Bad Blood, Great Hockey: Flyers Storm Back to Thrash Penguins

Bad Blood, Great Hockey: Flyers Storm Back to Thrash Penguins

For months, the Flyers have been playing a dangerous game, one rarely won in the NHL. They've frequently allowed the game's first goal, often before the fans have found their seats. And yet, they continue living to tell the tale. On Saturday, the Ottawa Senators scored three unanswered goals in the first period. The Flyers tied the game and left the ice with one point after losing in the shootout. On Sunday, the Penguins became the latest team to open the Flyers up early, scoring twice in the opening period before the Flyers returned fire.
Once again, the Flyers were backed into a corner. And once again, they successfully fought their way out. It was the second straight time they beat the Pens after conceding the game's first two goals, and they'd leave the ice with a 6-4 W after a brutal and entertaining end. 
How are they managing to win despite the odds against coming back, especially against one of the league's elite teams?
On Sunday, the Penguins certainly had the better of the early attacking, but it was luck that kept the Flyers off the board early. Despite being outshot, Philadelphia did still have some good opportunities. Pittsburgh opened the scoring with a complete fluke of a goal, though good cycling and puck work led to it. Sidney Crosby had a solid opportunity that was stoned by Sergei Bobrovsky, but the Pens retained the puck and got it to Steve Sullivan in the high slot. Sullivan's shot knuckled very oddly and popped over Bob and into the net. 
A much cleaner shot by Matt Carle caught iron a minute later, then slid past a perfectly positioned Scott Hartnell on the doorstep of an open net. Sometimes the bounces don't go your way, and the Pens had both the better luck and the better work in the early goings. 
It paid off for the home side again before 5 minutes had ticked off. James Neal scored his 39th when the Penguins' top line caught the Flyers looking. Evgeni Malkin skated under the goal line with the puck, slammed on the brakes, and fed it back to Neal. Despite Malkin being alone behind the net, the Flyers had inadequate coverage in front of it. 
It appeared a rout had begun. The top scoring team in the league had drawn blood and were circling like sharks (not the San Jose variety). But anyone who's watched the Flyers this season should know the game was just getting started. They've won seven of the 24 games in which they've trailed by two goals at any point, getting at least a point in 10 of them. In games they've trailed 2-0, they have either tied or taken the lead four out of five times, according to Sam Carchidi. 
So let's get on to that part, shall we?
Ten minutes after the Neal goal, the Flyers' top line answered. Jaromir Jagr, Claude Giroux, and Scott Hartnell put a load of pressure on an outmatched Penguins unit in the Pittsburgh zone. Jagr helped keep the puck free with an active stick, and Giroux powered through a flat-footed Aron Asham. G turned inside and put it on goal, where Marc-Andre Fleury was screened by Hartnell. Exactly how this line is designed to work, complete with a #hartnelldown. 
The building grew quiter, the Pens swagger tucked a bit tighter between their legs. They still had the lead, but it was a new game. 
Five minutes into the second, the scoreboard was reset. The Flyers' checking line was managing the Penguins' top line well, with their most effective tactic being to generate offensive pressure. They worked the puck around the Pittsburgh zone, and Sean Couturier sent it into the slot, where Zac Rinaldo gloved it down, turned, and shot it toward goal. None other than former Penguin Max Talbot was open on the back door, and he chipped it home. 
Remember when Dan Bylsma teased his former checker for finding a goal-scoring touch? That's 19 on the season for Talbot, whose career best with the Penguins was 13. 
Sergei Bobrovsky shook off a less-than-stellar start, just as he did against the Senators on Saturday. The Pens came close to breaking through a few times, including with a second left in the period, but Bob kept the gate shut. 
The Flyers would take the lead and keep it in the third. Wayne Simmonds scored his fifth goal in four games, a power play tally quarterbacked by Giroux. G first passed to Hartnell in the highslot, where he's had success this season, but he couldn't convert. The Flyers kept the puck, and G again set up to lay ruin. This time he passed it to a poaching Jake Voracek, who was on the right point. Vorch sent it down low, where Simmonds was waiting on the back door. 
Voracek would score the first of his two goals next, a slick breakaway off a nice touch pass from Eric Wellwood. Marc-Andre Bourdon piled an insurance goal on after that, shooting from the point after G beat Crosby in a Pens-zone faceoff. Bourdon's shot hit Zbynek Michalek on the way, changing direction considerably to beat Marc-Andre Fleury. 
The Penguins got on the board again with another Sullivan goal, making things momentarily interesting, but it was too little too late for the Pens. 
The game was far from over though. These teams will close the season together, then very likely meet in the first round of the playoffs. As detailed, with video, here, the Pens wanted to send a message that this game was over, but they'd be ready to swing next week. If you haven't seen it yet, go watch Lavvy go apeshit on Dan Bylsma's crew, with both coaches standing on the boards as their players brawled on the ice. 
Anyone not ready for the next meeting?
NotesThe Flyers are now 4-1-0 against the Penguins, who are leaking goals and playing a dangerous, gambling game of their own. They're very loose, confident their scoring can carry them. But they're surrendering too many goals, and and MAF has been very human lately. 
The Flyers played most of the game without Nick Grossmann, who took a knee-on-knee hit from Joe Vitale. No word on his status yet, but he didn't return. Lavvy indicated in an interview that it wasn't serious, but who knows. The Flyers can't afford to lose him, despite today's winning effort after his departure. 
Kimmo Timonen also left briefly after blocking a shot with his knee. He returned though. 
Huge props to Braydon Coburn, who was double and even triple shifted throughout the game. He played nearly 29 minutes. Matt Carle was just under 28. 
Vitale was also at the center of the storm that ended the game, laying out Danny Briere with a huge, clean hit. Lavvy's beef was that his checking line hadn't played in the latter half of the third period, then was sent out for possibly the final faceoff. While legal, the hit was clearly a message. Lavvy called Bylsma "gutless" according to reports from the locker room, while Crosby defended it and the Pens complained of the hit Brayden Schenn put on their captain from behind. 
Schenn was clearly in violation of the rules, but no more than Malkin was when he did the same
to Hartnell after a whistle (only difference being Harts didn't crumble to the ice like Crosby), nor when Malkin basically cross-check/tackled Giroux. He and Crosby were the dirtiest players on the ice, with even the NBC crew pointing out Crosby's unpenalized slashes. 
15 penalties were assessed on that final fracas. Peter Laviolette was tossed from the game, and he earned it. It was pretty funny to see him shatter Talbot's stick, with part of it landing on the ice, another part in the Pens' bench. 
Among the many highlights of the game, it was particularly enjoyable to see how unfazed the Flyers' youngins were by the stars in black and gold. 
It doesn't appear any Flyer is afraid of Pittsburgh's Consol Energy Center. They've won all five games they've played there. Must be the barbecue. 
Highlights

