Oskar Lindblom

Blue Jackets 6, Flyers 3: Where's the defense and goaltending?

Blue Jackets 6, Flyers 3: Where's the defense and goaltending?

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — Cannon fire erupted at Nationwide Arena Thursday night as the Columbus Blue Jackets doubled up the Flyers, 6-3.

The Flyers have now allowed five or more goals in four of their first seven games to start the season.

Where were the breakdowns in Columbus?

Here are my observations from Nationwide Arena:

• Ivan Provorov’s struggles continued in the opening period. The Flyers' defenseman had a bad turnover to Anthony Duclair, he got turned around during another shift and Provorov's failure to corral the puck led to an eventual tripping call against Sonny Milano. General manager Ron Hextall said Provorov’s not injured but he’s not playing up to his standards.

“It’s just six games," Hextall said pregame. "Let’s be careful not to overreact.”

Last season, Provorov had a 10-to-15-game stretch midseason in which the puck looked like a hand grenade on his stick.

• If you track the Flyers' shot location in the first period, the team was mostly directing shots against Sergei Bobrovsky on the bottom half of the net — either looking for a rebound or a redirected tip-in. Travis Konecny connected on a terrific tip that went five-hole and you could sense from Konecny’s reaction the relief to finally get that first goal of the season.

• After breaking through with two goals on Bobrovsky in the first period, the Flyers resorted to trying to make the pretty pass and the perfect play in the second period as opposed to just getting the puck on net, creating rebound opportunities and sticking to what worked in the first 20 minutes.

• Give Duclair credit for making a very athletic play, but I think Robert Hagg can do a better job of preventing a quality scoring chance and eventually a highlight goal. Duclair fell to the ice, got back up and beat Pickard with a nice shot in the first period.

Hagg was also on the ice when Cam Atkinson sped around him and scored the Jackets' 3-2 go-ahead goal during the second period. In both instances, I’d like to see Hagg make a stronger attempt at breaking up those plays even if it means taking a penalty. Deep in your zone in the high-danger areas, those are penalties worth taking.

• It will be interesting to see how Dave Hakstol restructures his lines once Nolan Patrick is cleared to return to the team. Jordan Weal has looked really solid in the few games he’s played at center. Oskar Lindblom was buzzing offensively on Weal’s wing and that line scored in the opening minute of the third period to close the gap to 4-3.

I also liked Weal’s attention to detail on the defensive side of the puck until his costly tripping penalty late in the third period.

• Hakstol said the plan all along was for Calvin Pickard to start this game, but I really wondered if he would have followed through on that had the Flyers not coughed up a 5-2 lead to the Panthers Tuesday.

Pickard’s performance was the product of the defense in front of him, but sometimes you need your goaltender to make the saves they’re not expected to make. Foligno’s snap shot from between the circles is definitely a stoppable shot and certainly Milano’s wraparound from a sharp angle.

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Questionable hit on Oskar Lindblom should be added frustration for Flyers

Questionable hit on Oskar Lindblom should be added frustration for Flyers

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Through two home games, the Flyers have already dealt with two different levels of frustration.

The first was obvious. An 8-2 loss in the home opener explains it quite clearly. The Flyers were incensed by the result and wanted to make certain their next showing at the Wells Fargo Center was, at the least, acceptable.

The frustration Saturday wasn't just from playing a "hell of game," as head coach Dave Hakstol put it, to only lose in the final minute and half of regulation, 1-0 (see observations).

What should have ticked off the Flyers just as much was the hit on Oskar Lindblom midway through the third period. 

While the Flyers were in the offensive zone, Lindblom lost the puck along the side boards with Golden Knights defenseman Brayden McNabb in coverage. As Lindblom stopped to retreat, McNabb slammed him face-first into the boards and appeared to use his forearm up against Lindblom's head.

The 22-year-old winger stayed down on the ice as play eventually stopped. He was helped off and never returned over the final 9:20 of regulation. No penalty was called on the hit and as the replay was shown on the Jumbroton, Flyers fans went berserk.

