Floundering Devils 'want it more' in win over Flyers

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Floundering Devils 'want it more' in win over Flyers

BOX SCORE

It was almost like men playing against kids.
 
Those are Scott Hartnell’s words after a numbing 3-0 loss by the Flyers on Thursday night to the New Jersey Devils. The defeat reduced the Flyers' elimination number to two points.
 
A Rangers’ victory Friday at Buffalo will officially knock the Flyers out of playoff contention.
 
“There have been other nights like this,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “I have always said that after the game, you come into the locker room and you sit here, you come in the next morning ... and the players care.
 
“The organization cares. It’s not a comfortable spot. There have been other nights like this as well, but you’ve gotta keep pushing forward.”
 
All the more reason why there should have been a little more urgency in the second period when the Devils won every battle in sight and gained control of the game.
 
“If you want to look at puck battles and who wanted it more, the second and third period, they totally took over the game,” Hartnell said.
 
“It was almost like men playing against kids. We pretty much lost every battle. You do that, you’re not going to win games.”
 
When you’ve reached the end of the regular season, you don’t seek many comparisons to previous games, but this had a familiar look about it.
 
Tight defense. Some big saves. Lack of scoring -- both ways. For a period, anyway.
 
Sort of like the 1-0 loss the Flyers suffered in Buffalo last weekend except the Flyers battled hard all the way through.
 
Not this one.
 
“They’re frustrating to play against,” Hartnell said. “And when you get frustrated, you start doing things that aren’t in the game plan.
 
“Whether it’s a turnover or one try to make a play other than chipping it in, not supporting each other on the breakout, they come hard. They skate hard. They want it more.
 
“It’s always a frustrating game to play the Devils. They probably circle every time they play us and say, ‘This is gonna be a fun game.’ They’re winning and we’re not.”
 
Since Game 2 of last year's playoffs against the Devils, the Flyers have just 14 goals in nine games against New Jersey to go with a 1-8 record. The Rangers aren't the only team that owns the Flyers these days.
 
The Flyers were the Devils’ tonic to end a 10-game losing streak (0-6-4) in which they had just 14 goals to show for it.
 
New Jersey made the most of a 1-0 lead earned early in the second period.
 
Soon after Marty Brodeur denied Claude Giroux off the rush, Jacob Josefson stole a puck off Flyer rookie defenseman Oliver Lauridsen for a breakaway goal by Matt D’Agostini that iced it.
 
The first period was very competitive with neither team having anything to show for it.
 
As usual, New Jersey’s tenacious forecheck caused the Flyers problems on the breakout, while Brodeur continually thwarted dump-ins by playing pucks up the forwards quickly and catching the Flyers in transition.
 
The Flyers’ best chance in the period came with eight minutes left when Mike Knuble briefly was alone in the slot with the puck on his stick and no one but Brodeur in front of him.
 
Devils defenseman Peter Harrold, however, blocked Knuble’s shot.
 
While the Flyers were getting some chances off the rush, Brodeur was either making routine saves or the Devils' defense was stifling the play.
 
A three-on-one into the Devils' end saw it turned right around as New Jersey mounted a two-on-one the other way off a turnover.
 
The play culminated with Ryan Carter’s wrister from the left circle that beat Ilya Bryzgalov high short side for a 1-0 lead at 5:36.
 
Two of the Devils' goals came off turnovers.
 
“The second period there was a little bit of a letdown on our part,” Danny Briere said. “The biggest problem is we don’t know how to play a patient game. The last two years, we have struggled against the Devils because they’re patient.
 
“They wait for their chance. We didn’t give them much. You look at the two goals we gave up five-on-five, they were bad turnovers in the neutral zone where we had complete control of the puck.
 
“They don’t make those mistakes. Whenever they get in that position, they just make a safe play and wait to live another day. That’s what we need to learn.”
 
Carter’s goal broke the Devils' scoreless streak at 146:13. Also, New Jersey had not enjoyed a lead in a game since the final 30 seconds against Florida on March 30.
 