Travis Konecny leaves impression with vets in Flyers' preseason win

Travis Konecny leaves impression with vets in Flyers' preseason win

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Michael Raffl had just finished playing alongside Travis Konecny, the 19-year-old kid that has Flyers fans abuzz about the now and future.

Yet for Raffl, he wasn’t thinking forward. Instead, he was looking back.

“Yeah, well, I couldn’t do that when I was 19, that’s for sure,” the 27-year-old said smiling, eyes wide open. “No, it’s impressive, he’s a really, really good hockey player.”

Konecny had that resounding affect Wednesday night at the PPL Center, recording a goal and an assist while leading the Flyers to a 2-0 preseason win over the Devils (see 10 observations).

He dazzled with speed and shiftiness.

He showed off vision and smarts.

When he touched the puck, he had everyone’s attention.

Paired with Raffl and Brayden Schenn in a game featuring mostly prospects, the 2015 first-round pick made the molding of Ron Hextall’s roster that much more difficult. With the general manager looking on, the highly touted winger started fast before making his imprint in a span of just four minutes and 34 seconds.

First, he redirected a blast by Andrew MacDonald to hand the Flyers a 1-0 lead. Not long after, the 2015 first-round pick deceived the defense to find Raffl right in front on a backdoor pass for a 2-0 advantage.

“We had a cycle play going and he had a nice fake up top there and I was just going to the net,” Raffl said. “Somehow I was all by myself and he saw me, put a perfect pass on my tape and I just went around the goalie and put it in.”

Following his first goal, Konecny nearly tacked on another less than a minute later when he appeared to hit the crossbar on a shot. He also flirted with a few more assists.

“I think I just played relaxed,” Konecny said. “I came into the game tonight trying not to do too much and just keep things simple. The main thing for me was getting pucks out of the zone, so I think I did that well tonight and hopefully I can keep building on it.”

Relieving pucks from the zone isn’t a problem when you possess the speed and skill of Konecny, who racked up 101 points last season at the junior level.

At just 19, that’s where he’ll have to return if he doesn’t crack the Flyers’ roster.

With cuts already made and more coming, that sometimes is on Konecny’s mind.

“It weighs on you a little bit. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t thinking about it and it’s definitely the time I need to step up and make sure I’m playing good hockey,” Konecny said. “And just earning another day — that’s just the way I’m looking at it. Every day I wake up and just work hard and move forward from there.

“I think everyone comes into camp and tries to give them (management) a reason not to send you back and make it hard on them.”

Wednesday night didn’t hurt his chances.

“He played a good hockey game,” Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said. “Had an impact offensively. He did a pretty good job. There’s some youthful mistakes in there, but overall, he had a real good night tonight playing with Raf and Schenner.”

Placing Konecny with two capable NHL forwards offered the Canadian an opportunity to prove what he could do if he was in fact on the big club.

“We played well together,” Konecny said. “I think from the start we just had a lot of communication, we talked in the room, in warmups, we all knew what we were going to do throughout the game and in certain scenarios.”

If anything, Konecny left an impression on Raffl.

“He’s a very smart player,” Raffl said. “Once he has the puck, he makes smart decisions with it. It was very easy to play with him out there. He plays a mature game and I really enjoyed it.”

Time will tell if more is in store come Oct. 14.

