10 observations from Flyers-Penguins

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10 observations from Flyers-Penguins

Ten random observations from the Flyers’ 4-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins (see Instant Replay).

Let’s start at the beginning.

1. The Flyers were guilty of slow starts last year, and even under new head coach Craig Berube, it’s been a tough habit to shake this season. They escaped the first period with a 0-0 tie, sure, but consider this: They trailed in shots 8-1 at one point Thursday night. They lost 12 of their first 14 faceoffs. They took two bad -- really, really bad -- penalties in the game’s first six minutes. Never mind the power-play struggles, or the top players’ slumps. You get caught flat-footed early, you miss opportunities and you don’t win games.

2. The Flyers know they’ve had trouble staying disciplined this season. They know games against the Penguins have a history of getting out of hand. And they certainly know the Pens have a very dangerous power-play unit. So what happened to the plan to stay disciplined -- especially early? They were very, very lucky to have Steve Mason in net. Without him, they could have dug themselves into an early ugly hole. In total, the Flyers incurred five penalties.

3. Someone on Twitter who may or may not share an alma mater with yours truly thought it fitting to create a “Did the Flyers Score on the Power Play Yet?” Twitter account ahead of Thursday’s game. Thankfully, it was short-lived (for now), as the team snapped an 0-for-18 stretch on the man advantage. It should be noted, though, they were just 1 for 4 on the power play.

4. What happened to all those “steps forward” Berube and his players kept referencing this week? What happened to the supposedly improved five-on-five play? Simply put, the Flyers looked impotent through too much of Thursday’s game. They were hardly able to break out of their own zone, let alone create pressure on Pens goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, through its first 35 minutes. Even when they weren’t on the penalty kill, they were stretched thin in their own zone for minutes at a time.

5. Can we talk about the Sidney Crosby factor for just a second? I don’t even mean on the ice. I’m talking about booing every time he touches the puck, or chanting “CROS-BY SUCKS” during stoppages of play. I get it -- we’re Philadelphians! We hate the Penguins! But like it or not, Crosby is one of the best hockey players in the world. Booing him isn’t going to make him any less dangerous.

6. Goalie coach Jeff Reese was very confident, when the Flyers acquired Mason last season, that he’d be able to coach the young netminder back to his former self -- Mason, of course, was a Calder Trophy winner as rookie of the year in 2008-09. So far, Reese is looking like he was onto something. Mason, once again, was very strong Thursday night, remaining composed through heavy Penguins pressure. The game was his sixth start of the season, and he’s looked consistently competent through each of them. He was left out to dry by his teammates at times against the Pens, of course -- heading into the final period, the Flyers trailed in shots by a staggering 29-13.

7. Speaking of goalies (aren’t we always?) it sure seems like the Flyers’ “goaltender situation” has figured itself out, doesn’t it? Mason has started six of of the team’s eight games so far in 2013-14, and despite his 1-5 record, he’s been very strong. Simply put: Might it be a while before we see Ray Emery suit up in net again?

8. Did anyone notice that stretch of more than 13 minutes during which the Penguins didn’t have a shot on net? No? Well, there was such a stretch, beginning in the second period and lasting well into the final stanza. Ordinarily, we’d all be talking about it -- but mired in what was otherwise a rough game for the Flyers, despite its close score, it seems to have flown under the radar.

9. Thursday morning, Berube said he wasn’t looking for a wild, undisciplined game like the Flyers-Penguins affairs of the recent past. I get it. But am I the only one disappointed we didn’t see a pond hockey-like, 7-6 game like those we’ve seen over the past few seasons? The hockey might be rough and unruly, but it’s a lot of fun to watch.

10. Where, oh where, is Claude Giroux? Another game is in the books, and the Flyers’ captain still has yet to score. On a team heavy with players who are best suited for second- and third-line play, the Flyers need Giroux to look like the player he was in 2011-12. They need him to set an example, and they sure as heck need the points he ought to be providing.

Flyers-Islanders 5 things: Still trying to clean up mistakes after bye week

Flyers-Islanders 5 things: Still trying to clean up mistakes after bye week

Flyers (22-19-6) at Islanders (19-17-8)
6 p.m. – CSN/CSNPhilly.com and streaming live on the NBCSports app; Pregame Live begins at 5:30.
 
The struggling Flyers head north Sunday night to battle the Metropolitan Division rival Islanders at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
 
Let’s take a closer look at Sunday’s matchup.
 
1. New week, same Flyers
Those hoping the Flyers would be a refreshed, recharged team after the bye week met a harsh reality Saturday night.
 
The Flyers were blown out of the Wells Fargo Center in a 4-1 loss to the Devils that saw the same things continue to haunt the home team — defensive breakdowns and a lack of offense, among other things.
 
It’s no secret this season is quickly slipping away from the Flyers. They’ve lost their hold on the last wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference to the upstart Maple Leafs and the Hurricanes, Panthers and Devils are breathing right down the Flyers’ backs. To pile on the good news, every other team in the East is within four points of the Flyers, including the last-place Isles, who have 46 points compared to the Flyers’ 50 points.
 
Needless to say, the margin for error is all but gone.
 
This has been said many times recently, but the emphasis still hasn’t waned — if the Flyers want to save this season, it has to start with the next game.
 
2. What’s the mindset?
Michal Neuvirth, who was pulled before the third period of Saturday’s game for “precautionary reasons,” had a striking quote after the loss to the Devils.
 
