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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Shorthanded Flyers can't keep up with Avalanche to begin road trip

Shorthanded Flyers can't keep up with Avalanche to begin road trip

BOX SCORE

From the moment it was announced that Oskar Lindblom would miss Wednesday night's game, the Flyers' chances at Pepsi Center felt bleak.

No Lindblom, no Travis Konecny and facing the NHL's highest-scoring team in its building was not a promising script for the Flyers, who lost to the Avalanche, 3-1.

In stretches this season, the Flyers have struggled to bury goals. And that has been with Lindblom and Konecny — their two leading goal-scorers at 11 apiece — in the lineup.

The Flyers (17-9-5) did some good things but Colorado finished plays behind its world class talent up top.

The Avalanche (20-8-3) are on an eight-game point streak (7-0-1) in which they've scored 4.13 goals per game.

• Without Konecny (concussion) and Lindblom (upper body), the Flyers had difficulty putting the puck in the net. They were going to have to put up some goals against the Avalanche, who entered scoring an NHL-best 3.70 goals per game. For the second time in the last three games, the Flyers scored only one goal.

The lone tally came from Claude Giroux when the Flyers were trailing 3-0 with just over five minutes remaining in regulation.

• Following a first period in which they survived, especially in the back half of it thanks to Carter Hart, the Flyers actually played a solid second period. At one point during the middle stanza, the Flyers were outshooting Colorado 11-0.

But as the Flyers kept pushing to no avail, the Avalanche changed the whole complexion of the period with one play by their two best weapons. Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen hooked up for a nasty marker to make it 2-0 with 3:55 left in the period, a deflating goal to allow for the Flyers.

Considering Colorado was 14-0-1 when leading after the middle period, the Flyers were in a serious hole, even after a hard-working period.

• Hart, who entered 8-2-2 with a 1.96 goals-against average and .928 save percentage over his last 12 starts, faced the Avalanche for the first time in his career.

He made a highlight-reel save and gave the Flyers a fighting chance in tough circumstances.

The 21-year-old has been impressive during the first period all season long, allowing the Flyers to find their legs and rhythm. He converted 12 of his 24 saves in the opening stanza against Colorado.

On the Avalanche's first-period goal, Scott Laughton won a defensive zone faceoff but the Flyers failed to clear the puck, resulting in Matt Calvert's tally.

Rantanen added his second goal early in the third period and that was pretty much the game.

Colorado goalie Pavel Francouz, who came in 5-0-1 with a 2.36 goals-against average and .926 save percentage over his last eight games (six starts), finished with 32 stops.

• When Philippe Myers (back spasms, day to day) is ready to return, Robert Hagg should be the odd man out on defense. Shayne Gostisbehere has found some of his offensive mojo and Myers has shown way too much promise to be sitting when healthy.

A stay-at-home guy like Hagg was far too noticeable against the Avalanche. He committed a penalty and was a minus-2 in 15:21 minutes.

• David Kase was summoned to Denver this morning to make his NHL debut and become the ninth rookie to play for the Flyers this season

The 22-year-old winger had a nice scoring chance and two shots in 7:47 minutes. 

• The Flyers head to the old stomping grounds of general manager Chuck Fletcher and assistant general manager Brent Flahr when they visit the Wild on Saturday (7 p.m. ET/NBCSP).

Fletcher was the GM in Minnesota from 2009 to 2018 and Flahr was his AGM from 2010 to 2018.

The Flyers have not lost consecutive games in regulation since Oct. 27-29.

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Flyers at Avalanche: Live stream, storylines, game time and more

Flyers at Avalanche: Live stream, storylines, game time and more

As one of the NHL's best teams since Nov. 1 (12-3-4, 28 points), the Flyers now face a new challenge.

Alain Vigneault's undermanned group begins a three-game road trip Wednesday as the Flyers (17-8-5) visit the Avalanche (19-8-3).

Let's get into the essentials:

When: 9:30 p.m. ET
Where: Pepsi Center
Broadcast: NBC Sports Network
Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com

• The Flyers are without Travis Konecny (concussion, out indefinitely), Oskar Lindblom (upper body, out tonight), Philippe Myers (back spasms, day to day), Michael Raffl (broken right pinkie finger, out approximately four weeks) and Nolan Patrick (migraine disorder, out indefinitely).

"Injuries are a part of a season. You have to expect it," Vigneault said Monday. "Then you need somebody else to step up."

More than ever this season, the Flyers will be looking to Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Sean Couturier, Kevin Hayes and James van Riemsdyk to produce among the forwards.

The Flyers are 10-2-1 when Hayes records a point and 9-1-0 when van Riemsdyk records a point.

• Not only are the Flyers severely shorthanded Wednesday night, but they're also facing the NHL's highest-scoring club. The Avalanche lead the league with 3.70 goals per game. Their top line of Nathan MacKinnon (47 points in 30 games), Mikko Rantanen (18 points in 14 games) and Gabriel Landeskog (nine points in 14 games) is scary.

"We know going into Colorado, we're going to have to be careful versus their top unit," Vigneault said Tuesday. "[Monday] night, they seemed to load up. That's one of the best lines in hockey."

• Carter Hart will face the Avalanche for the first time in his career.

The 21-year-old goalie is 8-2-2 with a 1.96 goals-against average and .928 save percentage over his last 12 starts.

Projected lineup

Forwards

Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
James van Riemsdyk-Morgan Frost-Tyler Pitlick
Scott Laughton-Kevin Hayes-Joel Farabee
David Kase-Mikhail Vorobyev-Chris Stewart

Defensemen

Ivan Provorov-Matt Niskanen
Travis Sanheim-Justin Braun
Shayne Gostisbehere-Robert Hagg

Goalies

Carter Hart
Brian Elliott

 

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