Los Angeles Kings

Both teams in wild-card spots keep close to Flyers

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Both teams in wild-card spots keep close to Flyers

LOS ANGELES — Keith Kincaid stopped 38 saves for his first shutout of the season, helping the New Jersey Devils improve their playoff positioning with a 3-0 win over the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday.

Michael Grabner, Nico Hischier and Miles Wood each scored for the Devils, who moved into third place in the Metropolitan Division. New Jersey leads Philadelphia and Columbus by one point with both the Flyers and Blue Jackets playing later.

The Devils have won three in a row and four of five.

Jonathan Quick made 25 saves for the Kings, who are tied with Anaheim for third in the Pacific (see full recap).

Nutivaara's second-period goal lifts Columbus past Ottawa
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Markus Nutivaara scored a power-play goal in the second period, Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 22 shots, and the Columbus Blue Jackets beat the Ottawa Senators 2-1 on Saturday night.

Boone Jenner also scored -- his third tally in three games -- for the Blue Jackets, who have won a season-high seven straight and are holding on to the first wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference with 83 points, tied with Philadelphia and one point ahead of New Jersey.

Alexandre Burrows scored his fifth of the year and Mike Condon stopped 33 shots for Ottawa, which saw a three-game winning streak snapped on the second night of a back-to-back (see full recap).

McDavid's 3 points get Oilers past Panthers
SUNRISE, Fla. — Connor McDavid had a goal and two assists in the third period and the Edmonton Oilers rallied for a 4-2 victory over the Florida Panthers on Saturday.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Ty Rattie and Adam Larsson also scored for the Oilers, who are 4-1-1 in their past six games.

Cam Talbot made 40 saves for the Oilers.

Frank Vatrano and Vincent Trocheck scored for Florida.

Roberto Luongo made 32 saves for the Panthers, who lost for the first time this season when leading after two periods (23-1).

With Edmonton trailing 2-1, McDavid scored his 34th on a shot from the right circle 38 seconds into the third period, and Larsson's fourth of the season at 6:13 gave Edmonton the 3-2 lead (see full recap).

Brian Elliott's case for Flyers MVP

Brian Elliott's case for Flyers MVP

While it didn’t hit the most screeching of halts, the Flyers’ recent sleigh ride of success did a few road bumps this week before the clock struck Christmas Eve.

The six-game win streak is a thing of December past now and the Flyers hit the holiday break losers of three of four games this past week.

The streak was snapped Monday with a 4-1 defeat at the hand of the visiting Los Angeles Kings. The winning ways returned Wednesday with a hard-fought 4-3 at home over the Detroit Red Wings. Then is right back on the losing track Friday with a dud of a 4-2 loss to the lowly Buffalo Sabres. And then the week was capped with yet another loss in Columbus, this one a 2-1 decision in a shootout.

You might have some holiday cookies or some eggnog to get to, so let’s not wait any longer and hop right into this week’s Flyers observations.

• As we sit here at the holiday break, a popular exercise is to look back on the first three months of the season and try to name a Flyers MVP thus far.

Sean Couturier rightfully could be at the top of many observers’ lists with his team-leading 16 goals. Claude Giroux is back to his point-producing self with 13 goals and 29 assists for 42 points. Jake Voracek is tied for the NHL lead with 36 assists and leads the team with 44 points. And Ivan Provorov is an indispensable rock on the blue line. But my vote would go to netminder Brian Elliott.

Elliott has been a tremendous, steadying anchor for a Flyers team that has lost its way more than once this season. On the campaign, he’s 13-8-7 with a .916 save percentage and a 2.59 goals-against average. But he’s been so much more than that. He’s given the Flyers chances to win almost every night in and night out. That’s all these Flyers could ask for and more with an offense that has struggled so mightily at times. Even during the brutal 10-game skid, Elliott was rock-solid in net.

But he proved his worth to the team again this week as he was solid against both L.A. and Detroit and superb against both Buffalo and Columbus in losing efforts. Thursday in Buffalo, he stopped 33 of 35 shots faced, many of which were supreme testers. Yes, he let a leaky one in, but that happens to every goalie every now and then. Against Columbus, his 11th straight start, no less, he took a hard-luck shootout loss with 35 saves on 36 shots faced. That’s all been a microcosm of what he’s done all season. He’s held the Flyers above water to be where they’re at as of Sunday, just four points out of a playoff spot.

• What an ugly effort Friday night in Buffalo. Save for the final five minutes of the second period and the late, two-goal flurry in the third, the Flyers were overmatched by a struggling Sabres club that entered the contest as the worst team in the Eastern Conference.

Not even Elliott’s heroics in net could save the Flyers from a pitiful loss that saw the Sabres out-compete them at almost every turn, including a 1 for 5 power-play effort that doesn’t rightfully depict how bad it was.  

Look, bad losses are going to happen all throughout the season, but that one was just inexcusable. Those are games the good teams — *cough* the playoff teams *cough* — win. That kind of effort just isn’t going to work for these Flyers. They don’t have enough to get by like that.

• The loss in Buffalo left such a bad taste in Dave Hakstol’s mouth he decided to throw his lines into the proverbial blender and shake things up.

