Flyers suffer big letdown in loss to Panthers

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Flyers suffer big letdown in loss to Panthers

BOX SCORE

You sensed this would happen. Past history suggested it was a real possibility.

The Flyers had played an emotional, leave-it-all-on-the-ice game against the Pittsburgh Penguins. They won in the final 1:31 when every player was spent.

Return home to Wells Fargo Center for Thursday’s back end of a back-to-back against the struggling Florida Panthers.

And …

“We all knew it was going to be a challenge,” Mike Knuble said. “And quite frankly, in the first 5-6 minutes, it was obvious we weren’t up for it and it cost us the game.”

It wasn’t so much the Flyers weren’t skating. It was a series of turnovers and sloppy defensive play that killed them in the opening period of a 5-2 spanking.

“I don’t usually make excuses; I’m usually straight-forward,” Kimmo Timonen said. “You saw a tired Flyers team today.

“Coming back from six-game road trip and play a really hard-charged game yesterday, get back at 2 a.m. We were tired.”

Before the game, coach Peter Laviolette addressed the letdown scenario with his team.

“We talked about positive things as opposed to negative things,” Laviolette said. “It’s a big game for our team. We want to make this game mean something. It’s an opportunity to get back to a starting point.

“We’ve been sub par the entire season so far and I think the guys recognize that. It’s been a … very tough ride with regard to a lot of things. Tonight is a chance to get back and take a quick breath.”

So much was riding on this. The first of five straight home games against lesser Eastern Conference opponents when the Flyers could fatten up on points get themselves into playoff position.

They could have reached .500 with this one win.

Gone. They are now 4-8 in back-to-backs and 2-4 in the second game.

“It is what it is, the schedule and games last night was hard fought and we came back. You want to prepare and put yourselves in position to win a hockey game,” Laviolette said.

“It was an important game tonight. It was evident in the first 10 minutes we weren’t as sharp, weren’t as crisp at last night … We didn’t make a lot of mistakes but the ones we made were point blank.”

Ilya Bryzgalov was very mediocre, giving up four goals on just 15 shots. He was yanked for Brian Boucher in the second period.

Take away a couple turnovers and the Flyers trail 1-0 after the first intermission instead of 3-0.

“It’s a frustrating one, a tough one to lose after all the effort we put in yesterday, all the battling we did, everything we fought for yesterday,” Danny Briere said.

“To come out today and have a game like this, we talked about coming out strong and playing hard.

“It was mental mistakes that did us in. We were trying to play hard … It’s mental mistakes that cost us. The first three chances to score, they scored.”

Florida’s first two goals were 29 seconds apart. Peter Mueller, working hard to get open in the slot, measured Bryzgalov and beat him at 8:15.

On the next goal, the Flyers botched an attempted pass through the neutral zone and it was picked off by Mike Weaver, who quickly fed Tomas Kopecky for a snap wrister to make it 2-0.

Laviolette immediately called his timeout. That trick worked in Pittsburgh -- as it often does. Not this time.

Barely two minutes later, Luke Schenn’s point shot was blocked by Panther rookie Jonathan Huberdeau, who raced up the ice so quickly that Timonen had no choice but to haul him down.

Penalty shot. Good call.

You know how Bryzgalov handles shootouts. Penalty shots -- same thing. Huberdeau came down the slot slowly, turned his body to the right, then backhanded the puck through the five-hole. Easily.

It was 3-0 and the Flyers were cooked.

“I’ve seen this happen a million times in my life,” Timonen said. “You’re coming back from a road trip, the hardest game is the next home game. It proves it’s mentally tough. We had a bad sleep last night.

“When you are mentally tired, you are not 100 percent into the game. You make easy mental mistakes and usually those things end up in the back of your net.”

Harry Zolnierczyk nearly got one back near the end of the period. Early in the second period, Sean Couturier had a partial breakaway and slid a backhander wide of the open side. Could have been 3-2 “if” they score.

Before the second period ended, Huberdeau tipped one past Bryzgalov. He leads the Panthers with eight goals (five in five games). That brought Boucher into the game.

“He’s very skilled, very slick,” Briere said of Huberdeau. “Offensively, he’s a very dangerous players. Pretty impressive for his first year in the league. I thought he showed a lot of poise with the puck.”

The lone bright spot? Jakub Voracek picked up another goal late in the final period on a wrap around. He has seven goals and a team-high 19 points.

“We have to learn from this -- every game matters. We’re not 10-0,” Timonen said. “Every game matters and we’re fighting for a playoff spot. These games matter.”

Best of NHL: Surging Capitals rock Blues in St. Louis

Best of NHL: Surging Capitals rock Blues in St. Louis

ST. LOUIS -- Andre Burakovsky, T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov each had a goal and an assist to lead the Washington Capitals to a 7-3 victory over the St. Louis Blues on Thursday night.

Jay beagle, Brett Connolly, Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams also scored, and Alex Ovechkin and Daniel Winnik each had two assists to help Washington earn at least a point in its 12th straight game (10-0-2) for an NHL-best 66 points.

Braden Holtby bounced back from his roughest outing of the season with 22 saves. Holtby was pulled after giving up a season-high five goals on 26 shots in an 8-7 overtime loss at Pittsburgh on Monday. He improved to 22-8-4 and 5-0 lifetime against St. Louis (see full recap).

Grabner scores 2 goals, Rangers top Leafs
TORONTO -- Michael Grabner scored two goals against his former team, helping the New York Rangers snap a three-game losing streak with a 5-2 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night.

