NHL

Flyers dominated by Avalanche as they continue to start games in slow motion

Flyers dominated by Avalanche as they continue to start games in slow motion

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For those who still cut their own grass, the Flyers have all the signs of that old, cold, cranky mower that never fires up the first time you try to get it going.

They don’t seem to start the second, third or fourth time either.  

Here we are now five games into the home schedule and the Flyers have yet to establish a first-period lead at any point against any opponent. They fell behind by four goals to the Sharks in the home opener on Oct. 9 and they’ve been playing catchup ever since as they’ve been outscored 7-1 in the opening 20 minutes at the Wells Fargo Center.

They appear uninspired and unprepared, lacking the necessary urgency to put an opposing team on its heels.

If the Philly Flu was indeed an illness the opposition acquired during the days of the Spectrum, then apparently flu shots are administered from the moment teams arrive in the loading dock of the Wells Fargo Center.

“That’s not how we want to come out,” goaltender Brian Elliott said after the Flyers fell behind by three goals in an eventual 4-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche (see observations). “It just seems to happen right now. We have to get that turned around. We’re going to be talking about a few things in the coming days and try to get that turned around when we go on the road to Boston.”

Elliott didn’t elaborate on what needed to be said, but quick starts and playing better in Philadelphia have been hammered home more times than the Flyers care to remember. Surrendering that first goal has become its own epidemic.

The Flyers have trailed 1-0 in eight of the nine games they’ve played this season. Monday night against the Avalanche, it took just three minutes and 23 seconds to fall behind again, and zap the energy of the 19,326 fans in attendance.

They’ve followed the recipe for disaster step by step. On Monday, the Flyers committed a pointless tripping penalty two minutes into the game and gave the most lethal line combination a power-play opportunity against the 29th-ranked penalty kill. 

You see where this is heading.

“We’re working our balls off out there and trying as hard as we can,” defenseman Robert Hagg said. “If it’s one guy’s breakdown, then it’s going to be in the back of the net.”

Among the most unlikely culprits was the Flyers’ top two-way forward Sean Couturier, who left the Avalanche with an extra attacker down low. Mikko Rantanen’s slam dunk rebound goal gave Colorado an early lead it would never relinquish.

“We made a mistake on the broken play,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “Instead of collapsing to the net, our top PKer (Couturier) stayed out five to eight feet too high. That’s the difference.” 

The difference between the Flyers and Avalanche right now appears rather obvious. Colorado’s best players are carrying the team while the Flyers’ stars are the ones committing the mistakes. The Avalanche improved to 6-1-2 with one line doing almost all of the heavy lifting. Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Rantanen have now scored 12 of Colorado’s last 14 goals.

For the Flyers, Couturier missed an assignment. Claude Giroux’s blocked shot led to a goal. Even leading goal scorer Wayne Simmonds said he’s not doing enough to help out.

It has to start somewhere and the opening drop of the puck is a good place to start.

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Avalanche 4, Flyers 1: Team waits too long to show energy in lackluster loss

Avalanche 4, Flyers 1: Team waits too long to show energy in lackluster loss

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The Flyers are thankful they are done with the Colorado Avalanche this season.

The Avs completed a season sweep against the orange and black with a 4-1 win Monday night. Colorado outscored the Flyers 9-3 in the two-game sweep.

The Flyers’ power play continues to struggle as Dave Hakstol’s team lost another forward to injury.

Here are my observations from the Wells Fargo Center: 

• Two things I didn't like on the Avs’ PP marker as the Flyers allowed the first goal for the eighth time in nine games:

1. Nathan MacKinnon worked the puck away from both Ivan Provorov and Robert Hagg along the boards.

2. The Flyers were outnumbered below the dots — four attackers to three PKers. Mikko Rantanen had an easy slam dunk goal as Sean Couturier appeared to be a tad late in helping out down low.

• Jake Voracek said the media didn’t pay attention during the Devils’ game when he said he played like "horse----" in the first two periods before finishing with a three-point game. 

Voracek had his pocket picked early in the first period and forced a pass that led to a turnover later in the first. You won’t see it reflected on a scoresheet, which is why the NHL needs to come up with something like forced errors and unforced errors. Giveaways and takeaways don’t reflect some of the poor play on the ice. 

