Flyers

Flyers ready to welcome Andrew MacDonald back vs. Penguins

ap-andrew-macdonald-flyers.jpg
AP Images

Flyers ready to welcome Andrew MacDonald back vs. Penguins

VOORHEES, N.J. — For a team that has coughed up two-goal leads recently like mucusy phlegm during flu season, having Andrew MacDonald back on the ice paired with Ivan Provorov was a welcome sight for the Flyers at practice Sunday before heading out to Pittsburgh to battle the two-time Stanley Cup champion and rival Penguins Monday night.

“It’s great to have Mac back. He’s a great leader,” Provorov said. “He makes a great impact on the team. We understand each other. We read off each other. He’s in great position most of the times and that’s why he’s able to get great blocks and good sticks.”

MacDonald has been skating and practicing for the past week, looking to regain the flexibility and motion with his skating muscles after blocking a slap shot off his leg in the Oct. 21 game against Edmonton. After all, it was just a week ago MacDonald ditched the walking boot.

“It was simply getting some strength back into it,” MacDonald said. “I wasn’t putting any weight on it for a while and you’re losing some muscle in there. At this point, you just have to build it up a little bit and make sure there’s no setbacks.”

At the time of MacDonald’s injury, the Flyers were 5-3 and had given up an average of 2.25 goals per game. In the 15 games MacDonald has missed, the Flyers have an Eastern Conference-worst three wins during that span and have surrendered on average 3.6 goals.

The return of MacDonald certainly gives the Flyers more balance on the blue line, as head coach Dave Hakstol has been forced to rely on three rookies interspersed among his three pairs.

“When you have to shift your D pairings due to an injury, it depends sometimes how you’re making your shift or who you’re shifting for,” Hakstol said. “For us, the last couple of games we’ve had Mac out and [Radko Gudas] out. Two players that are very distinct in their roles. Today, Mac had a heck of a good day and looked good. He’s got a real presence in our dressing room and he also has a real presence for us on the ice, and the domino effect throughout our pairings.”

Along with Provorov, MacDonald will also help solidify the Flyers' top penalty-killing unit, a group that has plunged to 28th in the NHL while surrendering nine power-play goals over the last five games.   

Looking for buzz with new bees
Apparently the "Honey Bees" aren’t generating enough honey these days.

After keeping the line of Taylor Leier, Scott Laughton and Michael Raffl intact for the first 19 games of the season, Hakstol has elected to completely dismantle that line, as Laughton centered Jori Lehtera and Dale Weise during Sunday’s practice.

“Those two veterans have been out of the lineup for a couple nights,” Hakstol said. “There’s certain elements that they bring that are a little bit different than what Taylor and Jordan bring. Jori has played good, hard two-way hockey. He brings a heaviness to whatever line he’s on. For me, it’s more of looking for factors like that.”

The move also means Jordan Weal and Leier will serve as the healthy scratches for the Flyers' first game of the season against their cross-state rivals. 

“As an offensive guy, the numbers haven’t been there, and when that happens, it’s part of the game,” Weal said. “We need a little secondary scoring in the lineup. There’s no excuses. As an offensive guy, you’ve got to produce offense no matter where you are and what part of the lineup. I wasn’t doing my job and that’s what I was paid and brought here to do.”

“[Weal] wants to help and produce offensively,” Hakstol said. “He’s working hard and he hasn’t changed anything with his work ethic or his tenacity. Things haven’t happened and haven’t gone well for him.”

Interestingly for Leier, he scored his first goal of the season Wednesday against the Islanders.

“I don’t think I’ve changed the way I’ve played,” Leier said. “It’s a long year and we’re on a losing streak right now. I try not to get too high or too low. Sometimes you can tend to overthink during a year like this. There’s always a lot of variables that go into every situation. Sometimes you have to mix it up when there’s a losing streak and everyone wants results, including myself.”

Weise, with one goal in his last 11 games, has been a healthy scratch over the past three contests and Lehtera, still looking for his first goal in a Flyers sweater, has sat out in three of the team's last five games.   

“Two big bodies that can get in on the forecheck,” Laughton said of Weise and Lehtera. “We’re definitely building chemistry as practice went on, and I guess talk and see where we’re going to be in the offensive zone and things like that. I think it comes with communication. I’ve played with both of them in a couple of games and it’s just figuring out where everyone likes to be.”

DOA in OT
Following their Black Friday loss to the Islanders, the Flyers have dropped six straight games decided after regulation, four in overtime and two by shootout. It’s the longest such winless streak since March 3-April 4, 2015, when the Flyers lost seven straight after regulation.

Historically, the Flyers have been brutal in shootouts, but more recently, the breakdowns have occurred defensively during the five-minute 3-on-3 session.

