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Capitals 5, Flyers 3: No. 7 goalie Mike McKenna can't prevent 8th straight loss

Capitals 5, Flyers 3: No. 7 goalie Mike McKenna can't prevent 8th straight loss

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WASHINGTON — The tortuous feel of an eight-game losing streak now has some Capital punishment attached to it. 

With the Flyers facing the defending Stanley Cup champions for the first time this season, the Capitals proved too much Tuesday night in a 5-3 decision.

The Flyers matched an NHL record by starting their seventh different goaltender. How did Mike McKenna fare in his Flyers debut?  

Here are my observations from Capital One Arena:

• This was one of the more uptempo first periods the Flyers have played recently, outshooting the Capitals 20-8 in attempts. The one breakdown was how the Flyers allowed Jakub Vrana to rip down the left side before his lead pass to Tom Wilson led to an unstoppable goal. Perhaps underestimating Vrana’s speed, defenseman Travis Sanheim simply can’t get turned around like that, and Ivan Provorov allowed Wilson to slide underneath him.  

Since he was paired with Provorov, Sanheim has started strong but I feel his play, most notably his positioning, has dropped over his last six games in which he’s now a minus-7. I can’t help but wonder with the uptick in minutes, coupled with defending a top-two line, if Sanheim has allowed some bad habits to creep back into his game.

• The Capitals' second line of Vrana-Lars Eller-T.J. Oshie was the line that gave the Flyers the most trouble, scoring Washington’s first two goals. To give you an idea of how deep the Caps are within their forwards, Eller would typically center Washington’s third line, but he was forced to move up with Nicklas Backstrom, Washington’s second-leading scorer, out with an injury.

• The usually responsible Sean Couturier was caught in a very high-risk situation trying to leave the puck for Claude Giroux just inside the blue line when Vrana picked off the pass and, with his acceleration, there was no one capable of catching up to him. You would like a momentum save from McKenna, but given the speed Vrana brought on that breakaway, that was a tough stop to make. That’s been a big issue for the Flyers over the course of their losing streak is that their star players have been far from good.     

• I can give McKenna a pass on the first three Capitals goals, but Vrana’s second goal, the power-play goal, is inexcusable. That’s a sharp-angled shot that McKenna can’t let slide between his pads. It’s maddening to see the Flyers allow a power-play goal to a Washington team that had gone 1 for 31 over its last 10 games on the man advantage. 

Overall, McKenna gave the Flyers an honest effort in his team debut on a night when they needed exceptional play against some of Washington’s quality scoring chances. 

• It’s hard to not take offense at how the physicality of hockey has evolved. Radko Gudas levels Capitals center Nic Dowd with a perfectly-timed hip check, and then he’s immediately confronted by Washington’s Devante Smith-Pelly, who dropped the gloves with Gudas over a legal, and well-executed hip check. Frankly, players just don’t want to get hit unnecessarily without taking offense.

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Don't lose perspective with Flyers prospect Jay O'Brien

Don't lose perspective with Flyers prospect Jay O'Brien

The Flyers saw both ends of the spectrum with their first-round picks from the 2018 draft.

While Joel Farabee shined at Boston University this season (see story), Jay O'Brien struggled to find his game at Providence College.

After a freshman season comprised of injuries and five points (two goals, three assists) in 25 games, it appears O'Brien's time with the Friars is over.

According to a report Tuesday by Jeff Cox of the New England Hockey Journal, O'Brien has entered the NCAA transfer portal and will play for the Penticton Vees of the BCHL during the 2019-20 season.

O'Brien, a playmaking center, will have three years of college eligibility remaining.

Now, before anyone starts debating O'Brien's future, let's remember the importance of perspective with teenage prospects. 

O'Brien was perceived as a bit of project when the Flyers' previous regime of Ron Hextall and Chris Pryor selected him 19th overall last summer. Taking O'Brien at No. 19 was viewed by many as a reach, but the Flyers' scouting staff was high on the Thayer Academy product and trusted its evaluation. The Flyers took O'Brien over other centers Joseph Veleno, Rasmus Kupari and Isac Lundestrom.

This season, Veleno put up 104 points in the QMJHL, Kupari had 33 points over 43 games in Liiga (Finnish pro league) and Lundestrom appeared in 15 games with the Ducks.

O'Brien, because of his smaller stature (5-foot-11, 174 pounds) and being drafted out of prep school, had an adjustment period playing Division I hockey (see story). Multiple injuries also didn't help his cause with the transition.

But patience with O'Brien was always going to be imperative. The Flyers drafted him on a lot of upside after taking more of a guarantee in the quick-rising Farabee five picks earlier. The 19-year-old O'Brien isn't lacking in ability or work ethic. Providence head coach Nate Leaman, who led the Friars to a national title in 2015, called O'Brien's skill set "elite."

"It takes time to learn to play at the speed, to play with the lack of space," Leaman said in January during a phone interview with NBC Sports Philadelphia (see story).

"These guys that come right from high school, it takes time and I know Philly has told us that they understand that also."

O'Brien paid little attention to pre-draft rankings last summer.

"I don't even know where I was," he said at development camp. "It doesn't mean much to me. It's not really where you get drafted, it's what you do after you get drafted."

He'll have a new path in 2019-20, another chance to prove himself. There's still plenty to like, with plenty of time.

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2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs schedule: Game 7s are here for Maple Leafs-Bruins, Golden Knights-Sharks series

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2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs schedule: Game 7s are here for Maple Leafs-Bruins, Golden Knights-Sharks series

The two best words in sports: Game Seven.

Well, we get two times the fun Tuesday night as Game 7 matchups are here for the Maple Leafs-Bruins and Golden Knights-Sharks first-round playoff series.

Below is the full schedule for Day 14 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. You can watch the entire playoffs on the networks of NBC. 

Toronto Maple Leafs at Boston Bruins (tied 3-3)
Game 7, Eastern Conference first round
7 p.m. ET | TV: NBCSN | Live stream here

Vegas Golden Knights at San Jose Sharks (tied 3-3)
Game 7, Western Conference first round
10 p.m. ET | TV: NBCSN | Live stream here