• I like how Brian Elliott’s game has calmed down after his poor effort against the Florida Panthers a week ago. Elliott was the Flyers’ best player in the first 30 minutes as he made some big saves to keep the deficit to 1-0. I can’t fault Elliott for the power-play rebounds as those shots came from just outside the goal mouth at close range.

• The Flyers weren’t very hard on pucks in the opening period as the Avs outworked them and outshot them 14-11. However, the Flyers didn’t concede anything to the MacKinnon line at 5-on-5 as they kept Colorado’s top line on the perimeter and gave the unit very little from close range. The Flyers controlled play and were the better team in the second half of the game. 

• Colorado came into this game with the third-ranked penalty kill in the NHL despite having to kill off more two-minute minors than any other team in the league. To their credit, the Avalanche clog up the middle of the ice for all entries to the outside and then create havoc by aggressively playing the puck and not conceding any space. The Flyers had six shots with their power play but very little from the high-danger areas.   

• The Avalanche’s third line, which consisted of Matt Nieto and Matt Calvert, simply outworked the Flyers’ top line and the defensive pairing of Provorov and Hagg to score Colorado’s second goal. The unfortunate aspect of the goal is that the Flyers had their longest sustained pressure in the Avalanche zone with some prime scoring chances just prior to Colorado extending its lead to 2-0. It was Hagg who gave up the puck in the neutral zone.  

• The Flyers lost another forward as Michael Raffl was decked hard into the boards by Avs defenseman Patrik Nemeth. He left the game with a lower-body injury and didn’t return to the game.

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Flyers 7, Senators 4: A major response to nightmare home opener

Flyers 7, Senators 4: A major response to nightmare home opener

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The Flyers took out their sins from a bad home opener on the Senators.

The top line of Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier and Jake Voracek produced four goals in a 7-4 win.

The Flyers lost yet another forward to injury, and how did Cal Pickard perform in his first game with his new team?

Here are my observations:

• I expected the Flyers to come out with an extra dose of excitement and enthusiasm a day after they were shellacked, 8-2, in their home opener. However, some early penalties and special teams certainly zapped that momentum. Still, the Flyers’ power play was buzzing. Wayne Simmonds nearly banged home a goal in the first few minutes of the game, and the unit finally got on track with a pair of goals on a whopping 20 shots on six opportunities.

• Andrew MacDonald has had a brutal first week of the season and you have to wonder if he’s playing at less than 100 percent considering how quickly he returned from injury. However, as long as MacDonald is in the lineup, he’s open to criticism and he’s been slow and a step behind in his own zone almost every game in allowing attackers to get behind him on defense. For MacDonald, staying on his skates appears to be a challenge right now.

• The Flyers’ penalty kill gave the Senators too much time in the zone as it sat back in its box rather than get out challenge the point like we saw during the two-game road trip to begin the season. The greatest contributor to the PK’s problems was a failure to clear the puck out of the zone, and that’s precisely what led to the Ottawa goal as Travis Sanheim whiffed on a clearing attempt. In the third period, Sanheim struggled to clear the puck out of the defensive zone.

• It’s impressive how quickly 19-year-old Brady Tkachuk has adapted to the NHL game and the poise he possesses with and without the puck. Tkachuk’s second goal was a wrist shot down the right wing. While Sanheim had good position on Tkachuk, it’s a play he has to defend by getting his stick on the puck. Otherwise, he shields goaltender Pickard from getting a clean look at the shot.

• Already without James van Riemsdyk, Flyers second-line center Nolan Patrick left the game in the first period with an upper-body injury on a play that looks like he may have suffered a head or neck injury. Last season, Patrick sustained a concussion in October and missed nearly a month as he recovered from symptoms. Scott Laughton was the recipient of increased ice time and Laughton capitalized with the go-ahead 4-3 goal on a backhand shot. Quietly, Laughton has been one of the Flyers’ best forwards this season.

• The review on Pickard is that the Flyers’ backup goaltender is a battler, never quitting on any play throughout his Flyers debut. While Pickard may be a little unsteady in his positioning (not unexpected considering this was only his second NHL game since the beginning of 2017-18), he settled in over the course of the night and provided some big saves as the Flyers yielded the middle of the ice on occasion.

• Dave Hakstol’s move to replace Jordan Weal with Dale Weise payed off. In his first game of the new season, Weise played a solid, well-rounded game that included strong play on pucks and help to create offense with a pair of assists. With Patrick’s injury, we should see Weal back in the lineup. But I would move Laughton back in the middle. 

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