Flyers' defensemen confident despite criticism

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Flyers' defensemen confident despite criticism

VOORHEES, N.J. The Flyers defensemen know what youve been saying about them.

They know you think that, as a group, theyre weaker now than they were heading into last season. Theyre aware of your skepticism as to whether theyll be good enough to give goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov a chance.

But they see things differently.

I like it, Nick Grossmann said of the teams defense as a whole. We got a couple additions in Bruno Gervais and Luke Schenn, and I think it adds a lot of skill and size. I like our group. Theres a few guys who played together last year here, theres still the same core. And these guys, I think its a good addition. Im looking forward to playing with them.

Along with Schenn and Gervais, the Flyers most recently brought in veteran D-man Kurtis Foster to help bolster their blue line. All three are solid acquisitions, but none of them will be the next Chris Pronger or Matt Carle -- two players who were on the active roster entering last season.

You take out a Hall of Famer in Chris Pronger, and Matty Carles a good player, as well, Braydon Coburn said. But we put some good players back in the lineup with Kurtis Foster and Bruno and a young guy, Luke Schenn. I think that gives our defense a pretty solid three pairings.

Theyre three big pairings, as well. With their newest additions, the Flyers now have one of the leagues biggest defensive corps -- the eight blue-liners in camp average out to 6-foot-2 and 219 pounds each.

And lest you worry about their ability to move the puck and assist in coach Peter Laviolettes run-and-gun system, they believe theyre up to the task.

I think weve got pretty good mobility, Coburn said. Our team is an attack-oriented team. Were a team that moves, and weve got guys that can skate. Weve got a good combination of skating and size back there.

Its foolish to suggest the Flyers are better off having not brought in a top-tier defender last summer, but given the short 48-game season and six-day training camp, the teams defensemen do believe they have a leg up over other teams with vastly changed back ends.

Anytime you play with each other before, its going to help out, Grossmann said. You know each other, you know how to read off each other, everyone kind of knows the system. And then these two guys come in and it feels like youre able to play with them thats how you know theyre good guys. Im looking forward to playing here and see what they can bring to the table.

Of course, there are some issues. Andrej Meszaros is working his way back from a torn Achilles tendon, and isnt sure whether hell be ready to go for Saturdays season opener against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Erik Gustafsson, whos shown talent at moving the puck and generating offense, has an ankle injury and isnt attending camp. Marc-Andre Bourdon, who had a breakout season in 2011-12, is suffering from post-concussion symptoms.

There's also a matter of uneven conditioning. Some players, like Kimmo Timonen, haven't played in a game since the Flyers were eliminated from the playoffs last April.

But all that aside, the Flyers' defensemen are a confident group. They've been all business at training camp. And theyve got a message for those who believe that they might not be good enough to help the team be a real contender.

We dont know that yet, do we? Timonen said. Well see how the season gets going. But we got some new guys, we got some young guys. Hopefully we can play good defense and help the forwards and help the goalies.

We have to wait and see.

E-mail Sarah Baicker at sbaicker@comcastsportsnet.com

Best of NHL: Lee scores 2 power-play goals, Islanders beat Kings

Best of NHL: Lee scores 2 power-play goals, Islanders beat Kings

NEW YORK -- The New York Islanders are on quite a nice roll.

Anders Lee scored two power-play goals to lead the Islanders to a 4-2 victory over the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday night, giving New York its third straight win and fourth in the last five games.

"We've been keeping it simple of late," said Lee, who has four goals in two games against the Kings this season. "We've been getting shots on net and being more effective. I'll do my thing down low."

John Tavares had a goal and an assist, Jason Chimera also scored and Jean-Francois Berube stopped 34 shots to earn his first win in his third start of the season (see full recap).

Hartnell snaps tie as Blue Jackets beat Carolina 3-2
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The Blue Jackets would just as soon forget the second period of Saturday's game, when the Carolina Hurricanes rallied from a 2-0 deficit to tie it.

Columbus didn't play much better in the third but withstood 15 shots and killed three penalties. Midway through, Scott Hartnell scored his second goal of the game , and the Blue Jackets beat Carolina 3-2.

Columbus got the win despite being outshot 37-20.

Hartnell scored in the first period and then netted the tiebreaker, helping the Blue Jackets overcome a horrendous second period - in which they managed only two shots on goal - to beat Carolina for the second time this week (see full recap).

Beagle scores in overtime, Capitals beat Stars 4-3
DALLAS -- Jay Beagle scored 19 seconds into overtime and the Washington Capitals rallied to beat the Dallas Stars 4-3 on Saturday night.

Evgeny Kuznetsov skated behind the net and put the puck in front to Beagle. His wrist shot beat goalie Kari Lehtonen, who got tangled with a defender and lost his footing.

The Stars led 3-1 and didn't allow Washington a power play until the third period, but then Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie scored with the man advantage in the first 5:26 of the period.

Adam Cracknell and Jamie Benn scored for Dallas on plays that originally were ruled no goal. Patrick Eaves had a goal and an assist for the Stars (see full recap).

