Flyers-Senators observations: Defense, close calls key in loss

Flyers-Senators observations: Defense, close calls key in loss


OTTAWA, Ontario — The Flyers own their first losing streak of the season after they dropped back-to-back games with a 5-4 loss to the Ottawa Senators on Thursday.

For a second straight game on the road, the Flyers dug themselves in another 3-0 hole. However, unlike the game in Nashville, they weren’t able to climb all the way out despite a furious finish that saw the Flyers just inches away from tying the game.

With under a minute left and the extra attacker on, the Flyers appeared to tie the game for a moment. The puck was pushed into goalie Craig Anderson’s glove, which sat just behind the goal line. The play was not ruled a goal on the ice and upheld after a review.

That was the second review of the night that didn’t go the Flyers’ way. The Flyers appeared to have closed within 4-3 in the third period, but Brandon Manning’s goal was taken off the board for goaltender’s interference. 

Jordan Weal backed into Anderson, but it appeared the goalie may have initiated the contact. As Weal skated to his left out of the crease, it seemed Anderson was clear and free to make the save. However, the review officials in Toronto felt Weal’s presence in the crease ultimately impacted Anderson’s ability to make the save. I thought the call could have gone either way. 

The Senators tacked on their final goal a minute later when Tom Pyatt wristed a shot low between Michal Neuvirth’s blocker and right pad to give Ottawa a three-goal lead with 9:30 remaining in the game.

• On the Senators’ fourth goal, Ryan Dzingel raced into the Flyers’ zone, stopped in the circle and then fed a cutting Mark Stone in the slot, who fired a backhanded shot past Neuvirth. Valtteri Filppula did a solid job of getting back on defense and covering Stone in the slot, but he couldn’t tie up his man. Stone — who has a great set of hands — made a nice spin move to elude Filppula and score. I didn’t like the way Shayne Gostisbehere played Dzingel.

• Jakub Voracek will take his first goal anyway he can get it. In the second period, Voracek tried to center a pass to Sean Couturier in front and the puck deflected off Sens defenseman Dion Phaneuf and past Anderson for the Flyers’ first score. Voracek said after the morning skate he wasn’t panicking over a lack of goals and that they would come eventually (see story). That’s a start. 

• Later in the period, the Flyers closed within a goal when Radko Gudas fired a two-line pass to a cherry-picking Travis Konecny, who popped home a breakaway goal that beat Anderson blocker side. Earlier, Konecny mishandled a puck in the neutral zone and then weakly backchecked to allow the Senators to put a good shot on net. 

• The Flyers’ second period was considerably better than the first period with more possession time and cleaner passes from zone to zone.

First-period observations
• I thought the Flyers had a good game plan of breaking the Senators’ methodical, clog-up-the-middle neutral zone play. But their execution was weak, especially in the opening 10 minutes of the game.

• Neuvirth gave up his first bad goal of the season when Phaneuf casually flipped a puck on net from just inside the blue line. The angle of the shot appeared to catch Neuvirth by surprise as he failed to adjust and the puck sailed over his glove as it just caught the top right corner of the net. The puck wasn’t tipped and Neuvirth wasn’t screened. Just a bad goal for Neuvirth. 

• Neuvirth wasn’t nearly as locked in as he was in his previous three starts. Even on some of the shots he stopped, he gave up some big rebounds. He failed to secure a couple of loose pucks, lost his stick briefly during a sequence and just didn’t have the sharpness we had seen previously. 

• The Flyers knew coming into this game they had to execute from zone to zone. It was a point of emphasis for head coach Dave Hakstol. With the Senators leading, 2-0, Erik Karlsson perfectly read Konecny’s cross-ice pass, picked it off in the neutral zone and set up Jean-Gabriel Pageau for a quick snap shot over Neuvirth’s glove for a 3-0 Senators’ lead. When asked about Konecny pregame, Hakstol thought long and hard before answering. His play has really dipped over the past three games.

• As strange as it may seem, without Andrew MacDonald the Flyers’ back end continues to struggle mightily. Gudas had a lazy backhand pass in the Flyers’ end that led to a quality scoring chance. Rookie Travis Sanheim, starting the game alongside Robert Hagg for the first time in the regular season, coughed up the puck twice in the opening period. Sanheim started the season off a little shaky, rebounded, and now seems to have hit a real rough patch where I’m wondering about his confidence. 

• However, I don’t pin the blame on Sanheim on Ottawa’s second goal of the game. The Flyers overloaded on the right side of the ice and once the Senators gained possession along the boards, it was an easy opening on a series of breakdowns. Typically, it’s Voracek’s responsibility to cover the left-side defenseman, Matt Borowiecki in this case, but the Flyers were caught so far out of position that they couldn’t recover in time.

• The Flyers had a chance to cut into the Senators’ deficit with their power play. The second unit had a golden opportunity when Couturier had wide-open net for a split second that Anderson was able to cover at the last second. Anderson caught Couturier’s shot with his right pad, just reconfirming what I’ve previously said about Couturier’s shot: he doesn’t elevate the puck enough. With quick hands and elevation, that should have been a goal.

Lines, pairings & scratches

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

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

Michal Neuvirth
Brian Elliott
Scratches: Dale Weise (healthy) and Nolan Patrick (upper body).

