Flyers

Chuck Fletcher facing a crossroad with Flyers and their 'bias for action'

Chuck Fletcher facing a crossroad with Flyers and their 'bias for action'

As Paul Holmgren and Dave Scott sat side by side, their message was clear.

Ron Hextall's picture had become too broad, too long term for the Flyers' liking, to the point in which Holmgren and Scott wanted a new general manager to fix the now more than anything else.

"It's my job to challenge Paul, and Paul to Ron," Scott, the chairman and CEO of Comcast Spectacor, said Nov. 27 when discussing Hextall's firing. "But that was a big question: What can we do now, today, to make the team better now? Not two years or three years from now. I think we debated that a lot.

"Do I think we can do better as a team now — not in two years or three years, but now? I think that answer is yes."

The problem is the now has turned so ugly, you wonder if it's even salvageable.

The Flyers entered Wednesday with more points (35) than just two NHL teams — the Blues (34) and Senators (34). They are 6-12-4 since Nov. 13, a stretch in which they've been outscored 80-53. In two more games, they will be at the halfway point of the season; that's no small sample size.

All of the above creates a brewing awkwardness and dilemma for Chuck Fletcher, brought in to quickly strap on his cape and save the Flyers from their mess.

Holmgren and Scott summoned Fletcher for the purpose of expediting the Flyers' process and to supplement the current team so it can realize its potential.

"We're looking for bright, energetic, strategic thinkers," Scott said when the Flyers were starting their GM search. "But also, balancing that with a bias for action and really making some things happen.

"We're very focused on the trade deadline coming up Feb. 25. We think there's going to be some opportunities out there and frankly, we don't want to miss out."

What in the world does Fletcher do now? Try to somehow buy on this team and give it a shot at the playoffs, a goal that is waning by the game? 

Fletcher will be strongly debating his course, with the difficult win-now reminder in the back of his mind. He has been on the job for barely a month and a hopefulness at the outset is starting to spiral into hopelessness.

Arguably the biggest decision on his growing plate: Wayne Simmonds. The 30-year-old has 17 points (11 goals, six assists) over 39 games and can become an unrestricted free agent after the season.

If Fletcher sees no other route than to sell ahead of the Feb. 25 deadline, then Simmonds becomes a prime trade chip the Flyers should cash in on as they look forward, instead of possibly losing the winger for nothing during the summer.

And that's just the beginning.

The next challenge would come at goalie. At this point, Fletcher very well may be best off learning more about Carter Hart at the NHL level while riding Michal Neuvirth and Brian Elliott (when healthy) the most he can before addressing the goalie predicament in the offseason. Both Elliott and Neuvirth will be unrestricted free agents then, opening everything up for Fletcher, who also has pending UFAs in forwards Michael Raffl and Jordan Weal at his disposal.

The situation, as a whole, oozes with irony because the Flyers moved on from Hextall for the sake of the all-important present. One way or the other, the new GM will give the Flyers their desired action.

Fletcher, though, may have no other choice but to take a page out of Hextall's book and look at what's next.

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With back-to-back wins, are Flyers finally starting to mature?

With back-to-back wins, are Flyers finally starting to mature?

When Jori Lehtera was sent off the ice for a five-minute boarding major and a 10-minute game misconduct Wednesday night, the most loyal followers of the orange and black had every reason to believe the Flyers were entering their self-destruction phase once again.

After all, we had seen this storyline play out on numerous occasions already this season.

Forced to kill off a five-minute power play to the NHL second-ranked power play should have doomed this team, but against the Bruins, something was different.

“We’re starting to show some character and maturity, even playing with a lead we’re a little bit more comfortable now,” Sean Couturier said after scoring a natural hat trick in the Flyers' 4-3 win over the Bruins (see observations). “We’re doing some little things right.”

A lot of those little things have been resolved finally through their penalty kill, in which the Flyers successfully killed off nine straight minutes of power-play time, including nearly six minutes in a hard-fought third period. For those who believed assistant coach Ian Laperriere should take the fall for the PK’s horrific start this season, interim head coach Scott Gordon begs to differ.

“Lappy has done a great job as far as the pre-scouting. You guys don’t see that,” Gordon said. “He’s been on target every single time. As far as the aggressiveness, that’s the one thing I’ve been really pleased with. When you lose a lot of games, you realize what’s not going right. Sometimes you have to learn through the struggles and the adversity.”

