Flyers

Flyers 'just collapsed' against Panthers, and Carter Hart couldn't do anything to stop it

Flyers 'just collapsed' against Panthers, and Carter Hart couldn't do anything to stop it

SUNRISE, Fla. — Earlier this month, it was the crusher in Calgary.

Now, just two and a half weeks later, we have the fiasco in Florida.

Good teams simply don’t wilt like the Flyers have time and time again. The Panthers, playing on back-to-back nights, got an unthinkable game-winning goal Saturday from Jonathan Huberdeau with 1:06 remaining in regulation to beat the Flyers, 2-1 (see observations).

It wasn’t so much what they did, but rather how they did it — on a set breakout from behind their own net. 

“When that happens," interim head coach Scott Gordon said, "you have to get into your routes and get into position, and they just took off.”

Somewhat confusing prior to the breakout was the positioning of the Flyers' personnel. Their best defensive forward and best defender on the ice, Sean Couturier, was stationed just in front of the Panthers' crease, roughly 180 feet away from his own net. 

You would think Couturier would have been better served near the blue line to cover any odd-man rush against the Panthers' most dangerous line. Once Jakub Voracek failed in his attempt to pick off the pass between the Panthers' blue line and the red line, you could sense the doom. 

“As soon as they fired it up the boards, they took off,” Gordon said. “I know we were in between, and I think Jake tried to pick it off on the wall and it got by him, and that’s how it happened. It’s a bit of a hope play by them. We don’t come up with it and it’s a 3-on-2 and maybe a potential icing.”

With Aleksander Barkov and Huberdeau on the ice, it’s also a potential backbreaker. Voracek couldn’t recover in time, Couturier was too far away from his own net and Wayne Simmonds was still at the Panthers' blue line when the puck entered the Flyers' zone. 

Radko Gudas did a good job of riding the Panthers' lightning-quick winger Evgenii Dadonov out of the play, but once he left the puck for Barkov, it was tic-tac-toe — game over.

“I think we shot ourselves in the foot there. We had the game under our control there,” Gudas said. “We just collapsed. We just have to pay more attention to the details. A controlled breakout ends up in our net, that’s unacceptable especially with a minute left in the game.”

It felt like that Flames game all over again when the Flyers executed a series of breakdowns that led to Sean Monahan’s goal with seven seconds remaining, and once again, it was another outstanding effort from the goaltender that went wasted.

This may be Carter Hart’s biggest psychological challenge if he stays in Philadelphia for the remainder of this season.

“I felt confident in the net,” Hart said. “I saw the guy up top, Barkov, and then I saw Huberdeau on the back door as well. I think he just got it up over me on the glove side. Obviously, I’ll look at things tomorrow and review the game. I think I just need to bear down a little bit harder.”

I’m not sure how Hart bears down any harder than the effort he provided his teammates, stopping 34 shots and pitching a shutout through the first 53 minutes, but therein lies the concern for a 20-year-old rookie who deserved a much better fate.

Hart wants to shoulder the blame and take responsibility. On this team, that’s a tremendous load to carry. 

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Chris Stewart, Kevin Hayes building bonds with Nolan Patrick through support

Chris Stewart, Kevin Hayes building bonds with Nolan Patrick through support

Chris Stewart is 32 years old and worked his butt off to return to the NHL after a yearlong hiatus in which he played 23 games for the EIHL’s Nottingham Panthers. 

He does not take wearing an NHL jersey for granted.

“It’s the National Hockey League, it’s a blessing to be here, it’s a privilege to be here,” Stewart said last week. “That year away definitely changed my perspective on life.”

In his 11th NHL season, he often finds himself in the shadows, when few are watching. During those unglamorous moments, Stewart has grown close to a 21-year-old who was picked second overall in the 2017 draft by the Flyers.

While a fierce competitor like Stewart would love to be playing, the byproduct of not suiting up every game is his support for Nolan Patrick through trying times. Patrick has battled a daily fight with a migraine disorder. As Stewart stays ready and vies for a spot in the Flyers’ lineup, Patrick joins him in pursuit of playing again.

