Flyers

Kings 3, Flyers 2 (SO): Late magic falls short as win streak comes to end at 8 games

Kings 3, Flyers 2 (SO): Late magic falls short as win streak comes to end at 8 games

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The NHL's hottest team was finally cooled off but it took six rounds into a shootout.

Jakub Voracek scored with 18 seconds remaining in regulation before the Kings' Tyler Toffoli won it, 3-2, in the shootout, snapping the Flyers' eight-game winning streak Thursday night.

Anthony Stolarz stopped 37 shots in the loss, including a miraculous attempt that helped the Flyers force the skills competition.

Here are my observations from the Wells Fargo Center:

• After undressing Kings All-Star defenseman Drew Doughty and hitting the post with a shot, Voracek got his revenge with a beautiful cross-ice pass from Claude Giroux to earn the Flyers a point and send the game to overtime.

• There have been significant improvements in Shayne Gostisbehere’s defensive play with interim head coach Scott Gordon changing up the pairings. Over his previous eight games, "Ghost" has seen easier matchups and hasn't been forced to defend the opposition’s top lines, posting a plus-8 rating.

However, the opening goal is one example of a simple play from the Kings' fourth line that Gostisbehere has to defend better. Andrew MacDonald fell down, which allowed Austin Wagner (who scored the goal) to get behind the defense off an offensive zone faceoff.

I think Gostisbehere’s biggest liability is his lack of speed. While he has quick lateral movements, his acceleration simply isn’t quick enough to make up for times when he gets caught defensively or needs to rush back to cover an odd-man rush. That was clearly evident as Gostisbehere couldn’t skate back fast enough to break up the Kings' 3-on-1 rush leading to Adrian Kempe’s 2-1 goal in the second period.

• Perhaps Sean Couturier’s best attribute is his selflessness. Gordon talked about that quality during Thursday’s morning skate after the center was taken off the top power play. Couturier took the lesser role in stride as he typically does with the attitude of whatever’s best for the team.

He has been the Flyers' most important forward throughout the nine-game point streak with a goal in three straight games and seven of his last 10. 

• Stolarz looked very solid in his first game action since Jan. 29, when he shut out the Rangers, 1-0, at MSG. The Flyers' porous defense saw the Kings produce 18 shots in the opening period, with L.A. winning most of the puck battles and board battles.

The scoring chances were a lopsided 23-10 in favor of L.A. through two periods. The Kings also had a fourth line with Wagner and Kyle Clifford that plays just as much as their second line, and it had as many quality scoring chances as the Kings' first line. 

• Giroux has played some monster minutes, averaging nearly 22 minutes over his last 11 games, and the coaching staff is really leaning on him on the power play. The captain played all two minutes of the Flyers' third-period power play and finished over 24 minutes in this game.   

• Gordon talked about the frustrations of Scott Laughton and his goalless drought that has now reached 23 games dating back to mid-December. Laughton failed to connect on a penalty shot against Vancouver Monday. Early in the first period, Laughton was on the doorstep when his stick was tied up coming off Ivan Provorov’s broken-stick slap shot.

Gordon told Laughton to keep doing all the little things that make him a solid two-way player and don’t worry about the scoring. There are plenty of other guys who can score.

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If Alain Vigneault can't work his magic with Flyers' roster, pressure mounts for Chuck Fletcher

If Alain Vigneault can't work his magic with Flyers' roster, pressure mounts for Chuck Fletcher

Chuck Fletcher was brought in because things weren't going well enough and quickly enough for the Flyers.

The predicament he inherited required eventual change.

After all, sitting alongside team president Paul Holmgren back in November, Comcast Spectacor chairman and CEO Dave Scott said the Flyers were eyeing a general manager with a "bias for action," among other qualities.

With time and evaluation, Fletcher has begun providing the desired action.

A new head coach is on board, bringing extensive experience and outside perspective, while two new assistants with strong pedigrees have been hired.

But perhaps the most influential part in shifting the Flyers' course has remained mostly intact: the roster. That could drastically change this upcoming offseason with free agency and potential trades. However, Fletcher, facing his first offseason as the Flyers' GM, doesn't see an exodus needed with the current roster — or at least not yet.

"The Flyers are a great opportunity. You guys are in this market, for me coming in from the outside, I know when Paul Holmgren approached me about being the general manager of the Flyers, I'm like, 'Wow.' This is a premium job in the National Hockey League and we're set up where we should have an opportunity to get better quickly," Fletcher said April 18. "I know we need more good players, but we have a lot of good players. It's not like you have to gut this thing — we have cap space, we have picks. We have really good staff, really good staff. On the scouting and management side, I've added one person, I haven't subtracted anything. There's a good group here and we have the ability to get better quickly if we all do our job."

Therein lies a poignant and undeniable pressure on Fletcher in Year 1 with the Flyers under Alain Vigneault's watch.

Aside from Wayne Simmonds, who became an inevitable piece to move given the circumstances, the Flyers' core has survived. So, too, has the overall makeup of the roster.

Fletcher, Vigneault and the Flyers believe this team can win with a refined system and different guidance. They don't exactly see a team that has missed the playoffs every other season since 2012-13, a stretch consisting of three first-round exits.

Will Fletcher add this summer? Of course — the ability to do so is one of the reasons why Vigneault found the Flyers as an attractive destination. When Fletcher was hiring Vigneault, the two established a list of areas in which the Flyers can improve.

"We're looking at some options and if we can put the right things in place," Vigneault said at his introduction, "it's going to be a lot of fun."

Significant subtraction was not featured on the list.

"There's some solid youth with a lot of upside here that is coming into its own," Vigneault said. "There's great goaltending, being one of those youth pieces. There's a solid core group that, in my mind, needs the right direction. And you've got the combination, also, of some solid veteran players that have been in the league a few years, that can still contribute at a high level in this league. … After discussing it with a lot of people that I respect their opinion in the NHL, I feel that the Flyers are a very good team that with the proper direction, proper mindset, proper culture and people working together, will be a very good team in the near future."

That's why Year 1 will be so telling.

Vigneault is a coach with a tremendous track record of winning during his first season on the job. He did so at three separate stops (see story). Michel Therrien has 38 postseason victories under his belt as a head coach and took a team to the Stanley Cup Final. Mike Yeo owns three playoff series victories as a head coach and has a ring as an assistant.

If this group can't produce the results with the Flyers' roster, Fletcher will have to take a longer, much more serious look at the players in place and make his hardest decisions yet.

At that point, it may be the only action left.

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2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs schedule, live stream: More drama ahead for Sharks-Blues Western Conference Final?

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2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs schedule, live stream: More drama ahead for Sharks-Blues Western Conference Final?

There has been a ton of drama only three games into the Western Conference Final between the Sharks and Blues.

Game 3 was won by the Sharks, 5-4, in overtime, but not without controversy. San Jose may have gotten away with a hand pass on the game-winning goal.

The series will shift one way or the other Friday night with Game 4.

Below is the schedule for Day 37 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. You can watch the entire playoffs on the networks of NBC. 

San Jose Sharks at St. Louis Blues (SJS 2-1)
Game 4, Western Conference Final
8 p.m. ET | TV: NBCSN | Live stream here