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After shutout to Devils, Flyers own worst enemy offensively

After shutout to Devils, Flyers own worst enemy offensively

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It’s hard to gauge what exactly has dipped faster over the past few days.

The outside thermometer or the Flyers' offense, and good luck predicting when either will turn frigid at a moment’s notice.

For the orange and black, the goal-scoring cold spell blanketed the Wells Fargo Center on Tuesday and increased in intensity during Thursday’s 3-0 loss to the Devils (see observations).  

Hard to make sense coming from a Devils team that had the NHL’s worst road record at 1-7-0, and a defense ranked 29th in goals allowed.

“No, I didn’t see frustration,” Dave Hakstol said. “We competed our tails off tonight. It was a tight hockey game, but we created enough and then some to score goals in this hockey game.”

The return of James van Riemsdyk was expected to inject even more offense into a team that had scored 25 goals over a six-game stretch until Tuesday rolled around. Ironically, it was JVR who actually took away a goal when he brushed into Keith Kinkaid’s glove as he glided in front of the crease just as Shayne Gostisbehere’s power-play shot had found its way into the back of the net.

“The explanation they gave me was pretty funny actually,” van Riemsdyk said. “They said I moved my upper body to get in the way of the goalie. So, I don’t even know what that means. I thought it was outside the crease and I think it’s that grey area where some games that’s a call that maybe goes our way, but tonight, obviously it didn’t.”

Interestingly, Hakstol challenged what appeared to be a rather obvious call to only say it was a miscommunication between himself and the referee.

“It’s goalie interference, by nature I guess,” Hakstol said. “There’s grey area. With the fact that James’ glove hits his glove whether it’s outside the blue paint or where the goaltender is set up before the puck goes into the net.”

Missing the call wasn’t the issue, missing mark was more like it and the Flyers were just inches away from easily scoring three or even four goals. At final count, the Flyers had hit five different posts and perhaps the biggest absence of puck luck came when Wayne Simmonds was staring at a wide-open net to only see Kinkaid’s stick dive into the picture at just the last second.

“I’ve never seen that,” Sean Couturier said. “We had a lot of chances and open nets. The puck just didn’t want to go in tonight.”

Same can’t be said for the Flyers' anemic power play that has converted just three times over its last 43 chances. A couple of posts came during the man advantage but the sample size is now large enough to deeply question everything involved from the setup to puck movement and even shot selection. The top unit has even seen three different personnel units over the past three games.

“Power play needs to get one. It’s very frustrating right now,” Claude Giroux said. “We had some good chances, some good shots. I think if we keep doing what we’re doing, we’re going to score some goals on the power play.”

One can only hope that’s the case, because if not, the Flyers may not have a snowball’s chance over the winter months.

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Devils 3, Flyers 0: Plenty of pings, no luck as PP struggles reach new low

Devils 3, Flyers 0: Plenty of pings, no luck as PP struggles reach new low

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Where has all that offense gone?

Even with the return of winger James van Riemsdyk on Thursday night, the Flyers couldn’t generate a single goal as they were shut out for the third time this season.

Joey Anderson, Kyle Palmieri and Blake Coleman scored in a 3-0 New Jersey victory.

How bad has the power play failed the Flyers and will the team be saddled with another significant goaltending injury? Here are my observations from the Wells Fargo Center:

• Hoping to see van Riemsdyk score a goal, he actually took one away from the Flyers. The referees made the right call in determining JVR’s incidental contact with goaltender Keith Kinkaid’s glove hand prevented the goalie from making a save, even as he was outside the crease. Dave Hakstol threw up a Hail Mary in his decision to challenge the call, but I can’t fault him considering the only sacrifice is a timeout he may or may not use. I think even Hakstol knew it wouldn’t be reversed.

• Brian Elliott has been amazing during this current eight-game stretch and he’s the only reason the Devils didn’t extend their lead to 2-0 in the second period as Elliott made a series of critical saves, including a glove-hand save lying on his side. Once again, the Flyers' penalty-kill units had their usual breakdowns as both Devils power-play units exposed the Flyers' porous PK units. Elliott had to come across his crease on several occasions to make crucial stops.

