Flyers

Sharks 4, Flyers 3 (OT): Some good but pain still the same in loss

Sharks 4, Flyers 3 (OT): Some good but pain still the same in loss

BOX SCORE

The California Goal Rush of 2018 came to an end Saturday night.

The Flyers nearly completed their first-ever sweep of the Golden State before losing to the Sharks, 4-3, in overtime Saturday night. 

Which line stepped up offensively and how did Cal Pickard perform in his first start in over two weeks? Here are my observations from Saturday painful loss:

• James van Riemsdyk isn’t expected to return for another 10 to 14 days, but you can’t put him on one of the Flyers' top two lines, especially with how well the Oskar Lindblom-Nolan Patrick-Jakub Voracek combination has been clicking.

They seamlessly moved the puck through the neutral zone and were a step ahead of the Sharks' defense on their opening shift just 37 seconds into the game.

• Lindblom showing so much poise working behind the net in setting up Patrick for the game-winner in Anaheim, and he did it yet again when he feathered a pass to Voracek in the slot for the go-ahead goal late in the second period. The Flyers rookie is having a breakthrough road trip with five points and a plus-5 rating. However, he was seen hobbling in the final minute of regulation after blocking a shot.

• There was nothing revealing about Jori Lehtera’s injury as the Flyers' fourth-line center played two shifts, left and tried to return late in the first period. Lehtera eventually returned in the third period, but if he’s unavailable for Monday’s game in Arizona, I would expect Dave Hakstol to move Scott Laughton to the middle and bring in Tyrell Goulbourne to play left wing, giving the Flyers two rookies on that fourth line.

• Superstar defenseman Erik Karlsson was an absolute mess in this game. He flipped the puck over the glass for a delay of game penalty, was outmuscled by Nicolas Aube-Kubel along the boards and elected to make plays harder than they should have been. He was also outworked by Lindblom on the Flyers' third goal as the Sharks were in disarray defensively. Karlsson seems to have his struggles with Peter DeBoer’s structured system.

• Interesting decision from Hakstol to start Pickard given Brian Elliott’s success on this road trip. Perhaps it was a hunch, but there’s no passiveness to Pickard’s game. He had to come through with some very good saves in the first period, but he was also adventurous playing the puck. In one second-period sequence trying to clear the puck, he lost his stick and nearly gave up a goal. I’m still not convinced he can be a capable backup to Elliott as his positioning can be erratic at times. However, he had a very solid effort in making 31 saves.

• As expected, the Flyers surrendered yet another power-play goal, and an easy one at that as the Sharks moved the puck easily through the box and Joe Pavelski had a wide open net to shoot at, but they came up with some critical kills at key junctures of this road trip. They killed off a big power play against the Kings and did so once again when Radko Gudas was whistled for hooking.

• After trailing at some point in each of the first 11 games of the season, the Flyers have yet to play from behind in 180-plus minutes of this road trip.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Flyers

Grading the Flyers' goaltenders at the bye week

Grading the Flyers' goaltenders at the bye week

Throughout the bye week, we’ll break down the Flyers by position in assessing our midseason grades.

It’s been a season of goaltending unlike any other with a record number seven different netminders saw action in the first 43 games of the regular season. 

From a 33-year-old veteran to a 20-year-old rookie and everything in between, here are the seven goalies who have appeared in net for the Flyers through the midway point. 

Carter Hart

Grade: A-
Stats: 6-5-1, 2.66 GAA, .918 save percentage, 12 games

Hart is incredibly mature for a 20-year-old rookie who is quickly becoming the story of the season. His four victories lead all NHL goaltenders over the past 10 days coupled with a .932 save percentage over his last seven starts.

With Hart in net, the Flyers' penalty kill has operated at an 88 percent rate of success, not allowing more than one power-play goal in any of his 12 starts. If Hart continues to build upon his impressive NHL start, he might work his way in as a finalist for the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie.

Brian Elliott

Grade: B
Stats: 6-7-0, 2.59 GAA, .911 save percentage, 14 games

Provided a sense of stability to the position earlier in the season. The Flyers were 9-9-1 at the time of his injury and 10-14-5 since. Had Elliott stayed healthy, the Flyers very well could be knocking on the playoff door.

Take away the home opener against the Sharks, when the Flyers were a defensive mess, and Elliott has an impressive 2.14 GAA with a .951 save percentage in his other 13 appearances.

Anthony Stolarz

Grade: C-
Stats: 2-3-2, 3.90 GAA, .880 save percentage, 9 games

One of the few goaltenders whose numbers are not indicative of how well he’s played. Has shown a tremendous amount of mental fortitude working his way back from injury. Started with a solid relief appearance in Toronto, where he stopped 33 of 35 shots followed with impressive road victories at Buffalo and Pittsburgh.

Was counted on in early December to manage the bulk of the workload with six appearances in a 10-day stretch. If Stolarz can build up his game with the Phantoms over the remainder of this season, then he should be a viable option as a backup to Hart next season. 

