3 Stars: Sloppy Flyers shutout by Bobrovsky, Blue Jackets in uninspiring performance

3 Stars: Sloppy Flyers shutout by Bobrovsky, Blue Jackets in uninspiring performance

A look at the Philadelphia Flyers’ 2-0 loss – their third straight and second straight shutout - to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday night at Wells Fargo Center through the perspective of two players and one suddenly struggling special-teams unit.

Unlike the Flyers’ previous two losses when they hung with the NHL’s two best in the Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues, this one was just a big, sloppy, jumbled mess of a game. The Flyers could never get anything going and were stuck in neutral the entire night. It was quite the uninspiring effort.

So much for that “huge game” mentality from earlier on in the day on Thursday.

 

3. James Wisniewski

The Blue Jackets defenseman finally opened the scoring when he slammed the puck through Flyers goalie Steve Mason from the side of the net with just over three minutes left in the second period for a power-play goal. It was Wisniewski’s third shot on the power play alone but, more importantly, it was one Mason definitely wanted back as it slipped through from a pretty bad angle.

Wisniewski later picked up an assist on center Brandon Dubinsky’s third-period deflection that slipped past Mason and, for all intensive purposes, ended the game due to the way the Flyers were playing.

Speaking of which, give Wisniewski and his Jackets teammates credit. Yes, the Flyers didn’t play well, but that was partly due to the Jackets’ smothering defense and hustle. They won the battles and races and played with that sense of urgency that the Flyers sorely lacked.

They were the team that played like it was a big game.

 

2. The Flyers’ power play

Both the Bruins and Blues have top-10 penalty kills so the fact the Flyers didn’t score on the power play in their last two games wasn’t all that surprising. But Thursday night wasn’t so much about not scoring on the power play. It was more about how disorganized the power play looked.

The Flyers got zilch on their four power-play opportunities and managed all of three measly shots. That’s probably because they could barely make a pass or carry the puck into the zone while on the power play. And when they did, they lost almost every single puck battle and the Jackets either dumped it or went the other way for a chance against Mason.

You could argue that Columbus was the more dangerous team while Philadelphia was on the power play. No wonder the boo birds were out at Wells Fargo Center.

The kinds of brutal power plays we saw on Thursday are even worse because they can give the other team all kinds of momentum. The Flyers blew three first-period power plays and gave the Jackets some confidence.

Combined with the previous two games, the Flyers’ power play is now fruitless in its last 12 attempts.

Let’s just assume there will be some power-play drills during practice on Friday.

 

1. Sergei Bobrovsky

Another Flyers game, another great performance by the opposing goaltender. And this time it may have stung a little bit more because of who the opposing goaltender was.

The man they call Bob made 37 saves against his former team for the shutout win in his first start back in Philadelphia since he was traded in the summer of 2012.

He was excellent, but especially in the second period when he stopped all 17 shots he faced. The Flyers poured it on in that second period and Bobrovsky stood tall. His kick save on a Wayne Simmonds wrister from the slot after a turnover was a particularly great save. He also made a really good stop on Michael Rafll from the slot in that period as well.

He kept the Jackets in the game in that period until they eventually cashed in with Wisniewski’s power-play goal.

Bobrovsky received the second star of the game from the media and was greeted with a nice little round of applause from those brave enough to stay at Wells Fargo Center for the entirety of that mess.

Good for Bob. But not so good for the Flyers, whom he shutout.

 

 

Three straight losses are never good, especially at this time of the year when a team is trying to sew up a playoff spot. Even worse, that’s also five losses in the last six games for the Flyers. And don’t look now, but by virtue of their win on Thursday night, the Blue Jackets are just two points behind the Flyers for third in the Metropolitan Division. Things are getting just a tad bit itchy.

And they won’t get much easier for the Flyers as a trip to Boston to meet the Bruins is next on the ledger on Saturday afternoon.

Maikel Franco's benching continues as Howie Kendrick readies to play 3rd base in minors

Maikel Franco's benching continues as Howie Kendrick readies to play 3rd base in minors

The benching of Maikel Franco lasted for a second day Wednesday.

When will it end?

"It's a day-to-day thing," Pete Mackanin said. "No specific plan."

Franco is hitting just .221 with a .281 on-base percentage and a .377 slugging percentage.

Mackanin first benched his third baseman/cleanup hitter on Tuesday. At the time, the manager said he was trying to take some heat off the slumping Franco and let him clear his mind, but the overriding reason for the benching is simple: Mackanin is looking for Franco to make the fundamental adjustments in his swing that will lead to more production.

"At this level you've got to produce," Mackanin said Tuesday. "You want to play, you've got to hit and they have to understand that. Nobody is here on scholarship.

"As much as he works in the cage and on the field in batting practice and does it right, when he gets in the game his head is still flying and his bat is coming out of the zone.

"I can't teach you to keep your head in there. I can tell you to do it, but you have to do it on your own and he's got to figure it out. … If you make outs the same way over and over, it's not going to change."

Franco on Wednesday said he understands the benching. He is disappointed in his production.

"Yes, I'm disappointed," he said. "I know I can produce better and help the team more. Nobody wants to be in this situation, hitting .220. The only thing to do is try to get better.

"I think any good hitter hitting .220 is going to be disappointed. I will not stop working and doing what I have to to get better."

Typically, a manager, especially one such as Mackanin, whose strength is communication, would speak to a player and lay out the reasons for an extended benching.

But Mackanin has chosen to let the lineup card do the talking on this one. He'd like to speak with Franco about the situation, but wants the player to come to him.