The biggest change saw Wayne Simmonds moved off the first line and 20-year-old Travis Konecny bumped up to that spot. It’s an intriguing move and one that is worth trying.

Despite recent success, the Flyers are still yearning for offense. And Konecny has oodles and oodles of offensive talent that’s just waiting to get unleashed. Playing alongside such skilled players as Couturier and Giroux can only help unleash that offensive firepower in the second-year winger.

Now, Konecny has found himself in Hakstol’s doghouse a time or two for his high-risk, turnover-increased style of play. But that’s where being alongside Couturier and Giroux can also help. Those two players are so defensively responsible that it can allow Konecny to have more offensive freedom to roam and therefore enhance his creativity.

He didn’t have shot on goal in Columbus, but Konecny was very noticeable on his new line. This is a big opportunity for him, and it’s up to him to capitalize on it.

• It was a week of ups and downs for rookie defenseman Robert Hagg.

On Wednesday, he ripped home his first NHL goal when he powered a slapper from above the circle through Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard and then earned the Ric Flair victory robe from his teammates.

Things did not go as well Friday in Buffalo when Hagg, normally steady as can be, endured perhaps his worst game as a Flyer. He had an awful giveaway that led to a breakaway and eventually an Evander Kane penalty shot Elliott had to stop. Then he took a bad holding penalty on Zemgus Girgensons moments after. That all set the stage for a rough outing overall.

With as good as Hagg has played, it’s tough to remember sometimes that he’s a rookie. Games like Friday in Buffalo harsh reminders. But such is the life of a rookie in the NHL.

• You guys know who’s pretty good? That Sergei Bobrovsky guy, that's who. Sheesh.

Coming up this week: Thursday at Florida (7:30 p.m. on NBCSP), Friday at Tampa Bay (7:30 p.m. on NBCSP)

Flyers' win streak runs into the wrong team

Flyers' win streak runs into the wrong team

BOX SCORE

There are certain NHL teams in which establishing a lead against is almost imperative.

The Los Angeles Kings are definitely one of those teams.

On Monday, L.A. swept its two-game season series against the Flyers with a 4-1 win at the Wells Fargo Center, snapping the orange and black's six-game winning streak (see observations).

In a matchup of two of the stingiest even-strength teams in the league, the Kings jumped on top early with a pair of first-period goals. Alec Martinez scored the first on a slap shot that deflected off the Flyers' Taylor Leier, and Kings forward Trevor Lewis followed up with a snap shot that beat Brian Elliott following a poor line change and a mix-up in coverage (see highlights).

“The first [goal], he just beat me with the shot,” Elliott, who lost for the first time in seven starts, said. “It was kind of a line change where we lost our coverage.”

 “I didn’t think we were sharp enough,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “We start off by giving up a faceoff goal. The second goal is through the neutral zone on a line change. I didn’t think we made them work hard enough for the opportunities that they scored their goals on.”

According to the website NaturalStatTrick.com, the Flyers generated 16 scoring chances at even strength but only a season-low two from the high-danger areas, where the Kings controlled the middle of the ice and pushed the play to the perimeter.

“It was a tight. Tight game,” Flyers forward Jakub Voracek said. “They didn’t make any mistakes. We had to make a big push to create something 5-on-5. We had a few looks, in the second period especially. We've just got to recover and focus on Wednesday.”

The Flyers had the upper hand with six power-play opportunities to the Kings' one, but they couldn’t break through and score more than once against the NHL’s No. 1-ranked penalty kill.

“We couldn’t score on the power play,” Voracek said. “The power play lost the game. Unfortunately, we only got one [goal]. Give them credit, they played a good road game. I think (Jonathan) Quick was outstanding in net. We just couldn’t find a way to score more than one.”

Impressively, the Flyers had not allowed more than one goal in any period throughout their six-game winning streak. The Kings, the best third-period team in hockey with a 46-21 goal differential, bucked that trend and touched up the Flyers for two goals in the closing period to seal the win.

“They have a lot of experience,” Sean Couturier said. “They have won in the past and they know how to win. When you’re down early in the game and you can’t back in it early, it gets tougher and tougher. They kind of know how to close games.”

Returning to Philadelphia brought back fond memories for Kings head coach John Stevens, who won a Calder Trophy with the Phantoms as well as coached the Flyers from October 2006 to December 2009.

“That was brought up earlier, playing back in Philly,” Stevens said. “I’ll be totally honest, it’s nice to be where my kids grew up. It’s home for them. This was a big game for us on this trip. We really wanted to take two points home for us, so it’s just a nice win against a quality hockey team.”

With a win, the Flyers were hoping to match the dubious record held by the 1967 Toronto Maple Leafs, who won seven straight games immediately following a 10-game winless streak. The Flyers feel they can shake off this loss and recapture their winning ways when they close out their five-game homestand against the Red Wings on Wednesday.

“I thought our guys did a really good job, six in a row after not winning 10,” Elliott said. “I think we have to really look at the positive and stop this at one game and move onto the next game. I don’t think we need to hang our heads too low here.”