Flyers

After 2 wins in Southern California, are Flyers out of water?

After 2 wins in Southern California, are Flyers out of water?

The Flyers went out West this week and appeared to have righted the ship with wins in Anaheim and Los Angeles.

It's calmer waters around here right now but have the Flyers turned a corner?

NBC Sports Philadelphia's Tom Dougherty and Jordan Hall debate:

Dougherty
What a difference a few days make. Last weekend, the wheels fell off for the Flyers. Then, they were reassembled in Southern California during the first two legs of a four-game road trip. It's a dose of reality during the reactionary times we live in.

Maybe Dave Hakstol wasn't the team's biggest wart. Maybe firing Hakstol wasn't going to solve all the problems. Maybe a blockbuster move to change things up wasn't the answer.

But we weren't wrong in believing this. A lot of the same issues that have plagued this team the past three seasons resurfaced and you have to look at the one constant.

That is Hakstol. Realistically speaking, a decision on Hakstol would only have happened had this team gone out West and played the same way it did last Saturday in Philly.

Instead, the Flyers won two games, against a banged-up Ducks team and a bad Kings team. They were two games they should have won, and they did. Credit where credit is due.

Now, they face a real challenge Saturday night in San Jose with revenge on their mind. The Sharks are legit, and the Flyers learned that in their home opener.

The Flyers are far from out of the water, and drastic change remains on the table. Team defense remains leaky. The penalty kill stinks — eight PPGs allowed in the last six games.

Two important wins in SoCal doesn't erase anything. If they compete with the Sharks on Saturday night, then I'll say they're out of the water for now.

This team actually has expectations this season, and it hasn't gotten nearly close to showing us it deserves them. We can all use some patience, most of us have been using it.

That said, I don't believe we were wrong for being dramatic after last Saturday's loss to the Islanders. There were real reasons to consider going nuclear, no matter what history tells us.

Hall
Are the Flyers back? No.

Was their season in jeopardy after 11 games? No, that's even sillier.

Front office officials are not like fans. They don't react on emotion or make inflammatory decisions. 

And sports is such a what-have-you-done-for-me-now world. It's why so many live and die on every game. Fans love their team one day, then hate it the next. But they care, they're passionate, and it's great — I totally get it. They're just as important to the whole operation as anyone else. Fans make it go.

But sometimes, it's important to sit back, digest a game and then remember the bigger picture. The Flyers won back-to-back games against stumbling teams out West and suddenly there's some calmness to the storm. That's what a few victories can do.

But you don't see the Flyers acting like they won the Stanley Cup. Hakstol didn't crack a smile once in his postgame interviews. That's because they don't live and die with every game. They value every game, absolutely, but understand a deep breath and a glance at the long view is good.

So Saturday's matchup is important, just like the rest. I wouldn't treat it as this massive measuring stick or challenge, though. Because, really, the Flyers could lose to the Sharks, beat the Coyotes Monday and we'd consider a three-win four-game road trip a success.

And don't forget, a five-game homestand awaits and 36-goal scorer James van Riemsdyk is nearing a return. Maybe that got lost in the day-to-day, hour-by-hour panic.

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Flyers goalie Anthony Stolarz activated off injured reserve, loaned to Phantoms

Flyers goalie Anthony Stolarz activated off injured reserve, loaned to Phantoms

VOORHEES, N.J. — The Flyers activated goaltender Anthony Stolarz off injured reserve Thursday and loaned him to Lehigh Valley for conditioning purposes. Stolarz suffered a lower-body injury in the first period of a 5-1 loss to the Canucks on Dec. 15 in Vancouver when he allowed two goals on four shots.

With injuries to Brian Elliott, Michal Neuvirth and Alex Lyon, Stolarz was pressed into duty in the early part of December, making six starts over a 10-day stretch. With a 3.90 goals-against average and an .880 save percentage, Stolarz actually played better than the numbers he posted.

“In the games that I did watch, I don’t think he was given a lot of help for stretches and he kept the team close, and whether they won or lost the game, I don’t think you could point the finger at him,” Flyers interim head coach Scott Gordon said.

Moving forward, it will be interesting to see if the Flyers recall Stolarz, who can stay for 14 days without clearing waivers. Considering how well he played in wins at Pittsburgh and in Buffalo, there may be a team willing to take a chance on Stolarz as an inexpensive backup looking ahead to next season. 

With such limited playing time over the past two seasons in his recovery from meniscus surgery in September 2017, Stolarz is better served as the No. 1 in Lehigh Valley, where he can improve his game and regain his confidence. If Stolarz can build upon his small body of work this season, it will be interesting to see if the Flyers view him as a viable backup option for next season.      