Bogosian scores in overtime, Sabres edge Canadiens 3-2
MONTREAL -- The Sabres couldn't score from in close on All-Star goalie Carey Price late in regulation Saturday night.

So Zach Bogosian teed it up from a ways out in overtime to lift Buffalo.

Bogosian scored his first goal of the season in overtime and the Sabres beat the Montreal Canadiens 3-2 in the second game of a back-to-back for both teams.

Buffalo nearly broke through against Price near the end of the third period. Price made a pad save on Matt Moulson on a breakaway at 19:40, and then with six seconds remaining, he robbed Rasmus Ristolainen with a windmill glove save (see full recap).

 

Flyers collapse in second period vs. Devils, fall in wild card

Flyers collapse in second period vs. Devils, fall in wild card

This was game the Flyers needed to win.

A team they were more than capable of beating.

Two points they absolutely had to have if they’re going to reclaim the wild card they so carelessly tossed aside in the past month.

And it was all lost when they became unglued over a bad penalty, then an even worse call, during a tied game late in the second period.

Poof! Two goals later, it’s 3-1 New Jersey as the Flyers collapsed in a 4-1 loss Saturday night at Wells Fargo Center to the Devils and slipped one point behind Toronto (51) in the wild card (see Instant Replay).

Veteran referee Dan O’Halloran, who calls an honest game, whistled Radko Gudas for clipping on a legal hip check for a Devils power play.

Then, Flyer MVP candidate Wayne Simmonds argued and drew an unsportsmanlike conduct call.

New Jersey scored on the subsequent 5-on-3 power play, then the Devils added a bad goal off a horrendous line change in the final 48 ticks of the stanza to completely change the complexion of the game.

“I’ll take blame for that,” Simmonds said. “I didn’t agree with the [Gudas] penalty, I got an extra two that’s my fault. They score a goal, make it 2-1, that’s a momentum changer, I take all of the blame for that.”

O’Halloran should have warned Simmonds to walk away, but didn’t. That’s what a good, veteran official does. He blew it. Twice.

“What was said both ways?” Simmonds asked. “The referee was talking to me; I was talking to him. I am not commenting on calls; it is what it is. It happened, it’s over with now. I am not going to say anything about that.”

That the Flyers collapsed so easily at that point just goes to show you how vulnerable and how fragile this team is right now. This was fifth loss in six games for Dake Hakstol's squad.

“It’s a turning point in the hockey game, but no one play or one situation dictates a hockey game,” Hakstol insisted.

Indeed, the poor line change was just as bad or worse. Jakub Voracek was going off the ice at the blue line when the puck was unexpectedly tossed at his feet.

“I didn’t [expect it] and tried to redirect it and it kinda fumbled and we changed and they got a breakaway out of it,” Voracek said.

Miles Wood sped past several Flyers up the right side on Michal Neuvirth, who had not had to make a momentum save till then. He couldn’t. It was 3-1.

If Voracek gets the puck deep enough, the entire sequence is voided.

“It’s two-fold,” countered Hakstol. “It’s the turnover and not being able to get the puck deep. And then it’s the line change.”

A lot of bad things are happening to the Flyers right now. Just a little adversity seems to collapse them like a house of cards.

That wasn’t the case in December when they won 10 games in succession.

“When you lose so many games, you lose confidence,” said Neuvirth, who was pulled for “precautionary reasons” said general manager Ron Hextall, as Steve Mason played the final period.

Neuvirth was limping after the game after tweaking his left knee again, sources said.

“For us it was a tough break to come back, the Devils playing really good hockey, but I think we got to keep believing and keep pushing forward. I still believe in this group,” Neuvirth said.

Question is, do they believe in each other?

Even after giving up the game’s first goal, the Flyers came back tied it, 1-1, on a jam-in goal past Keith Kinkaid by Travis Konecny, had some momentum, then lost everything in that brutal second period.

That’s not to say they didn’t have their chances. Six power plays? No goal? Then again, the power play is 0-for-11 over the past two games. Claude Giroux’s first unit was awful in this one.

And then there’s eight penalties the Flyers took, as well.

“Yeah, we had penalty trouble,” Konecny said. “I think it has kind of crept into our game in the past four or five games. It is not like it is one specific guy. Everyone is taking penalties. We are working hard, and some of those penalties are working hard.

“There are some things we can clean up a little bit, but at the same time when we have taken penalties our  guys have been great. You can’t stop everyone. Everyone’s got good power plays and our guys have been phenomenal on the PK. We just have to take a little less.”

“It’s tough," Neuvrith added. "Seems like taking bad penalties at the wrong times and it’s costing us the games.”

Hakstol insists the team’s confidence hasn’t waned even if it seems that’s exactly what has happened.

“No, I’ve answered that question before,” Hakstol said with a certain amount of irritation. “It’s hard, if we want to rest on confidence sagging, that’s the wrong answer. Our answer is pull together, dig in and get back to work.”