Patrick has yet to play in 2019-20. He was diagnosed with the migraine disorder in September and last week called the recovery process “sh---y” and “pretty wavy.”

Stewart has played in nine of the Flyers’ first 30 games, serving mostly as a healthy scratch. Instead of wearing a scowl across his face, he is persistently positive — especially for Patrick.

“I’m not in the lineup right now and he’s hurt, so it’s oddly that we’re spending a lot of time together — working out together, skating together every morning,” Stewart said. “For me personally, I’m just trying to be positive for him. Toughest job in the league is being hurt and not playing. You get caught up trying to look at the big picture every night as opposed to just looking at the small picture — what do I’ve got to do today, what do I’ve got to do next. Then that building up over time, hopefully you start feeling better.”

Recently, Patrick has been skating more, getting in work with the Flyers’ healthy scratches, skills coach Angelo Ricci and the assistants.

I’m just trying to be a positive reinforcement in his life. You can tell, he wears a lot on his shoulders and he wants to play. He has his good days and his bad. Our worst day is someone’s best day. You look at the bigger aspects of life, it’s not that big of a deal. He’s coming along nicely. I noticed since he’s been back, he’s upbeat, his energy, you can see his glow starting to come back in his face, so it’s good.

- Stewart

(Charles LeClaire, USA Today Images/Zack Hill, Philadelphia Flyers)

When Stewart was scoring a career-high 64 points with the Avalanche in 2009-10, Patrick was only 11 years old.

The 2006 first-round pick of Colorado has played 661 games and scored 322 points (160 goals, 162 assists) between seven NHL teams.

Patrick is grateful to have a guy like that in his corner.

“I’ve spent a lot of time with him,” Patrick said last week. “He’s helped me stay positive, he always brings a good energy, so it’s nice to have him around.

“He’s helped me a lot through it. I can’t really thank my teammates enough.”

Stewart didn’t grind his way back to the NHL to be complacent with watching. He’s hungry to have an impact in games. However, he understands the concept of team.

It’s bigger than him.

“We’re all playing for the same goal, everybody wants to play,” Stewart said. “If you’re not playing, there’s part of a leadership role, accountability and things that you’ve got to buy into and take pride into. I’d give anything to be playing out there with my teammates but if I can’t, I’m going to do what I can to bring the energy in the room and be that guy for the boys.

“Internal competition is only healthy for the team. Everybody is good enough but you can only dress 12 guys. Whoever is in that night is going to give a hell of an effort and if you’re not, cheer them on.”

That mindset is part of why the Flyers were intrigued by the veteran winger this offseason, bringing Stewart into camp on a pro tryout and signing him Oct. 15.

“Stewie has been around the NHL a long time, he knows what it takes to play and stay at this level,” Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault said last week. “His reputation, and rightfully so, is a great team guy. … I’m happy that Nolan feels the same way. Stewie is a good influence in a dressing room.”

And a great influence for Patrick. 

We talk all the time, when we’re on the road, we keep in contact, like to check in on him every couple days about the stuff that he’s going through.

Let him know that I’m here, just be a shoulder to lean on, to talk to, an open door and that’s how we’ve been.

- Stewart

(Brace Hemmelgarn/USA Today Images)

Alongside Stewart, Kevin Hayes was also one of the fresh faces in the Flyers’ locker room entering the 2019-20 season.

After signing a seven-year, $50 million contract in June, Hayes has settled in with his new team and surroundings, also becoming one of the Flyers’ alternate captains.

He has built a bond with Patrick away from the ice as the two live together.

“He’s a great kid, a young guy,” Hayes said last week. “I bought a place here that’s pretty big to live by myself and invited him in. He’s been great. He’s a professional, he handles himself the right way. He’s been traveling a lot with seeing some doctors and stuff, but we pretty much see each other every day.

“We’re pretty tight. It’s not easy being a new guy here on the team and living with him makes it a lot easier. I feel super comfortable now with where I’m at, but earlier in the season, it was a little different. We spend a lot of time together, he’s a great kid. We’ve had different type of upbringings but we’ve definitely become pretty close this year.”

Patrick played 73 games his rookie year and 72 last season. He expects to play in 2019-20 but there’s no set date for his return as this type of recovery process can be difficult to predict, specifically timeframe-wise.