It's back to school for Flyers prospect Noah Cates

Philadelphia Flyers

It's back to school for Flyers prospect Noah Cates

Noah Cates became a hit in high school.

His first year after graduation, though, he didn't exactly mind being away from the classroom. From Stillwater, Minnesota, Cates traveled south to Omaha, Nebraska, for a full season of USHL hockey with the Lancers.

A nice, little perk to the decision?

"No school that year for me, so that was fun just to play hockey," Cates said with a smile three weeks ago at Flyers development camp. "Develop, work on everything."

Despite not hitting the books, Cates, a 2017 fifth-round draft pick of the Flyers, learned a lot, gaining a knowledge base he'll use moving forward.

Because it's back to school.

In mid-to-late August, the 19-year-old is headed to the University of Minnesota Duluth to continue his education and hockey career with the 2018 national champions, where he'll be joined by his older brother Jackson Cates.

"Very excited," the younger Cates said.

A year away from home to prepare for the college hockey life did Cates well. He grew on and off the ice, which built confidence — especially important ahead of development camp, a world junior summer showcase and his freshman season.

"Just how to be a pro, show up every day," Cates said. "It's a long season but you have to be consistent — that was a big part for me. Consistently, doing the right thing, day in and day out.

"It's all about confidence. If you're confident you can play with those guys and that your body can hold up, you can do it. That's just a big part of it and what I developed this year."

Cates, a left winger with a true offensive skill set, came on strong after a feeling-out start to the season in which he totaled 14 points (six goals, eight assists) over his first 22 games. From then on, he broke out for 41 points (15 goals, 26 assists) in his final 38 contests, finishing second on the Lancers with 55 points (21 goals, 34 assists) in 60 games, while posting a plus-21 rating. 

"Second-half league for me, just got more comfortable with the team, the coaches, the league," Cates said. "The team did well, so I kind of fit in, did my part."

The offense has always been a part of Cates' game. Beyond the statistics, what truly stood out from the 2017-18 season was the added strength to his 6-foot-1 frame. Cates weighed 165 pounds at 2017 development camp. He said he started the year with Omaha at 170. Impressively, by season's end, he was a solid 180 to 185.

"That was a big part, how I progressed throughout the season," Cates said. "That was my main goal going there to step into college hockey and get ready to play against those older guys, so it was a really good season in that case."

Cates will now take his next test — back in class and on the ice.

More on the Flyers

Nolan Patrick selected as No. 1 breakout player for 2018-19 by NHL Network

USA Today Images

Nolan Patrick selected as No. 1 breakout player for 2018-19 by NHL Network

Nolan Patrick's rookie season can be split into two halves, but his performance down the stretch has caught the attention of one national pundit.

NHL Network analyst Mike Johnson, who played 12 years in the league, selected Patrick as his No. 1 breakout player for the 2018-19 season during Friday night's "NHL Tonight."

Johnson scored 375 points in 661 NHL games from 1996-2008 and last played in the league during the 2007-08 campaign with the St. Louis Blues.

Behind Johnson's reasoning for picking Patrick as his No. 1 breakout player was the Flyers' center's two-way instincts, ability to finish, size and a full summer of training ahead of him.

"We know his injury history, his lack of proper training, his lack of ability to hit the gym properly," Johnson said, "and he's still strong on the wall. That's only going to get better as he matures physically."

For what it's worth, Connor McDavid was NHL Network's No. 1 breakout candidate for the 2017-18 season — that was a bit of a softball.

As for Patrick, the center joined "NHL Tonight" on Friday to discuss the honor and also provide an update on how his summer is going.

"Coming off that surgery last year," Patrick said, "I had a slow start. It took a while to get my body back to where I wanted it to be. I missed two summers of training. It's been the first summer for me in a while that I've been back in the gym."

Patrick, the No. 2 overall pick in 2017, finished with 13 goals and 30 points in 73 regular-season games. He missed nine games in October and November because of a concussion and spent most of the first half of the season getting his mobility back after undergoing offseason abdominal surgery. In fact, he's lost his past two summers of training because of surgery.

Prior to his final junior season and his draft year, Patrick underwent sports hernia surgery. Then 10 days before the Flyers drafted him, he went under the knife again.

Now he's fully healthy and has a full summer of training.

"First time I can get after it," Patrick said during the team's exit interviews in April (see story). "It's going to be a big summer for me. I'm not satisfied with how the year was or how my year was, so I'm looking to take big steps here."

Once Patrick began feeling healthier, he started getting a bigger role with the Flyers. He was elevated to the team's second-line center and stuck. He also found a role on the power play.

The 19-year-old posted 17 points in the final 25 games, which translates to a respectable 0.68 points per game clip and 55 points over an 82-game schedule. Not too bad for a rookie who couldn't actually train during his previous two offseasons.

"My coaches pushed me throughout the year. Then they gave me more opportunity," Patrick told the NHL Network. "Jake Voracek was huge for me. He thinks the game so well. The puck protection that guy has, you just got to get open for him.

"I think my body also just felt better as the year went on. I kind of took a while to get my skating legs there, so I think in the second half, I had a little more pep in my step."

More on the Flyers