Flyers' improved defensive effort pays off in win over Canadiens

Flyers' improved defensive effort pays off in win over Canadiens


A couple days after getting their doors blown off by the Hurricanes in Carolina, the Flyers settled into something that usually gets teams right back to winning hockey.
A tight-checking, strong defensive game all-around where the stat of the night isn’t how many turnovers cost you goals but how many goals you prevented by limiting shots.
The Flyers held the Montreal Canadiens to a season-low 16 shots — and fewest allowed by the Flyers, as well — during a 3-1 victory at the Wells Fargo Center on Thursday that kickstarted a crucial five-game homestand (see Instant Replay).
“We did a good job for 60 minutes just playing some tight hockey, a solid two-way game where we didn’t give up a whole lot,” Sean Couturier said. “We limited turnovers and had pressure in their end. It’s the type of game we want to do on Saturday [against Los Angeles].”
Couturier’s checking unit with Nick Cousins and Matt Read set the example by holding the Habs' top line to just three shots — two from Max Pacioretty, none from Phillip Danault and one from Alexander Radulov.
They also scored two goals, making their task even sweeter. Read had the game-winner with  a canon shot from the right circle that surely fooled goalie Carey Price. It was his first goal in 27 games and it broke a 1-1 tie at 3:32 of the final period.
Where has that shot been all season?
“All the way around, it was a pretty good play, a speed play,” coach Dave Hakstol said. “Reader can shoot the puck.
“Sometimes when the puck is not going in the net, you have a tendency to shoot it less, even. Hopefully, one going in for him and he’s going to get that shooter’s instinct back.”
Also impressive was goalie Michal Neuvirth, who has looked strong in his last two starts.
Nothing Neuvirth could have done on Nikita Nesterov’s point-shot goal 4:51 into the period, as he was completely screened.
What made that play work was Habs defenseman Andrei Markov sealing off Jakub Voracek along the boards, so Alex Galchenyuk could whip the puck across the blue line to Nesterov. Little things like that tend to mean a lot.
Overall, it was a pretty dull, uneventful period for the Flyers, which was an improvement over being outskated and outplayed, which occurred in Carolina on Tuesday.
“This was what we needed because it’s what the back half of the year is going to be like,” Wayne Simmonds said. “We played our worst game of the year in Carolina and needed to atone. Tonight was a good start. 
“We got back to playing the way we were before the [All-Star] break and have to continue to play this way.”
Things get tight this time of year, as teams prep for the playoffs.
“It’s going to go down to the wire, so it’s going to kind of be playoff hockey,” Mark Streit said. “We just need to keep it simple and play north, get pucks in and go to work.
“Once we’re in their end, we can grind them out and create and we had some really good offensive zone time, especially in the second. It tires the other team out if you don’t have to defend. You play in their end and you are so much fresher in the end.”
Neuvirth kept it 1-0 as he made a glove stop on Jacob De La Rose’s breakaway in the second period, and then had a clutch save on Paul Byron in the third and then sealed the post on his follow-up to keep it that way.
“That’s a pretty good team over there,” Neuvirth said. “We didn’t give them much. It felt like we were playing playoff hockey. We played great defensively and waited for our chances.”
His save on De La Rose was critical because the Flyers tied it up late with a power-play goal from Claude Giroux. His shot deflected off Markov’s stick, then off Price’s glove at 17:50 to make it 1-1.
“We went back to playing the way we know we can, we did a good job of battling tonight and playing as a team,” Giroux said.  
“It was a real team win. One of those games where things were clicking, guys were focused and we were sharp.”
In the final period, Read fired a shot that, most times, Price handles easily but not this night.
“Yeah, he got it on a little bit of a knuckler,” Price said. “He put it in a good spot, right in the top corner, it was a really good shot.”

Nolan Patrick selected as No. 1 breakout player for 2018-19 by NHL Network

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Nolan Patrick selected as No. 1 breakout player for 2018-19 by NHL Network

Nolan Patrick's rookie season can be split into two halves, but his performance down the stretch has caught the attention of one national pundit.

NHL Network analyst Mike Johnson, who played 12 years in the league, selected Patrick as his No. 1 breakout player for the 2018-19 season during Friday night's "NHL Tonight."

Johnson scored 375 points in 661 NHL games from 1996-2008 and last played in the league during the 2007-08 campaign with the St. Louis Blues.

Behind Johnson's reasoning for picking Patrick as his No. 1 breakout player was the Flyers' center's two-way instincts, ability to finish, size and a full summer of training ahead of him.

"We know his injury history, his lack of proper training, his lack of ability to hit the gym properly," Johnson said, "and he's still strong on the wall. That's only going to get better as he matures physically."

For what it's worth, Connor McDavid was NHL Network's No. 1 breakout candidate for the 2017-18 season — that was a bit of a softball.

As for Patrick, the center joined "NHL Tonight" on Friday to discuss the honor and also provide an update on how his summer is going.

"Coming off that surgery last year," Patrick said, "I had a slow start. It took a while to get my body back to where I wanted it to be. I missed two summers of training. It's been the first summer for me in a while that I've been back in the gym."

