina entered two points out of a playoff spot.

Carey Price made 28 saves for the Canadiens, who have lost three in a row and fell to 2-5-2 in their last nine games.

McGinn made it a two-goal game with 5:09 remaining, taking a smooth pass from Justin Williams and slipping the puck past Price.

That gave Ward some breathing room, and he finished with the 27th shutout of his 13-year career -- but his first in 36 games against the Canadiens. He previously blanked defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh 4-0 on Jan. 4 (see full recap).

Karlsson helps Senators snap 6-game skid
OTTAWA, Ontario -- Erik Karlsson scored 32 seconds into overtime to lift the Ottawa Senators over the Anaheim Ducks 2-1 on Thursday night and snap a six-game skid.

Karlsson one-timed a pass from Matt Duchene on a power play, beating Ryan Miller with a shot inside the near post.

Bobby Ryan scored early in the third period for Ottawa, and Mike Condon stopped 30 shots.

Ryan Kesler tied it with 54 seconds left in regulation after Anaheim pulled Miller for an extra attacker. Miller made 30 saves, but Anaheim ended a three-game winning streak.

Each team already had a player in the penalty box when Anaheim's Jakob Silfverberg took a tripping penalty early in the third period. Ottawa scored on the 4-on-3 when Ryan tipped Mike Hoffman's shot (see full recap).