The play certainly could have been whistled a penalty. These types of hits, in which the head is impacted, have been penalized before by NHL officials. At the same time, Lindblom is 6-foot-1 and not fully upright on the play, compared to the 6-foot-4 McNabb (see video).

Hakstol had a good take on the play:

The ref was in a good spot on it. I haven't looked at it on tape. That's a big guy hitting a smaller … Oskar's not as big as he is. From my vantage point, was it a high hit? Yeah. Was it a penalty? I don't know, [the officials are] standing right there. They're in a spot to make the call. I can go back and ref by video, I'll go back and take a look at it. It looked like it could have been a high hit, they were right there in position, so defer to their call.

It's a tough play all the way around and a non-call that hurt the Flyers. If it's whistled, the Flyers go on the power play with a chance at the game's first goal and all the momentum. Instead, their second-line left winger exits and doesn't return. 

And the Flyers can ill-afford more injuries up front. 

They're already without James van Riemsdyk (lower-body injury) for five to six weeks and Nolan Patrick (upper-body injury) for seven to 10 days. Travis Konecny left practice Friday after taking a puck to the skate but was able to play, albeit only 11:50, while Scott Laughton took a spill into the boards Saturday and departed momentarily.

After two power plays in the first period, the Flyers never went on the man advantage again. They didn't get the call in the third, nor could they crack Marc-Andre Fleury, who made four highlight-reel saves, simply adding to the Flyers' frustration.

Sometimes, these losses sting just as bad as the embarrassing ones.

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Flyers 5, Golden Knights 2: A huge opening to the 2018-19 season

Flyers 5, Golden Knights 2: A huge opening to the 2018-19 season

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LAS VEGAS — The Flyers seem to truly enjoy starting their season miles from home. 

For the third straight year, the Flyers won their opener on the road against a Western Conference opponent.

Wayne Simmonds scored twice in the Flyers’ 5-2 win over the Golden Knights. He now has five goals in his last two season openers after recording a hat trick last season in San Jose.

Here are my observations from T-Mobile Arena:

1. You always expect the home team to come out in its opener and set an early pace, feeding off the energy of the crowd. However, the Flyers did a good job of neutralizing that momentum. It also helped that the Knights rang a shot off the crossbar in the opening four minutes.

2. It was evident that the Flyers didn’t want to sit back and just watch the Golden Knights utilize their up-tempo style that can bury opponents. Instead, the Flyers jumped at the chance to create their own speed, create rushes off turnovers and stretch passes when the opportunity presented itself. 

3. What impressed me most regarding Oskar Lindblom’s goal to tie the game at 1-1 was how he patiently waited for a shooting lane to open up after Marc-Andre Fleury committed and left his skates. Instead of trying to force a shot, Lindblom simply backhanded a puck parallel to the goal line as it appeared to catch a skate and crossed the line.

4. Brian Elliott didn’t play in the two games against the Golden Knights last season, and I was interested to see how the Flyers' goaltender would handle their strategy of creating open shots with cross-ice passes that would force him to move laterally. The Flyers' netminder had some real testers in the second period, but Elliott stood his ground and has now turned in a couple of solid efforts if you include the preseason finale.  

5. After Simmonds scored on the power play just 2:58 into the second period, it appeared that the Knights got away from playing structured hockey, couldn’t recover and had no pushback until Fleury was lifted for backup Malcolm Subban. The Knights didn’t have much puck luck with a handful of shots that rang off the crossbar and the post.

6. Breakdown of Flyers goals: one for the No. 1 power-play unit, two for the second line, one for the third line and one for the fourth line. As much as this Flyers team has been praised for its scoring depth and balanced lines, it’s a good sign to see others step up when the top line is held in check.

7. The Golden Knights could have seized some momentum early in the third period when they had 1:45 of a 5-on-3 power play. Elliott made a pair of solid saves, but credit also extends to the guys in front of him who took away some of those big passing lanes with their sticks.

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