Flyers

Flyers-Avalanche observations: A warrior mentality not enough in shootout loss

Flyers-Avalanche observations: A warrior mentality not enough in shootout loss

BOX SCORE

The Flyers erased three different deficits but couldn't come up with the game-winner Saturday night as the Colorado Avalanche won, 5-4, in a shootout at the Wells Fargo Center.

Mikko Rantanen and Nathan MacKinnon scored for Colorado in the shootout as the Avs scored twice in the three-round shootout. Jordan Weal was the lone Flyer to convert.

The Flyers controlled much of the play during overtime, outshooting the Avs, 6-5, but couldn't convert their one golden opportunity when Travis Konecny broke in all alone on Semyon Varlamov only to fire wide.

• At one point, every line was buzzing in the third period. The third line chipped in with a goal with a beautiful give-and-go between Dale Weise and Jordan Weal. Weal did much of the work, as he stick-handled the puck from behind his net and somehow his backhanded pass made its way through three Colorado sticks right to Weise, who was standing in the slot and fired a one-timer past Varlamov.

• A minute after the Flyers tied it at four, Shayne Gostisbehere may have had his worst play of the season when he turned the puck over as Matt Duchene stripped him from behind and fed Nail Yakupov, who then beat Michal Neuvirth's five-hole, a shot Neuvirth certainly should have stopped.

• Voracek got just enough of a rebound with a one-handed poke at the puck that practically traveled parallel to the goal line. The puck ricocheted off the inside of the post and past the line for the Flyers' first goal of the third period.

• Michael Raffl couldn't have had a better, closer look at his first goal and his first point of the season. Raffl was front and center in front of the crease when he took a centering pass and somehow fired a shot wide right. You have to think Raffl is growing impatient playing on that fourth line with Scott Laughton and Taylor Leier that's had some early-season success.

• After the Flyers' second power-play unit got a little overaggressive, it led to an Avalanche 3-on-2 break. Colorado's Blake Comeau was attempting to shoot low for a rebound, but his shorthanded goal hit the skate of Ivan Provorov, ramped up and found the top-right corner that Neuvirth had no chance at stopping. A lucky break for Comeau, a bad one for Neuvirth.

• Less than a minute later, Colorado capitalized with its other special-teams unit. The Avalanche's power play got on the board when Rantanen attempted a centering pass and with Robert Hagg dropping to his knee to block the pass. Rantanen instead banked the puck off Hagg's stick and into the net to give the Avs two goals in a span of 43 seconds. Just a pair of bad luck goals.

• In the second period, Konecny had a 2-on-1, where the pass was taken away and he should have taken the shot. On the same shift, Konecny, determined to get the puck to Valtteri Filppula, fired a perfect seed from below the goal line to Filppula, who poked it past Varlamov for the Flyers' first goal.

• The Flyers really needed to get Gostisbehere back on the power play, and it paid dividends on their first opportunity in the second period, when "Ghost" cranked up a big-time blast from between the circles. His shot was low enough that it led to an even bigger rebound, which Claude Giroux quickly put back in for a goal, as Varlamov wasn't in position to make the save.

• Giroux already has eight goals this season, which is more than halfway to his total of 14 from last season. He didn't score his eighth goal until Dec. 8, 2016, in the 2016-17 campaign.

• Mark Alt has been solid in the three games he’s played thus far for the Flyers. However, he had one pass that got away from him Saturday. Erik Johnson intercepted Alt’s cross-ice pass in the second period, skating in and getting off a big slap shot on Neuvirth. Perhaps Alt’s biggest mistake since his call-up.

• Neuvirth can thank the top-left part of his sweater for getting just enough of Sven Andrighetto’s wrist shot that bounced off his shoulder, veered to Neuvirth’s left and caught the post for Colorado’s best scoring chance in the second period. One of three Colorado shots that hit the iron through two periods.

• All the Flyers needed to do to get out of the first period scoreless was win the faceoff with nine seconds remaining. Instead, MacKinnon beat Sean Couturier and then it was MacKinnon who had a beautiful backhand-feed to a wide-open Duchene to his right for a wide-open goal with 1.9 seconds remaining in the opening period. A rare example of how important last-second faceoffs can make a difference.

• Of the four minor penalties in the first period, three of those were slashing calls. Flyers forward Dale Weise was guilty of one of those. Weise now has three slashing penalties in 12 games played. That’s one shy of the NHL lead. 

• Yakupov may not be the complete package deserving of being the No. 1 overall selection in the 2012 draft, but he still possesses some breakaway speed. Yakupov wheeled completely around Hagg and cut in front of Neuvirth for the scoring chance. A backchecking Scott Laughton slashed Yakupov in an attempt to separate Yakupov from the puck. This penalty led to Colorado's power-play goal.

• Midway through the first period, the Flyers saw some poor, sloppy passing in their defensive end, which allowed the Avalanche to get some shots and chances on Neuvirth, who reserved his best save against Johnson. Johnson fired top right and Neuvirth made a lightning-quick reflex with his glove to make the save.

• With a handful of players dealing with flu-like symptoms, the Avalanche elected to play with seven defensemen and 11 forwards.

Lines, pairings and scratches

Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
Travis Konecny-Valtteri Filppula-Wayne Simmonds
Jordan Weal-Jori Lehtera-Dale Weise
Taylor Leier-Scott Laughton-Michael Raffl

Ivan Provorov-Robert Hagg
Brandon Manning-Shayne Gostisbehere
Travis Sanheim-Mark Alt

Michal Neuvirth
Brian Elliott

Scratched: Nolan Patrick (upper-body), Matt Read (healthy), Radko Gudas (upper-body), Will O'Neill (healthy)

Can killing penalties actually determine who makes the Flyers' roster?

