Flyers

No 2nd chances for Flyers against NHL-best Lightning

No 2nd chances for Flyers against NHL-best Lightning

BOX SCORE

The Flyers discovered Thursday night at the Wells Fargo Center why the Tampa Bay Lightning have the best record in the entire NHL.

The Lightning scored three of their goals in the second period to defeat the Flyers, 5-1. Vladislav Namestnikov scored twice for Tampa Bay. Brayden Point, Yanni Gourde and Ryan Callahan also scored for the Bolts. Callahan’s goal came shorthanded, the eighth goal the Flyers have surrendered on their power play.

Red-hot Travis Konecny lit the lamp once again. The Flyers’ second-year winger now has a goal in four straight games and also reached the double-digit mark with his 10th of the season. Konecny is one goal shy of last season’s total of 11.

Michal Neuvirth made 17 saves on 22 shots. Andrei Vasilevskiy, the NHL’s best goaltender in the first half of the season, stopped 36 of 37 shots. 

Despite the loss, the Flyers enter the All-Star Break having won eight of their last 10 games.

The Flyers will open the post-All-Star break portion of their schedule next Wednesday with back-to-back road games against the Capitals and Devils.

• I didn’t like how the Flyers came out to start the second period. Just seconds after killing off a Lightning power play, Sean Couturier and Claude Giroux couldn’t corral a centering pass that led to a chain reaction in the Flyers’ coverage. 

Robert Hagg vacated his spot in front of the net, which left a wide-open passing lane to Point. Giroux couldn’t get between Point and the net and Andrew MacDonald positioned himself perhaps a little too high to allow for an easy goal that should’ve never happened.

Two Lightning players outworked four Flyers to grab a 1-0 lead. Tampa came into this game with a 22-4-0 record when scoring first.

• Point was flying around the Flyers’ zone for much of the second period. Defensively, the Flyers gave Point too much freedom and space with the puck.

• The Lightning took advantage of the Flyers’ fourth line and their third defense pair, in particular Brandon Manning, who was stationed on the right side (which is typically Gudas). Manning, for whatever reason, glided over and left the right side of Neuvirth completely unmanned as the rookie Gourde capitalized and flipped the puck over Neuvirth for a 2-0 Tampa Bay lead.

• The disastrous second period continued as the Flyers’ power play coughed up its eighth shorthanded goal of the season. Jakub Voracek came up from near the blue line to keep the puck in the offensive zone. Once it got past Voracek, Couturier raced back to take away the pass, which left Shayne Gostisbehere to play Callahan 1-on-1. Callahan, with one goal in 38 games this season, completely wheeled around Gostisbehere and beat Neuvirth for the score and a 3-0 Lightning lead.  

• The Flyers’ power play not only surrendered a goal, but failed to score for the fifth time in the last six games. The possession time is there and it has moved the puck, but it hasn't moved personnel around. Sometimes we’ve seen Giroux operate behind the net or “Ghost” position himself in the right circle. The power play also hasn't generated any quality scoring chances from in, around and below the hash marks. The Flyers’ PP has converted just once in the last 17 opportunities.

• Late in the third period, the Flyers finally found that open seam as Konecny worked his way into the slot in the middle of the Lightning’s four-man box. Voracek hit Konecny for a one-timer that beat Vasilevskiy. When you’re hot, you’re hot. Good to see Dave Hakstol reward Konecny with power-play time with that top unit. 

• The Flyers held the Lightning without a shot for the first 7:06 of the game. While on the surface it would appear the Flyers were solid defensively, they were actually sloppy to start with early icings, sloppy puck play in the neutral zone and a failure to work the puck deep into the Lightning zone. 

• However, I liked how the defense communicated and won the 1-on-1 battles. Hagg made a switch with MacDonald, who had the angle on Gourde and stripped him of the puck. After Ivan Provorov had a pass picked off, Gostisbehere erased Callahan with a solid individual effort. In both instances, the Lightning could have had quality scoring chances, but the defense stepped up.

• Michael Raffl committed the only penalty in the first period on a holding penalty he telegraphed to the referees after he raised his arms, which served as a dead giveaway. Tampa’s power play wasn’t able to generate a shot with the Flyers’ PK nearly creating a chance of its own, but Jori Lehtera simply couldn’t make anything happen that included a 2-on-1 with Gostisbehere. 

