The shadow of last season starting to loom for Flyers

The shadow of last season starting to loom for Flyers

VOORHEES, N.J. — You don’t have to remind the Flyers that they’ve gone three straight games without a win — two of those losses at home to opponents (Panthers, Devils) who were last in their division at the time.

And the Flyers (9-9-2) certainly don’t need to be reminded this is the same exact point in the season a year ago when they went through a pummeling stretch of winless hockey with a 0-5-5 record from Nov. 11 to Dec. 2. 

The first 20 games of the season are a near carbon copy of what transpired a year ago when the team also had a .500 record at 8-8-4. The question moving forward is can the Flyers learn from last year’s mistakes and breakdowns that led to a 10-game winless stretch?

“We were in a big hole last year. We’re not in a big hole this year,” Jakub Voracek said Tuesday. “It could give us a little more confidence that we don’t have to chase as much as we did last year, but we have to find more consistency in our game.“

After taking the previous two days off — Sunday was the Flyers Wives Carnival and Monday was a designated day off — the Flyers returned to practice showing a little rust.

Dave Hakstol felt confident in what he’s seen over the past three games to keep the same line combinations during Tuesday's practice, including leaving James van Riemsdyk on the third line with Jordan Weal and Wayne Simmonds. Before Saturday’s five-goal performance, sparked by a remarkable four-goal outburst in the third period, the Flyers had gone 110:38 without a goal.

“We’ve generated more in those last three games than we have in the previous five games on average,” Hakstol said. “The opportunities are coming. We weren’t able to finish. We talked about different ways that we could do a little better, simple things, get guys to the net. Obviously, the most important thing is to finish on enough of those to put us in a good spot.”

In order to avoid the snowball from building and a potential fourth straight loss, the Flyers will have to derail a red-hot Buffalo Sabres team Wednesday that has won six straight games, all by one goal, during its longest winning streak in nine years. 

“They have a couple of new additions to their team and they’re working really well right now. It’s a dangerous group. It’s going to be tough for us,” Voracek said. “So far every game has been tough. It’s a 50/50 chance every single night. It’s been pretty even so far this year, but it’s going to start breaking down after about 45 games.

“You’re going to see a bigger picture of what’s going to happen down the road. It’s too early to judge right now.”

Lyon could see pair of starts

With three games compacted into four days over the Thanksgiving holiday, Alex Lyon is expected to receive one and possibly two starts this week. Lyon was the first goaltender off the ice during Tuesday’s practice as a sign that he could be called upon Wednesday night in Buffalo.

Lyon said there’s an NHL mindset he needs to work his way into whenever he receives the call up from Lehigh Valley.

“In the American League, you have from Sunday until Thursday typically to sit at your home and relax,” Lyon said. “Call a spade a spade, the stress level is a little bit less in the American League.” 

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Is Chuck Fletcher closer to making a trade after Flyers' loss to Canadiens?

Is Chuck Fletcher closer to making a trade after Flyers' loss to Canadiens?

MONTREAL — Chuck Fletcher spared himself from watching another first-period debacle.

The Flyers' general manager did not make the trip to Montreal for Thursday's 5-1 loss (see observations), perhaps tending to the “administrative” side of business with the NHL’s trade deadline now just days away and his team still in a holding pattern.

According to league sources, the majority of buyers looking for that blockbuster deal to boost their roster are all waiting for the Ottawa Senators to make the first move. The Sens have the two most highly coveted players in forwards Mark Stone and Matt Duchene, both of whom didn’t play Thursday night as a precautionary move.

Once those wheels are set into motion and both players are traded as anticipated, it’s expected the teams will start moving quickly toward their secondary plans and that’s where Fletcher, the Flyers and Wayne Simmonds all come into play. 

The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun believes the Bruins and Lightning have been the two front-runners for Simmonds, but over the course of the past few weeks, scouts apparently have been less than impressed with what they’ve seen out of the Flyers' power forward.

LeBrun tweeted that the Flyers were staying focused on the current playoff chase — one that has taken a severe beating this week as the team has lost back-to-back games in regulation for the first time since Jan. 7-8.

Now’s the time to reevaluate.

There could be some under-the-radar teams that nobody’s talking about. 

Arizona GM John Chayka was in Philadelphia this week, perhaps watching Simmonds firsthand. Chayka told The Athletic what needs the Coyotes have at this point: “I think it’s pretty obvious. Scoring and some help on the power play."

