Flyers

Halak does the heavy lifting with 50 saves

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Halak does the heavy lifting with 50 saves

NEW YORK -- Jaroslav Halak stopped 50 shots for his first shutout of the season as the New York Islanders kept up their recent mastery of the crosstown-rival Rangers with a 3-0 victory Thursday night.

Josh Bailey, Jordan Eberle and Thomas Hickey each scored for the Islanders, who have won all three meetings this season and 10 of the last 11. Rookie sensation Mathew Barzal had three assists to help the Islanders move into a tie with Columbus one point behind Carolina for the second wild card in the Eastern Conference.

Halak, who faced 51 shots in a loss to Columbus on Tuesday night, had 15 saves in the first period, 14 in the second and another 21 in the third for his 42nd career shutout.

Henrik Lundqvist finished with 32 saves for the Rangers, who have lost six of eight overall and dropped to 0-4-1 in five visits to Bazrclays Center since the Islanders moved to the Brooklyn arena in 2015. The Rangers remained four points behind the Hurricanes, who lost at New Jersey (see full recap).

Hischier, Noesen push Devils past Hurricanes
NEWARK, N.J. -- Nico Hischier had a goal and two assists, and Stefan Noesen scored twice to lead the New Jersey Devils to a 5-2 victory over the Carolina Hurrricanes on Thursday night in a game between the two teams currently in wild-card playoff positions in the Eastern Conference.

Kyle Palmieri and Damon Severson also scored for the Devils, who have won two straight after losing four in a row. Keith Kinkaid made 27 saves.

Hischier had the primary assist on Palmieri's go-ahead goal late in the second period and helped blow the game open in the third, combining with Noesen to score goals in a 32-second span.

Jeff Skinner and defenseman Brett Pesce scored for Carolina, which was on the road after going 5-2-1 in a season-high eight-game homestand. Scott Darling had 17 saves for the Hurricanes, who will play New Jersey at home on Sunday (see full recap).

Aston-Reese helps Pens notch 10th straight home win
PITTSBURGH -- Zach Aston-Reese broke a third-period tie with a power-play goal and the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Los Angeles Kings 3-1 on Thursday night for their 10th straight home victory.

Two nights after scoring his first two NHL goals, Aston-Reese gave the Penguins the lead at 5:24 of the period. Kris Letang's point shot through traffic clipped Aston-Reese's skate and went between goalie Jonathan Quick's pads.

The Penguins' home streak is the longest since a franchise-record 13-game run during the 2013-14 season. The Penguins haven't lost in Pittsburgh since Jan. 4, a 4-0 setback to Carolina. Pittsburgh has won eight of 10 overall and 13 of 17.

Ryan Reaves scored in the second period, and Evgeni Malkin added an empty-netter. Matt Murray, playing his 100th NHL game, stopped 34 shots. Murray is in sole possession of first place for the most wins in his first 100 games among goalies to debut since 2005-06. He is unbeaten in regulation in his last eight decisions and won his last six at home.

Dion Phaneuf scored a power-play goal in his Kings debut. Phaneuf and forward Nate Thompson were traded from Ottawa to the Kings for Marian Gaborik and Nick Shore during the Senators' 6-3 loss to Pittsburgh on Tuesday night (see full recap).

The Flyers are starting to do some convincing with GM Chuck Fletcher

The Flyers are starting to do some convincing with GM Chuck Fletcher

There is something to be said for the Flyers playing better hockey.

Everyone begged and waited for progress. Finally, the Flyers are obliging.

They've won three straight games for just the second time this season, scoring 16 goals over the streak. They've won four of their last five after plodding through an eight-game losing skid in which they netted only 15 goals.

For the first time since New Year's Day, the Flyers are no longer in last place of the Metropolitan Division, thanks to a 5-2 win Saturday night over the Canadiens (see observations).

Rather inconveniently, the bye week is now here followed by the All-Star break, creating an eight-day hiatus for the Flyers. Which means general manager Chuck Fletcher will have ample time to sit on these good vibes and mull the bigger decisions ahead.

The problem for the Flyers, though, is this is not like years past. It's considerably too late and a small sample size of improvement won't change Fletcher's mind on 2018-19. Last season, the Flyers needed 98 points to squeak into the playoffs at Game 82. Over their final 34 games of this season, a 23-5-6 record (.765 points percentage) would get them to only 96 points.

If the Flyers can make anything of 2018-19, they'll be proving just about everyone wrong.

What the Flyers can convince Fletcher on is next season — how drastically to retool and how quickly things can turn around.

Upper management certainly isn't on board with a massive rebuild or restart. Flyers president Paul Holmgren and Comcast Spectacor chairman and CEO Dave Scott have already been through a process that became too stagnant for their liking.

Fletcher was brought in for progress. While this season spiraled into a lost cause, you can expect Fletcher is eyeing ways to make 2019-20 productive and meaningful, not another step back.