• The Lightning look noticeably different without All-Star defenseman Victor Hedman with his 6-6 frame and long stick. In the final two minutes of the first period, the Flyers’ top line had sustained time in the offensive zone, cycling the puck and outworking Tampa’s defense.

Lineups, pairings & scratches

Forwards
Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Travis Konecny
Michael Raffl-Valtteri Filppula-Jakub Voracek
Jordan Weal-Nolan Patrick-Wayne Simmonds
Tyrell Goulbourne-Scott Laughton-Jori Lehtera

Defensemen
Ivan Provorov-Shayne Gostisbehere
Robert Hagg-Andrew MacDonald
Brandon Manning-Radko Gudas

Goalies
Michal Neuvirth
Alex Lyon

Scratches: Forwards Taylor Leier (healthy) and Dale Weise (healthy), defenseman Mark Alt (healthy) and goalie Brian Elliott (lower body).

Eric Lindros' drastic rule change would make hockey safer, but is it too extreme?

ap_ericlindros.jpg
AP Images

Eric Lindros' drastic rule change would make hockey safer, but is it too extreme?

The NFL's new helmet rule has caused confusion and frustration in the preseason.

Routine tackles in the past have been flagged, and players, media members and fans have voiced their concerns with what exactly will be a legal tackle come the regular season.

Enough with football. Could something like this come to hockey?

If Flyers legend Eric Lindros had his way, it would, and it would go a bit further too.

Lindros said last week at See The Light, a concussion conference at Western University in London, Ontario, that he would be in favor of eliminating body contact altogether.

Via the National Post:

“Let’s get right to it. You talk about me playing. I love hockey, and I continue playing hockey. But it’s funny — the hockey I was playing all those years was really physical, and I have just as much fun [these days], but we don’t run into one another. We’re still having as much fun, the same enjoyment of it. We know concussions are down in a league without contact.”

Lindros clarified his position on Twitter, saying that he believes clean body contact still has a place in professional hockey.

Let’s unpack Lindros’ suggested rule change because there is a lot there for the hockey traditionalists to chew on. I’m sure we’ll see some in the comments section below.

Removing body contact from hockey would be a fundamental adjustment to a game that has a culture of being a tough, physical sport where hockey players notoriously play through injuries.

Hockey players have a reputation of being warriors, and they get celebrated for it. Heck, Ivan Provorov played Game 6 vs. Pittsburgh with a Grade 3 AC separation that requires eight weeks to heal. Wayne Simmonds played the entire year with more injuries than he could remember.

The toughness hockey players display on a nightly basis is admirable, but it’s also sometimes stupid. When it comes to concussions and head injuries, it’s especially dumb.

But removing body contact altogether seems extreme. If contact remains in the sport at higher levels and pro leagues, then proper body contact should be stressed in youth hockey. Perhaps limitations on contact would make sense. It's not a totally crazy idea for young players.

The point, though, shouldn’t be lost. Concussions remain a serious issue and the NHL isn’t doing enough to address it. The league won’t even admit there’s a correlation. That’s a problem.

On Friday, the same day as Lindros’ suggested rule change, the NHLPA contributed a joint donation of $3.125 million toward concussion and brain injury research.

Lindros is one of several former hockey players who have been vocal about concussions and hockey, and understandably so. Concussions are very much part of Lindros’ legacy.

There are other ways to address concussions and the sport. It begins by admitting there is a link between CTE and hockey. The NHL has taken steps in protecting its players, but it can do more.

Headshots are penalized more seriously, but there remains inconsistency in the how NHL’s Department of Player Safety governs. That’s another area that should be addressed: more consistency.

The International Ice Hockey Federation, which oversees the Olympics, European leagues and international tournaments, penalize all hits to the head. That would be an enormous step.

Let’s not get sidetracked by Lindros’ idea of removing body contact from hockey. Instead, let’s stay on the NHL to continue to do better in protecting its employees from serious brain injuries.

After all, NHL players do have families to go home to after work and lives to live after their playing days are over.

