Rookies' inexperience could spell Flyers' end


Rookies' inexperience could spell Flyers' end

The reason to love the Flyers going forward is the same reason why they can only go so far this spring.

Their rookies have scored 62 goals, helping them to the NHLs third-best team goal total and probably its most relentless shift-after-shift attack. These kids are good, fast, and perhaps just as important in a capped NHL will work cheaply over the next several seasons. With or without Chris Pronger, this nucleus can bring Philadelphia a long awaited Cup sometime over the next few springs.

For this one, though, we have our doubts. As sustaining as has been the play of Matt Read, Sean Couturier, Brayden Schenn and Eric Wellwood through four months of substandard goaltending and one of the leagues higher totals of man-games lost, a year from now these kids likely will be telling us there was no way their first NHL regular season could fully prepare them for their first playoff.

We wouldnt be in this situation if wasnt for the way those guys contributed through the course of the year, insisted Peter Laviolette Monday. I have absolutely no doubt that they are going to play a good hockey game for us.

From Ken Morrow to Patrick Roy to Jaromir Jagr to Laviolettes own Cam Ward in Carolina, the history of Stanley Cup winners is filled with rookie heroes. So perhaps there is strength in the numbers or in having only one first-year player Schenn playing on one of the first two lines Wednesday night in Pittsburgh.

Like Scott Hartnell said Monday, every team is only as good as its first line. But we have seen enough first lines choke from the scrutiny of game plans, fans and media to also believe that the only thing more important than a first line in the playoffs is scoring support from a second and third line. And going against a Pittsburgh team without a rookie, the first step of four for these Flyers, is going to be slippery.

Considering the entire NHL playoff experiences of Wayne Simmonds and Jake Voracek were one-time one-and-dones for Los Angeles and Columbus, the team resume doesnt report too many battle tests. The Flyers have exactly five forwards who have ever won a playoff series, going up against a team with 11 players who have won a Stanley Cup.

The Flyers have three: Jagr 20 years ago with Pittsburgh, Max Talbot with the 2009 Penguins and Ilya Bryzgalov, who played four playoff games for the 2007 Ducks. Thats a massive difference in experience that likely will overcome whatever doubts the Penguins sustained in substantially losing the season series to the Flyers, or the failure to beat them in a meaningful game at CONSOL Energy Center in the two years since it opened.

To a man, the Flyers marched in front of the microphones to announce the need for discipline against the team of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Obviously, this is the dominant talking point by Laviolette and his assistants. The Penguins, likewise, may feel they have nothing to fear but the Flyers potent power play, so indeed may the smartest team win. Pittsburgh has not played as carefully since Crosbys return, and of course, Philadelphia has a punchers chance.

The Flyers can get after you over the course of a game more than any team in the league, said an opposing coach. But I dont see the structure I see with most of the top teams.

Too many outnumbered breaks, too many guys left alone in the defensive zone. I dont know if you can win in the playoffs that way.

The defensive play got better over the last month with the acquisition of Nick Grossmann, his badly needed physicality and shot blocking working hand-in-hand with an improved Bryzgalov. The vise will have to crank one full rotation tighter to beat Pittsburgh, Boston or the Rangers, much more mature teams than the ones the Flyers beat on their 2010 Final run.

This series is going to be decided by decisions at the blue lines. And the Penguins have a much longer track record for making good ones.

Jay Greenberg covered the Flyers for 14 years for the Daily News and Evening Bulletin. His history of the Flyers, Full Spectrum, was published in 1996. He can be reached at

Flyers' defense continues to abandon team through 1-2-1 start

Flyers' defense continues to abandon team through 1-2-1 start

It was the home opener Thursday night and his team went 1 for 7 on the man advantage with five such opportunities in the second period alone.

However, Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol remembers one play more than any other in his team’s 3-2 loss to the Anaheim Ducks at the Wells Fargo Center (see game recap).

The Flyers had swung and missed on their final power play of the middle stanza, when the Ducks came pushing up ice with post-kill energy. Somehow, Anaheim came barreling down on the Flyers with a four-on-two rush seconds after the orange and black just had the benefit of an extra player.

Center Ryan Getzlaf dumped a pass back to winger Corey Perry, who had all the time in the world to wind up and blast one home thanks to 6-foot-4 Getzlaf’s screening of 6-foot defenseman Ivan Provorov.

Just like that, the game was tied when it looked like the Flyers would add cushion and cruise into the third period with a lead to protect.

“Our power play was OK,” Hakstol said. “The bigger thing for me is the goal that we gave up a few seconds after the last power play in the second period. Those are the type of goals as a team that we can’t give up.”

The rookie Provorov couldn’t find his way around the veteran Getzlaf, while defenseman Brandon Manning stayed in retreat, allowing Perry to unleash a slap shot.

“It’s the best league in the world, the best players play here,” Provorov said. “Even a little mistake can cost you, slightly out of position can cost you. I’m still learning.”

Provorov has endured his rookie lumps through the Flyers’ 1-2-1 start. A game after finishing with a minus-5 rating against the Blackhawks, the 19-year-old committed two giveaways and a cross-checking penalty for a minus-1 mark Thursday.

Nonetheless, the Flyers went from a man up to two down in a matter of seconds to relinquish the lead.