"We talked about the process and we think — all three of us believe — that this is a playoff team, a quality team," Fletcher said Dec. 5 at his introductory press conference, sitting between Holmgren and Scott. "We have to push it and get better immediately. But there's also the long term. You're trying to win in the present, you're trying to win in the long term. 

"There are obviously certain assets you're not going to sacrifice to win three extra games in one season. So, I think you have to be prudent about it, but they've given me full autonomy to make the hockey decisions I see fit. We talked about philosophy, and again, we all agree this is a good hockey team."

Fletcher is starting to see what could be next season, what can be used moving forward. 

Claude Giroux is still Claude Giroux.

Travis Konecny is beginning to find the back of the net like he did last season.

James van Riemsdyk has six markers in his last five games, playing like the 30-goal scorer the Flyers signed to a five-year, $35 million deal last July.

Nolan Patrick has looked like a No. 2 overall pick over his past three games, with highlight-reel skill, four goals and six points.

Shayne Gostisbehere is starting to display his offensive ability again.

And Carter Hart, at just 20 years old, is showing he can be the franchise goalie you build around.

For Fletcher, these developments are a positive. If only they came before the clock struck midnight on 2018-19, a season he had little chance to save.

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Flyers 5, Canadiens 2: Riding high into the bye week

Flyers 5, Canadiens 2: Riding high into the bye week

BOX SCORE

The Flyers will feel pretty good about themselves over an eight-day stretch of no game action.

That's because they're playing arguably their best hockey of the season entering the bye week and All-Star break, thanks to a 5-2 win Saturday night over the Canadiens at Bell Centre.

The Flyers (19-23-6) have tied their season-best winning streak of three games, a span in which they've scored 16 goals. They've also won four of their last five. Before doing so, the Flyers lost eight straight games, scoring just 15 goals during the skid.

The Canadiens (27-18-5) had a three-game winning streak snapped, while the Flyers, for the time being, are no longer in last place of the Metropolitan Division.

• Think Nolan Patrick's confidence is building? When the 20-year-old is feeling good about himself, he's a different player and it's showing right now.

Patrick scored a pair of goals, the second off some pretty stick-handling to give the Flyers a healthy 4-1 lead in the third period.

After going 24 straight games without a goal and just two points, the 2017 second overall pick has four goals and six points in his last three contests.

The Flyers have desperately needed his depth down the middle and they're starting to get it. Whether it's too late for the Flyers' hopes this season is the question.

• We're starting to see more and more why James van Riemsdyk scored 30-plus goals twice during his time in Toronto. His big frame coupled with superb skill at redirecting shots makes him a terror around the net.

A minute and a half after the Flyers took a 1-0 lead in the middle stanza, van Riemsdyk added to the advantage by deflecting home a Robert Hagg shot. 

The goal was van Riemsdyk's sixth in his last five games. It's no coincidence the Flyers have won four of those five games.

• Travis Konecny broke the ice with three minutes left in the second period on a nasty shot while falling to his knees. However, the play to set up the rebound opportunity was a real positive for Shayne Gostisbehere.

The 25-year-old defenseman has not been himself after a career year in 2017-18, but he created a give-and-go with Sean Couturier to get a shot on net. The Flyers had little going for them and to see Gostisbehere make a play from the blue line should only help his confidence.

Konecny actually misfired on a few shots from in close, so he realistically could have had the Flyers' third hat trick in as many games.

• Because he's a tough, grind-around-the-net kind of player, Wayne Simmonds doesn't get enough credit for his smarts and skill. He completed an excellent 2-on-1 with Patrick to hand the Flyers a commanding 3-0 lead in the third period. 

Simmonds was patient with the puck and didn't rush his decision, baiting Jeff Petry before feeding Patrick for the tally.

The 30-year-old is heating up and you can bet contending teams will be willing to cough up a hefty sum for Simmonds. His stock is rising right now.

Simmonds nearly had his 16th goal, too, clanging a shot off the post from in deep during the opening two minutes, a chance he buries nine times out of 10. He knew it as he was seen hitting himself in the head shortly after the play.

• Carter Hart came in 3-2-1 with a 2.69 goals-against average, .925 save percentage and an NHL-most 196 saves since Jan. 5. 

He was the team's best player during the opening period in which the Flyers were outshot 12-1. Hart kept the game scoreless, giving his team a chance.

He made 33 saves and has solidified his roster spot here in Philadelphia.

Interim head coach Scott Gordon said there's a chance Hart plays for AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley next weekend before the Flyers get back in the swing of things. Hart will have plenty of rest after playing seven of the last eight games. It can't hurt to get him a tune-up before the Flyers resume their schedule.

• With their bye week followed by the All-Star break, the Flyers don't play again until Monday, Jan. 28, when they host the Central Division-leading Jets (7 p.m./NBCSP).

Ten of the Flyers' next 15 games come at the Wells Fargo Center.

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