Flyers

Difficult to see now, but remember: Flyers’ window just starting to open

Difficult to see now, but remember: Flyers’ window just starting to open

They can’t win away from the Wells Fargo Center. They’ve seen a nine-point cushion in the wild-card standings vanish and when they resume play on Saturday, they’ll be out of the playoff picture.

The Flyers are who we thought they were. A fringe playoff team lacking in too many areas to be considered a serious contender, despite the overachievement of last season.

When the Flyers entered their bye week, they sat one point ahead of Carolina for the final wild-card spot and two points ahead of Florida and Ottawa. They are 3-8-3 in 14 games since their 10-game winning streak was snapped and were blown out in back-to-back games in Boston and Washington by a combined score of 11-3.

Yet, they’re still on the brink of the postseason — for now. Perhaps it’s time for a trade from the front office to send a shockwave through the locker room? Not so fast.

“If we can make our team better, we will,” Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said last week at Flyers Skate Zone in Voorhees, New Jersey. “But we’re staying on course.

“I don’t care if we win every game the rest of the year or lose every game, we’re staying on course. We set out on a course two and a half years ago — we’re not deviating from what we planned. I’m not going to make a trade to send a message.”

It’s easy to get carried away in win streaks and unexpected playoff appearances, especially in Philadelphia, where the four major sports teams are rebuilding. It’s even easier to scream for a team to go for it when it shows a glimpse into its full potential.

That is what makes sports fun. It’s what makes for good sports debate programs and entertaining talking heads. But it’s not how organizations should run their operations.

It’s certainly not how Hextall runs his regime with the Flyers. Hextall has a clear vision, and time and time again has shown no signs of expediting his plan for immediate help. He has made it a purpose to build through the draft. We have to remember that and realize that the Flyers’ front office is playing the long game here, not the short game.

“Right now, we’re gonna stick with what we’ve got here and move forward,” Hextall said Sunday in Washington. “But on a day-to-day basis, I always look at how we can make our club better, and if there’s something that we think makes our club better, we’ll do it.

“The worst thing you can do is overreact when things aren’t going right and that’s not gonna happen. But if we can find a way to make ourselves better, we will.”

Let’s take a step back and make some sense of the Flyers’ current state. They are seventh in the Eastern Conference with 50 points as of Tuesday morning. They are 8-12-3 on the road, with nine straight defeats away from South Philadelphia. They are a top-10 scoring team, with 127 goals, but have allowed a league-high 144 goals against.

Steve Mason’s confidence is completely shook. Michal Neuvirth hasn’t been much better, if at all. Claude Giroux hasn’t scored a goal in 11 games and has just one marker in his last 17 games. (To be fair, he does have seven assists in his last eight games.)

Shayne Gostisbehere has been a healthy scratch twice this season, with his latest coming last Saturday in Boston. He’s struggled with his gap defense, among other areas, and is enduring growing pains in his second NHL season — as expected.

While the Flyers’ defense has scored 102 points, second most in the NHL, it struggles with gaps, turnovers and has too many breakdowns. Ivan Provorov, 20, has been the lone bright spot among the group of eight defensemen.

Head coach Dave Hakstol has juggled his lines and defensive pairs in attempts to find something that works. Some of the moves have worked, others have not. Questioning some of Hakstol’s lineup decisions is fair, but there’s no question his systems work.

There is only so much Hakstol can do with what he has to work with. Part of the blame can be placed on Hextall because this team, as currently constructed, is not there yet. It is, however, unfair to put every decision Hakstol makes under a microscope.

“Hak has tried a lot of things,” Hextall said. “In the end, it’s a group and we win together, we lose together. We have to react as a group better when something doesn’t go our way. That’s bottom line. … Line changes, different D combinations, flipping Mase, Neuvy. Everything that’s there, Hak has tried. In the end it comes down to our whole group just being better and not reacting the way we do when something negative happens.”

One of the reasons Hextall opted to hire Hakstol, who came directly from college with no prior NHL coaching experience, is development. Growth takes time, and there is rhyme or reason behind each Hakstol benching, whether we see it or not.

The Flyers’ play the last few weeks has been dumbfounding because a lot of the same mistakes that plagued the team in the beginning of the season — lax team defensive coverage, bad decisions with the puck, letting opponents enter the zone too easily, among others — are reappearing, and that’s a fair criticism of the current coaching staff.

But, when we put things in perspective, there are positives. Provorov has proven he’s the real deal, and he just turned 20 last Friday. Travis Konecny is here, and while he’s been the victim of a Hakstol benching, he’s shown glimpses of what’s to come. Jakub Voracek (41 points) has bounced back, Wayne Simmonds is an All-Star and has added penalty kill to his résumé. Brayden Schenn leads the NHL in power-play goals with 11, though his 5-on-5 scoring could improve. And there’s a lot of upside in the farm system, with the potential of seeing an influx of kids joining the Flyers as early as next season. 

