Flyers

Flyers-Blackhawks observations: Home streak vs. Chicago continues

Flyers-Blackhawks observations: Home streak vs. Chicago continues

BOX SCORE

The streak lives on.

The Flyers continued their dominance over the Blackhawks by beating Chicago, 3-1, at the Wells Fargo Center on Thursday night. The victory was their 14th consecutive regular-season home win in the series. The Blackhawks' last non-playoff win in Philadelphia came exactly 21 years ago to the day: Nov. 9, 1996.

The Flyers’ top line did the damage with Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek and Sean Couturier all scoring goals.

Brian Elliott won for the sixth time in 10 starts as he stopped 38 of 39 shots.

• Much of the final 35 minutes were played in the Flyers’ end following the 3-0 lead. The ‘Hawks outshot the Flyers, 26-15, while applying constant pressure. Chicago just couldn’t rattle Elliott, who turned in a similar effort to Corey Crawford when these two teams played in Chicago eight days ago. 

• The Flyers were forced to kill off 1:44 of a 5-on-3 when Radko Gudas went off for tripping and then Ivan Provorov lofted the puck over the glass for a delay of game penalty. The Flyers successfully killed off the two-man advantage with Chicago’s best scoring chance coming on a Duncan Keith wrist shot between the circles when Keith shot over the net. The Blackhawks were able to manage just one shot on net during that stretch. 

• Impressively, defenseman Robert Hagg was on the ice for 1:40 of that penalty kill. I couldn’t care less what Hagg’s Corsi numbers look like, he’s been an invaluable part of this defense.

• Elliott doesn’t usually make the highlight-reel save, but he was locked in against the Blackhawks. Elliott made a series of blocker saves in the opening period, and then had a gem when he robbed Brandon Saad with the glove. In the third, he denied Patrick Kane from close range and Saad once again. Elliott cut down just about every angle and his positioning was square to nearly every puck.  

• Matching top line against top line, the Flyers just abused the Blackhawks’ trio of Saad, Jonathan Toews and Kane — a line coach Joel Quenneville assembled prior to this game. The Flyers’ No. 1 line extended the lead to 3-0 on a beautiful tic-tac-toe play as Voracek found Giroux, who sent a backhand pass to Couturier as he came down the slot. The score was Couturier’s 10th of the season, which he’s never done before Jan. 1.

• Brandon Manning had a very solid opening 40 minutes to start this game. Manning tied up Saad to break up a Blackhawks’ opportunity down low. He was very active all over the ice. He separated his man from the puck and was the high man for the Flyers with 14:49 of ice time after two periods.

• Early in the second period, Travis Sanheim displayed his offensive awareness when he threaded another solid pass. This one went to Dale Weise, who clanked his shot off the post. Sanheim very easily could have had a pair of assists in this game.

• The Flyers looked very much like a team coming off a four-day layoff in the first four minutes of the game. Their breakouts were out of sync and coupled with some atrocious passing that forced them to regroup in their own end on a couple of occasions. 

• The Flyers jumped on the board first when Voracek and Couturier drew four Blackhawks defenders to the right side of the ice. Voracek fired a perfect pass to Giroux, who ripped off his patented one-timer from just outside the right circle that beat Crawford. Giroux was left wide open as Kane couldn’t make it on the backcheck.

• The Flyers had the Blackhawks’ defense completely spread out on their second goal. Giroux grabbed the puck out of the air and then fed Shayne Gostisbehere, who skated down low and had a four-lane highway of a passing lane. He fed Voracek, who blasted a one-timer of his own as the Flyers became just the second team this season to score two goals on Crawford in the opening period. 

• For “Ghost,” he became the fastest Flyers defenseman to score 100 points as he reached the mark in his first 155 career games. 

“It’s awesome, but of course I couldn’t do this without my teammates,” Gostisbehere said during the first intermission. “Just to do it with an organization like Philadelphia, it’s unbelievable. It’s a team with a lot of history, and again, I can’t thank my teammates and support staff enough.”

• Gostisbehere also had a terrific lead pass to Travis Konecny, who skated in behind the Blackhawks’ defense and deked Crawford for a wide-open net, but his backhand shot went wide.

• Early on, Gostisbehere held onto the puck a little too long, which produced a turnover and an early chance for Lance Bouma. That’s the second straight game when “Ghost” has committed a turnover in his own end. He had a similar play against the Avalanche when Gostisbehere had it stripped to lead to a Nail Yakupov third-period goal.

• Sanheim played a solid 6:21 in the first period with one memorable shift that showcased his potential. Sanheim broke up a potential pass at the defensive end in front of Elliott and then pushed the rush. Sanheim threaded a perfectly-timed pass to Valtteri Filppula just to the left of Crawford that could have been put in for a score.