Can killing penalties actually determine who makes the Flyers' roster?

For any NFL rookie or young player on the bubble, it’s almost a prerequisite to making the final roster. 

You have to excel, or at the very least, contribute to special teams. 

Something that also applies to the Philadelphia Flyers.

Exactly one week from today, Dave Hakstol’s opening night roster will have to be submitted to the league office by 5 p.m., and there’s still some tough decisions that have to be made. Most importantly is the search to find those last two or three forwards to round out the roster.

While it’s not specifically stated in the job description, the ability to kill penalties could very well determine who stays in Philadelphia and who goes to Lehigh Valley. They’re the hard minutes that GMs and coaches want their more skilled players and superstars to avoid, if possible.

“Sometimes those guys don’t get a lot of minutes so you like to have guys that can kill penalties down on the fourth line,” general manager Ron Hextall said. “It would be nice to have some physical play down on the fourth line. Certainly some energy, you've got to have guys that play with some energy down there, but to have penalty killers on the fourth line helps because it alleviates your top guys’ minutes.”

If you don’t think the Flyers place a premium on fourth-line penalty killing, consider in 2016-17 Pierre Edouard-Bellemare and Chris VandeVelde spent 21 percent, or a combined 429 minutes, of their ice time killing penalties. While an unusually high amount, that percentage far exceeds the ice time skilled forwards like Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek spend on the power play, which is somewhere in the neighborhood of 16-18 percent. 

While the Flyers' top penalty-killing forward Sean Couturier has yet to play in a preseason game, Hakstol continues to experiment with a myriad of different combinations to see what pairs communicate and work well together and which ones don’t. Monday night against the Bruins, Jori Lehtera was flanked to the left of Dale Weise, while Scott Laughton was teamed with Corban Knight.  

Eventually, it was Michael Raffl along with Weise that created the neutral-zone turnover, which led to Weise’s shorthanded goal. Raffl’s takeaway is one of those critical plays that can change the momentum of a game as the Flyers proceeded to score three goals in a span of 2:44 to cut a 4-0 deficit to one goal (see highlights).

The Flyers haven’t had enough of those plays, and more importantly, just overall efficient penalty killing in Hakstol’s three seasons in Philadelphia. The PK unit has yet to finish higher than 20th in the league in each of the past three seasons, and every indication is that the team believes the problem lies more in its personnel than in its setup or structure.

It will also be interesting to see how much the Flyers continue to rely on their No. 1 center Couturier as a penalty killer once he returns and if the team attempts to curtail those “hard” minutes like it has done with Giroux over the past five years.

As much as you’d like to see the organization move on from players like Lehtera and Weise, the Flyers potentially see value when it comes to killing penalties. 

“We still don’t know exactly what we have this year,” Hakstol said Monday. “We still have another week in camp before we have to make final decisions on who we’re going to travel west with.”

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With less stress and his natural position, Jordan Weal can meet Flyers' expectations

With less stress and his natural position, Jordan Weal can meet Flyers' expectations

Jordan Weal stared away and smiled as if he was caught in the act.

He didn't do anything wrong.

This was a case of general manager knows best.

Weal is a rink rat. When practice is whistled over, he stays out for extra work. He's almost always the last player to trickle off the ice and into the locker room at Flyers Skate Zone.

The dedication is commendable, but …

"Sometimes he can be his worst enemy," Flyers GM Ron Hextall said in July.

"He works his tail off. Sometimes you just want to go, 'Jordan, get off the ice and relax a little bit.' He's so driven to be the best he can be. It's something he can get better at, in terms of the mental part of it where sometimes you've got to let things go."

With the Flyers ready to rely on Weal, his first full NHL season fell short of expectations in 2017-18. The production wasn't there and he became a healthy scratch toward the end of the Flyers' stretch run (see story).

Hextall has conveyed his thoughts to Weal. What ate away at the 26-year-old could be the reason why Hextall expressed such firm belief in Weal for 2018-19.

"About getting into my head too much and just going and playing," Weal said last week, completely understanding Hextall's point.

"I think most of that last year was trying to get used to wall plays and stuff like that. Playing a new position at wing, there are so many different little wall plays that you get on the boards, different circumstances that you have to react to and know how to deal with. A lot of that was just trying to get comfortable with those and I feel like toward the end of the year, I was. Maybe in the beginning I was stressing out a little too much about those things."

How about playing Weal at center, his natural position? It could do wonders. It's where he doesn't overthink and plays freely. It's where he lets his ability take over and his game his accentuated. Ultimately, it's where he's most confident.

"Something I've done for a long time, that's probably the biggest thing," Weal said of playing center. "I feel like I can use my strengths to the max, up the middle, create plays coming through the middle of the ice, especially in the neutral zone, the offensive zone and in the D-zone — all three."

With holes and uncertainty at the center position in their bottom six, the Flyers shifted Weal back to the middle entering training camp. He's now pushing to win a job in that spot, but the competition is thick. Mikhail Vorobyev, only 21 and a third-line center candidate, has turned heads in the preseason with two goals and an assist over five games, while 28-year-old Corban Knight and 30-year-old Jori Lehtera played down the middle Monday as Weal sat.

Two preseason games remain before opening night and Weal will get at least one at center. Regardless of how Weal plays, Hextall has the book on him. In 2010, Weal was a third-round pick of the Kings and developed under Hextall's watch.

"Ron has seen me in Manchester, in L.A., in Lehigh, he's seen me a lot at center ice," Weal said, "and he knows what I've got."

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