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)

Grading the Flyers' forwards at the bye week

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Grading the Flyers' forwards at the bye week

After dissecting goaltending and the defense over the past two days, we turn our attention up front to the point producers.

In our final bye-week installment of the midseason report cards, we break down the Flyers' forwards.

Sean Couturier

Grade: B+
Stats: 19 G, 20 A, 39 P, minus-3

Couturier, proving that 2017-18 wasn't a fluke as the Flyers' No. 1 center, is on pace for back-to-back 30-goal seasons. It took a while for his season to get going following a knee injury he suffered during a charity game prior to training camp. He had eight scoreless games in October alone but just 11 in the three months since.

Defensively, not as flawless as last season when he finished second in Selke voting, but he still does all the little things required of a two-way center. Currently playing some of his best hockey with four goals and six assists and a plus-6 during his six-game point streak.

Claude Giroux

Grade: B+
Stats: 14 G, 38 A, 52 P, plus-4

Would you believe that Giroux has just four fewer points through 48 games than he had at this point last season on his way to a 102-point season? Actually, Giroux has been a better point producer this season at 5-on-5 with 2.94 pts./60 min. compared to 2.81 a year ago. Continues to be a monster in the faceoff circle.

Has already exceeded his shorthanded TOI from last season and his inclusion on the PK has been one reason for the turnaround. Giroux’s move back to center has helped balance the lines. Still has some occasional defensive lapses and his backchecking is lukewarm at times.

Scott Laughton

Grade: B
Stats: 7 G, 12 A, 19 P, plus-5

Currently on pace to become the first Flyer since Joel Otto in 1996-97 to score 30 points in a season — all at even strength or shorthanded. Personally, I think Laughton is more effective at left wing than at center, where he plays a tougher, hard-checking game along the boards and doesn’t have to worry as much with the defensive responsibilities.

So far, 2018-19 has been another positive step in Laughton’s development to become a complete player that can be counted on at both ends of the ice. No Flyers forward has logged more time on the penalty kill than Laughton. He’s had some assignment breakdowns defensively but has shown improvement.

Travis Konecny

Grade: B-
Stats: 12 G, 14 A, 26 P, minus-3

Konecny has been paying more attention to the small details while eliminating high-risk plays and low percentage passes from his game. Still gets caught at times abandoning his defensive responsibilities, looking for that breakaway attempt. Even though Konecny leads the team with 99 shots on goal at even strength, his shooting percentage is down from last season. Expect his goal total to pick up over the second half of the season.  

Oskar Lindblom

Grade: B-
Stats: 5 G, 10 A, 15 P, minus-2

After a very productive road trip in early December that included a five-game point streak playing alongside Nolan Patrick, Lindblom seemed to hit a wall, produced very little offense and was banished to the fourth line, where he went scoreless for the entire month of December. He's starting to rediscover his game again, including playing some hard minutes on the PK with his TOI back in the 17-minute range.  

Jake Voracek

Grade: C+
Stats: 11 G, 28 A, 39 P, minus-13

Voracek, arguably the most frustrating player on the team, has the ability to dominate at times and is an absolute force with the puck, but it comes sometimes at the expense of trying to force plays that simply aren’t there. Turnover prone and doesn’t exert max effort on the defensive side of the puck as well.

No forward has been more greatly affected by the Flyers' horrific power play than Voracek, who’s offensive output was dependent on the PP. Last season, 41 percent of his production came on the power play, compared to just 21 percent this season. 

Wayne Simmonds

Grade: C+
Stats: 15 G, 8 A, 23 P, minus-11

Simmonds’ season has been a rollercoaster one with contract negotiations and trade rumors swirling heading into a summer of free agency. Still doesn’t seem to have that explosiveness that he once had and doesn’t carry much speed through the neutral zone. 

As much as the Flyers need his edge, grit, power forward mentality of crashing the net and working the dirty areas, Simmonds still gets caught up with not making the smart, simple play in his end of the ice that can lead to a turnover and eventually a goal. Simmonds also needs to cut down on penalties, leading all Flyers with 12 minors. 