“You've got to be communicating a lot and I think that may be one of our downfalls,” Wayne Simmonds said. “Sometimes we don’t talk a lot. We’ve got a lot of younger guys and communication is like having an extra guy out there on the ice sometimes. A lot more communication will do this team really, really good as well.”

“We’ve made mistakes that have led to point-blank opportunities,” Hakstol said. “Those have to change. Those have to be cleaned up immediately."

Over the past few games, Hakstol has also gone away from the trio of Jakub Voracek, Claude Giroux and Shayne Gostisbehere that has been OT gold in previous seasons.

“Are those combinations that we’ll go back to? Absolutely,” Hakstol said. “They were together up until the last two games. There were reasons for that. We’re creating and have created enough opportunities to win games in overtime. We've got to make sure we don’t start pressing to win those games.”

The Flyers are currently tied with the Ottawa Senators with six overtime losses.

Projected lines, pairings and goalies 

Forwards
Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
Danick Martel-Nolan Patrick-Wayne Simmonds
Michael Raffl-Valtteri Filppula-Travis Konecny
Jori Lehtera-Scott Laughton-Dale Weise

Defensemen
Ivan Provorov-Andrew MacDonald
Shayne Gostisbehere-Robert Hagg
Brandon Manning-Travis Sanheim

Goalies
Brian Elliott
Michal Neuvirth

Don't lose perspective with Flyers prospect Jay O'Brien

Don't lose perspective with Flyers prospect Jay O'Brien

The Flyers saw both ends of the spectrum with their first-round picks from the 2018 draft.

While Joel Farabee shined at Boston University this season (see story), Jay O'Brien struggled to find his game at Providence College.

After a freshman season comprised of injuries and five points (two goals, three assists) in 25 games, it appears O'Brien's time with the Friars is over.

According to a report Tuesday by Jeff Cox of the New England Hockey Journal, O'Brien has entered the NCAA transfer portal and will play for the Penticton Vees of the BCHL during the 2019-20 season.

O'Brien, a playmaking center, will have three years of college eligibility remaining.

Now, before anyone starts debating O'Brien's future, let's remember the importance of perspective with teenage prospects. 

O'Brien was perceived as a bit of project when the Flyers' previous regime of Ron Hextall and Chris Pryor selected him 19th overall last summer. Taking O'Brien at No. 19 was viewed by many as a reach, but the Flyers' scouting staff was high on the Thayer Academy product and trusted its evaluation. The Flyers took O'Brien over other centers Joseph Veleno, Rasmus Kupari and Isac Lundestrom.

This season, Veleno put up 104 points in the QMJHL, Kupari had 33 points over 43 games in Liiga (Finnish pro league) and Lundestrom appeared in 15 games with the Ducks.

O'Brien, because of his smaller stature (5-foot-11, 174 pounds) and being drafted out of prep school, had an adjustment period playing Division I hockey (see story). Multiple injuries also didn't help his cause with the transition.

But patience with O'Brien was always going to be imperative. The Flyers drafted him on a lot of upside after taking more of a guarantee in the quick-rising Farabee five picks earlier. The 19-year-old O'Brien isn't lacking in ability or work ethic. Providence head coach Nate Leaman, who led the Friars to a national title in 2015, called O'Brien's skill set "elite."

"It takes time to learn to play at the speed, to play with the lack of space," Leaman said in January during a phone interview with NBC Sports Philadelphia (see story).

"These guys that come right from high school, it takes time and I know Philly has told us that they understand that also."

O'Brien paid little attention to pre-draft rankings last summer.

"I don't even know where I was," he said at development camp. "It doesn't mean much to me. It's not really where you get drafted, it's what you do after you get drafted."

He'll have a new path in 2019-20, another chance to prove himself. There's still plenty to like, with plenty of time.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Flyers

2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs schedule: Game 7s are here for Maple Leafs-Bruins, Golden Knights-Sharks series

usa_auston_matthews_max_pacioretty.jpg
USA Today Images

2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs schedule: Game 7s are here for Maple Leafs-Bruins, Golden Knights-Sharks series

The two best words in sports: Game Seven.

Well, we get two times the fun Tuesday night as Game 7 matchups are here for the Maple Leafs-Bruins and Golden Knights-Sharks first-round playoff series.

Below is the full schedule for Day 14 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. You can watch the entire playoffs on the networks of NBC. 

Toronto Maple Leafs at Boston Bruins (tied 3-3)
Game 7, Eastern Conference first round
7 p.m. ET | TV: NBCSN | Live stream here

Vegas Golden Knights at San Jose Sharks (tied 3-3)
Game 7, Western Conference first round
10 p.m. ET | TV: NBCSN | Live stream here