Cal Pickard

Grade: D-
Stats: 4-2-2, 4.01 GAA, .863 save percentage, 11 games

A fringe NHL backup, Pickard was snatched off waivers from the Maple Leafs just prior to the season opener. With a 4-2-2 record in eight starts, Pickard has the highest points percentage (.750) of the seven different goalies who have appeared in a game this season.

Pickard’s best start came in a 31-save shutout Nov. 23 against the Rangers, to only follow that up with a disastrous game at Toronto, where he allowed four goals in 12 minutes. Too erratic in net and only steady enough for the occasional spot start.

Michal Neuvirth

Grade: F
Stats: 1-4-1, 4.27 GAA, .859 save percentage, 7 games

Has been an absolutely disastrous season for the 30-year-old free agent who may be playing his final season in the NHL. Can no longer be counted on to stay healthy or be a reliable backup moving forward.

How bad has it been for Neuvirth? Among NHL goalies with at least six starts this season, Neuvirth is 70th out of 71 goalies with an .859 save percentage, and among that group, his one win ties him with Mike McKenna for league low. Neuvirth’s one redeeming stat line — a perfect 4 for 4 in the shootout.

Mike McKenna

Grade: Incomplete
Stats: 0-1-1, 4.22 GAA, .833 save percentage, 1 game

Hard to judge based on one game in net. McKenna allowed four goals in his only start in Washington on Jan. 8. Should be interesting to see how long McKenna remains in Philadelphia with Neuvirth expected to return in the weeks following the All-Star break. 

Should see one of the two back-to-back games coming out of the break, either at home against Winnipeg or in New York. Like Pickard, a borderline NHL goalie who has hung around. McKenna’s only win this season came with the Senators against his current Flyers on Nov. 27.

Alex Lyon

Grade: Incomplete
Stats: 0-1-1, 5.08 GAA, .806 save percentage, 2 games

After filling in admirably during the 2017-18 season, Lyon appeared out of place during his one start in Buffalo, where he was pulled after four first-period goals. Didn’t look much better in his next appearance, replacing an injured Stolarz in Vancouver a month later.

Barring another onslaught of injuries, it’s doubtful that Lyon will see action with the Flyers again this season.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Flyers

The Flyers are starting to do some convincing with GM Chuck Fletcher

The Flyers are starting to do some convincing with GM Chuck Fletcher

There is something to be said for the Flyers playing better hockey.

Everyone begged and waited for progress. Finally, the Flyers are obliging.

They've won three straight games for just the second time this season, scoring 16 goals over the streak. They've won four of their last five after plodding through an eight-game losing skid in which they netted only 15 goals.

For the first time since New Year's Day, the Flyers are no longer in last place of the Metropolitan Division, thanks to a 5-2 win Saturday night over the Canadiens (see observations).

Rather inconveniently, the bye week is now here followed by the All-Star break, creating an eight-day hiatus for the Flyers. Which means general manager Chuck Fletcher will have ample time to sit on these good vibes and mull the bigger decisions ahead.

The problem for the Flyers, though, is this is not like years past. It's considerably too late and a small sample size of improvement won't change Fletcher's mind on 2018-19. Last season, the Flyers needed 98 points to squeak into the playoffs at Game 82. Over their final 34 games of this season, a 23-5-6 record (.765 points percentage) would get them to only 96 points.

If the Flyers can make anything of 2018-19, they'll be proving just about everyone wrong.

What the Flyers can convince Fletcher on is next season — how drastically to retool and how quickly things can turn around.

Upper management certainly isn't on board with a massive rebuild or restart. Flyers president Paul Holmgren and Comcast Spectacor chairman and CEO Dave Scott have already been through a process that became too stagnant for their liking.

Fletcher was brought in for progress. While this season spiraled into a lost cause, you can expect Fletcher is eyeing ways to make 2019-20 productive and meaningful, not another step back.

"We talked about the process and we think — all three of us believe — that this is a playoff team, a quality team," Fletcher said Dec. 5 at his introductory press conference, sitting between Holmgren and Scott. "We have to push it and get better immediately. But there's also the long term. You're trying to win in the present, you're trying to win in the long term. 

"There are obviously certain assets you're not going to sacrifice to win three extra games in one season. So, I think you have to be prudent about it, but they've given me full autonomy to make the hockey decisions I see fit. We talked about philosophy, and again, we all agree this is a good hockey team."

Fletcher is starting to see what could be next season, what can be used moving forward. 

Claude Giroux is still Claude Giroux.

Travis Konecny is beginning to find the back of the net like he did last season.

James van Riemsdyk has six markers in his last five games, playing like the 30-goal scorer the Flyers signed to a five-year, $35 million deal last July.

Nolan Patrick has looked like a No. 2 overall pick over his past three games, with highlight-reel skill, four goals and six points.

Shayne Gostisbehere is starting to display his offensive ability again.

And Carter Hart, at just 20 years old, is showing he can be the franchise goalie you build around.

For Fletcher, these developments are a positive. If only they came before the clock struck midnight on 2018-19, a season he had little chance to save.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Flyers