Patrick, the No. 2 overall pick in 2017, finished with 13 goals and 30 points in 73 regular-season games. He missed nine games in October and November because of a concussion and spent most of the first half of the season getting his mobility back after undergoing offseason abdominal surgery. In fact, he's lost his past two summers of training because of surgery.

Prior to his final junior season and his draft year, Patrick underwent sports hernia surgery. Then 10 days before the Flyers drafted him, he went under the knife again.

Now he's fully healthy and has a full summer of training.

"First time I can get after it," Patrick said during the team's exit interviews in April (see story). "It's going to be a big summer for me. I'm not satisfied with how the year was or how my year was, so I'm looking to take big steps here."

Once Patrick began feeling healthier, he started getting a bigger role with the Flyers. He was elevated to the team's second-line center and stuck. He also found a role on the power play.

The 19-year-old posted 17 points in the final 25 games, which translates to a respectable 0.68 points per game clip and 55 points over an 82-game schedule. Not too bad for a rookie who couldn't actually train during his previous two offseasons.

"My coaches pushed me throughout the year. Then they gave me more opportunity," Patrick told the NHL Network. "Jake Voracek was huge for me. He thinks the game so well. The puck protection that guy has, you just got to get open for him.

"I think my body also just felt better as the year went on. I kind of took a while to get my skating legs there, so I think in the second half, I had a little more pep in my step."

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End to End: What is Ron Hextall's next big signing?

End to End: What is Ron Hextall's next big signing?

Going End to End today are NBC Sports Philadelphia's John Boruk, Tom Dougherty and Jordan Hall.

The topic: What is Ron Hextall's next big signing?

There are three ways to look at this …

1. The Flyers re-sign Wayne Simmonds, who's eligible for an extension that would take effect in 2019-20.

2. Ron Hextall inks one of his restricted free agents to a team-friendly, lengthy multi-year deal.

3. The Flyers go big in free agency next summer. 

Let’s start with the latter. There are some interesting names that are headlining next summer’s potential UFA class: Tyler Seguin, Tyler Myers, Matt Duchene and Artemi Panarin. 

Who knows which of these players will be re-signed or traded, but I don’t see the Flyers paying big dollars to add another forward now that you include James van Riemsdyk. According to, the Flyers have $46.5 million (fourth highest in the NHL) committed to forwards, with Travis Konecny due for a pay raise next summer, as well.

With that knowledge, I’m not sure it makes sense for the Flyers to extend Simmonds another four to five years with an AAV of $6-7 million. Hextall has a good barometer of what Simmonds is worth on the open market, which is why term would be the sticking point in negotiations. If he’s willing to look at a three-year deal, it could get done soon, but if I’m Simmonds' agent, I’m trying to maximize the length of any new contract, which very well could be the last one his client signs.

I think the next big contract will be signed by defenseman Ivan Provorov, who’s entering the final year of his entry-level deal. It’s not out of the financial realm to think Provorov could sign a Drew Doughty-type bridge deal similar to the eight-year, $56 million pact the Kings' defenseman signed in 2011 at the age of 21. Doughty was coming off a monstrous 16-goal, 59-point season. Last season, Provorov ripped off 17 goals and 41 points and appears poised to build on that for this upcoming season.

Prepare yourself. Provorov will receive the next big pay day in Philadelphia.

Outside of teaching the Sixers and Phillies how to close a deal, Hextall's only item left on his offseason to-do list is to re-sign restricted free agent Robert Hagg.

During his end-of-season-news conference in April, Hextall said "initially, my thought right now is that we would be open to either long term or short term" with Hagg.

Whether Hagg qualifies as a "big signing" isn't really up for debate. It's not. Hagg is a quality third pair defenseman in the NHL and he proved as much in his rookie season.

But re-signing Hagg is the only move left I envision Hextall making this summer, or at the very least, the next move. A Provorov or Simmonds extension remains possible too.

As Hextall mentioned, the Flyers are open to either a short or long-term deal with Hagg. Both have their upside. That is also likely the holdup right now.

While Hagg wouldn't qualify as a "big" signing, he is next on the checklist. Once his contract is out of the way, then I could see the Flyers knocking out Provorov or Simmonds.

Hextall tends to get ahead and take care of his own.

When you look at the track record, he's not one to let contract decisions linger, especially when it comes to his core pieces — which makes for good business.

Just like in any profession, stability and happiness are important.

The Flyers' general manager extended Jakub Voracek and Sean Couturier the summer prior to their contract years. 

He signed Shayne Gostisbehere, a restricted free agent last summer, in early June before the expansion draft and free agency opened. 

He even signed Michael Raffl in February 2016 before the role forward was set to become an unrestricted free agent at season's end.

With all that said, my gut tells me Hextall's next big move is extending Simmonds at some point before the start of the season. Simmonds, coming off an injury-ravaged year in which he still managed to score 24 goals, can hit unrestricted free agency following the 2018-19 season. He wants to be back and Hextall values him greatly.

And the GM made it clear that when the Flyers signed van Riemsdyk to a five-year deal, it meant nothing to their situation with Simmonds.

"We like Wayne Simmonds," Hextall said July 1. "This doesn't change anything for Wayne. This is a left winger; this is a different player than Simmer. We're excited to have James, and certainly, we would like to have Simmer for a long time, too."

I expect that to be the next major check on the agenda.

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