Scott Gordon is making the Flyers fun again

Scott Gordon is making the Flyers fun again

NEW YORK — Radko Gudas wrapped up his buddy Michal Neuvirth in a massive bear hug.

Neuvirth, all smiles, then walked past Nolan Patrick and said, "I knew you would score." 

Not long after, Michael Raffl joked about his line with Patrick and Scott Laughton being the one that bickers the most on the bench.

This was fun.

The Flyers were enjoying themselves on the night before Christmas Eve following a tumultuous four weeks filled with firings and new hires. The Flyers took to Madison Square Garden and beat the Rangers, 3-2, in a shootout Sunday, improving to 3-1-0 under interim head coach Scott Gordon before the NHL-mandated three-day holiday break (see observations).

Patrick scored the only tally in the shootout, huge for the 20-year-old who has two points in his last 18 games but looks confident on the third unit. 

"Since our line has been put together, we've been really good in both ends of the rink," Patrick said. "Obviously, all you guys look at is production, but other than that, we've had our chances."

Neuvirth made the shootout tally stand as the winner by stopping all four shots in the skills competition and converting 32 saves. The oft-injured goalie had allowed nine goals in just 1½ games this season entering Sunday, while fans are abuzz over 20-year-old goalie of the future Carter Hart.

That doesn't bother the 30-year-old Neuvirth in the final year of a two-year contract. 

Raffl said Neuvirth has been the "best" teammate and that you never hear him complain.

"Just trying to enjoy every day, work hard and see what happens," Neuvirth said.

"Hartsy is playing unreal, I really like his game. He reminds me a little bit of myself when I was 20. He's a really good kid, he works hard and he's going to be a hell of a goalie."

Raffl, who scored his first goal since the 2017-18 regular-season finale, has always had chemistry with Laughton and is now building it with Patrick.

It doesn't matter how they do it.

"We're probably the line that fights out there the most with each other on the bench," Raffl said with a smile. "Some ridiculous stuff going on, I can't even tell you guys. We're good, it's mostly little stuff — we laugh about it after.

"We've got to keep pushing in that direction because it's been a lot of fun, honestly. We've got some good goaltending and been performing as a team.

"It was very enjoyable."

Gordon deserves a lot of credit for breathing new life into the Flyers. Taking over a team dealing with all sorts of pressure, losing its general manager, its assistant general manager, its head coach and an assistant coach, is a unique challenge.

But the Flyers are responding well to Gordon, who was a positive influence as the head coach of AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley. 

"We've talked about discipline, we've talked about changes, we've talked about managing the puck," Gordon said. "Tonight was probably the worst we've managed the puck, but we still found a way to bring the energy and the effort."

And that has been key under Gordon. Mistakes aren't compounding. It seemed like with the crazy drama during the first two and a half months, they always did.

Not now.

"You keep reminding the players that there was no magic that happened when I came in here," Gordon said. "The magic came from them, they're the ones that are creating an identity that they have to live by."

The Flyers are having fun again.

The fans are, too.

Merry Christmas, indeed.

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If Alain Vigneault can't work his magic with Flyers' roster, pressure mounts for Chuck Fletcher

If Alain Vigneault can't work his magic with Flyers' roster, pressure mounts for Chuck Fletcher

Chuck Fletcher was brought in because things weren't going well enough and quickly enough for the Flyers.

The predicament he inherited required eventual change.

After all, sitting alongside team president Paul Holmgren back in November, Comcast Spectacor chairman and CEO Dave Scott said the Flyers were eyeing a general manager with a "bias for action," among other qualities.

With time and evaluation, Fletcher has begun providing the desired action.

A new head coach is on board, bringing extensive experience and outside perspective, while two new assistants with strong pedigrees have been hired.

But perhaps the most influential part in shifting the Flyers' course has remained mostly intact: the roster. That could drastically change this upcoming offseason with free agency and potential trades. However, Fletcher, facing his first offseason as the Flyers' GM, doesn't see an exodus needed with the current roster — or at least not yet.

"The Flyers are a great opportunity. You guys are in this market, for me coming in from the outside, I know when Paul Holmgren approached me about being the general manager of the Flyers, I'm like, 'Wow.' This is a premium job in the National Hockey League and we're set up where we should have an opportunity to get better quickly," Fletcher said April 18. "I know we need more good players, but we have a lot of good players. It's not like you have to gut this thing — we have cap space, we have picks. We have really good staff, really good staff. On the scouting and management side, I've added one person, I haven't subtracted anything. There's a good group here and we have the ability to get better quickly if we all do our job."

Therein lies a poignant and undeniable pressure on Fletcher in Year 1 with the Flyers under Alain Vigneault's watch.

Aside from Wayne Simmonds, who became an inevitable piece to move given the circumstances, the Flyers' core has survived. So, too, has the overall makeup of the roster.

Fletcher, Vigneault and the Flyers believe this team can win with a refined system and different guidance. They don't exactly see a team that has missed the playoffs every other season since 2012-13, a stretch consisting of three first-round exits.

Will Fletcher add this summer? Of course — the ability to do so is one of the reasons why Vigneault found the Flyers as an attractive destination. When Fletcher was hiring Vigneault, the two established a list of areas in which the Flyers can improve.

"We're looking at some options and if we can put the right things in place," Vigneault said at his introduction, "it's going to be a lot of fun."

Significant subtraction was not featured on the list.

"There's some solid youth with a lot of upside here that is coming into its own," Vigneault said. "There's great goaltending, being one of those youth pieces. There's a solid core group that, in my mind, needs the right direction. And you've got the combination, also, of some solid veteran players that have been in the league a few years, that can still contribute at a high level in this league. … After discussing it with a lot of people that I respect their opinion in the NHL, I feel that the Flyers are a very good team that with the proper direction, proper mindset, proper culture and people working together, will be a very good team in the near future."

That's why Year 1 will be so telling.

Vigneault is a coach with a tremendous track record of winning during his first season on the job. He did so at three separate stops (see story). Michel Therrien has 38 postseason victories under his belt as a head coach and took a team to the Stanley Cup Final. Mike Yeo owns three playoff series victories as a head coach and has a ring as an assistant.

If this group can't produce the results with the Flyers' roster, Fletcher will have to take a longer, much more serious look at the players in place and make his hardest decisions yet.

At that point, it may be the only action left.

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2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs schedule, live stream: More drama ahead for Sharks-Blues Western Conference Final?

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2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs schedule, live stream: More drama ahead for Sharks-Blues Western Conference Final?

There has been a ton of drama only three games into the Western Conference Final between the Sharks and Blues.

Game 3 was won by the Sharks, 5-4, in overtime, but not without controversy. San Jose may have gotten away with a hand pass on the game-winning goal.

The series will shift one way or the other Friday night with Game 4.

Below is the schedule for Day 37 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. You can watch the entire playoffs on the networks of NBC. 

San Jose Sharks at St. Louis Blues (SJS 2-1)
Game 4, Western Conference Final
8 p.m. ET | TV: NBCSN | Live stream here