Big miscues send Flyers to third straight loss

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Big miscues send Flyers to third straight loss

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Ill-timed line changes and defensive pair switches are among the problems causing the Flyers' downfall this season.

Too often, they’ve resulted in breakaway goals.

In a lethargic game that lacked for excitement and entertainment, yet remained tightly defensive, that’s exactly how the Flyers lost Thursday night at Wells Fargo Center.

Two Flyer mistakes was all Ottawa needed in a 3-1 victory that further dimmed the Flyers' fading playoff hopes, though they remained seven points behind the eighth-seeded Rangers in the Eastern Conference.

“Just miscommunication,” Luke Schenn said. “That’s two breakdowns, two goals off the rush … To give that up at the end of the game, pretty much not being aware of who is around you. It backfired on us. It’s a bad goal to give up at a bad time.”

You rarely see a team ice the puck on the penalty kill, have a line change, then get beat cleanly on a breakaway. Worse, for the game winner.

“There was a line change and missed coverage,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “They had been bringing five guys back the entire night on their power-play breakouts.

“This last time they brought four back and one guy stretched. From the change, we missed him.”

That’s how Colin Greening broke a 1-1 tie at 14:24 of the third period with Claude Giroux sitting in the box serving a four-minute, high-sticking penalty.

“We had tried a different power-play breakout where we had put five guys back and I think they were used to that,” Greening said.

“So when they put me on instead of Gui (Guillaume Latendresse), I was the one that was kind of hanging back and trying to keep the defensemen back.

“Luckily, their defense kind of parted and I just saw an opening … and I was able to get a break.”

Ottawa’s first goal in the opening minutes of play saw the Flyers’ Bruno Gervais and Kimmo Timonen coming onto the ice on a late change as Zack Smith was streaking up the middle with no defensemen within a zip code of him.

“Not too sure what happened on those goals to be honest,” Giroux said. “The first one I just got off, so I wasn’t too sure.

“We’ve gotta make sure we make less mistakes and when it’s close like that, find a way to be better defensively for the whole 60 minutes and if you give the other team a chance to score.”

Did we mention the Senators had lost five straight much like the Winnipeg Jets last Saturday before they met the Flyers?

Following two straight losses that have seen the Flyers drift seven points behind a playoff spot, Laviolette re-arranged all four of his lines.

The biggest change saw Simon Gagne elevated to Giroux’s line with Jakub Voracek. Since his arrival, Gagne has demonstrated more jump in his skates than any other player and he’s 33, too.

Seven minutes after Smith’s breakaway, Gagne helped tie it by assisting on a Giroux shorthanded goal.

Gagne’s initial shot from the left circle was blocked. Gagne retrieved the puck in the high slot, spun around and shot again as Giroux redirected it on rookie goalie Robin Lehner.

It remained 1-1 going into the third period.

The Flyers began the third with a runover power play from the second period and did nothing. They quickly got another power play. Did nothing with that one, as well.

Incredibly, they came into play No. 2 overall on the power play in the NHL (22.9 percent). They are now 0 for 13 over their last five games.

“Yeah, we had some chances,” Giroux said. “We had some good chances. But sometimes it’s going to go in, sometimes it won’t. I think we were moving the puck well there, it just wasn’t going in.”

That is why all it takes these days for a Flyers' loss is a couple of miscues.

“There were two [breakaways] in the first period and in a game where you’re trying to stay alive, to give up breakaways doesn’t get the team going in the right direction,” Mike Knuble said.

“Our second time in the first period was a lot better than our first. They got one goal, but we’re lucky they didn’t get two or three by the time we tried to respond.”

The Flyers' urgency really didn’t kick in until the final period.

“It was a 1-1 game going into the third and our power play doesn’t capitalize, but theirs does,” Knuble said.

Indeed, the game was up for grabs.

“There is an opportunity to win,” Laviolette said. “I actually thought the third period was our best period. We generated the most offense.

“It was probably the tightest defensively we played that period and didn’t get the result we were looking for.”

Wayne Gretzky defends Connor McDavid's outburst over Brandon Manning

Wayne Gretzky defends Connor McDavid's outburst over Brandon Manning

PALM BEACH, Fla. — As the primary target of opponents over his Hall of Fame career, Wayne Gretzky can certainly empathize with the frustration of Oilers star Connor McDavid.

McDavid and Flyers defenseman Brandon Manning jostled all evening long in a 6-5 Edmonton loss. McDavid denounced the tactics of his opponent after the game, claiming Manning intentionally injured him last season; McDavid missed 37 games with a broken collarbone.