“When you lose so many games, you lose confidence,” he told reporters.
 
He’s not kidding, and further proof of that came in the loss to the Devils, when the game was tied 1-1. In the second period, Radko Gudas was whistled for a clipping penalty and, boy, was it an awful call. It was nothing more than a hard hip check, aka a solid hockey play. Gudas got the two-minute minor and then Wayne Simmonds received an extra two minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct for protesting the call, giving Jersey a full two-man advantage.
 
Predictably, the Devils scored to take the lead. Also predictably, the Flyers unraveled after that point.
 
It just seems lately that when something goes wrong for the Flyers, it all goes wrong for the Flyers. And that’s a troubling trend.

3. Changes in Brooklyn
Superstar John Tavares is still there, but beside that, plenty has changed since the Flyers and Islanders last met, a 3-2 Flyers shootout win in November at the Barclays Center.
 
No more Jack Capuano behind the Isles’ bench, as he was recently canned amidst his team’s struggles. Assistant general manager Doug Weight, whom you may remember from his not so distant playing days, is the interim head coach for the Isles.
 
Remember goalie Jaroslav Halak, who started the two teams’ first meeting? It’s no longer his net in Brooklyn, as he’s had a falling out with the club, lost the starting job to Thomas Greiss and was recently put on waivers.
 
And the Isles have responded positively to the changes, as they’ve won three in a row heading into Sunday night’s contest. The last-place moniker is misleading because the Isles are still just five points out of the final wild-card spot and still have tons of talent.
 
4. Keep an eye on …
Flyers: Let’s go with Travis Konecny. Let’s just say the Flyers are in need of an energy jolt these days and the rook has just the type of skillset to provide it. He scored his team’s only goal Saturday against the Devils and isn’t afraid to throw his body around if need be. He also scored against the Isles earlier this season. He’s now up to eight goals and 14 assists on the season.
 
Islanders: It has got to be John Tavares. The guy is an absolute star, but still could fit into the “underrated” or “under the radar” categories just because he plays for the Isles. I mean, check out this goal he scored earlier this year against St. Louis. Holy moly. While you’re at it, get a glimpse of this one he scored against Dallas last week. He’s got 19 goals and 17 assists on the year. In his career against the Flyers, he’s got 15 goals and 13 assists for 28 points, the third-most points he’s tallied against any team in the NHL.
 
5. This and that
• In a scheduling quirk, Sunday evening will mark the fourth straight time the Flyers and Islanders will play in Brooklyn. They haven’t met in Philadelphia in over a full calendar year — Jan. 9, 2016, a 4-0 Flyers win

• Sunday is the second of four meetings between the teams this season. They’ll also play Feb. 9 and March 30, both times in South Philly.

• Greiss will start in net for the Isles on Sunday. He’s recorded shutouts in his last two starts. For the season, he's 12-7-2 with a .927 save percentage and a 2.29 goals-against average.

• Reinforcements could be on the way Sunday for the Islanders, as forward Cal Clutterbuck (lower-body) and defenseman Johnny Boychuk (upper-body) could be ready to return to the lineup after injuries.

• Sunday’s game will be the second of a back-to-back set for both teams. The Flyers are 6-3-2 this year in such situations.

• The Flyers’ ugly road losing streak is up to nine games. A loss Sunday would make it a not-so-perfect 10.

Flyers' loss changes complexion after questionable penalty on Radko Gudas

Flyers' loss changes complexion after questionable penalty on Radko Gudas

There are good penalties. And bad penalties. And penalties which aren’t even penalties.

The last one would perfectly describe Radko Gudas’ hip check on Miles Wood that was whistled as clipping by referee Dan O’Halloran in the second period.

Even Wood was laughing as Gudas went to the box, realizing what a break he had gotten – a power play for nothing.

“He’s a pretty quick D-man,” Wood said. “I don’t think it should have been a call, but it was a good hit by him.”

That gave the Devils a power play. Then, when Wayne Simmond argued the call with O'Halloran, Simmonds drew two minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct. The resulting 5-on-3 New Jersey power play saw the Devils score to break a 1-1 tie.

Minutes later, the Flyers had a bad line change and it was 3-1. Game over. The Devils would go on to win, 4-1 (see game story).

Bottom line? The Gudas call changed everything.

“I was really surprised,” Gudas said. “I didn’t think it was a penalty at all.”

Is this oversimplifying the game to say everything changed with that one call?

“Are we really simplifying it?” Gudas asked. “I think that after those calls we have to get together as a group and make sure we kill these off. Unfortunately, we let them score on that power play. It was just unlucky.”

Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol called it “an excellent hit” by Gudas. He wouldn’t go deeper than that.

The six muffed power plays gave him enough reason to believe the Flyers could have gotten back in it. His Flyers are 3-9-3 since winning 10 games.

You can’t underestimate how those two calls turned the tables on the Flyers in this game.

“Everyone has their own opinion on the hit and we were obviously frustrated on the hit,” Travis Konecny said. “We thought it was a clean hit and we reacted to it. We have everyone’s backs.

“We have all had the one’s where we are angry with the ref and the one who made a hit like that. There is a time for that moment there.”

Goalie Michal Neuvirth thought it was a difference maker.

“Oh, absolutely, we were playing better in the second period,” he said. “I thought we had a momentum. You know stuff like that 5-on-3 for two minutes, it’s tough to defend.

“I think it’s taking way too many penalties lately and you got to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”