“The window is actually starting to open, the way I see it,” Hextall said last week. “The kids we have on our team. The kids we have coming. There’s things happening here that are good. We’re going to get better here. We’re not going to get worse.”

And Hextall is right — the window is just opening and will only open wider. Patience remains key here, and don’t just trust the process with the Flyers. Enjoy the course.

Senators' Brady Tkachuk fined maximum allowable amount for crosscheck on Flyers' Scott Laughton

Senators' Brady Tkachuk fined maximum allowable amount for crosscheck on Flyers' Scott Laughton

Suffice it to say Scott Laughton got the best of the Senators on Saturday afternoon at the Wells Fargo Center.

He was the first star in the Flyers' 4-3 victory, scored the game-winning goal during the third period, added an assist, stood up for his teammates and got under the skin of Ottawa forward Brady Tkachuk.

So much so that Tkachuk went after Laughton, crosschecking the 25-year-old forward in the back and jumping him during the final minute of regulation. The NHL reacted quickly to the play, fining Tkachuk $2,486.56, the maximum allowable under the CBA.

Following his third-period marker, Laughton had words for the Senators' bench. He was fired up, especially after Ottawa's hits on Travis Konecny and Joel Farabee, which led to some fights. Laughton could not partake in the dropping of the gloves because he recently returned following surgery on a broken finger, which is still healing.


I knew it was coming. It’s part of the game when you do that stuff and chirp the bench, you know it’s going to come. I just can’t drop my gloves right now with my finger and everything. I’ve got some padding there so once I do that, I guess it’s a penalty or something. That’s just the way it went.

- Laughton

But Laughton still had the backs of his teammates. He was physical throughout, especially after the first-period hits on Konecny and Farabee. He also allowed his game to do the talking.

Laughton has four goals in his last six contests and the Flyers are 6-1-1 since his return following a 13-game absence because of the finger injury.

Would Laughton have liked to fight?

"Yeah," he said.

He did plenty enough.

Tkachuk's crosscheck and check to the league are proof of Laughton's work.

 

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Multiple fights, a potential costly injury to Travis Konecny and a different kind of Flyers win over Senators

Multiple fights, a potential costly injury to Travis Konecny and a different kind of Flyers win over Senators

Updated: 4:22 p.m.

BOX SCORE 

The win was ugly.

But a really good one for the Flyers.

A lesser opponent tried to work them up, throw them off, and the Flyers still found a way to pull out a 4-3 decision over the Senators on Saturday afternoon at the Wells Fargo Center.

They did so while losing their best player during the first period and despite being outshot 30-21.

Scott Laughton was superb yet again with a multi-point game. He was physical when the game became physical and he scored the game-winning goal, his fourth marker in the last six games.

The Flyers (17-8-5) showed they can win when they’re far from their best, which is a good sign. They are 12-3-4 with 28 points since Nov. 1. The Capitals entered the day with an NHL-leading 28 points over that span.

The Senators (12-17-1) have lost six of their last seven games.

• The biggest storyline to come from Saturday’s game was Travis Konecny leaving the ice and never returning following a crushing hit by Mark Borowiecki in the first period.

The fights then broke out with Jakub Voracek and Joel Farabee doing the honors (see story).

The 22-year-old Konecny already had a goal in the game and has been arguably the Flyers’ most important piece to their turnaround through two months of this season.

Konecny was presumably getting checked for a concussion. If he were to miss any time, it would be a significant loss for the Flyers, who are 2-4-4 when Konecny goes scoreless in a game.

After the game, head coach Alain Vigneault said Konecny had an upper-body injury and the Flyers would have further updates Monday.

• Ivan Provorov kept on humming Saturday, matching his goal total of seven from last season by sending home a third-period missile to put the Flyers ahead 3-2 (see highlights).

The Flyers are 15-5-4 since Oct. 21. Over that stretch, Provorov has six goals, nine assists and a plus-10 mark.

• The Senators’ game-tying goal in the second period was an inexcusable one to give up by the Flyers. Carter Hart and Shayne Gostisbehere misread each other terribly, which allowed Anthony Duclair to swoop in for a shorthanded marker.

Both Hart and Gostisbehere need to be more aware in that situation.

The good news is Gostisbehere continues to push offensively and Hart has been awfully good since Nov. 1 — really, all season for that matter.

Gostisbehere has three goals in five games following a three-game benching. The 26-year-old defenseman had one goal in his previous 22 games.

Hart finished with 27 saves.

• Morgan Frost picked up his first point in eight games on Konecny’s goal.

Before the game, Vigneault expressed his confidence in the 20-year-old center who is centering the Flyers’ top line.

The 2017 first-round pick deserves some patience just like a lot of young players.

• Next week, the Flyers open a three-game road trip, which features matchups with the Avalanche on Wednesday (9:30 p.m. ET/NBCSN), the Wild on Saturday (7 p.m. ET/NBCSP) and the Jets on Sunday (5 p.m. ET/NBCSP+).

 

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