“We didn’t handle that well,” Hakstol said. “When you give up a four-on-two after you’ve had those kind of opportunities, it’s going to change the momentum of the game.”

Were the defensemen in a bad spot?

“Yes,” Hakstol said.

Poor defensive coverage cost the Flyers momentum in the second and the game in the third.

About midway through the period, Ducks defenseman Korbinian Holzer carried the puck behind goalie Steve Mason before adeptly finding Ryan Garbutt uncovered with a reverse pass. The Anaheim center scored easily top shelf as Flyers defensemen Andrew MacDonald and Shayne Gostisbehere were caught standing in front of the net without seeing Garbutt.

“We had a little bit of tired legs,” Hakstol said. “We lost coverage on that play. There was a switch. We didn’t lose coverage for long. We had communication, we had talked, but we lost coverage for a split second and that allowed them to make the play to the same side on the backdoor.”

Gostisbehere had trouble working his power-play magic and played big minutes with 22:58 of ice time.

“They’re a big-bodied team,” Gostisbehere said. “We just have to make our plays a little quicker.”

Even on the Ducks’ first-period marker, an outlet pass found its way behind the defense of Provorov and Gostisbehere. Over the first four games, the Flyers have allowed 16 goals, tied for the NHL’s most.

“You’re playing against a heavy team and they put a lot of pressure on the group back there when they’re able to get pucks deep,” Hakstol said. “So, I don’t think it was particular to one or two guys. When you let them gain the zone with some speed and get in on pucks, they’re a heavy team to handle.”

Facing a heavy team or not, the Flyers know defensive execution must be cleaned up.

“I think that from everyone’s personal standpoint we can all be better,” Mason said. “When you lose three games in a row, we can’t worry about what other people are doing, you just have to focus on your own job. From a goaltender’s perspective, personally, I have to find ways to come out and get a win here.”

Flyers' celebratory home opener spoiled by 'big-bodied' Ducks

Flyers' celebratory home opener spoiled by 'big-bodied' Ducks


It should have been a grand evening of celebrating 50 years of hockey in Philadelphia and Ed Snider’s legacy.
Instead, it evaporated into the Flyers' third straight loss, 3-2, at the hands of the Anahiem Ducks (see Instant Replay).
Coach Dave Hakstol could blame his power play for failing six times in seven chances, but even five-on-five, the Flyers lacked. The Ducks take teams to the net and make you pay, as the players on their roster average a 13-pound advantage than the average Flyer.
“You’re playing against a heavy team and they put a lot of pressure on the group back there when they are able to get pucks deep,” Hakstol said.
“You got to try and create gaps and that doesn’t start in your own zone, it starts up ice as a five-man unit. You got to carry good gaps through the neutral zone into your zone to defend some of those plays.”
Anaheim leaves teams black and blue as the Flyers no doubt will discover Friday morning.
“That's just the way Anaheim plays,” Wayne Simmonds said. “They play a rough style, but we're not going to back down from them. This is our building.”
While the Flyers didn’t back down, between turnovers and misreads and players failing to get back up ice, a lot of things went wrong in this one.
The turning point in the game came late in the second period when the Flyers were coming off their fifth power play of the period. The forwards – Travis Konecny, Sean Couturier and Dale Weise – were slow getting back up ice.
That left rookie defenseman Ivan Provorov to handle Ryan Getzlaf one-on-one with Corey Perry behind him near Brandon Manning on a four-on-two rush.
There was a drop pass to Perry and he fired from the circle to tie the game, 2-2.
“They do a good job, killing off three in a row and come down and score,” Simmonds said. “If we put one in on the power play there, it’s probably a different story.
“We’re turning pucks over in the neutral zone. Make sure we’re bearing down on it. We gotta be better at it.”
Among the issues in this one, both young defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere (minus-2) and  Provorov (minus-1) struggled on the offensive and defensive side of the puck.
"Ghost" is having too many shots blocked and fumbling pucks. Provorov is having difficulty making quick reads and pucks are ending up in the net.
Aside from rookie mistakes, some of that has to do with the forwards not backchecking and the Ducks’ overall size.
“They’re a big-bodied team. They pinch hard and they cut down time and space,” Gostisbehere said. “We have to make our plays quicker.”
While the Flyers talked about feeding off the energy of the night, it just didn’t materialize. They got an early power play and produced just one shot with Gostisbehere hitting the post.
The Ducks produced an early goal after a Flyers power play ended with Sami Vatanen’s stretch pass to Jared Boll for a two-on-one.
Boll went to the net, screened out Steve Mason and left a drop pass that Chris Wagner buried. On top of that, a bad line change, as well.
Mason had to defend quite a bit of net in this one without much defensive support.
“From everyone’s personal standpoint, we can all be better,” Mason said. “When you lose three games in a row, you can’t be worrying about what other people are doing.”
“It’s a tough go in the second period. They kill off [four power plays] and then Perry comes down and scores a goal there. We can’t dwell on that. I have to find ways to get back on top here.”
Anaheim’s winning goal midway into the third came when Korbinian Holzer ripped a pass from behind the net into the slot for Ryan Garbutt. He one-timed the puck before Mason knew it was there. There was no coverage on him, either.
“You focus on your own job,” Mason said. “From a goaltender’s perspective, personally, I have to find ways to come out and get a win here.”