Flyers

Maple Leafs 7, Flyers 6: On wrong end of wild game results in crushing loss

Maple Leafs 7, Flyers 6: On wrong end of wild game results in crushing loss

BOX SCORE

The Flyers held Auston Matthews scoreless until the final five minutes of Friday night's game.

And then boom.

Matthews, the Maple Leafs' 21-year-old star drafted first overall in 2016, firmly put his imprint on the evening by scoring back-to-back goals to break a 5-5 tie and deal the Flyers a crushing 7-6 loss at Scotiabank Arena.

The Flyers held a 5-2 lead late in the second period, but not many teams can pin down Matthews and the high-powered Maple Leafs.

Toronto ripped off five consecutive goals and the ridiculous finish very well may be the unofficial nail in the Flyers' coffin for 2018-19.

The Flyers (34-29-8) have lost two straight games and the road gets only tougher with 11 games remaining. To pour salt in the wound, the Blue Jackets took care of business by beating the Hurricanes, 3-0, giving the Flyers a seven-point deficit in the race for the Eastern Conference's second wild-card spot.

The Flyers came into Friday with a 3.4 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to Hockey-Reference.com, while SportsClubStats.com gave them a 2.7 percent chance. Those percentages will sink even lower come Saturday morning (see story).

The Maple Leafs (43-23-5) avoided what would have been only their second three-game losing skid of the season.

• The Flyers always make things interesting. Give them credit, they didn't quit after falling behind 7-5. James van Riemsdyk scored his third goal of the game to trim the deficit with 1:14 left in regulation. 

Shayne Gostisbehere actually put a decent shot on goal with one second remaining but Frederik Andersen turned it away to seal the Flyers' fate.

• van Riemsdyk doesn't always score the most aesthetically pleasing goals, but he certainly doesn't luck his way into goals, either. You don't score 30-plus goals twice by accident and van Riemsdyk's net-front approach is actually a treat to watch.

His second trip back to Toronto turned out to be special as van Riemsdyk recorded a hat trick, giving him 18 goals in 28 games since Jan. 10. Over that span, only one NHL player has scored more: Leon Draisaitl (19).

His redirect early in the second period takes superb skill. The goal gave the Flyers a 2-1 lead before van Riemsdyk decided to balloon the advantage a little over seven minutes later by working hard right in the goal crease.

The Maple Leafs landed John Tavares in free agency last summer as van Riemsdyk departed Toronto to come back home for a Flyers reunion. Not one person would blame the Maple Leafs for focusing on reeling in Tavares (it obviously has paid off), but the hatty had to feel good for JVR in his old stomping grounds.

• Toronto came out blazing and never let up, with its offensive firepower on full display. The Maple Leafs' bevy of weapons had Brian Elliott under siege all first period, putting 19 shots on the Flyers' goalie. 

Elliott quickly realized this was not the NHL-worst Senators from Monday night, when he had to make only 20 saves on 22 shots in a 3-2 victory.

Overall, Elliott finished with 44 saves on 51 shots. Blowing a 5-2 lead hurts, but he wasn't a serious problem. Toronto looked scary good. Tavares was held scoreless while Mitch Marner had just one assist, and the Maple Leafs still dropped seven on the Flyers.

• If you're a hockey fan, you loved this game, especially the second and third periods. The middle stanza featured seven goals — four from the Flyers, three from the Maple Leafs.

After JVR netted his two, defensemen Radko Gudas and Gostisbehere each lit the lamp, handing the Flyers a rather surprising three-goal lead.

But the Flyers likely weren't going to blow out this Toronto team. Jake Muzzin made it a game by scoring two goals in the final four minutes of the second period, setting up a fun third period — and a disappointing one for the Flyers.

• The Flyers' power play has fallen back into a funk. The man advantage is 2 for its last 21 and never got anything going on a third-period opportunity when the game was 5-5.

• Now, the Flyers must travel to Pittsburgh for a Sunday night matchup with the Penguins (7:30 p.m./NBCSN).

Since the Feb. 23 Stadium Series loss to the Flyers, Pittsburgh has gone 7-1-1. The Penguins will be on the second game of a back-to-back set after playing Saturday afternoon against the Blues.

