Petr Mrazek, Flyers' defense pick up where they left off

Petr Mrazek, Flyers' defense pick up where they left off


SUNRISE, Fla. — Tired legs, perhaps?

The Flyers, playing for the second time in 24 hours, got virtually skated out of the BB&T Center Sunday afternoon by the speedy and red-hot Panthers, 4-1.

After avoiding a shutout with a rebound goal from Travis Konecny with 3:21 left in the third period, the Flyers are in second place in the Metropolitan Division and have been remarkable since Dec. 4 at 26-10-4.

But the past three games have surely been unsettling for Flyers fans, who watched their team play listless hockey in a 4-1 loss to the Hurricanes before blowing a 5-3 lead in a 7-6 shootout loss Saturday afternoon to Tampa.

The Panthers completed an impressive 6-0-0 homestand and have won 13 of their last 16 games to stamp themselves as the hottest team in hockey since Jan. 30.

The tired-legs theory stems not only from the draining and high-scoring loss to Tampa on Saturday and the quick travel down to South Florida but also to the fact the Panthers scored all four of their goals off of stretch passes.

In other words, Florida’s speed got the best of the Flyers all game long.      

Here are some more observations:

• This is just the third time since Dec. 4 the Flyers have lost as many as two games in a row. So far, the Flyers have been resilient, not letting a couple of bad games become something more.

• Penalties kept the Flyers from having any flow early in the game. The Flyers were whistled four times in the first period, and one of those – interference by Radko Gudas – led to a Florida goal.

In the second period, the only two calls went against the Flyers, again killing what little momentum the Flyers were able to sustain.    

• Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo got an assist before he picked up a save Sunday.

After Gudas was whistled for interfering with Panthers right winger Jamie McGinn, Florida took advantage just 47 seconds later. Luongo got the puck to Keith Yandle, whose stretch pass hit Aleksander Barkov led to the game’s first goal. Barkov, the Panthers’ All-Star center, was too fast to catch.

• Evgenii Dadonov scored the next two goals, and Jonathan Huberdeau made it 4-0 as the Panthers did all of that damage with their top two lines.

• The Flyers had a chance early. They had a lot of open ice for a 75-second span in the first period, when they were playing 4-on-3. The Flyers attempted four shots during that span but didn’t truly come close to a goal.

• Flyers goalie Petr Mrazek won his first three games since he was acquired one week before the trade deadline, but he has also lost his past three in a row. During the win streak, he allowed four goals in three games. During this skid, he has allowed 14 goals.

Flyers weekly observations: Claude Giroux's position, Chuck Fletcher's patience, more

Flyers weekly observations: Claude Giroux's position, Chuck Fletcher's patience, more

It was another fun week in Flyers Land.

From the hiring of Chuck Fletcher, his introduction, a new coach and actual hockey being played, these are busy — and changing — times for the organization.

Let's get into some observations:

• Claude Giroux is pretty versatile, huh?

In his first game back at center since the 2016-17 season, Giroux went off for four points (one goal, three assists) during the Flyers' 6-2 win Saturday over the Sabres.

Which, of course, created the inevitable question of should the Flyers keep Giroux in the middle?

The Flyers undoubtedly need more depth at center. With one point in his last 11 games, Nolan Patrick hasn't shown the playmaking ability everyone was looking for from the 20-year-old. Be patient, though, because Patrick can turn it on quickly.

Still, Sean Couturier centering Jakub Voracek and Wayne Simmonds on the second line would be intriguing, while James van Riemsdyk's game definitely goes to a different level next to a facilitator like Giroux.

However …

Giroux on the wing and Couturier at first-line center resulted in career years for both players during 2017-18. If it's not broke, don't fix it, right?

Allowing Giroux — who turns 31 in January — to play left winger keeps him fresher with a little less demand over the course of the season; he's already playing 20 minutes a night, which includes time on the power play and penalty kill.

When Couturier returns from a day-to-day lower-body injury, I'd expect Giroux to shift back to left winger. Patrick can make the decision easier on head coach Dave Hakstol by taking a step forward in December. If the 2017 second overall pick doesn't, Hakstol may have his hand forced.

• Just how patient will Fletcher be?

The whole dynamic is interesting because the Flyers' new general manager stressed the importance of getting to know the staff, the players, the duties of everyone and looking first to in-house solutions.

Then again, Flyers president Paul Holmgren and Comcast Spectacor chairman and CEO Dave Scott brought in Fletcher because there wasn't enough progress and action with a team that should be better.

If the trend below worsens, Fletcher won't watch and hope for the best — that's not why he was summoned by the Flyers.