• Elliott’s early mistake came when he didn’t cover the five-hole on a goal he should have had. The Devils came into this game a little weak down the middle with injuries to Nico Hischier and Brian Boyle, so I thought that was where the Flyers could expose New Jersey’s flaws, and they did but just didn’t take full advantage.

 • A very scary moment on the Devils' second goal as Elliott appeared to suffer another injury in the core muscle area as he was attempting to move left to right to cover the post. Elliott couldn’t fully extend, and while his reaction was not as visually concerning as when he tore the muscle in a shootout against the Coyotes last season, Elliott skated slowly but it doesn’t appear good.

• I liked the effort and tenacity the Flyers displayed in the offensive zone and they had a myriad of chances at even strength — an area they’ve dominated recently. Through two periods, they had an impressive 20 scoring chances to the Devils' 14 (12-4 in high-danger chances) while hitting four posts. Oskar Lindblom hit another post in the third period. Over the previous seven games, the Flyers have outscored opponents, 24-8, at even strength.

• However, New Jersey showed more commitment to puck support and puck pursuit than the Flyers, as the Devils' second man in was quicker to the boards than the Flyers' supporting player. That’s been their mantra over the past two seasons and even in the Flyers' 5-2 win Oct. 20, the Devils had more structure to their game than the Flyers did.

• The Flyers' power play looks so boorishly predictable as it's 3 for 43 dating back to Oct. 13, when it scored twice against the Senators. This was the type of game where the Flyers needed their power play to pull through with a goal. Hakstol has switched up the personnel, but I think the outlying problem is that it’s too stagnant with not enough movement, which allows shots to be blocked on a regular basis.

• Radko Gudas missed Thursday’s game with an undisclosed illness as Andrew MacDonald dressed for the first time since Oct. 25 in Boston, having missed the previous eight games. I think MacDonald played well considering there was a significant amount of rust to work off.

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Jakub Voracek comes in loud and clear for Flyers

Jakub Voracek comes in loud and clear for Flyers

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Somehow, Jakub Voracek rolled into 2018-19 like a forgotten man.

Think about it.

Claude Giroux was coming off the 102-point season. Sean Couturier had his anticipated breakout. James van Riemsdyk jumped back on board. Wayne Simmonds brought the unpreventable contract buzz. Shayne Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov provided the excitement on the blue line. Travis Konecny and Nolan Patrick oozed with expectations. The goalies … yeah, it's Philadelphia.

Voracek, on the other hand, didn't seem to generate much of the discussion as the Flyers entered this season built to be more than just a small stepping-stone.

And maybe it was a good thing. Maybe it meant Voracek's career-high 85 points last year represented his capability at this stage of his career.

Regardless, silly us for letting his meaning become a subplot of sorts.

Voracek's play did all the talking Saturday, his game-breaking ability that dominates the conversation on full display. His importance to the Flyers was succinctly evident in a 5-2 victory over the Devils at the Wells Fargo Center (see observations).

With the Flyers twice in need of a play, a motivated Voracek made it happen. He found Nolan Patrick for a go-ahead goal with 1:04 left in the second period. After the Devils tied it, 2-2, early in the third, Voracek regained the advantage with under four minutes to go on a nifty move in open ice, where he's as good as anybody (see highlights).

Without Voracek Saturday, the Flyers are 3-5-0 instead of climbing back to .500.

Don't tell him that, though.

"The first 39 minutes, I played like horses--t," Voracek said. "You guys have got to watch the game a little bit more, you know what I mean? It's not only about points. The last three games, I think I played good hockey, it just didn't go in. Just because I'm not on the scoresheet doesn't mean I didn't play well. So many times it happens."

Voracek went scoreless over the Flyers' previous three games. Despite that, he has 11 points (three goals, eight assists) through eight contests.

It's also not all about what shows up in the box score, like Voracek said.

But if he remains that hard on himself when he could have easily accepted the praise, the Flyers will be better off moving forward.

"With his dynamics, he can change the look of a hockey game," Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said. "He made a heck of a play on our second goal with his speed coming down the wing and the third goal, a lot of that was him. If he wants more, that's good. I love to hear that. If he thinks he can be better, and wants to be better — hey, we're .500, so everybody has to be a little bit better."

Voracek was near his best.

The Flyers will take that horses--t.

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