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Former Flyers GM Ron Hextall finds new job with Los Angeles Kings

Former Flyers GM Ron Hextall finds new job with Los Angeles Kings

Former Flyers general manager Ron Hextall has found a new job in the NHL. 

Hextall has been hired as a part-time advisor to hockey operations for the Los Angeles Kings, the team announced Wednesday.

Fired by the Flyers in November after a poor start to the 2018-19 season, Hextall, a former goalie who played 489 games with the Flyers, served as general manager for four-plus seasons.

At the time, then-president Paul Holmgren said, "it has become clear that we no longer share the same philosophical approach concerning the direction of the team."

The Flyers did not win a playoff series under Hextall, going 165-128-58 and losing twice in the first round.

The team relieved head coach Dave Hakstol of his duties in December. Chuck Fletcher took over Hextall's position, and he hired Alain Vigneault in April as head coach.

Hextall said in November he was "proud" of the groundwork he built as general manager, and that he believes the team is "poised to do something great." 

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Joel Farabee climbing, Samuel Morin's complex case, more in Flyers stock watch

Joel Farabee climbing, Samuel Morin's complex case, more in Flyers stock watch

The Flyers are two games into their seven-game exhibition slate.

The competition for jobs will only heat up with three games in the next five days.

"We've got some decisions to make," Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault said last weekend. "That's what you want in camp. You need surprises, we need some of these young kids to step up and force us into some decisions. That's how your team gets better and we're going to give them an opportunity to do that."

Who's trending up? Who's trending down? Let's take a look at the stock of those players who could impact the staff's decisions:

Stock up

Joel Farabee

From rookie camp to now, the heralded prospect has done everything to fuel his roster case. He's exhibited skill, smarts and, most importantly, his effort. Farabee has put the whole package on display and the 19-year-old winger has been impossible to not notice.

In the preseason opener Monday night at the Wells Fargo Center, Farabee showed impressive burst to create some quality scoring chances during a game that featured a lot of rust from both sides.

"Farabee, I think everyone can see the skill set," Vigneault said afterward. "I didn't think he was as good tonight as what I've seen, but some of that had to do with the opposition. I like that kid. I like his skill level. I like that he can play in tight. I think we've got a good young player there."

Farabee's stock is rising, too, because it appears he'll get a game with the big guns Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier, two players he excelled with during the opening days of camp.

German Rubtsov

Rubtsov's steady and cerebral game has impressed the coaching staff and front office. The 21-year-old center's defensive strengths were well-documented entering camp, but he's beginning to grow into his offensive upside.

The 2016 first-round pick scored two goals in the rookie game and was recognizable in both of the preseason games.

If he's not winning a bottom-six job now, he's showing he can be relied upon as one of the first call-up options throughout the season.

Stock down

Samuel Morin

Morin's camp is an interesting case study. It's tough to make out how he's done. He hasn't necessarily hurt himself, but he's a 2013 draft pick and the Flyers' current regime really likes mobile defensemen that skillfully push the puck up ice and jump into the play.

Morin is a 6-foot-6, stay-at-home kind of blueliner. My gut just tells me the Flyers are much higher on guys like Philippe Myers, Egor Zamula and maybe even Mark Friedman.

We'll have to see if the Flyers carry eight defensemen. Right now, Morin is probably their eighth and he would have to clear waivers to go to AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley.

Isaac Ratcliffe

Ratcliffe is an exciting prospect with a 6-foot-6 frame that can belie his superb skill.

His strengths were accentuated in junior hockey but they'll take some time to translate at the pro level. He's had difficulty standing out because there's much less time and space with the puck in the NHL.

The 20-year-old goal-scoring winger works hard and will learn how to better utilize his size to produce offensively at AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley in 2019-20.

"My main focus is trying to get rid of those junior habits," Ratcliffe said Monday. "Some of those pull and drag moves at the blue line while coming into the zone — a big part of the game, trying to push the pace coming up, you're playing against the best defenders in the world here. Even in some of the practices here, I can still feel it trying to creep back into my game. I'm trying to focus on using my size a little bit more and try to dominate using my reach and strength getting around defensemen rather than try to maneuver the puck around them."

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