And Simmonds checks off both boxes.

However, following Thursday night’s loss, Simmonds has scored just one goal over his last 15 games, his longest stretch of scoring inefficiency this season even during a stretch when the Flyers' power play has been at its most effective.

It leaves you wondering if the buildup to the trade deadline and the uncertainty of his future are starting to wear on Simmonds just a little bit.

The Flyers now find themselves trailing the Carolina Hurricanes by seven points with 21 games remaining, and if they’re struggling to beat some of the teams also on the playoff cusp, then Fletcher must give serious thought to how the Flyers will fare next month when they embark on a stiff 12-game stretch against some of the league’s front-runners. 

The schedule only gets tougher and the Carter Hart adrenaline appears to be wearing off. That’s two straight starts in which Hart has been pulled in the first 10 minutes. Sooner or later, the Flyers' porous defense would eventually catch up with them, and now it has.

“We got scored on on two horrible neutral-zone forechecks,” interim head coach Scott Gordon said. “That set the tone for the game, and then after that, turnovers. There were obviously a lot of them. We didn’t give [Hart] a chance to get in the game.”

The Flyers are running out of moves. 

Another loss Saturday against the Penguins, and it’ll be time for Fletcher to make his.

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Canadiens 5, Flyers 1: Carter Hart benched for 2nd straight game

Canadiens 5, Flyers 1: Carter Hart benched for 2nd straight game


MONTREAL — The Flyers did everything they could to get out of Brendan Gallagher’s way.

Montreal’s pesky winger scored in the opening minute of Thursday night's game on his way to his first career hat trick.

The Flyers were dismantled by the Canadiens, 5-1, picking up their first road loss since Jan. 12.

Here are my observations from Bell Centre:

• How did the Flyers simply come out not prepared to play for a second straight game? In almost identical fashion, the Canadiens looked like the Lightning from Tuesday night as Montreal scored three times in the first 10 ½ minutes.

Defensively, the Flyers showed no resistance as the Canadiens ripped their way through the neutral zone. Their first three shots of the game were goal, crossbar and goal.

• Gallagher, No. 11 for the Canadiens, was an absolute beast, completing his hat trick in the first 23 minutes of the game. He simply outworked any and every Flyer on the ice. I’d like to think the Flyers have that player in their own No. 11, Travis Konecny, who also gets under the skin of the opposition. But Konecny doesn’t have that type of motor and relentless pursuit of the puck.

Gallagher has 22 even-strength goals. Flyers center Sean Couturier leads the team with 18.

• Philippe Myers wasn’t on the ice for any of Montreal’s five goals and had already eclipsed his playing time from his NHL debut by the midway point of the second period. After Travis Sanheim made a horrible read by stepping up, which led to a 2-on-1 and the Canadiens' second goal, interim head coach Scott Gordon elected to use Myers with Ivan Provorov for several shifts.

Already looking ahead to next season, Myers is the guy who should push to be on that top pair and looks more defensively refined than Sanheim is.

• I was stunned that Carter Hart has strung together two similar clunkers in back-to-back outings, being pulled for the second straight game. One has to wonder if mental, more so than physical, fatigue is starting to set in just a little bit. From my catwalk angle, you could see that Gallagher had a wide open left side of the net on the first goal and the third goal that Hart allowed was his worst of the season, by far.

• There were some discussions that maybe Gordon might look to Brian Elliott for the Stadium Series game, but considering that Hart has the new-look special pads and the specially-painted helmet, I just don’t see it happening. The Flyers wouldn’t be this close in the standings without the play of the 20-year-old Hart. Plus, NBC is planning on interviewing his parents at the outdoor game. Let’s not mess with a good storyline. 

• It was around this point of the season a year ago when Claude Giroux began to really assert himself as he went on a torrid pace that had him finish with 102 points. While Giroux wasn’t particularly bad in this game, the Flyers really need him to regain that elite level once again. With another scoreless game, Giroux has now gone four straight games without a point for the first time this season. 

• It might be time for Gordon to completely revamp his lines after this game. The James van Riemsdyk-Giroux-Konecny line hasn’t worked consistently for weeks now, and Gordon even swapped JVR with Michael Raffl just five minutes into the game. It may be time to revert back to that super line of Giroux, Couturier and Jakub Voracek.

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