Flyers

Are players thinking about outside factors as Flyers sink near bottom of NHL?

Are players thinking about outside factors as Flyers sink near bottom of NHL?

WASHINGTON — Two weeks from now, the Flyers will be on a beach, a mountainside chalet or in a remote area where they can’t be contacted.

Wherever they venture off during their league-mandated bye week, it will likely be far from hockey to escape the spiraling abyss that has become their nightmarish season.

Then again, one can argue this team has yet to return from a three-day holiday break as it has failed to win a game during the post-Christmas portion of its schedule, now 0-6-2 following Tuesday night’s 5-3 disappointment to the Capitals (see observations).

What appeared to be a solid start in Washington quickly evolved into a disastrous second period, when the Flyers have now been outscored 15-1 over those past eight games. Against the Caps, it was their dreadful downfall as they surrendered three unanswered goals.

“Second period came and we just stopped skating,” Jakub Voracek said. “They locked us in the zone a couple of times, which is going to happen. They’re one of the best teams in the league. Absolutely takes the wind out of us. How many times has that happened over the past few games where that second period was the worst of them all? Too many times.”

Before Tuesday’s game in Washington, interim head coach Scott Gordon indicated some players appeared to be thinking about issues not related to the game itself or the job in hand. 

“There’s a lot of things going on in a lot of heads,” Gordon said. “Sometimes it’s their own personal successes and failures. Sometimes it can be contracts, sometimes it can be who you are playing on any given night.”

Afterward, Sean Couturier was asked about Gordon’s quote and while Couturier didn’t agree with the coach’s assessment, he didn’t dismiss the idea either.  

“I don’t know. I can’t really talk for other guys,” Couturier said. “I don’t know if it is, or if it's not. It seems every night we have some guys off or we don’t have everyone going at the same time. We need to start looking at ourselves in the mirror. Maybe some guys are thinking about it. I don’t know.”

If the Flyers can’t find 60 minutes of undivided focus between Thursday’s home game against the Stars and that final game in Montreal on Jan. 19 heading into the bye week, this team will establish a new standard for winless hockey.

Five more regulation/overtime/shootout losses will surpass the franchise’s all-time winless standard set by the 1998-99 Flyers, who went 0-8-4 from late February to late March.

Of course, the Flyers likely wouldn’t be in this situation if it wasn’t for the NHL record they matched Tuesday night as they started their seventh different goaltender — a dubious accomplishment established by the 1989-90 Quebec Nordiques. 

Mike McKenna had a front-row seat to what Flyers meltdown mode really looks like.

“You just try to get your bearings a little bit and sort things out, but hockey is hockey,” McKenna said. “It definitely wasn’t my best game.”

Welcome to the club, Mike. You’re already fitting right in.

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Flyers place Andy Welinski on NHL waivers, will create more cap space

Flyers place Andy Welinski on NHL waivers, will create more cap space

Andy Welinski, who had been out with a lower-body injury, was deemed healthy Monday and placed on waivers.

If the 26-year-old defenseman expectedly clears, he will report to AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley.

The move is notable for a few reasons.

The Flyers' cap space will increase from $283,811 to $1,033,811, according to CapFriendly.com.

Nolan Patrick (migraine disorder) remains on injured reserve and counts against the cap like Welinski did. When the 20-year-old center is healthy, the Flyers will have room for him because the roster is at 21 players. Patrick appears to be getting closer to a return as he is with the Flyers on their current three-game road trip.

The Flyers might still make a move when Patrick inserts the lineup. An odd man out could be Connor Bunnaman or Carsen Twarynski, both 21-year-old rookies. It would make sense if the Flyers want them playing games at Lehigh Valley rather than sitting in the press box as an extra forward.

If the Flyers decide to send one of those players down, it would also create more cap flexibility. Chris Stewart, a veteran winger who turns 32 years old this month, remains with the team on a pro tryout.

As for Welinski, he will help a young Phantoms team if he clears waivers. Welinski has played 146 career AHL games and appeared in a career-high 26 games for the Ducks last season.

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Is Jakub Voracek's trimmed ice time a big deal?

Is Jakub Voracek's trimmed ice time a big deal?

Jakub Voracek’s 14:30 ice time Saturday night was certainly noteworthy.

It marked the 30-year-old winger’s fewest minutes in a game since the 2015-16 season. When the Flyers were trailing, 2-1, during the third period, one of their best and most experienced playmakers saw no more than three minutes of the ice. In the final stanza, Voracek was bumped off the first line and had shifts with the team’s fourth unit.

The development, which comes in the third game of the season under a new head coach, is nothing to sweep under the rug as if it never happened.

Is it troubling, though? No, at least not yet.

The fact is the Flyers have great depth in their top six. So much so that James van Riemsdyk, a two-time 30-goal scorer and the Flyers’ fourth-highest-paid player, opened the season on the third line.

On Saturday night in a 3-2 shootout loss to the Canucks (see observations), the Flyers were looking to spark their offense during the third period. They had one goal and 17 shots on net at the time. Head coach Alain Vigneault has said how he’s still searching for the best chemistry within his forward combinations and defensive pairs.

JVR, who finished with 15:11 and 15:37 minutes in the Flyers’ first two games, respectively, played 20:19 Saturday night. His jump to the first line was effective as the Flyers outshot the Canucks, 14-6, during the third period with van Riemsdyk, Kevin Hayes and Claude Giroux creating plenty of offense.

When asked Tuesday if he was inclined to experiment with lines early in the season, Vigneault said:

Yes, until I find the chemistry. I’m a firm believer in I think players like to stay on the same line — chemistry gets formed and accountability gets formed also between linemates and D partners. Last game against Chicago was the first time that I felt throughout the four lines we had some chemistry that enabled us to play well defensively and generate some chances offensively. How long that’s going to stay? It’s going to depend obviously on the players’ performance. Until I find the right mix — it could be a duo with a guy going in and out, it could be a line. I’d prefer it be lines, but that obviously depends on the players’ performances.

Vigneault will switch things up and try different combinations. He will also spread out ice time to maximize his push-the-pace, hard-on-the-attack style.

If anything, this is an indication that competition is aplenty among the Flyers’ forwards. There is talent available and minutes are up for grabs.

If you want those minutes, you have to earn them and then keep them.

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