Flyers

Brian Elliott's case for Flyers MVP

Brian Elliott's case for Flyers MVP

While it didn’t hit the most screeching of halts, the Flyers’ recent sleigh ride of success did a few road bumps this week before the clock struck Christmas Eve.

The six-game win streak is a thing of December past now and the Flyers hit the holiday break losers of three of four games this past week.

The streak was snapped Monday with a 4-1 defeat at the hand of the visiting Los Angeles Kings. The winning ways returned Wednesday with a hard-fought 4-3 at home over the Detroit Red Wings. Then is right back on the losing track Friday with a dud of a 4-2 loss to the lowly Buffalo Sabres. And then the week was capped with yet another loss in Columbus, this one a 2-1 decision in a shootout.

You might have some holiday cookies or some eggnog to get to, so let’s not wait any longer and hop right into this week’s Flyers observations.

• As we sit here at the holiday break, a popular exercise is to look back on the first three months of the season and try to name a Flyers MVP thus far.

Sean Couturier rightfully could be at the top of many observers’ lists with his team-leading 16 goals. Claude Giroux is back to his point-producing self with 13 goals and 29 assists for 42 points. Jake Voracek is tied for the NHL lead with 36 assists and leads the team with 44 points. And Ivan Provorov is an indispensable rock on the blue line. But my vote would go to netminder Brian Elliott.

Elliott has been a tremendous, steadying anchor for a Flyers team that has lost its way more than once this season. On the campaign, he’s 13-8-7 with a .916 save percentage and a 2.59 goals-against average. But he’s been so much more than that. He’s given the Flyers chances to win almost every night in and night out. That’s all these Flyers could ask for and more with an offense that has struggled so mightily at times. Even during the brutal 10-game skid, Elliott was rock-solid in net.

But he proved his worth to the team again this week as he was solid against both L.A. and Detroit and superb against both Buffalo and Columbus in losing efforts. Thursday in Buffalo, he stopped 33 of 35 shots faced, many of which were supreme testers. Yes, he let a leaky one in, but that happens to every goalie every now and then. Against Columbus, his 11th straight start, no less, he took a hard-luck shootout loss with 35 saves on 36 shots faced. That’s all been a microcosm of what he’s done all season. He’s held the Flyers above water to be where they’re at as of Sunday, just four points out of a playoff spot.

• What an ugly effort Friday night in Buffalo. Save for the final five minutes of the second period and the late, two-goal flurry in the third, the Flyers were overmatched by a struggling Sabres club that entered the contest as the worst team in the Eastern Conference.

Not even Elliott’s heroics in net could save the Flyers from a pitiful loss that saw the Sabres out-compete them at almost every turn, including a 1 for 5 power-play effort that doesn’t rightfully depict how bad it was.  

Look, bad losses are going to happen all throughout the season, but that one was just inexcusable. Those are games the good teams — *cough* the playoff teams *cough* — win. That kind of effort just isn’t going to work for these Flyers. They don’t have enough to get by like that.

• The loss in Buffalo left such a bad taste in Dave Hakstol’s mouth he decided to throw his lines into the proverbial blender and shake things up.

The biggest change saw Wayne Simmonds moved off the first line and 20-year-old Travis Konecny bumped up to that spot. It’s an intriguing move and one that is worth trying.

Despite recent success, the Flyers are still yearning for offense. And Konecny has oodles and oodles of offensive talent that’s just waiting to get unleashed. Playing alongside such skilled players as Couturier and Giroux can only help unleash that offensive firepower in the second-year winger.

Now, Konecny has found himself in Hakstol’s doghouse a time or two for his high-risk, turnover-increased style of play. But that’s where being alongside Couturier and Giroux can also help. Those two players are so defensively responsible that it can allow Konecny to have more offensive freedom to roam and therefore enhance his creativity.

He didn’t have shot on goal in Columbus, but Konecny was very noticeable on his new line. This is a big opportunity for him, and it’s up to him to capitalize on it.

• It was a week of ups and downs for rookie defenseman Robert Hagg.

On Wednesday, he ripped home his first NHL goal when he powered a slapper from above the circle through Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard and then earned the Ric Flair victory robe from his teammates.

Things did not go as well Friday in Buffalo when Hagg, normally steady as can be, endured perhaps his worst game as a Flyer. He had an awful giveaway that led to a breakaway and eventually an Evander Kane penalty shot Elliott had to stop. Then he took a bad holding penalty on Zemgus Girgensons moments after. That all set the stage for a rough outing overall.

With as good as Hagg has played, it’s tough to remember sometimes that he’s a rookie. Games like Friday in Buffalo harsh reminders. But such is the life of a rookie in the NHL.

• You guys know who’s pretty good? That Sergei Bobrovsky guy, that's who. Sheesh.

Coming up this week: Thursday at Florida (7:30 p.m. on NBCSP), Friday at Tampa Bay (7:30 p.m. on NBCSP)

Flyers vs. Islanders: Live stream, storylines, game time and more

Flyers vs. Islanders: Live stream, storylines, game time and more

The Flyers (36-30-8) finish up their regular-season series with the Islanders (42-25-7) on Saturday afternoon in a game with plenty of storylines.