That aggressiveness is why the Flyers have now strung together back-to-back wins for just the second time in the past two months, and the biggest part of that success is a rookie goaltender that many within the organization believed needed the necessary AHL seasoning before he could be thrown into the frying pan of an NHL game.

Eleven games into his career, the 20-year-old Carter Hart is playing like he has the emotional fortitude of someone in their mid-to-late 40s. It just seems like there’s no way Hart could have the capacity to handle the adversity of falling behind 2-0 in back-to-back games to only stay composed and have his team rally back to beat the Wild and the Bruins.    

“You can tell he’s a mature kid,” Couturier said. “He prepares himself pretty well. He does a lot of little things away from the rink that help his game on the ice. He’s pretty calm back there. He’s above his age.”   

“I think it’s just how you approach the game. It’s everything,” Hart said. “It’s coming to the rink for practice, for games, whatever it is. Just coming in ready to work. I think if you work hard no matter how old you are, guys will respect you.”

With that, Hart gets to the heart of the matter. He embraces putting in the hard work of practice, much like Couturier has done from the time he started his NHL career at the age of 18. You can’t create a championship culture by cutting a few corners. So if the organization is planning ahead to next season, Hart and Couturier should be those cornerstone players. 

Outside of that, the Flyers have a lot more maturing to go through if they want to join the league’s elite.

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Flyers 4, Bruins 3: Sean Couturier records first career regular-season hat trick in win

Flyers 4, Bruins 3: Sean Couturier records first career regular-season hat trick in win

BOX SCORE

Would you believe the Flyers have their first winning streak in almost a full month?

Sean Couturier registered his first career regular-season hat trick Wednesday night as the Flyers knocked off the Bruins, 4-3, at the Wells Fargo Center. It's the Flyers' second straight win and second straight game in which a Flyer had a hat trick — James van Riemsdyk had one Monday.

Despite being badly outshot, the Flyers received outstanding goaltending again from Carter Hart, and surprisingly, the penalty kill is stepping up in a big way.

• There’s been a lot of talk linking the Bruins and Wayne Simmonds. The Bruins, having scratched David Backes for this game, have been looking to add some toughness and grit. If the two sides engage in trade talks, there’s two players that caught my eye in this game: left winger Peter Cehlarik and defenseman Brandon Carlo. Of course, the Bruins may not have interest in parting with either player, but Cehlarik certainly looks like a player who could be slotted in a top-six role, scoring two, while Carlo brings size and an ability to jump in offensively.

• I’ve discussed how the Flyers' PK was a personnel issue during Dave Hakstol’s time here when he tried to incorporate guys like Oskar Lindblom and Jori Lehtera into a heavy PK role. Lindblom has improved his shorthanded play, and it showed in this game. Operating at roughly 83 percent over their past 25 games, the PK had a defining moment in this game when it was forced to kill a five-minute major. It helped tremendously that the penalty extended from the end of the second period to the beginning of the third, but not only did the PK keep the Bruins to the outside, but Hart came up with three key saves.

• Not just that, but the Flyers were also whistled for too many men and Scott Laughton was called for hooking with eight minutes remaining in regulation. This may be the first game this season where the Flyers can say their penalty kill won them the game.

• The result of the extended power play came as a result of a boneheaded play from Lehtera after he dumped Ryan Donato head-first into the boards. It was Lehtera’s second penalty as he racked up 17 PIM and barely saw the ice in the third period. In case you’re asking, I have no idea why he’s still on this team. They can’t dump him in Lehigh Valley as the Phantoms have reached their veteran max, but after this game, the only way I’m playing Lehtera is in the event of an emergency.

• I was surprised at the pace of the opening 20 minutes — very loose and open as you would expect the Bruins to play tighter defensively. The Flyers had a couple of cross-ice plays that led to quality scoring chances, including one from Nolan Patrick, who was robbed by Jaroslav Halak’s right pad on the crease. Once again, that third line of Patrick, Simmonds and Laughton played well and gelled early.

• Flyers leading scorer Sean Couturier added two goals in a span of one minute and 15 seconds before adding a third for his first regular-season hat trick late in the third period. Quietly, Couturier now has 19 goals and is now on track for his second straight 30-goal season. If I had to vote right now for the Bobby Clarke Award as Flyers MVP, Couturier would be the guy.  

• Couturier should have been awarded a penalty shot when he was interfered with in the final seconds of the game. Had David Krejci now obstructed Couturier’s path, he would have scored four goals.

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