Lines, pairings and scratches

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

Defensemen
Ivan Provorov-Robert Hagg
Brandon Manning-Shayne Gostisbehere
Travis Sanheim-Radko Gudas

Goalies
Brian Elliott
Michal Neuvirth

Scratches: Forward Matt Read (healthy) and defenseman Mark Alt (healthy).

Flyers make roster cuts by sending Philippe Myers, Nicolas Aube-Kubel to Phantoms

Flyers make roster cuts by sending Philippe Myers, Nicolas Aube-Kubel to Phantoms

Minutes after the Flyers' loss to the Bruins Monday, the remaining rookies had their equipment packed up and carried out of the Wells Fargo Center dressing room as if they had played their final game.

For Philippe Myers and Nicolas Aube-Kubel, it was an omen.

The Flyers announced Tuesday afternoon that both guys would return to the Phantoms, who began training camp in Allentown, Pennsylvania, two days ago.

Myers started off with a strong camp, displaying the agility and physical presence working against Claude Giroux and other skilled forwards in 1-on-1 drills (see story). Myers looked fresh, battle-tested and ready to handle whatever the Flyers could throw his way.  

Still, Dave Hakstol wanted to test the 21-year-old defenseman’s mental and physical fortitude. Myers dressed in five of the six preseason games while playing some solid minutes on the penalty kill and the power play. While he looked at times as if he belonged, Myers' play also didn’t jump off the page like we saw out of Travis Sanheim a year ago.

The right-handed defenseman’s most glaring mistake of the preseason came Monday night when he blindly threw a backhanded pass into the middle of the ice, teeing up Lee Stempniak for a one-time goal and a 4-0 Boston lead. 

“I thought I heard somebody call for it," Myers said. "It was a bad read by me. I've got to learn from that and turn the page."

It wasn’t necessarily the nail in Myers' coffin to make the opening night roster, but perhaps the return of Andrew MacDonald was. MacDonald’s original prognosis from a lower-body injury put him out for the first six to eight games of the season, but his impressive recovery coupled with Sanheim’s return to practice, meant only that Myers would be an extra defenseman relegated as a healthy scratch to start the season.

The Flyers may have expected a little bit more out of Aube-Kubel entering his third year of professional hockey.

Equipped with an impressive blend of speed, a hard, quick shot and a strong, physical forecheck, Aube-Kubel couldn’t bring all of those elements together consistently. There were flashes of high energy and a blue-collar work ethic when Aube-Kubel was paired with Giroux and Jordan Weal on the top line, but that excitement appeared to be lacking against the Bruins playing together with Jori Lehtera and Dale Weise.

According to general manager Ron Hextall, Aube-Kubel had been experiencing soreness, which may have contributed to his lackluster effort Monday, but there was room for him only as a fourth-line right winger. Since he wasn’t part of the PK rotation, which has become a vital role for any fourth-line player (see story), Aube-Kubel’s contributions to the Flyers would have been very limited.

Now Myers and Aube-Kubel will start the season with the Phantoms where they’ll both be counted on to play some big minutes, and if they continue their AHL progression, there's a very good possibility we will see both guys with the Flyers at some point this season.

The Flyers' roster is now down to 33 players: 

Forwards (19)
Travis Konecny, RW, No. 11
Michael Raffl, RW, No. 12
Sean Couturier, C, No. 14
Jori Lehtera, C, No. 15
Wayne Simmonds, RW, No. 17
Nolan Patrick, C, No. 19
Taylor Leier, LW, No. 20
Scott Laughton, C, No. 21
Dale Weise, RW, No. 22
James van Riemsdyk, LW, No. 25
Claude Giroux, RW, No. 28
Corban Knight, C, No. 38
Tyrell Goulbourne, LW, No. 39
Jordan Weal, C, No. 40
Mikhail Vorobyev, C, No. 46
Oskar Lindblom, LW, No. 54
Pascal Laberge, C, No. 75
Carsen Twarynski, LW, No. 81
Jakub Voracek, RW, No. 93

Defensemen (9)
Radko Gudas, No. 3
Samuel Morin, No. 5
Travis Sanheim, No. 6
Robert Hagg, No. 8
Ivan Provorov, No. 9
Christian Folin, No. 26
Andrew MacDonald, No. 47
Shayne Gostisbehere, No. 53
Mark Friedman, No. 59

Goaltenders (5)
Michal Neuvirth, No. 30
Alex Lyon, No. 34
Brian Elliott, No. 37
Anthony Stolarz, No. 41
Carter Hart, No. 79

More on the Flyers

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.”

More on the Flyers