Walter Villa

Flyers burnt by NHL’s hottest team as key stretch begins off rails

Flyers burnt by NHL’s hottest team as key stretch begins off rails

BOX SCORE

SUNRISE, Fla. — The Flyers were short on rest, and the Panthers were long on speed.

The result was a 4-1 Flyers loss Sunday at the BB&T Center, and only a late rebound goal by Travis Konecny avoided a shutout.

All four Panthers goals came as the result of stretch passes as Evgenii Dadonov (twice), Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau took turns skating past gasping Flyers defenders.

Flyers coach Dave Hakstol didn’t blame turnovers on three of those goals, and he didn’t fault goalie Petr Mrazek, either.

“It was not the volume [of shots], but it was the absolute grade-A chances,” Hakstol said. “The number of breakaways (Mrazek) had to face … It wasn’t the turnovers. They transitioned — it was their quick transition coming out.”

Coupled with a 7-6 shootout loss Saturday to Tampa, the Flyers got just one point on their trip to Florida.

Worse yet, including a weak effort in a 4-1 loss Thursday to the Hurricanes, the Flyers have lost three straight games while maintaining their second-place standing in the Metropolitan Division.

Shayne Gostisbehere, who is a South Florida native, was asked about that short rest.

“It’s an easy excuse,” he said. “(The Panthers) haven’t played (since Friday), and we played (Saturday) afternoon. But it comes down to our readiness.

“(The Panthers) are a quick team. We knew what they were going to do, but we didn’t respect it enough. They got their chances. They were not cheating but pushing us out of the zone quickly.”

For the Flyers, who are 26-10-4 since Dec. 4, this is their third mini-losing streak in the past three months. But they've been resilient all season.

That has to give Flyers fans hope despite the talk about not being ready or watching an upstart team skate past them.

Then again, the Panthers have been the hottest team in the NHL since Jan. 30, winning 13 of 16 games. With the win over the Flyers, they went 6-0-0 during this homestand.

And with players such as Barkov, Huberdeau, Vincent Trocheck and Dadonov on the top two lines, the Panthers have speed and skill.

Radko Gudas, whose interference penalty led to a Panthers power-play goal that made it 1-0 just 2:41 into the game, took some of the heat.

“It wasn’t our best defensive coverage,” he said. “The Panthers played a lot of stretch passes. They were gone, and we were still in the zone. It took us a while to adapt. We could’ve done a way better job.”

Gudas wasn’t buying the tired legs argument, either.

“It was a tough two games,” he said. “But those excuses — everybody’s in good condition. I don’t think that should be a factor at this point in the year.

“We wanted more than one point out of this trip. For us, these next two games are crucial.”

Health check
Hakstol said Johnny Oduya “got dinged up” and could not finish the game.

Petr Mrazek, Flyers' defense pick up where they left off

Petr Mrazek, Flyers' defense pick up where they left off

BOX SCORE

SUNRISE, Fla. — Tired legs, perhaps?

The Flyers, playing for the second time in 24 hours, got virtually skated out of the BB&T Center Sunday afternoon by the speedy and red-hot Panthers, 4-1.

After avoiding a shutout with a rebound goal from Travis Konecny with 3:21 left in the third period, the Flyers are in second place in the Metropolitan Division and have been remarkable since Dec. 4 at 26-10-4.

But the past three games have surely been unsettling for Flyers fans, who watched their team play listless hockey in a 4-1 loss to the Hurricanes before blowing a 5-3 lead in a 7-6 shootout loss Saturday afternoon to Tampa.

The Panthers completed an impressive 6-0-0 homestand and have won 13 of their last 16 games to stamp themselves as the hottest team in hockey since Jan. 30.

The tired-legs theory stems not only from the draining and high-scoring loss to Tampa on Saturday and the quick travel down to South Florida but also to the fact the Panthers scored all four of their goals off of stretch passes.

In other words, Florida’s speed got the best of the Flyers all game long.      

Here are some more observations:

• This is just the third time since Dec. 4 the Flyers have lost as many as two games in a row. So far, the Flyers have been resilient, not letting a couple of bad games become something more.

• Penalties kept the Flyers from having any flow early in the game. The Flyers were whistled four times in the first period, and one of those – interference by Radko Gudas – led to a Florida goal.

In the second period, the only two calls went against the Flyers, again killing what little momentum the Flyers were able to sustain.    

• Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo got an assist before he picked up a save Sunday.