James van Riemsdyk

Grade: C
Stats: 12 G, 10 A, 22 P, minus-5

Suffering a leg injury in the second game of the season derailed JVR’s start to the season. Played very passively trying to understand his role while learning on-the-fly. Could bear down a little more defensively in his own zone. 

Following a meeting with Scott Gordon, JVR has turned it loose with six goals and eight points over his last five games, displaying a net-front presence with an excellent set of hands capable of scoring in a myriad of different ways.

Nolan Patrick

Grade: C-
Stats: 9 G, 8 A, 17 P, minus-3

After having a full offseason regimen without dealing with a major injury, Patrick started the season with nine points in his first 14 games before enduring a major dropoff. From there, Patrick played with no speed and no attacking mentality in the offensive zone, and as a result, the Flyers' second-year center went through a profound slump from mid-November to mid-January with no goals over a 24-game stretch. 

Defensively, Patrick is rarely out of position and plays like a third defenseman at times. Better suited as a third-line center. Now that he has racked up four goals over his last three games, we’ll see if he carries that confidence over from the bye week. 

Michael Raffl

Grade: C-
Stats: 3 G, 5 A, 8 P, plus-1

If the Flyers can somehow manage a sixth-round pick in a trade for Jordan Weal, it will be interesting to see how the Flyers handle Raffl for the remainder of the season. He could be moved for a mid-round draft pick.

Raffl has been much more involved when playing with more talented forwards like Voracek and Couturier and seems less engaged in a fourth-line role. However, he has been a solid contributor on the penalty kill as he’s been on the ice for just four power-play goals in 36 minutes of PK time.

Dale Weise

Grade: D+
Stats: 5 G, 6 A, 11P, minus-6

It’s been a tale of two Dales. The Dave Hakstol version of Weise saw second-line minutes back and played some solid hockey with three goals in five games, but under Gordon, Weise has been appeared to be going through the motions, not playing with exerted effort and with very little energy. Now that he’s been told to stay at home and wait for a trade, it will be interesting to see how the situation plays itself out.

Phil Varone

Grade: D
Stats: 1 G, 0 A, 1 P, minus-4

Now 18 games played with the Flyers, Varone is one of those “tweeners” where he excels at the AHL level but it doesn’t translate to the NHL. While he has been mindful of playing solid defensively, Varone also spends the majority of his shift in the defensive end. He had a burst to his game early into his call-up but has slowed down since. Doesn’t win too many board battles.

Jori Lehtera

Grade: F
Stats: 1 G, 2 A, 3 P, minus-7

There’s really no value Lehtera brings to the Flyers. Not agile and aggressive enough to help kill penalties. Lacking the necessary foot speed to play center. As a winger, Lehtera is physical but can’t establish himself as an effective forechecker. Much rather see Nicolas Aube-Kubel in that fourth-line role.

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Grading the Flyers' defensemen at the bye week

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Grading the Flyers' defensemen at the bye week

Throughout the first half of this season, the Flyers have been relatively injury free on defense, but as a group, they’ve regressed from last season. However, under assistant Rick Wilson and new coach Scott Gordon, we’re beginning to see signs of improvement. 

After breaking down the goaltending Monday, we grade out the Flyers' blue line.  

Radko Gudas

Grade: B+ 
Stats: 2 G, 11 A, plus-10, 18:00 A/TOI

Dare I say that Gudas has been the Flyers' steadiest defenseman this season. While some writers like to use Corsi as a barometer for puck possession, I like to utilize goals against/60 minutes during 5-on-5 play to determine the strength of a player’s overall defense. Gudas’ 1.76 goals allowed/60 min. is the best of any Flyers defenseman … by far. Perhaps most impressively is how Gudas has adapted his physical game without taking foolish penalties.

Offensively, Gudas’ philosophy seems rather simple. When given the opportunity, just put the puck on net as he leads the team with 16 rebounds created at even strength while contributing 13 points — a nice total considering he barely strays from the blue line.

