Flyers Missing Some D-Men in DC, Knuble Returns for Caps

Flyers Missing Some D-Men in DC, Knuble Returns for Caps

It was hard to see Mike Knuble leave Philly as a free agent after the 2008-2009 season. He was a popular player and consistent scorer, a veteran presence that is coveted and often hard to replace. In four seasons with the Flyers, he scored 34, 24, 29, and 27 goals, with his lowest total coming in his only injury-shortened season. So, it was no surprise when Knuble continued that success in DC, scoring 29 goals in 69 games, nor when he scored 24 goals in his 14th NHL season.

But things have soured for Knuble and the Capitals, whose two head coaches have both used the big forward in checking roles with diminished minutes, and he's lately even been a healthy scratch. The veteran has been in vocal opposition to the benching, and along with fellow disgruntled old-head Roman Hamrlik, was the subject of some trade deadline fodder.

After scratching him in seven of the previous 11 games, Caps head coach Dale Hunter will dress Knuble tonight against his former Flyers club, which appears to be without two of its top defensemen...

Sadly, we can't root for Knuble to stick it to that horse's ass by netting a hattie, all from within 10 feet of the net. The told-ya-so smirk as he skated back to the bench would be enjoyable, but there's too much at stake for both clubs to hope anything goes right for Washington.

As we pointed out in our earlier post, the Caps are scraping their way through a disappointing season, temporarily outside the playoff bubble as the third place team in a division that does not have a club above .500. Hunter took over the team in late November after it had struggled to a 12-9-1 mark under Bruce Boudreau. They've gone just 20-18-4 with Hunter at the helm.

We don't begrudge a head coach the difficult decision of having to bench a respected player who is past his best years, nor asking players to live up to a better standard than the one he himself set. But his stated reasons were laughable… In Knuble's case, Hunter actually brought up a bad plus-minus rating when he informed the forward he'd be sitting. With Hamrlik, he pointed to bad penalties. Dale Hunter. Pointed to someone's bad penalties.

If you hate the Caps, you've enjoyed every minute of this, save for its inclusion of Knuble.

More recently, Washington's woes have involved poor play on special teams and problems with turnovers. In their previous game, the Devils slaughtered them, 5-0, on Friday night. Michal Neuvirth was in net that night, and gets his fifth straight start tonight as well, per Katie Carrera of the Washington Post.

Woes of Our Own
At the other end of the ice, Ilya Bryzgalov goes again for the Flyers, who hope to win consecutive games for the first time since mid-January. Bryz will likely have his work cut out for him though. After Kimmo Timonen, Braydon Coburn, and Andrej Meszaros all missed yesterday's practice with what Homer called a maintenance day, Erik Gustaffson was recalled. Frank Seravalli believes Timonen and Meszaros will miss the game, with Gus and Andreas Lilja skating in their places.

No confirmation as to who will sit—or why—as of the initial posting, but Sarah Baicker says that if it's Kimmo, his ironman streak ends at 248 games. [Update: Frank was right. Homer says Kimmo and Mesz are out indefinitely with LBI's.]

Does the prospect of a Kimmo/Mesz-less defense scare you? It should… The Flyers' D has been on its heels too often even when fully intact (uh, minus Chris Pronger, that is). Good thing Homer added depth before the deadline, and Nick Grossman should have some motivation to erase a few poor plays recently.

The action starts at 7PM, on NBC Sports Network. HEAR THAT FLYERS? SEVEN PM.

Flyers answer Ron Hextall's plea with comeback OT win over Islanders

Flyers answer Ron Hextall's plea with comeback OT win over Islanders

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK — Shayne Gostisbehere’s fist pump was so vicious and mighty, the celebration was probably felt back in Philadelphia.

This was an exultation the entire Flyers felt, too.

When it started to look like the bye week wasn’t the break they needed, the Flyers reached down deep and got one Sunday night at the Barclays Center in the form of a 3-2 overtime victory over the Islanders (see Instant Replay).

“It allows you to take a breath,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “That’s one thing for sure.”

A sigh of relief for a team beaten and bruised — losers of three straight by a combined score of 15-4, not to mention 3-9-3 in its past 15 games. The Flyers had lost the day prior on home ice to the Devils, 4-1, with a performance not exactly inspiring confidence following five days off.

On Sunday, they trailed 2-0 in the second period.

“We've got to get better at dealing with adversity when something goes wrong,” general manager Ron Hextall said bluntly before the game. “We need to get back on the horse and get back going. Big deal, a team scored a goal. We need to react better to it.”

Finally, the Flyers reacted the way their GM had been hoping.

They flipped the deficit into a victory when Gostisbehere skated behind the net and put the puck on Claude Giroux’s stick for the game-winner with 1:40 left in the extra session. Gostisbehere whipped his arm through the air and embraced Giroux, along with Jakub Voracek, who started the play by stripping Islanders captain John Tavares.

“On a lot of different levels, it’s an important win,” Hakstol said. “It’s huge. And more importantly for us, a great effort. Thought we deserved the two points. Sometimes maybe that’s what it takes to get over the hump — a tremendous effort for 60-plus minutes. I thought we got that out of everyone tonight.”

For Giroux, it was his first goal since Dec. 21.

For Steve Mason, his first win since Dec. 21.

And for the Flyers, their first road victory since Dec. 14, as they went 0-6-3 in the previous nine games away from home.