After Gudas was whistled for interfering with Panthers right winger Jamie McGinn, Florida took advantage just 47 seconds later. Luongo got the puck to Keith Yandle, whose stretch pass hit Aleksander Barkov led to the game’s first goal. Barkov, the Panthers’ All-Star center, was too fast to catch.

• Evgenii Dadonov scored the next two goals, and Jonathan Huberdeau made it 4-0 as the Panthers did all of that damage with their top two lines.

• The Flyers had a chance early. They had a lot of open ice for a 75-second span in the first period, when they were playing 4-on-3. The Flyers attempted four shots during that span but didn’t truly come close to a goal.

• Flyers goalie Petr Mrazek won his first three games since he was acquired one week before the trade deadline, but he has also lost his past three in a row. During the win streak, he allowed four goals in three games. During this skid, he has allowed 14 goals.

In successful weekend in Miami, Phillies show potential against Marlins

In successful weekend in Miami, Phillies show potential against Marlins

BOX SCORE

MIAMI — The Phillies have the worst record in baseball at 52-84. But after taking three out of four games from the playoff-contending Miami Marlins this weekend, it’s possible the Phillies aren’t that bad.

The Phillies continued to show signs of life Sunday, beating Miami, 3-1, at Marlins Park on a two-out, two-run, single by Nick Williams in the top of the 12th inning (see observations).

As for the big picture …

“We’ve had injuries like everybody else,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. “We’ve had guys coming and going — I think 16 guys who have made their (major-league) debut.

“I feel like this team has a lot of potential.”

To Mackanin’s point, the Phillies are tied for eighth in the majors in fielding percentage, and the organization’s vision no doubt has that ranking improving in the near future with the addition of athletic infield prospects such as J.P. Crawford and Scott Kingery.

True, the Phillies are 24th in the majors in ERA (4.72) and 28th in runs scored. The pitching deficiencies have a lot to do with injuries to Jerad Eickhoff and Vince Velasquez, a pair of starters the Phillies hope to have ready for 2018.

Aaron Nola leads the staff with 10 wins, and this weekend saw good starts from Ben Lively, Nick Pivetta and Jake Thompson, the latter of whom struck out a career high seven batters in a one-run, six-inning performance Sunday.

Mark Leiter Jr., who pitches Monday against the Mets in New York, has been impressive so far with a 3.88 ERA.

And here’s the thing: All seven of the aforementioned pitchers are 26 or younger.

The bullpen, meanwhile, looked great Sunday, as four pitchers combined to limit Miami to one hit and no runs over six innings. Hector Neris got his 19th save, but Juan Nicasio, Luis Garcia and Adam Morgan also contributed out of the 'pen.

Thompson, who has bounced four times this year between the Phillies and Triple A Lehigh Valley, was grateful things went his way Sunday.

“It’s nice to have one of those days after the things I’ve gone through this year,” Thompson said. “It makes me feel good.”

As for the offense, it struggled considerably Sunday when Rhys Hoskins sat out with a bruised right hand. But if Hoskins and Williams continue to develop, perhaps the Phillies can rise from out of the NL East basement next year.

Williams, who is batting .271, now has 35 RBIs since making his major-league debut June 30, tops among NL rookies during that span.

But he had stranded the bases loaded with one out in the fifth inning Sunday and had left runners on the corners with one out in the 10th, unable to get even a sacrifice fly on either occasion.

Finally, with two outs in the top of the 12th, Williams pulled his two-run single to right.

“It’s weird,” Williams said. “I’ve been getting out like crazy (lately). It’s not like I was striking out. I’ve just been hitting balls right at people.”

As long as good contact is being made, though, hits will eventually fall, and that’s what the Phillies are hoping for more of in the future.

Perhaps it’s not entirely crazy to think the Phillies could make a Marlins-type run at .500 in 2018. Miami’s pitching is not much better than Philadelphia’s, ranking 21st in the majors with a 4.63 ERA.

The Marlins are 15th in runs scored and 16th in homers. The Phillies are 27th in homers.

So, to make a significant stride, the Phillies would have to get healthy, improve their pitching and hope that Hoskins and Williams become their version of Miami’s Giancarlo Stanton and Marcell Ozuna.

Morgan (3-1), who got the win Sunday with three hitless and scoreless innings, is bullish on the Phillies’ future. And the same can be said about Thompson.

“It’s good to have something to feel good about as we go into the offseason,” Thompson said. “That’s huge.

“Hopefully, we can finish the season strong.”