Flyers

Flyers take another gut punch in OT, drop to Penguins for 8th straight loss

Flyers take another gut punch in OT, drop to Penguins for 8th straight loss

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PITTSBURGH — Any Flyers lead right now has the stability of an awkward-leaning Jenga tower, and all it takes is the slightest miscalculation for the whole structure to come crumbling down.

Monday night’s game at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh was another epic collapse, as the Penguins rallied to beat the Flyers, 5-4, in overtime (see observations). First, the Pens wiped out the Flyers' 3-1 lead in the opening 1:46 of the third period, then erased the Flyers' 4-3 advantage with 1:04 remaining in regulation.

And who other than Sidney Crosby to punctuate the Flyers' misery? He scored the game-winner in the extra session (see highlights).

It's the fourth time in the last six games the Flyers have blown a two-goal lead at some point of a contest, while extending their losing streak to eight straight games, five of those coming after regulation.

“We’ve got to finish one of these,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “There’s not much more to be said other than that. We’ve got to finish one of these. We’re in position, night after night, and we were in position again tonight.”

“I think they just came at us,” goaltender Brian Elliott said. “They had a good push and it took all of two minutes to tie it up. We talked about it — try to keep our game going and be aggressive. They come out and get a power play and it puts an end to that.”

Confidence is frail right now and it won’t be restored until the Flyers earn that much-needed victory. However, it’s the same recurring problems that continue to plague this team. The Flyers' penalty kill gave up a goal for the sixth straight game, which now brings the total to 10 power-play goals allowed over that six-game span.

Combine that with a team that appears to have taken on the personality of its coach, who doesn’t appear to show emotion in those moments of desperation.

“I understand from a player’s standpoint the frustration level that comes tonight right into this point in time,” Hakstol said. “Again, we have to have a short memory because we have to turn around and play again Tuesday night. Bottom line, you can overthink it and put any terminology you want on it, bottom line is we have to go out and play another good hockey game and push to complete a win.”

The Flyers believed this time would be different. Michael Raffl’s one-man effort late in the game looked to be enough to break the team’s bad luck. Raffl stripped defenseman Matt Hunwick and then outmuscled Phil Kessel before breaking in on goaltender Tristan Jarry, beating the rookie with a backhand shot. At that moment, the Flyers appeared to have weathered the Pittsburgh storm.

“It’s hard because we’re playing really good hockey games,” Travis Konecny, who scored his first goal in a month, said. “We’re giving ourselves a chance to win hockey games. Maybe we just let our guard down for a couple of minutes and teams are taking advantage of those couple of minutes that we’re sitting back.”

That’s when it all started in the opening minute of the third period.

With Andrew MacDonald in the box for tripping, Patric Hornqvist ignited the Penguins' comeback when he batted a puck out of the air and right in front of Elliott’s glove. The Flyers' goaltender appeared as if he was on the verge of snagging the puck before Hornqvist beat him to it. Hakstol elected to review the play for goaltender interference, but the officials determined Hornqvist was not in the crease.

“It’s so gray that I don’t understand what’s a call and what’s not a call, even when you see replays throughout the league,” Elliott said. “I don’t know what’s what. I put my hand out to try and catch that puck. [Hornqvist] is coming in and bumps my hand. They say he’s not in the crease, but I don’t know if that matters if you can’t make a play on the puck.”

Elliott faced a barrage of shots and the Flyers had to feel fortunate they were able to force the game past regulation as Conor Sheary rang a shot off the post with a second to play in the third period. 

This was the first time in 355 career starts that Elliott saw 50 shots in a game, as the Flyers were under siege throughout the final period. As a result, Elliott was forced to make a career-high 47 saves, while the Flyers were outshot, 52-32.

“You see it all year. They’re good at just getting to the net and showing for bodies and just getting ugly ones like that,” Elliott said. “That’s how they get a lot of their stuff — shooting off bodies and guys standing at the posts and having those little deflections.”

Perhaps the biggest sting from this game was watching Crosby celebrate his game-winner. With three more points, the Flyers' killer now has 87 in 60 career games against the orange and black.