Loose pucks
Anthony Stolarz and Alex Lyon combined for the shutout. Stolarz started and made 11 saves over 29:23, while Lyon played 30:37 and stopped seven shots. “I like both of our guys tonight,” Hakstol said. “Stolie did a good job, he made a difference in this game in the first 10 minutes, those two or three really good saves there. Then Alex came in halfway through, which isn’t an easy thing to do and was ready to go and did his job.” … Schenn, MacDonald and defensive prospect Robert Hagg finished with an assist apiece. … With the roster currently standing at 49, the Flyers expect to make 15 cuts on Thursday. … Defenseman Nick Schultz is out four to seven days with a lower-body injury suffered in Tuesday night’s preseason game. ... The Flyers are off Thursday before likely practicing Friday ahead of Saturday's preseason game at 7 p.m. against the Bruins at the Wells Fargo Center.

The stench of recent losses prompts a Phillies team meeting

The stench of recent losses prompts a Phillies team meeting

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA – After every Phillies road game, it’s customary for reporters to enter the clubhouse and stop into the manager’s office to collect a few observations from the ol' skipper.
 
On Wednesday night, Pete Mackanin, still in his uniform pants and red undershirt, took the unusual step of leaving the visiting clubhouse at Turner Field and approaching a group of reporters as they waited in the hallway outside the room.
 
What gives?
 
Did the toilets overflow or something?
 
Well, in a sense, yes.
 
The stink of a 12-2 loss to the Atlanta Braves led some of the team’s elder statesmen to call a players-only team meeting (see Instant Replay). That meant Mackanin had to do his postmortems outside in the hallway.
 
“I don't know who called it, but it’s nice to see,” Mackanin said. “Somebody cares.”
 
Catcher Cameron Rupp revealed that the meeting was called by veterans Ryan Howard and A.J. Ellis. The Phillies have lost five of their last six games and given up a ridiculous 63 runs over that span. They lost, 17-0, Sunday in New York and blew a 6-0 lead in losing, 7-6, Tuesday night in Atlanta. Losing by a 10-spot on Wednesday night added to the embarrassment and dropped the Phillies to 70-88 with four games remaining in the season.
 
“We have some older guys, Howie and A.J. that have been around and they don’t want to see guys stumble to the finish line,” Rupp said. “Finish hard, finish strong. We’ve had a good year in a lot of guys’ eyes. We’ve improved on last year. There has been a lot of good things we can build off and that’s what the message was – continue to work and get better.
 
“There are four games left – don’t quit,” Rupp said. “Come to the ballpark expecting to win and see where it takes you. We got pushed around the last couple of nights and in New York. Stuff happens. It’s part of the game. But with four games left, there’s a lot that each player can prove.
 
“A lot can happen in four days. We can ruin somebody else’s season.”
 
The Phillies play their final game at Turner Field on Thursday night – the Braves will open a new stadium next year – then return home Friday night to play the Mets, who are locked in a tight race for the National League wild card.
 
The weekend series against the Mets will mark Howard’s last three days in a Phillies uniform.
 
He has swung the bat lately like a man who still has pride. His part in the team meeting reflected that pride.
 
“A.J. and I felt like having a quick meeting and that we did,” Howard said. “We need to refocus on these last four games. We got beat up tonight. We have to put a halt to that momentum and refocus on the last four games.
 
“It’s important to finish strong. It would be easy to cash it in, but we want to go out on a high note and we have four games to try to do that.”

Mackanin admitted the series in New York – three losses in four games to the Mets – “took the life out of everybody” and the malaise followed the Phillies to Atlanta.
 
“It's all about pitching,” Mackanin said. “Pitching keeps you in games. That's why we won 70 games. Now we're not getting the pitching.”
 
The Phillies have struggled to score runs all season. In fact, they are the only team in the majors not to reach 600 runs. (They have 599.) But recently, the pitching has gone downhill, especially in the bullpen.
 
Mackanin tried to give the bullpen a break on Wednesday night. That’s why he had Adam Morgan suck up five innings on a night when he didn’t have it. The lefty allowed 10 hits and nine runs in his final start of the season.
 
“It’s pretty bad,” Morgan said. “It’s not the way that I wanted to go out.”
 
Morgan made strides recently as he picked up a two-seam fastball and used his changeup more. But he is 2-11 with a 6.04 ERA.
 
“Below average,” said Mackanin, assessing Morgan’s season. “It wasn't a successful season for him. He has ability, but the numbers matter. If you want to go by the numbers, they're not good. It doesn't mean I don't like him. It doesn't mean he doesn't have a future. At some point, you have to put up numbers.”
 
Speaking of numbers, the Phillies have put up some awful numbers against the NL East. They are 16-35 against the NL East in their last 51 divisional games.
 
“I look at the team statistics,” Mackanin said. “When you're 13th, 14th and 15th in 10 of those categories, that tells you all you need to know.
 
“We're down at the bottom in hitting. We're sinking fast in pitching.
 
“As far as a yardstick to measure, I look at those stats. Numbers matter. They tell you the story.”
 
In four days, the story of the 2016 Phillies will be over. Maybe Wednesday night’s players-only meeting will inspire a couple of final wins.

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