Yeah, “it was needed,” as Wayne Simmonds said of the win.

“We’ve been fighting it lately and I thought that was a good game from start to finish,” he said. “I thought everyone played well. I think we made bounces go our way tonight instead of hoping and waiting.”

Simmonds scored what might have been the biggest goal of the game. The Flyers, down 1-0 in the second period, came up empty for 33 seconds of a 5-on-3 power play and the proceeding 5-on-4 advantage. The Islanders then padded the lead to 2-0 moments later, putting the Flyers’ backs against the wall.

But Simmonds kept his team from uncoiling with a goal at 14:10 of the period, giving the Flyers life at second intermission. If not for that score, who knows how the Flyers come out in the third period, trailing by multiple goals yet again.

"I think we were plying well,” Giroux said. “We had a lot of chances and [the puck] wasn't going in. Everybody on the bench was frustrated. When Wayne got that first goal, I think [there was] a little relief on the bench. I haven't seen a team celebrate so much just for a first goal. It was kind of a relief and we had a little boost out of that.”

Ivan Provorov scored the equalizer 1:47 into the final period when he maintained possession from the blue line to the circle, adeptly skating around two Islanders to put the puck on net. Provorov’s pass to Travis Konecny hit off the skate of New York’s Adam Pelech and into the net.

“I came off the bench and I saw [Brayden Schenn] was going into the zone, so I took a few hard strides, got the puck from him and I saw it was kind of an odd-man situation,” Provorov said. “I held on to the puck a little bit, saw T.K. going backdoor, passed it there and it went off their D skate.”

Just as important as the timely goals was the Flyers’ discipline. Against the Devils, the Flyers compiled 19 penalty minutes, forcing them on seven penalty kills. This time, the Flyers sharpened up, not allowing the Islanders a power play until midway through the third period. In total, they had just four penalty minutes and killed off both power plays faced.

That gave them a chance.

“We just kept saying it the whole time, ‘Keep going, keep going, guys,’” Simmonds said. “We just need one [goal] and from one comes two, and Mase held the fort.”

Mason made 17 of his 36 saves in the third period and overtime combined.

Now, the Flyers at least go into another important back-to-back — starting Wednesday at the Rangers before welcoming the Maple Leafs Thursday — with some confidence instead of a lost weekend.

“I thought the focus was purely on going out and playing well,” Hakstol said. “And you know, that’s harder to do than you might know — when you start to feel some of the pressure without a win in a little bit. I really liked that side of it. Even in that situation, all the guys played well. Hopefully that puts our entire team in the right direction.’’

Best of NHL: Crosby scores league-leading 28th goal in win vs. Bruins

Best of NHL: Crosby scores league-leading 28th goal in win vs. Bruins

PITTSBURGH -- Conor Sheary scored two goals, Sidney Crosby added his league-leading 28th and the Pittsburgh Penguins won their fourth straight game, 5-1 over the Boston Bruins 5-1 on Sunday.

Pittsburgh led 2-1 through two periods before breaking out in the third with three goals in a span of 2 minutes, 57 seconds.

Sheary scored his 17th and has nine goals in nine games. Bryan Rust added his 12th and Patric Hornqvist his 11th for the Penguins, who won a season-high seventh straight at home. Pittsburgh the NHL's best home team, is 13-0-1 in its last 14 home games.

Evgeni Malkin had two assists for a season-best seven-game point streak. Crosby added two assists for a three-point game. Matt Murray made 44 saves to win his fourth straight game.

David Krejci scored his 11th for the Bruins, who have lost four straight and five of their last six (see full recap).

Rangers shut out Red Wings in 1-0 OT win
DETROIT -- J.T. Miller scored at 1:56 of overtime to lift the New York Rangers to a 1-0 victory over the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday.

Henrik Lundqvist made 21 saves for his second shutout of the season and 61st of his career. The Rangers managed only 19 shots in a game that featured few memorable chances by either team.

The winner came when Mats Zuccarello and Miller swooped in alone on Detroit goalie Jared Coreau. Zuccarello made a simple pass to Miller, who lifted the puck over Coreau for his 16th goal of the season.

Detroit defenseman Niklas Kronwall played for the first time since Jan. 4, returning from a lower-body injury. The Red Wings put forward Drew Miller on waivers (see full recap).

Atikinson lifts Jackets over Senators in wild OT win
OTTAWA, Ontario -- Cam Atkinson's second goal of the game at 1:09 of overtime lifted the Columbus Blue Jackets a 7-6 win over the Ottawa Senators on Sunday night.

Atkinson had a breakaway after a shot by Senators captain Erik Karlsson missed the Columbus net and went around the boards out to Atkinson, who was at center-ice.

The Blue Jackets trailed 5-3 after two periods before Lukas Sedlak and Matt Calvert scored 31 seconds apart to tie it less than 2 1/2 minutes into the third. Atklnson then gave Columbus a 6-5 lead with 9:10 remaining, before Kyle Turries tied it for Ottawa on the power play less than 2 minutes later.

Nick Foligno, Scott Harrington and Zach Werenski also scored for the Blue Jackets, and Joonas Korpisalo finished with 28 saves.

Zach Smith and Mike Hoffman each had two goals and Mark Stone also scored for the Senators. Mike Condon had 22 saves (see full recap).