Flyers

Oilers 4, Flyers 1: Little life in 3rd straight loss as road trip becomes uglier

Oilers 4, Flyers 1: Little life in 3rd straight loss as road trip becomes uglier

BOX SCORE

EDMONTON, Alberta — A promising start to a five-game road trip is beginning to completely unravel for the Flyers. 

Connor McDavid scored twice, including an impressive bank shot off the back of Anthony Stolarz, as the Oilers handed the Flyers a 4-1 loss Friday in Edmonton.

Why couldn’t the Flyers expose a depleted Oilers defense and how badly did Dave Hakstol shake up the lines after Wednesday’s loss to Calgary?

Here are my observations from Rogers Place:

• The Flyers needed to get in strong on the forecheck and put some pressure on a young, inexperienced and mistake-prone Oilers blue line. Edmonton was missing two of its top defensemen, relegating young Darnell Nurse to that No. 1 role, plus the NHL debut of Caleb Jones, Seth Jones' younger brother.

The Flyers failed to expose the Oilers' weakness in the first period and throughout this game.

• Hakstol’s new-look lines were a real wake-up call for Nolan Patrick, who has gone from a second-line center to a fourth-line checking center.

I thought Patrick responded well, made some plays, drew a four-minute penalty and had a little burst to his game playing alongside Oskar Lindblom once again.

• Did you catch Stolarz’s nifty footwork in the first period? After an Oiler dumped the puck in hard off the boards, Stolarz did a quick foot shuffle in an effort to avoid the puck hitting the back of his skates and going into the net. 

With Stolarz’s size, I don’t think a 60-minute game takes a toll on him like a smaller goaltender such as Michal Neuvirth, which gives me reason to think he can handle a back-to-back and playing three games in four nights. Remember Brian Elliott, also bigger in physical stature, won all three of these games last season.

The Adam Larsson goal (the Oilers' third) is certainly one Stolarz should have had.

• Here’s the problem with playing the Claude Giroux line (James van Riemsdyk-Giroux-Travis Konecny) on the road, where you can’t control the matchups. All three forwards aren’t exactly stellar defensively, so when Ivan Provorov and Andrew MacDonald get caught on the same side of the ice, JVR has to come down and cover the man in the slot. That didn’t happen and here’s the end result:

• The outcome could have been different had the Flyers converted on a four-minute power play. However, with the No. 1 unit out there for most of that time, there was too much passing, not enough movement and very little shooting. It’s a power play that has become very stale and is now challenging the PK in terms of its ineffectiveness.

• With a wide-open Travis Sanheim looking for a pass behind the net, Shayne Gostisbehere needed to make a stronger play in the corner and not allow McDavid to easily take the puck away, which eventually led to a bank shot off Stolarz for a 2-0 Oilers lead. Yes, I realize it’s McDavid, but he made that whole play look way too easy.

Gostisbehere was relegated to a third defensive pairing for this game, and right now I trust Sanheim more from a defensive standpoint than I do Gostisbehere. 

• The Flyers had several strong shifts in the third period, but they were only able to capitalize when Jakub Voracek’s shot from the high slot snuck past Mikko Koskinen. Outside of that, the Flyers were lifeless and for the most part, they didn’t have that look of desperation tonight (see story).

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Former Flyers assistant coach Rick Wilson's comment on Shayne Gostisbehere a key reminder for 2019-20

Former Flyers assistant coach Rick Wilson's comment on Shayne Gostisbehere a key reminder for 2019-20

Maybe Shayne Gostisbehere and Rick Wilson weren't best friends.

That's OK.

A player and coach don't have to be buddy-buddy with each other, but they do have to understand each other. That's how you get the best out of a player.

In 2018-19, Gostisbehere underwhelmed significantly. He didn't blame anyone but himself. But he did play for two head coaches and two different assistants that oversaw the Flyers' defensemen. So, systematically and stylistically, things can change.

Wilson, with 30 years of NHL coaching experience, came on board in December. Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman caught up with Wilson for parts of his latest 31 Thoughts column, an always-excellent read for hockey folks.

The 68-year-old Wilson, who was not retained by the Flyers, offered some insight on the team's blueliners after working with them for the final four-plus months of the season.

Here was the section on Gostisbehere from Friedman's piece:

Wilson did not mention Shayne Gostisbehere, so I brought him up. He was careful.

'I would just say that I'm a little disappointed I couldn't help him bring more of his best on a consistent basis … he is very talented and it is in there.'

By the time the calendar flipped to 2019, the Flyers were allowing the NHL's third-most goals. In an attempt to clean up the team's issues, adjustments were made. Gostisbehere's ice time fluctuated at different points. The 26-year-old is an offensive-minded defenseman. His game is predicated on playing freely, taking calculated risks, moving the puck up ice and making things happen.

At his end-of-the-season press conference, Gostisbehere was asked if he felt he had the freedom to take chances on the ice throughout the year.

"With Rick coming in and different coaches and whatnot, they tweaked the style — not just me personally, but how he wants the defense to play," Gostisbehere said. "I wouldn't say they put handcuffs on me or anything, but they pulled the reins back quite a bit just in what they wanted us to do collectively as a D core."

None of this is to say Gostisbehere is some type of player incapable of being coached. None of it's to say his role isn't safe with the Flyers. He doesn't have a problem listening or taking instruction. His strengths, though, are sometimes criticized and put under a microscope for being viewed as not playing his position wisely or correctly.

"I just want to get better, get better as a player, I want to be a staple point as a defenseman in this league — one of the better ones, not one who's just looked at offensively," Gostisbehere said in April. "It's tough when you start a season and you see the net filling up and we're giving up seven goals every other game. Changes happen. It's tough, it was a tough season in general, but you've got to stick with it and remember what got you there."

All of this is further emphasis on how imperative coaching is to a player like Gostisbehere. Getting the best out of him is vital to the Flyers. When he's clicking, when he's dynamic, when he's elusive, the Flyers are substantially better. That was evident in 2017-18, when he experienced a career year with 65 points (13 goals, 52 assists), the fourth most among NHL defensemen.

"Ghost is obviously elite in some of those areas," Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher said in April. "He can break a guy down 1-on-1 and he can also make a 100-foot stretch pass."

Alain Vigneault and Mike Yeo are Gostisbehere's new coaches. How quickly the two mesh with an important player will be one of the biggest storylines in 2019-20.

"He's always been a believer of getting the puck going north and getting the D up in the play," Fletcher said of Vigneault. "I think our D is ideally suited for Alain."

That should be music to Gostisbehere's ears.

h/t to CBS Philly's Tom Dougherty.

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The South Philly bar that's gone 'all in' on the St. Louis Blues in the Stanley Cup Playoffs

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NBC Sports Philadelphia

The South Philly bar that's gone 'all in' on the St. Louis Blues in the Stanley Cup Playoffs

The Jacks NYB has been rooting for the St. Louis Blues since an encounter with some of the players in January.

NBC Sports Philadelphia's Marc Farzetta takes a deeper look at why these life-long Flyers fans are now pulling for the Blues in the video below.