Instant Replay: Lightning 4, Flyers 2

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Instant Replay: Lightning 4, Flyers 2

BOX SCORE

TAMPA, Fla. -- Truly, a blown opportunity.

The Flyers had a chance during this two-game road trip to return home over the .500 mark, but instead dropped both games with disturbing losses.

They began the road trip two points out of a playoff spot and could have changed that. Instead, two flat efforts at Florida and now Tampa Bay.

Witness the 4-2 loss to the Lighting on Wednesday night at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, in which the Bolts scored every which way: Even strength, power play and shorthanded.

That's pretty bad considering no Steven Stamkos and starting goalie Ben Bishop got hurt at the morning skate, although backup Anders Lindback was the scheduled starter, anyway.

Yeah, the Flyers got goals from Vinny Lecavalier and Mark Streit at the bitter end, but for 50 minutes they were outplayed, outhustled, outeverything.

Jon Cooper’s Bolts came out flying at the start. Just as in Florida, the Flyers were a tad flat and stayed that way much of the game.

Although Tampa outshot the Flyers 14-7 that period, the Flyers had the best scoring chance by being awarded a penalty shot and failing to convert. The gap in shots only widened throughout the night.

The turning point came past the midway mark of the second period when the Bolts scored twice to make it 2-0.

Ondrej Palat’s shorthanded goal was the crushing blow, as the Flyers did a very poor job of backchecking on the play.

The Flyers came into here having lost four straight in this arena while being outscored, 16-5.

The Bolts scored an empty-netter at the end, too.

Injuries
The Flyers announced during warmups that winger Matt Read would miss the game with a lower-body injury, presumably incurred during the 3-1 loss in Florida on Monday. That explains why Michael Raffl was in the lineup. Read rode a stationary bike in Tampa on Tuesday, as did some other players who elected not to skate. Read did not practice with the team on Tuesday (see story).

Jakub Voracek took a puck to the mouth in the second period but returned.

Vinny tribute
During the first TV timeout, the Lightning aired a video tribute on their humongous HD scoreboard, capturing highlights from Lecavalier’s 14-year career here. Lots of applause with him and Brad Richards holding the Stanley Cup, plus a standing ovation from the crowd. Lecavalier acknowledged the fans with a wave of his glove at the bench. The club had a second tribute to him later in the period for his charitable work within the community at the Vinny Lecavalier Pediatric Cancer and Blood Disorders Center at All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Penalty shot
Wayne Simmonds was awarded one with 3:14 left in the first period after being hooked from behind by Victor Hedman on a breakaway. Lindback got his right pad on Simmonds’ attempted backhanded lift shot.

Penalty shot count
The Flyers are 0 for 3. Simmonds twice failed to score; Adam Hall once. Coming into the game, players in the NHL were 2 for 21 on penalty shots. All-time, the Flyers are now 19 for 49.

The goalie
Ray Emery was outstanding in the second period, facing some very tough shots. Good combo save early on J.T. Brown’s shot in the slot, and then stopping his follow in the paint by covering up. The Flyers were loose in front of Emery.

Shades of Kane
Victor Hedman’s goal that made it 1-0 midway into the second period looked a lot like Patrick Kane’s Game 6 Cup clincher for Chicago back in 2010. Odd angle toss from the left goal line.

Special teams
The Flyers had a brutal mistake on the power play as Tampa scored a crucial shorthanded goal soon after Hedman’s goal to make it 2-0. Kimmo Timonen’s point shot was blocked. It resulted in a two-on-one with Hedman and Palat. Emery made the stop on Hedman, but the rebound went directly to Palat for an easy deposit. Both Claude Giroux and Voracek were slow on the backcheck. The Flyers were 1 for 2 on the power play.

Faceoffs
Tampa hammered the Flyers in the first period, winning 64 percent of the draws.

Fights
Scott Hartnell took a decision over Eric Brewer in a lively second-period match. It was Hartnell’s first fight this season.

Shots
The Flyers were outshot, 35-21.

Scratches
Read (injured); defensemen Hal Gill and Andrej Meszaros were healthy scratches.

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.