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Why Wayne Simmonds could come out stronger than ever for Flyers

Why Wayne Simmonds could come out stronger than ever for Flyers

Wayne Simmonds had just finished describing the season from hell.

He was the Flyers' 2017-18 version of the walking wounded, fighting so many injuries that he lost track running them off in late April.

At the time, no one would have blamed Simmonds for lacking some aplomb. Sitting at his end-of-the-season press conference, Simmonds was destined for surgery to address a tear in his pelvic area while coming off a stability-shaken year that produced his fewest goals (24) and points (46) over a full campaign since 2010-11.

Then again, it takes a lot to knock down a player like Simmonds.

This wasn't going to do it.

When asked if he believed he would be fully healthy for 2018-19, Simmonds responded with a resounding confidence.

"Oh, yeah," he said. "One hundred percent, no doubt."

Simmonds, a driven athlete, might have the most fuel he's ever had in a Flyers uniform. There are motivational factors flying at him from every angle and would you expect anything different than Simmonds embracing them all with open arms?

"When you're as dedicated as Wayne is and you put in the effort, the time, the preparation on a daily basis and get better every year, that's what we all should strive to do," Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said in March 2017. "I think Simmer is an example for everybody to get better every year."

What exactly is the motivation this year?

Everything.

For starters, Simmonds is about to step foot into a contract year, unless his representation and Hextall agree on an extension beforehand. That very well could happen, but the Flyers may want to see Simmonds prove his health and production. Not only would that serve as reassurance on the soon-to-be 30-year-old, it also could help with trade value, if the Flyers decide to contemplate that route.

"If it has to go into next year, we're comfortable with that," Hextall said July 1.

Such a scenario wouldn't be a terrible idea for Simmonds. A loud and fast start to 2018-19 would provide him leverage in what he'll ultimately receive from the Flyers or elsewhere.

So, many eyes will be watching Simmonds' production. From where it comes will be one of the more intriguing storylines throughout.

With the Flyers, Simmonds has built himself into an elite power-play producer. Since the 2011-12 season, his first in orange and black, Simmonds owns 86 man-advantage goals, second in the NHL to only Alex Ovechkin with 131.

Which made it hard to believe when Simmonds lost grip of his first-unit net-front role down the stretch last season. The power forward went down from Feb. 20 to March 4 with a torn ligament in his thumb, opening the door for 19-year-old rookie Nolan Patrick, who impressed with his savvy and skill around the blue paint.

Patrick netted three power-play goals during Simmonds' seven-game absence and never lost his spot the rest of the way. He led the Flyers with five markers on the man advantage over the final 23 regular-season games and dished out this beauty of an assist.

Simmonds, a team-first guy who was never healthy, took it in stride.

"I've played in this league a long time and I think you come to realize as a player if you're not at your top, you're probably not going to be getting probably what you usually should," he said after the season. "I know that's what maybe went down at the end, there's not really much I can say about that. If I was 100 percent, then I think there might be some annoyance, but I wasn't 100 percent and I understand the situation that we're in, the position that we're in, we were fighting for the playoffs. 

"While I got hurt there, Patty got put on the first power-play unit and scored two goals the first [two games], so what am I going to argue with? The kid's a heck of a hockey player and he earned it, he definitely earned it, and there's not much I can say. Just going to go out there once I got back and do what I can to help the team."

None of this is to suggest Simmonds won't regain his post on the power play. When healthy, there aren't many better at it, but the competition is clear with the rise of Patrick and the addition of James van Riemsdyk, a net-front guy himself.

Even before JVR jumped back into the picture, Simmonds saw his ice time dip. He played 15:13 during the Flyers' last six regular-season games and just 14:36 in six postseason contests. Simmonds simply wasn't himself. As a result, he was relegated to a third-line slot and may see the same in 2018-19 now that the Flyers are deeper.

"He can play every way," Hextall said about Simmonds when the Flyers inked van Riemsdyk on Day 1 of free agency. "He's net front on the power play, he's a physical player, forechecker, straight-line, go-to-the-net-with-your-stick-on-the-ice guy. Simmer can play up top or certainly down your lineup."

No matter where he plays, Simmonds will be motivated, maybe even a little ticked off.

That's a scary thought.

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