No hearing for Lehtera; could Leier be an option?

Flyers forward Jori Lehtera will not receive supplemental discipline from the NHL’s Department of Player Safety following his reckless hit into the back of Bruins forward Ryan Donato. Lehtera received a five-minute board major and a game misconduct. 

Lehtera likely avoided a suspension because Donato wasn’t injured on that play. The Bruins' winger was bleeding as a result of the hit, but never missed a shift in the third period.

Lehtera spent 17 minutes in the box compared to just 5:40 on the ice. At this point, Gordon has two highly ineffective veterans in Lehtera and Dale Weise, who cleared waivers on Wednesday but will remain on the team’s active roster. 

At this point, Gordon would be better served in giving Taylor Leier another look. Leier has scored seven goals in his last six games with the Phantoms.

“It’s hard to explain as a player, that feeling of wanting the puck on your stick all the time,” Leier said. “I think I have that back in my game now.”

Will a third trick be a charm?

Sean Couturier’s three goals against the Bruins marked the first time since October 2002 that the Flyers registered hat tricks in consecutive games. Mark Recchi ripped home three goals in a 5-4 win over the Calgary Flames, while John LeClair potted four goals three nights later in a 6-2 victory over the Montreal Canadiens.

It also marked the eighth time in Flyers franchise history that the team had a hat trick in back-to-back games, but that feat has never occurred in three straight games.

So, who could be the likely candidate to put three on the board at the Bell Centre Saturday and make franchise history?

I’m leaning on Claude Giroux, who has 10 goals in 30 career games against the Montreal Canadiens, with a two-goal effort against the Habs in 2011.

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Claude Giroux's unselfishness shouldn't go unnoticed

Claude Giroux's unselfishness shouldn't go unnoticed

Assistant coach Kris Knoblauch went to Claude Giroux and proposed a power-play adjustment.

It required Giroux vacating his usual left circle, where the captain has blasted away for a long time, as lethal as anyone in the game from that spot on the man advantage.

Shifting the right-handed Giroux to the opposite circle, an area not as favorable for his shot, had the premise of augmenting the lefty-shot James van Riemsdyk, who could do greater damage around the net taking right-wall feeds from the captain.

Giroux was receptive.

"Knobber had a conversation with G and got his thoughts on it," Flyers interim head coach Scott Gordon said Tuesday following practice. "It certainly plays to the strengths of JVR, who obviously had a ton of points on the power play in his time in Toronto and maybe that is something we can take advantage of. 

"Obviously if the power play is going at 20 percent plus and we're scoring a power-play goal a game, you're not having the conversation. But credit to Claude for being open-minded to consider it and give it a go."

The first game Giroux and company gave it a go, van Riemsdyk scored a power-play goal and finished with a hat trick as the Flyers rallied resoundingly from a 2-0 deficit to pick up a 7-4 win Monday over the Wild.

A game later, the Flyers found themselves in another 2-0 hole. And another comeback was ignited, this time by a marvelous dish from Giroux, once again making his teammates better. Notching his 500th career assist, the 31-year-old stopped on a dime to recover a loose puck and zip a pass in the opposite direction, finding a streaking Oskar Lindblom.

Suddenly, a play no other Flyer can make had everyone revived. Confidence was restored and fruited into a 4-3 win over the Bruins, giving the Flyers consecutive victories for just the second time since mid-November.

"I've been lucky to play with really good players and I'm lucky to be able to give the puck to all these players," Giroux said. "It's a great accomplishment but we just have to keep going here."

Much of those wins are a product of Giroux's unselfishness, an underrated part to his building (and debated) legacy.

If Giroux shies away from Knoblauch's suggestion, acts like his power-play prowess is infallible, van Riemsdyk might not go off for a much-needed lift.

If Giroux doesn't make a play out of nothing for Lindblom, a comeback might not happen against a Bruins team that will be making noise in the playoffs.

If Giroux doesn't switch positions at 30 years old last season, Sean Couturier might not have his anticipated breakout the organization had been hoping for since the 2011 draft.

"His intensity, he's ready to go every other shift," Gordon said of Giroux. "He wants to play a lot, he does play a lot, he's not an easy guy to keep off the ice in practice when it's probably best for him not to go on the ice. He's very passionate about being a Flyer.

"I haven't felt that he's taken a shift off the entire time that I've been here. Anything that even resembled it might have been more fatigue than anything else, not because of a mental decision to say, 'You know what, I don't feel like playing hard this year.'"

That would be selfishness. You won't find it from Giroux, even in a season like this.

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