Flyers

Radko Gudas discovered this week just how soft the NHL has become

Radko Gudas discovered this week just how soft the NHL has become

Flyers radio color commentator Steve Coates labeled Thursday’s scoreless first period between the Flyers and Stars as “nondescript” hockey.

Welcome to the new NHL, the Nondescript Hockey League.  

The NHL’s regular season is evolving into a product that looks more and more like an amplified version of an All-Star Game with a lot of skating and shooting and very little checking.

“Either with the puck or without the puck, I don’t know if there was a hit thrown by either team in that first period,” Stars head coach Jim Montgomery said, describing the first 20 minutes of the Flyers' 2-1 win.

Interestingly, according to the official stat keepers, somehow the Flyers and Stars managed to register 12 first-period hits between the two teams, which started with Travis Konecny bumping Esa Lindell just six seconds after the opening face-off.

As fighting has been almost entirely phased out of the game over the past ten years, one can only wonder if hitting and checking is following a similar trajectory. Apparently, we’ve now reached a point where just the definition of a hit, especially a clean one, isn’t so clear cut any longer.  

“I don’t know what to say, that’s just the way the league is right now. Every hit, everybody thinks it’s dirty right now,” Flyers defenseman Radko Gudas said. “When I was coming into the league it was way different. Guys were hitting everywhere. That’s a really big change in the sport now.”

While the line for what constitutes a clean play from a dirty one has clearly moved toward the direction of making the game safer, Gudas discovered this week that those legal hits according to the rulebook are now no longer tolerable across the league. 

Monday against the Blues, Gudas leveled Alex Steen, knocking him out of the game and leaving the benches to chirp back and forth about the physicality of Gudas’s play.

“I hit Steen at center ice and guys are going after me,” Gudas said. “There’s no hits in the center ice anymore.”

The following night in Washington, Gudas executed a perfectly timed hip check against Capitals center Travis Boyd early in the third period. Moments later, Gudas was immediately jumped by Devante Smith-Pelly, and the two bruisers dropped the gloves and settled their differences. 

Yes, we’ve entered an era in pro hockey where the tolerance level for physical play is now at a level that amounts to being grazed or nudged. Having spent the past nine-plus seasons in the American Hockey League, Flyers coach Scott Gordon believes the standard has been set years ago in the AHL, where guys once sacrificed everything to prove they were NHL-worthy. 

“The way it is now, a hard hit is almost unacceptable by the opposition,” Gordon said.  “Unfortunately, the way players are now, they don’t expect the big hits because they’re too far, few and in between. Because of the pace of the game, it’s nowhere near where it used to be. The game is so much faster. You can skate hard all the way and get there, and next thing you know, it’s now a late hit.”

Some believe it’s a 25-year evolution of the NHL’s instigator rule that was put into effect in the early 90s. 

Others point to concussions to Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby, and most notably Brandon Manning driving Connor McDavid into the boards in 2015 — which led to McDavid's broken collarbone — as the turning point to where we are now.  

Either way, who initiates the hitting and who deserves to be hit seems to be a touchy subject in today’s touchy-feely game. 

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NHL playoff picture: Breaking down Flyers’ grim chances

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NHL playoff picture: Breaking down Flyers’ grim chances

It was a game the Flyers absolutely needed to have. With the Canadiens directly above them in the standings, the Flyers missed out on a golden opportunity to close the gap between themselves and the Columbus Blue Jackets, who occupy the second wild card spot in the standings.    

A week ago, the Flyers trailed the Blue Jackets by just three points in the standings. Now the margin is six back with nine games remaining for both teams. However, by not holding the tiebreaker of regulation/overtime wins the Flyers actually need to make up seven points in the standings.

Wild-card standings

Carolina      40-25-7 — 87 points, 10 GR, 38 ROW
Columbus   40-29-4 — 84 points, 9 GR, 39 ROW
———
Montreal     38-28-7 — 83 points, 9 GR, 35 ROW
Flyers          34-29-8 — 78 points, 9 GR, 32 ROW

Tuesday’s Games

PHI — L 3-1 vs. Montreal
CAR — W 3-2 (SO) vs. Pittsburgh
CBJ — L 4-2 at Calgary

• The Flyers scored less than two goals for the first time since Feb. 21 against the same Canadiens in Montreal. Right now, those two regulation losses against the Habs are the difference in the standings and being just two points out of the wild card.

