Yet another change on Flyers' disappointing top line

Yet another change on Flyers' disappointing top line

VOORHEES, N.J. — Jakub Voracek’s self-assessment following Saturday’s 5-2 win over the Devils said a lot about the state of the Flyers right now.

"The first 39 minutes, I played like horses--t," Voracek said (see story). "You guys have got to watch the game a little bit more, you know what I mean? It's not only about points.”

To Voracek’s point, you can’t isolate on every player on every shift without the benefit of reviewing video and breaking down each player’s assignments. Even the players themselves don’t go to such time-consuming lengths.  

Against the Devils, Voracek was named the game’s first star following a three-point effort — a goal and a pair of assists — but the bigger question is what constitutes playing well? Voracek also mentioned he played good hockey over the past three games, but the puck just didn't go in.

To that, I would strongly disagree. 

Voracek was moved off the Flyers' top line after a subpar effort Thursday against the Blue Jackets in which Dave Hakstol called him out for his failure to backcheck on a 2-on-1 goal that tied the game at 2-2. Voracek also had his pocket picked by Oliver Bjorkstrand, leading to the Jackets' 6-2 goal, and as a result, he finished pointless with a minus-2 rating.

Voracek is just a spoke in an increasingly large wheel that could be sized onto a semi-trailer truck. Claude Giroux’s pass created that turnover in Columbus and led to a goal, and his blocked shot Monday night turned into a breakaway score by the Avalanche's Gabriel Landeskog and a 3-0 Colorado lead. Earlier, Sean Couturier failed to collapse on the penalty kill, which quickly turned into an easy tap-in power-play goal to open the scoring (see story).

Through the first nine games of the season, the Flyers' diagnosis is rather obvious. Their best and highest-paid players aren’t performing up to the standards they’ve set for themselves throughout their careers.

Defenseman Ivan Provorov has had a bumpy ride for the past two weeks either mishandling the puck or getting outmuscled along the boards, and after Monday's 4-1 loss to the Avalanche, Wayne Simmonds was asked how the top line could start producing more.

“Personally, myself, I’ve got to be better,” Simmonds said. “Those guys are great players and I’ve got to do a better job of loosening up pucks and things of that nature.”

Simmonds' two-game stint on the top line appears to be over. On Tuesday, the Flyers switched up that trio for a third time by reinserting Travis Konecny on the right wing, where he started for the first two games of the season. 

Right now, nothing seems to stick, whether it’s the top forward line or the top defense pair.

To sum up their contributions at even strength, Provorov, Shayne Gostisbehere, Simmonds, Giroux, Couturier and Voracek are a combined minus-23 this season. Through the first nine games a year ago, that same core group was a plus-20.

Who has been the team’s most consistent forward so far this season? Scott Laughton.

Which defenseman has steadily improved over the past few weeks? Travis Sanheim.

While you need guys like Laughton and Sanheim to step up as supplemental contributors, if they’re the Flyers' best players over the course of a long season, then this team is in serious trouble.

“Our chemistry hasn’t been great," general manager Ron Hextall said. "When you start seeing D pairs change and lines change, it’s because there’s no real chemistry there, and the chemistry comes with execution. I’m a pretty patient guy, but things need to start going better here.”

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2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs schedule: Flames look to avoid 2-game series deficit vs. Avalanche

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2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs schedule: Flames look to avoid 2-game series deficit vs. Avalanche

The NHL-best Lightning were shockingly swept by the Blue Jackets in the first round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The NHL's second-best team the Flames are in some first-round trouble, too. Calgary is facing a 2-1 series deficit against the Avalanche with Game 4 Wednesday night in Colorado.

Below is the full schedule for Day 8 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. You can watch the entire playoffs on the networks of NBC. 

Boston Bruins at Toronto Maple Leafs (TOR 2-1)
Game 4, Eastern Conference first round
7 p.m. ET | TV: NBCSN | Live stream here

Nashville Predators at Dallas Stars (NSH 2-1)
Game 4, Western Conference first round
8 p.m. ET | TV: USA | Live stream here

Calgary Flames at Colorado Avalanche (COL 2-1)
Game 4, Western Conference first round
10 p.m. ET | TV: NBCSN | Live stream here

Why Flyers did just fine with Alain Vigneault, not Joel Quenneville

Why Flyers did just fine with Alain Vigneault, not Joel Quenneville

It's uncertain how hard the Flyers went after Joel Quenneville or if the team was even in on the three-time Stanley Cup champion at all.

On the day Quenneville took the Panthers' head coaching job, Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher appeared unflappable when asked about his level of disappointment with the news.

"I'm happy for Joel," Fletcher said April 8. "We're less than 48 hours since the end of our season and the process of identifying the next head coach of the Flyers will start today. We'll start the process.

"He's not available. I'm not going to speculate on names or people that may be available or were available or were available in past years. It's a big decision for the Flyers."

Backup plan or not, Fletcher didn't do too shabby with his big decision, tabbing Alain Vigneault as the Flyers' new head coach. 

Maybe there's some short-term memory with the outside perception of the hire. When you see Vigneault's name, many think of his final days with the Rangers. After four winning seasons, New York fired Vigneault last April as the team was ready for a fresh approach following a 25-point drop-off.

Well, the same happened with Quenneville. While he experienced a much longer and more fruitful run of success in Chicago, the situation eventually grew sour to the point in which new direction was wanted. Quenneville was fired 15 games into this season after his worst year with the Blackhawks in 2017-18.

Vigneault is not Quenneville. But he's no slouch, either.

The Flyers needed a coach with experience and got one.

Vigneault has led three teams to the Presidents' Trophy and two to the Stanley Cup Final. In 16 seasons as an NHL head coach, 11 have featured playoff berths, with eight of those teams advancing past the first round (see 5 takeaways).

He owns three 50-win seasons and eight 100-point seasons. The Flyers haven't won 50 or more games in a season since 1985-86 and haven't amassed 100 or more points in a season since 2011-12, when they last won a playoff series (see story).

"I think his track record speaks for itself," Fletcher said Monday. "He's had success at the junior level, had success in the minor leagues, and he's had success in the NHL. You can't have success at all those levels unless you're good at developing players and good at connecting with veteran players. He's a guy that gets his teams to play hard and gets his players to buy in."

And for Fletcher, what likely made Vigneault such an attractive candidate is the head coach's track record in Year 1 on the job. At Vigneault's previous three stops (Canadiens, Canucks, Rangers), each of his first seasons resulted in playoff bids and at least one series win. Overall, his combined record in those seasons was 131-89-26 with a .585 points percentage.

"Right now, it's about trying to continue to build our group and become as competitive as quickly as we can," Fletcher said.

Quenneville was clearly set on South Florida.

It's also clear why that didn't break the Flyers' hearts.

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