While Patrick and the Flyers attempt to find what works for the third-year center, Hayes sees the process in which his teammate goes through on a day-to-day basis.

I’ve been lucky enough to kind of not have a serious injury in this league and I hope I don’t ever have to go through something like that. I’m sure it’s never fun to be away from the guys. The best part about playing on a sports team is going to battle with your teammates — that’s how you build friendships around here. 

I’m sure he’s doing everything in his power to get back. I mean, I’m witnessing it firsthand. I think the biggest thing for him is getting correct with his head and then going from there.

- Hayes

Just like Stewart, Hayes wants to be there for Patrick — on and off the ice.

“We’ve all had to deal with stuff in our lives before,” Hayes said. “You can tell when someone is up or down. He handles it on his own way. I’m a pretty outgoing person, I can kind of figure out when he wants to talk and when he wants to just go hang out and chill in his room. I don’t really push anything too much on him, he’s a great kid and it’s been a blast living with him.”

(AP Images/Philadelphia Flyers/USA Today Images)

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Future Flyers Report: Could prospect Connor Bunnaman be headed back to NHL soon?

Future Flyers Report: Could prospect Connor Bunnaman be headed back to NHL soon?

It’s time for our weekly check-in on the Flyers’ prospects playing in the AHL, overseas and at the junior and college levels.

• The Flyers' depth at forward is being seriously tested.

The team is without Travis Konecny (concussion, out indefinitely), Michael Raffl (broken right pinkie finger, out approximately four weeks) and Nolan Patrick (migraine disorder, out indefinitely).

Going into their three-game road trip, the Flyers have only 12 healthy forwards. In his fifth stint with the big club since the beginning of 2018-19, Mikhail Vorobyev is centering the Flyers' fourth line. The 22-year-old is in audition mode yet again with the Flyers and will have to be noticeable in limited minutes to stick.

How Vorobyev performs moving forward and the Flyers' depth concerns could open the door for Connor Bunnaman. The 21-year-old forward made the Flyers' season-opening roster. He's healthy again with AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley after missing nearly a full month because of a lower-body injury.

Bunnaman brings size and positional versatility as the 6-foot-3, 214-pounder can player either center or winger. This past week, Bunnaman scored a goal and had eight shots in three games.

The Flyers may want to have him play more games with the Phantoms before calling him up. However, they may need him soon. Bunnaman has Raffl-like potential and ability.

On Sept. 26, Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher spoke highly of the 2016 fourth-round pick who scored 19 goals in 62 games with Lehigh Valley last season and two goals this preseason.

He’s been the best player in training camp. He was outstanding in the practices. ... By best player, I mean in terms of expectations. He’s come in and blown them away.

He honestly seems twice as fast this year to last year. I know we make a habit of saying players are quicker and faster but this guy is legitimately much faster than last year and he scored 19 goals last year, had a heck of a year in the American League.

There’s no reason to doubt that he can play some games for us this year.

The Phantoms play Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The Flyers play Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. Keep an eye on Bunnaman and the big club's bottom-six depth.

Quick hits

• Noah Cates is continuing to turn heads.

As a sophomore, the 2017 fifth-round pick leads defending national champion Minnesota Duluth with nine goals and is a point-per-game player (16 points in 16 contests).

The 20-year-old winger is coming off a four-point weekend (three goals, one assist) in the Bulldogs' two-game sweep of Omaha.

The Flyers couldn't stop bragging about Cates this summer and are probably bragging some more to each other this week.

"I just need to play the way I can play, especially these next couple years with my development," Cates said in June. "They're on board with that, they're happy with where I'm at, but I've got to keep making strides."

He's doing just that.

• Cam York, the Flyers' 2019 first-round pick, recorded a goal and an assist in Michigan's 4-1 win over Penn State last Friday.

The mobile and skilled puck-moving defenseman owns nine points (four goals, five assists) in 14 games as a freshman.

• Egor Zamula enjoyed a three-point weekend for the Calgary Hitmen.

The 19-year-old is third among WHL defensemen with 28 points (seven goals, 21 assists) in 28 games and has a plus-19 rating.

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