There are already rumblings that the Flyers could be seriously active ahead of the Feb. 25 trade deadline. Scott made a point to mention that date two weeks ago and Fletcher won't sit back here.

• This past weekend was a prime example of why the goalie position is so critical.

In Saturday's win, the Flyers fell behind, 2-0, but stuck with their approach because Anthony Stolarz still provided timely saves to salvage the Flyers' confidence. As a result, the Flyers ripped off six unanswered goals for a resounding victory.

In Sunday's 7-1 loss, the Flyers actually outplayed the Jets until Winnipeg scored its third goal on Michal Neuvirth to make it a 3-1 contest 7:31 into the second period. The Flyers then changed their entire game, tried doing too much and it backfired in a hurry.

Get a big save and the game could be totally different. The Flyers don't get that nearly consistently enough because their situation in net is a mess.

For the most part, Fletcher had goalie stability in Minnesota and it would not surprise me at all if the position is his chief concern with the Flyers.

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If not Sergei Bobrovsky, which free agents should Flyers target?

If not Sergei Bobrovsky, which free agents should Flyers target?

Sunday’s report from SportsNet Canada’s Chris Johnson that the Flyers will take a run at Sergei Bobrovsky on July 1 (barring he’s still unsigned) certainly raised a few eyebrows around the hockey community in Philadelphia (see story).

Bobrovsky would command the largest contract ever for a Flyers goaltender and it could hamper the team from addressing other areas.

If you’re not too keen on the idea of the Flyers making a long-term commitment to Bobrovsky at $10-11 million per season, which could inevitably serve as a blockade to Carter Hart’s path to the NHL (much like the signing of Ilya Bryzgalov), then the Flyers could spend their free agent dollars elsewhere with other holes to fill.

Here’s a look at some potential options:

Mark Stone, RW (Ottawa Senators)

Even if defenseman Erik Karlsson hits the market on July 1, I wouldn’t be surprised in the least bit if Stone drew more interest from across the league. For one, the 26-year-old right wing is entering the prime years of his career having already produced four 20-goal seasons with the Senators. He’s smart, instinctive, quick, is rarely out of place on the ice and is versatile enough to play in every situation — including on the much-needed penalty kill.

Stone was in his final year of arbitration before ultimately agreeing to a one-year, $7.35-million contract with the Sens, who are clearly in a rebuild mode. Don’t be surprised if Stone is moved before the trade deadline as he will command quite a bit for any contending team. However, if the Flyers elect to move on from Wayne Simmonds, then there will be an opportunity to fill a void at right wing, where Stone would be a great fit.

Matt Duchene, C (Ottawa Senators)

I’m not convinced Nolan Patrick is ready to step up and be the No. 2 center the Flyers need — a player that can score 55-60 points a season. Senators top center Matt Duchene would be that guy. My guess is that the Senators retain either Duchene or Stone, but I certainly can’t envision a situation where they lock up both players. Duchene has produced six 20-goal seasons but struggled much like Nathan McKinnon when they were teammates in Colorado, and he’s not the most defensive-minded center with a plus/minus numbers that is reflective of that.  

Still, the 28-year-old Duchene is immensely talented as the Flyers found out when he scored a game-winner, batting a rebounded shot out of the air on the backhand side.

Semyon Varlamov, G (Colorado Avalanche)

I fully anticipate Sergei Bobrovsky to get six years and at least $60 million wherever he signs, and whether or not the Flyers feel Hart is ready next season or not, the team could still benefit from having an established veteran. There are very, very few solid goaltending options heading into next summer, but Varlamov is in the final season of a five-year, $29-million contract he inked in 2014. 

He bounced back from a disappointing 2016-17 season with a .920 save percentage is helping lead the Avs back to playoff contention. If you can get Varlamov on a two-to-three year deal, and you may have to overpay a little, then he could help stabilize the position until Hart is deemed ready.

Anton Stralman, D (Tampa Bay Lightning)

Karlsson will be the big ticket free agent defenseman, but you're paying a high premium for a marquee name while risking that Karlsson’s best years are already behind him. I thought Steve Yzerman’s signing of Stralman in the summer of 2014 was one of the more underrated moves by the Lightning GM in propelling the organization into one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference.

A much-coveted right-handed defenseman Stralman just goes out there and does his job and rarely puts his team in a position of weakness. He’s smart with his stick and uses it to his advantage, rarely commits penalties, and would be a perfect compliment to Ivan Provorov on the penalty kill. Stralman will be 33 next season, so teams will have to be cautious regarding the terms of his deal. Tampa would love to retain Stralman, but they have other commitments which will force them to make some tough decisions.

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