Watching that has been a frustration over the past decade.

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

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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."

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End to End: What is Ron Hextall's next big signing?

End to End: What is Ron Hextall's next big signing?

Going End to End today are NBC Sports Philadelphia's John Boruk, Tom Dougherty and Jordan Hall.

The topic: What is Ron Hextall's next big signing?

Boruk
There are three ways to look at this …

1. The Flyers re-sign Wayne Simmonds, who's eligible for an extension that would take effect in 2019-20.

2. Ron Hextall inks one of his restricted free agents to a team-friendly, lengthy multi-year deal.

3. The Flyers go big in free agency next summer. 

Let’s start with the latter. There are some interesting names that are headlining next summer’s potential UFA class: Tyler Seguin, Tyler Myers, Matt Duchene and Artemi Panarin. 

Who knows which of these players will be re-signed or traded, but I don’t see the Flyers paying big dollars to add another forward now that you include James van Riemsdyk. According to Spotrac.com, the Flyers have $46.5 million (fourth highest in the NHL) committed to forwards, with Travis Konecny due for a pay raise next summer, as well.

With that knowledge, I’m not sure it makes sense for the Flyers to extend Simmonds another four to five years with an AAV of $6-7 million. Hextall has a good barometer of what Simmonds is worth on the open market, which is why term would be the sticking point in negotiations. If he’s willing to look at a three-year deal, it could get done soon, but if I’m Simmonds' agent, I’m trying to maximize the length of any new contract, which very well could be the last one his client signs.

I think the next big contract will be signed by defenseman Ivan Provorov, who’s entering the final year of his entry-level deal. It’s not out of the financial realm to think Provorov could sign a Drew Doughty-type bridge deal similar to the eight-year, $56 million pact the Kings' defenseman signed in 2011 at the age of 21. Doughty was coming off a monstrous 16-goal, 59-point season. Last season, Provorov ripped off 17 goals and 41 points and appears poised to build on that for this upcoming season.

Prepare yourself. Provorov will receive the next big pay day in Philadelphia.

Dougherty
Outside of teaching the Sixers and Phillies how to close a deal, Hextall's only item left on his offseason to-do list is to re-sign restricted free agent Robert Hagg.

During his end-of-season-news conference in April, Hextall said "initially, my thought right now is that we would be open to either long term or short term" with Hagg.

Whether Hagg qualifies as a "big signing" isn't really up for debate. It's not. Hagg is a quality third pair defenseman in the NHL and he proved as much in his rookie season.

But re-signing Hagg is the only move left I envision Hextall making this summer, or at the very least, the next move. A Provorov or Simmonds extension remains possible too.

As Hextall mentioned, the Flyers are open to either a short or long-term deal with Hagg. Both have their upside. That is also likely the holdup right now.

While Hagg wouldn't qualify as a "big" signing, he is next on the checklist. Once his contract is out of the way, then I could see the Flyers knocking out Provorov or Simmonds.

Hall
Hextall tends to get ahead and take care of his own.

When you look at the track record, he's not one to let contract decisions linger, especially when it comes to his core pieces — which makes for good business.

Just like in any profession, stability and happiness are important.

The Flyers' general manager extended Jakub Voracek and Sean Couturier the summer prior to their contract years. 

He signed Shayne Gostisbehere, a restricted free agent last summer, in early June before the expansion draft and free agency opened. 

He even signed Michael Raffl in February 2016 before the role forward was set to become an unrestricted free agent at season's end.

With all that said, my gut tells me Hextall's next big move is extending Simmonds at some point before the start of the season. Simmonds, coming off an injury-ravaged year in which he still managed to score 24 goals, can hit unrestricted free agency following the 2018-19 season. He wants to be back and Hextall values him greatly.

And the GM made it clear that when the Flyers signed van Riemsdyk to a five-year deal, it meant nothing to their situation with Simmonds.

"We like Wayne Simmonds," Hextall said July 1. "This doesn't change anything for Wayne. This is a left winger; this is a different player than Simmer. We're excited to have James, and certainly, we would like to have Simmer for a long time, too."

I expect that to be the next major check on the agenda.

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