Pavel Buchnevich, Brady Skjei and J.T. Miller added goals for New York, and Henrik Lundqvist made 23 saves following a series of rough outings.

Tyler Bozak and Zach Hyman scored for Toronto, which had a three-game winning streak stopped. The Maple Leafs had earned 21 of a possible 26 points in their previous 13 games (10-2-1). Frederik Andersen gave up four goals on 40 shots (see full recap).

Tavares leads Islanders to shutout of Stars
NEW YORK -- Getting a new coach this week didn't change things much for the Islanders -- and oddly enough, that's a good thing for New York.

John Tavares narrowly missed out on his second hat trick in a week, Thomas Greiss got his second straight shutout and the Islanders beat the Dallas Stars 3-0 on Thursday night in their first game since firing longtime coach Jack Capuano.

New York canned Capuano in the middle of his seventh season Tuesday, replacing him on an interim basis with Doug Weight (see full recap).

Niederreiter, Wild dodge letdown, edge Coyotes
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Nino Niederreiter had two power-play goals and an assist, including the go-ahead score for the Minnesota Wild with 7:06 remaining in a 4-3 victory over Arizona on Thursday night after the Coyotes came back from a two-goal deficit.

With Shane Doan in the penalty box for hooking, Niederreiter knocked in a nifty redirect of Mikael Granlund's slap shot for the winner. Devan Dubnyk stopped 20 shots for the Wild, who are 18-2-2 in their last 22 games.

Louis Domingue made 21 saves for the Coyotes, who lost their fourth in a row and fell to 2-12-1 in their last 15 games starting with a 4-1 loss to Minnesota in Arizona on Dec. 17 (see full recap).

End to End: What adjustment would you make on Flyers' defense?

End to End: What adjustment would you make on Flyers' defense?

Throughout the season, we'll ask questions about the Flyers to our resident hockey analysts and see what they have to say.

With the Flyers on their bye week, let’s discuss a few topics.

Going End to End this week are CSNPhilly.com producers/reporters Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone.

Today’s question: What adjustment would you make on the Flyers' defense?

Dougherty
There is not much in Dave Hakstol’s arsenal to significantly improve the team defense with a lineup change. Sure, scratching Andrew MacDonald could be a positive step, but that does not solve the problem here. We can point fingers at the defensive group because the Flyers have allowed the league’s second-most goals at 144. They’re part of the problem.

What is plaguing the Flyers is not just the play of their six defensemen on any given night; it’s their overall team defense. Some forwards are quitting on the backcheck, and not providing enough support in their own zone, missing their own assignments.

The Flyers, I believe, are struggling with the lack of practice time. And while it is true that every team is dealing with the same compact schedule as the Flyers, Hakstol has to maximize the little practice time he gets going forward and preach team defense. Gaps have been a major issue with the current group of blueliners, and that is an area assistant coach Gord Murphy has to fix. Hakstol has singled out the team’s rush defense as an issue, and that’s another area the team has to work on, too.

A lot of the same issues that were appearing in the beginning of the season when the Flyers were struggling are reappearing in their game now. They were able to make adjustments earlier in the season to hone their game defensively. More film study and more coaching are just a couple of the adjustments I’d make with the current options.

Hall
Sometimes it takes a fresh face, some new blood to spark change.

If anything, it sends a bit of a message.

The Flyers have options at AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley and general manager Ron Hextall didn’t rule anything out last Sunday.

But, of course, given the Flyers’ salary cap conundrum, it’s not as simple as just calling up a player.

So, the easiest thing that can be done is change within the current personnel. That means scratching MacDonald from time to time, just how Hakstol has done so with Shayne Gostisbehere, Brandon Manning, Michael Del Zotto, Radko Gudas and many Flyers forwards.

MacDonald hasn’t been as bad as some may think. Oftentimes, his mistakes are magnified more than others. But too frequently do we see him out of position or misreading a play on a goal against. And that’s been true for all Flyers defensemen, yet MacDonald seems to be one of the only spared of the consequences.

Benching MacDonald isn’t a drastic fix and it may not do much at all, but it’s something we haven’t seen since Nov. 19.

Paone
This a really tough question because, to be quite frank, there is no easy solution here to fixing a Flyers defense that has been mired in a state of miserable play and has played a large part in the team's allowing 3.50 goals per game in the 14 contests since the 10-game win streak ended in mid-December. 

It's not like Hakstol or Hextall can push some magic button here and have things fixed in a matter of moments. The Flyers have salary cap and roster issues, so it's going to be tough to bring in a player via trade to help fix things on the back end. Same goes for bringing up a prospect because space on the roster would have to be made first.

This situation leaves the Flyers to fix the problem from within with the defensemen they currently have at the NHL level. They're going to have to play their way out of this. And that's why I'm interested in focusing on the younger defensemen like Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov right now. We know what the veteran defensemen on this team are and they've been through this sort of thing before. This will not be the last team-wide rut the younger defensemen will play through in their careers. It will happen again. They're going to have to learn how to play through this and not let it affect their individual play. That's why I didn't agree with Ghost's benching in Boston last weekend.  Sure, he has not played well this season and the warts to his game have been evident. And there are times when sitting back, taking a breather and watching can be beneficial. But I'm a believer that a young player has to play through his growing pains and grow from them.

This isn't going to be an answer most of you will like to hear, but with the way the Flyers' hands are tied, they're just going to have to play their way out of these defensive struggles with what they have.