It doesn't sound like that's going to happen.

"They understand and I understand, you know?" Franco said. "I'm not the guy to go into the manager's office and say, 'Why am I not in the lineup?' I want to play. He knows what he's doing and I know what I'm capable of doing. Every single day when I come in, I'm 100 percent mentally ready to be in the lineup and I'm ready to play. If I'm not in the lineup, I have to get relaxed and just try to do everything I can to make an adjustment so when I'm in the lineup, I'll do my job."

Andres Blanco played third base in place of Franco on Tuesday and Wednesday. If Franco doesn't improve when he gets back in the lineup — whenever that may be — there could soon be another player in the mix at third base.

Howie Kendrick began a minor-league rehab assignment at Lehigh Valley on Wednesday night. He played left field in that game. Mackanin said the rehab stint would last four games and that Kendrick would also play first and third base.

Do the math on that one.

Franco can be optioned to the minors so that could also be a possibility if his problems persist.

NHL Notes: Penguins, Senators have chance at history in Game 7

NHL Notes: Penguins, Senators have chance at history in Game 7

PITTSBURGH -- Craig Anderson is a realist, the byproduct of 15 years playing the most demanding position in the NHL.

The Ottawa goaltender would like to chalk his 45-save masterpiece in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals against Pittsburgh up to his own brilliance. He knows that's not exactly the case.

"I think you need to be a little bit lucky to be good at times," Anderson said.

Ottawa has relied on a bit of both during its deepest playoff run in a decade and Anderson helped force Game 7 Thursday night. Yet here the Senators are, alive and still skating with a chance to eliminate the deeper, more experienced and more explosive Stanley Cup champions.

So much for the series being over after the Penguins destroyed Ottawa 7-0 in Game 5.

"I think, if you believe you're beaten, you're done already," Anderson said. "If you believe that you can win, there's always a chance."

All the Senators have to do to reach the Stanley Cup Final for just the second time in franchise history is take down one of the league's marquee franchises on the road in a building where they were beaten by a touchdown last time out.

No pressure or anything. Really. The Senators weren't supposed to be here. Then again, in a way neither were the Penguins. No team has repeated in nearly two decades and at times during the season and even during the playoffs this group was too beat up. Too tired from last spring's Cup run. The bullseye on their backs too big.

Yet they've survived behind the brilliance of stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, coach Mike Sullivan's impeccable decisions and a resiliency that has them one game from being the first Cup champion to return to the finals since Detroit in 2009.

Those Red Wings, by the way, fell to the Penguins in seven games. There have been several Game 7s for Pittsburgh in the interim on both sides of the ledger, though the Penguins are 2-0 in Game 7s under Sullivan. They edged Tampa Bay in Game 7 of last year's East finals and clinically disposed of Presidents' Trophy winner Washington in Game 7 of the second round earlier this month (see full story).

Predators: Goalie Rinne on smothering run
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Knocking the smile off Pekka Rinne's face right now is nearly impossible.

The longest-tenured player with the Nashville Predators, the 34-year-old goaltender finally will play in his first Stanley Cup Final in his ninth full NHL season.

"As a player, I feel like I've had a fairly long career and never had this opportunity," Rinne said. "So very fortunate and really appreciate this opportunity. I guess as a player you just enjoy being in this position. Enjoy the chance that you get, and you put your body on the line every night and give everything you have."

Teammates call the 6-foot-5 Finn the backbone of the Predators, and he's probably the best goalie in the world at the moment. He handles the puck like an extra defenseman. He foils the dump-and-chase efforts of opponents. And, oh, is he good in front of the net, aggressive with forwards in the crease, seeing seemingly everything and occasionally making saves with a Dominik Hasek-like contortion.

Not only is Rinne a playoff-best 12-4, his .945 save percentage ranks third all-time for a single postseason behind a pair of Conn Smythe Trophy winners in Jean-Sebastien Giguere for Anaheim in 2003 and Jonathan Quick for Los Angeles in 2012, according to HockeyReference.com. Rinne's 1.70 goals-against average is 10th all-time for one postseason.

"What he does every night, you can't put into words," Nashville defenseman P.K. Subban said (see full story).

Blues: Sydor returns to Blues as assistant
ST. LOUIS -- Darryl Sydor has returned to the St. Louis Blues as an assistant coach under mentor Mike Yeo.

Sydor agreed to a three-year deal Wednesday.

The 45-year-old Sydor finished his 18-year NHL playing career with the Blues in 2009-10, then broke into coaching as Yeo's assistant the next season with the American Hockey League's Houston Aeros. Sydor went with Yeo to Minnesota and spent five years with the Wild before working as an assistant last season with the Blues' then-Chicago affiliate in the AHL.

Sydor was a defenseman for Los Angeles, Dallas, Columbus, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh and St. Louis, winning Stanley Cup titles with Dallas and Tampa Bay.

Coyotes: Cunningham hired as pro scout
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Arizona Coyotes have hired Craig Cunningham as a pro scout and say he will assist with player development.

General manager John Chayka announced the two-year contract Wednesday that allows Cunningham to remain in hockey.

Cunningham collapsed on the ice with a cardiac disturbance prior to a game Nov. 19 while playing for the American Hockey League's Tucson Roadrunners and required emergency life-saving care. He had part of his left leg amputated and saw his playing career end.

But the 26-year-old who was captain of the Roadrunners last season says he's excited to start the next chapter of his hockey career in the Coyotes' front office. Chayka called Cunningham a "smart, hard-working player with an incredible passion for the game" that he believes will translate to his new job.