"I guess we can put the whole 'if he did it' thing to rest because what he said out there kind of confirmed that," said McDavid, who taunted Manning after scoring the second goal in the Oilers' loss.

"I think anybody who knows me or who has played with or against me along the road here, knows that I am not that kind of player," Manning said, according to a statement released by the Flyers. "I am not out there intentionally trying to hurt people. I'm a guy who plays the game hard and I take pride in that."

Gretzky didn't mind seeing that fire in McDavid, saying competitiveness is part of what makes the great ones great. And he said the targeting comes with the territory of being a superstar. It was something he and Mario Lemieux dealt with, too.

"And Connor, he's going to get tested every night, but this is not new for him," Gretzky said Friday at the NHL board of governors meetings. "He's been tested since he was a kid and then playing junior hockey and now in the NHL and he's always responded and done his part."

Michael Raffl's power moves impressing Flyers, adding another element to top line

Michael Raffl's power moves impressing Flyers, adding another element to top line

He did it last Sunday in Nashville.

And he did it again Thursday night against Edmonton.

Michael Raffl displayed power and speed to send the Flyers to their seventh straight victory and longest winning streak since 2011 Thursday with a 6-5 win over the Oilers.

"Raf has this stutter step that's undercover speedy," goalie Steve Mason said. "He used it in Nashville to get a big goal and then here tonight.

"It looks like he's going to stop fully up, but he finds another gear and he really adds another element to that line that brings physical play.

"He has that sneaky talent, too, that can make you pay."

Raffl received a bank pass off the wall from Jakub Voracek, stutter stepped and then blew by Oilers defenseman Oscar Klefbom, protecting the puck along the way before flipping it over goalie Jonas Gustavsson for the game-winning marker with 1:29 left in the game.

It was his sixth goal of the season and his second game-winner in three games.

"Jakey has been hard on me for three years now," Raffl said, referring to Voracek's pass, "and it's actually the first time it worked out.

"He wants me to make that play all the time. He's been hard on me. I threw a little fake in there, got around their D-man and chipped it up high."

Voracek, who tied a career high with four points (one goal, three assists) said after the game his pass was not as perfect as it appeared on tape, as it didn't hit Raffl in stride.

"I think we should use it a little bit more to be honest," Voracek said, "because if their D wants to have a gap on that, you know you put it off the boards, it's tough to handle for the defenseman. [Raffl] had to slow down a little bit, so next time I've got to put it better."

Juggling his lines in an attempt to find chemistry, Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol moved Raffl up from the third line to the top line with Voracek and captain Claude Giroux on Nov. 27. Coincidentally, that was the start of this seven-game winning streak.

On Thursday night, Raffl showcased the reasoning behind the move to the top line, a spot he's familiar with, having played with Giroux and Voracek in seasons' past.

"He's good from coming off either way as he enters the zone," Hakstol said. "He's got the ability to take it to the net. 

"Obviously at a critical time of the hockey game. But, that's Raffl when he's at his best. He's a power forward that can do those type of things offensively."

In his fourth season with the Flyers, the 28-year-old doesn't possess jaw-dropping skill. He's better suited for a third-line role, but drives play at 5-on-5 and is strong on the puck to move up into the top six. His style complements Giroux and Voracek's game well.

"[Raffl] complains a lot on the bench," Giroux quipped. "Nah, he was fired up there in the third. He is so strong on the puck. That's a big goal for us. He's been playing some great hockey right now for us. I think me and Jake are lucky to play with him right now."

"He does every little thing right," Voracek said. "He wins the battles. He wins so many puck battles in the corners and on the boards and gives me and G a lot of space to work with. He knows what to do to have success with us and he's been doing that."

Against the Oilers, Raffl was one of two European free agents the Flyers found to contribute to their win, with Pierre-Edouard Bellemare slowing down Connor McDavid.

It's been an avenue the Flyers have found some success in recent years. Raffl was a Paul Holmgren signing, while general manager Ron Hextall plucked Bellemare from the SHL.

"Since we signed him, I think he surprised everyone," Voracek said of Raffl. "He's got a lot of talent. He's a strong guy on the puck. He's skating well. He's got a great shot.

"I think he's one of the good players."

The Flyers described Raffl as a sneaky talent, someone who may not demand the respect from defensemen but has the ability to surprise and make them pay for playing lax against him.

But it's really simpler than that, according to Raffl.

"Just puck possession," he said. "Just focus on being the first on forecheck, digging out pucks. It's not a fun job to do, but somebody has to do it.

"They're two great players with the puck, I try to dig it out and get it to them and get in an open area and they'll find me eventually."

And they found him Thursday night when it mattered most.