Robert Hagg

Grade: B
Stats: 4 G, 9 A, plus-5, 17:43 A/TOI

Hagg has gained a reputation as such a hard hitter that other teams' forwards have altered their forechecking approach with the Flyers' defenseman on the ice. Hagg had his most consistent month in November and has cut down on some of the positioning flaws in the defensive zone that were a problem area in his rookie season.

Hagg has even chipped in some additional offense this season. His 15 primary points (goals, first assists) at 5-on-5 is second on the Flyers behind Travis Sanheim’s 16, and he’s currently on pace to finish with seven goals and 22 points, which would more than double last season’s totals. 

Travis Sanheim

Grade: B-
Stats: 4 G, 11A, minus-6, 17:56 A/TOI

I like the decision from Wilson in placing Sanheim on the top pairing Ivan Provorov. Not only was the Provy-Shayne Gostisbehere combination simply not working, but it has given the Flyers a chance to see how much responsibility Sanheim can handle. Sanheim was tested early against the opposition’s top forwards with a minus-12 rating in 13 games but has had periods of steady play. Has seen his ice time jump by five minutes from October into January. 

Overall, Sanheim has made a conscious effort to refine the defensive aspect of his game with improved positioning but can still get beaten one-on-one and along the boards. Would also prefer to see Sanheim on one of the two power-play units.

Ivan Provorov

Grade: C-
Stats: 4 G, 13 A, minus-14, 24:54 A/TOI

It’s beyond baffling to see Provorov’s struggles with his puck management this season. It began over a 10-15 game stretch last season, and it’s been a problem area for the entire season. The new coaching staff has worked on eliminating some of those errant passes and making that first pass up the boards. Provorov’s 3.28 goals allowed/60 min. at even strength is up significantly from 2.18 last season. 

For a player many expected to work his way into the Norris Trophy conversation, it’s been quite the regression offensively as well. Provorov is projected to finish with seven goals after leading all NHL defensemen with 17 last season. As he simplifies his game, look for Provorov to have a much better second half.

Shayne Gostisbehere

Grade: D+
Stats: 5 G, 15 A, minus-12, 20:12 A/TOI

Everything came together for Gostisbehere last season, and conversely, nothing worked over the first few months of this season. Ghost was an NHL-worst minus-18 when Dave Hakstol was fired. Since then, he’s had much more favorable matchups and has settled in playing alongside Andrew MacDonald as the team’s third pairing.

However, the most alarming aspect to Gostisbehere’s season has been his lack of efficiency on the power play, so much so, he’s no longer part of that top unit. Last season, he averaged 7.03 pts./60 min. on the PP compared to just 2.86 this season, a 59 percent dropoff. A big reason to Gostisbehere’s lack of success on the power play has been a failure to get pucks through traffic and his shot on net.

Christian Folin

Grade: D+
Stats: 0 G, 1 A, plus-4, 16:13 A/TOI

After some obvious struggles in the opening month, Folin has settled in but still can’t be counted on to play extensively. Interestingly, Gordon is much cautious in his use of Folin than Hakstol and Gord Murphy were. After averaging over 17 minutes in October and November, Folin is playing just under 13 minutes in January. 

Will be interesting to see how much the Flyers utilize Folin over the second half of the season with Phillippe Myers possibly getting a look with the big club. There doesn’t seem to be much reason to invest in Folin as he won’t be with the team beyond this season and the Flyers can fill that role with a Phantom next season.

Andrew MacDonald

Grade: D
Stats: 0 G, 5 A, minus -5, 17:55 A/TOI

Quite frankly, MacDonald came back way too early from a lower-body injury he suffered during an offseason workout and that seemed to throw off the first half of his season. Has been limited to 27 games and has been a healthy scratch as a result of ineffective play. More turnover prone than last season, MacDonald has also really struggled early on with the penalty kill this season.

Last season was the first time MacDonald TOI dipped below 20 minutes per game, and this season, it’s a career-low 17:55. Hasn’t been nearly as active jumping in offensively as well. Zero goals in 27 games with no shots on net in 10 of those games.

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