• Former Flyer Justin Williams scored the game-tying goal with 1:56 remaining in regulation and defenseman Dougie Hamilton connected in the shootout as the Hurricanes move closer to ending the NHL’s longest playoff drought.
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• South Jersey’s Johnny Gaudreau scored his 35th goal of the season as the Blue Jackets began their three-game Western Canada road trip.

What are the odds? 

According to Sports Club Stats, the Flyers’ playoff odds dipped below one percent to 0.7, down from 2.6 after their thrilling overtime win in Pittsburgh.

The website Money Puck has the Flyers odds at the same, however, they’ve increased their chances of winning the NHL Draft Lottery at 2.3 percent. 

What lies ahead? 

All four teams listed above return to action on Thursday.

The Flyers travel to Chicago to face the Blackhawks who had won five straight before a 3-2 loss to Vancouver Monday night.  

The Canadiens host the New York Islanders, while the Blue Jackets travel north to face the Edmonton Oilers.

Carolina takes on Tampa Bay. The Lightning just clinched the President’s Trophy with the best record in the regular season.

Strength of schedule

According to PlayoffStatus.com, the Flyers’ schedule gets a little easier with games against the Maple Leafs and Penguins behind them. Philadelphia now has the 10th toughest schedule down the stretch with seven of their nine games against teams with better records.

• Blue Jackets — 9th
• Canadiens — 13th
• Hurricanes — 21st

Columbus still has a ton of miles to log with six of their remaining nine games on the road. Montreal has an extremely tough closing schedule as they play their last four games at Winnipeg, vs. Tampa Bay, at Washington and the finale against Toronto.   

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'Going through the motions' when Flyers can't afford it

'Going through the motions' when Flyers can't afford it

Carter Hart is a positive, happy-go-lucky kind of kid. His youthful exuberance is why so many people like him. The 20-year-old will block out negativity like a brick wall.

Props to the youngster for not expressing even an inkling of lost hope after the Flyers stomached arguably their most disheartening defeat of 2018-19.

On home ice Tuesday night, the Flyers lost to the Canadiens, 3-1, a team they're trying to leapfrog in their pursuit of the Eastern Conference's second wild-card spot (see observations). With 10 games remaining, the Flyers trailed Montreal by three points and the final playoff berth by six. They needed this game and didn't get it, leaving a climb that feels insurmountable (see standings).

"Have they said that we're automatically out, have they said that?" Hart asked rather rhetorically following the game. "Then exactly, we still have nine games here and mathematically, we're not out of it, so there's still a chance. That's what the mindset has to be in this locker room."

Claude Giroux is not 20 years old. He is 31 and has seen more playoff pushes than anybody on the Flyers' roster. As much as he could try to spin the situation differently, he's too accustomed to desperation time.

"We can't afford losing a game the rest of the season," Giroux said. "We're aware of that."

The Flyers probably can't afford a bad period at this point.

On Fan Appreciation Night at the Wells Fargo Center, the Flyers didn't set the tone, playing a so-so opening stanza. They fell behind, 1-0, and had trouble generating chances with eight shots on net, not many of great quality, according to IcyData.

"I feel we didn't have a lot of urgency, we were going through the motions," Giroux said of the first period. "We didn't play bad, but we didn't play good."

Was that surprising given the implications of the game?

"Yeah," Giroux said.

It's understandable to have a not-bad, not-good period, but not when the Flyers have provided themselves so little room for error. For the Flyers — who made such a frenzied charge from Jan. 14 to March 11, going 18-4-2 with a plus-22 goal differential — their biggest hurdle isn't getting help from others, but instead having to be perfect down the stretch. They're now 1-3-0 in their last four games.

The Canadiens, who were 2-5-0 and outscored 24-12 in their previous seven games, held a 2-0 lead at second intermission Tuesday. Their goalie Carey Price came in with a 19-2-2 record and 2.13 goals-against average when leading after the second period.

Another hole in a season comprised of too many.

"I think our guys were ready to play," Flyers interim head coach Scott Gordon said.

"Obviously we would've liked to get a few more screens, but I also think [the Canadiens] worked pretty hard at preventing us from getting near … whether we need a little more fight or not, I wouldn't be able to tell you until I saw the tape. 

"I know that I did look at the chances after the first and second period — we're in the area but we can't get to where we want to go."

The same can be said for the Flyers in the standings.

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