Let's look at that and more in the essentials:

• When: 1 p.m. ET with Flyers Pregame Live at 12:30 p.m.
• Where: Wells Fargo Center
• Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia
• Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports MyTeams app

• The last time these two teams met, the Islanders were looking for WrestleMania against Jakub Voracek after the Flyers' winger was called for interference on Johnny Boychuk.

Following the third-period play that elicited heavy debate, a shaken-up Boychuk exited the game and was seen calling out Voracek as the Islanders' defenseman left the ice. New York was not pleased, going after Voracek several times the rest of the game.

Voracek, who was given a five-minute major for the interference, said this following the 5-2 win March 9:

The explanation I got was if I hit him in the head, it would be a game [misconduct]. I don't know why I got five. I try to protect myself, to be honest, maybe the puck was a little further than I thought — I thought the puck was close to me.

It's a tough hit. You know, he's getting off the ice, he's pointing at me like it's a WrestleMania or something. Pointing at me like it's a WrestleMania. Come on, it's a hockey game. … He's the guy that was sucker-punching 19-year-old Nolan Patrick last year in the end of a game. He's going to do that? Give me a break.

Voracek was handed a controversial two-game suspension by the NHL Department of Player Safety. Boychuk has not played since as he has mostly been a healthy scratch for the Islanders.

Will there be extracurricular activity Saturday? Who knows, but it's an important game for both teams. New York is chasing first place in the Metropolitan Division and the Flyers are in a must-win situation over their final eight games.

The focus should be on winning the game.

• The Flyers enter Saturday five points behind the Canadiens for the Eastern Conference's second wild-card spot. The Blue Jackets, who are one point back of Montreal, do not play Saturday, while the Canadiens host the Sabres at 7 p.m. With a win and a regulation loss from Montreal, the Flyers would slide to within three points of the East's final playoff berth.

Hockey-Reference.com gives the Flyers a 3.0 percent chance to make the postseason and SportsClubStats.com has them at 1.6.

• Carter Hart is 2-1-0 with a 1.32 goals-against average and .966 save percentage over his last three starts. The 20-year-old rookie has yet to face the Islanders, who have lost two straight games by a combined score of 9-0.

Projected lineup

Forwards
James van Riemsdyk-Nolan Patrick-Claude Giroux
Oskar Lindblom-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
Michael Raffl-Scott Laughton-Travis Konecny
Phil Varone-Corban Knight-Ryan Hartman

Defensemen
Ivan Provorov-Travis Sanheim
Shayne Gostisbehere-Philippe Myers
Robert Hagg-Radko Gudas

Goalies
Carter Hart
Brian Elliott

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Flyers

Blackhawks expect Joel Quenneville to coach next season

Blackhawks expect Joel Quenneville to coach next season

It won’t be long before Joel Quenneville is trending on Twitter, and not just in Philadelphia.

Hockey Hall of Famer Chris Chelios was in Chicago for Thursday night’s Flyers-Blackhawks game, but it was his appearance earlier in the week on WGN Morning News where he opened up about the 60-year-old head coach.

Chelios is hoping the Maple Leafs get bounced in the first round of the playoffs, and with that, the organization elects to part ways with Mike Babcock, currently the league’s highest-paid coach after signing an eight-year, $50 million contract in the summer of 2015. 

Chelios and others in Chicago see growing tension between Babcock and the Leafs organization, and the former Blackhawks defenseman prefers to see Quenneville land in Toronto or with the future expansion team in Seattle that doesn’t start play until the 2021-22 season.

Unquestionably, Babcock’s style can wear on players, and with the probability of facing the Boston Bruins again in the first round, Babcock and the Leafs are looking at the possibility of another first-round exit. 

As for Quenneville, even his former players believe the three-time Stanley Cup-winning coach is ready to jump at another chance, whether that’s in Philadelphia or somewhere else.

“It would be pretty weird if he’s coaching somewhere else next season and not with the Blackhawks,” Patrick Kane said. “I think we all know that Joel has a big passion for hockey and a fire and a desire to win. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s coaching somewhere else next season.”

“I would be surprised if he’s not coaching,” Duncan Keith. “He never really changed [this season]. I think it’s just that competitive nature inside him. That’s what made him a great coach. The competition of winning games. There’s never anybody who loves winning more than him.”

Even Quenneville recently admitted during his first television interview since his firing, “There’s an appetite to get back into the game.” Quenneville spoke to Chicago’s WGN-TV on St. Patrick’s Day and said that he’s in “no hurry right now” to accept a head coaching position while also adding, “We’ll see how things transpire in the offseason. We’ll have to think about it, and we’ll see.”

Several Blackhawks insiders believe Quenneville’s relationship with the general manager and input regarding personnel decisions will go a long way toward determining where he eventually coaches again, pointing to the trades of defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson and forward Artemi Panarin, which created organizational strife the past few years in Chicago, and eventually led to Quenneville’s firing in early November.

There could be as many as nine teams looking for a permanent head coach heading into the 2019-20 season.

Quenneville admitted he still watches a lot of NHL games, but not as many Blackhawks games.

Perhaps he’s evaluating what he sees on the ice and which organization might be a good fit.

When it comes to the Flyers, there’s a lot to like.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Flyers