Talk about droughts.
 
If that goal didn’t hurt the Flyers enough, Jakub Voracek’s 20th of the season was disallowed four minutes later because of a “distinct kicking motion.”
 
Voracek did just that and it was denied on review, too.
 
Some time around 10 p.m. Friday, the Flyers' season will likely officially end.
 
“Well you know what, it’s a disappointing season ... still a couple games left, but it’s frustrating the way we played this game,” Giroux said.
 
“They won more battles than us, that’s the thing.”
 
It's been like this most of the season, too.

NHL Notes: Islanders fire head coach Jack Capuano

NHL Notes: Islanders fire head coach Jack Capuano

The struggling New York Islanders fired coach Jack Capuano on Tuesday, ending his tenure in the middle of its seventh season.

General manager Garth Snow named assistant GM/coach Doug Weight as Capuano's interim replacement. Snow told reporters Tuesday that the Islanders weren't where they wanted to be in the standings and that everyone's disappointed in their performance his season.

"At the end of the day organizationally I don't think Jack was probably going to be a coach that we were going to bring back," Snow said, adding that the team will begin a full-time coaching search now.

Snow said the halfway point of the season played a role in the timing of firing Capuano a day after beating the Boston Bruins 4-0. The Islanders were 17-17-8 and are in last place in the Eastern Conference with 42 points (see full story).

Predators: Hunt claimed, Fiala sent to AHL
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Nashville Predators have claimed defenseman Brad Hunt off waivers from the St. Louis Blues.

In other moves announced Tuesday, the Predators assigned forward Kevin Fiala to their American Hockey League affiliate in Milwaukee and have placed defenseman Petter Granberg on injured reserve.

Hunt had one goal and four assists in nine games for St. Louis this season. He has appeared in a total of 30 NHL games over parts of four seasons with the Edmonton Oilers and St. Louis. He has two career goals and six assists.

Fiala has six goals and three assists in 32 games for Nashville this season.

Granberg has played in 10 games for the Predators and has 10 penalty minutes.

Difficult to see now, but remember: Flyers’ window just starting to open

Difficult to see now, but remember: Flyers’ window just starting to open

They can’t win away from the Wells Fargo Center. They’ve seen a nine-point cushion in the wild-card standings vanish and when they resume play on Saturday, they’ll be out of the playoff picture.

The Flyers are who we thought they were. A fringe playoff team lacking in too many areas to be considered a serious contender, despite the overachievement of last season.

When the Flyers entered their bye week, they sat one point ahead of Carolina for the final wild-card spot and two points ahead of Florida and Ottawa. They are 3-8-3 in 14 games since their 10-game winning streak was snapped and were blown out in back-to-back games in Boston and Washington by a combined score of 11-3.

Yet, they’re still on the brink of the postseason — for now. Perhaps it’s time for a trade from the front office to send a shockwave through the locker room? Not so fast.

“If we can make our team better, we will,” Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said last week at Flyers Skate Zone in Voorhees, New Jersey. “But we’re staying on course.

“I don’t care if we win every game the rest of the year or lose every game, we’re staying on course. We set out on a course two and a half years ago — we’re not deviating from what we planned. I’m not going to make a trade to send a message.”

It’s easy to get carried away in win streaks and unexpected playoff appearances, especially in Philadelphia, where the four major sports teams are rebuilding. It’s even easier to scream for a team to go for it when it shows a glimpse into its full potential.

That is what makes sports fun. It’s what makes for good sports debate programs and entertaining talking heads. But it’s not how organizations should run their operations.

It’s certainly not how Hextall runs his regime with the Flyers. Hextall has a clear vision, and time and time again has shown no signs of expediting his plan for immediate help. He has made it a purpose to build through the draft. We have to remember that and realize that the Flyers’ front office is playing the long game here, not the short game.

“Right now, we’re gonna stick with what we’ve got here and move forward,” Hextall said Sunday in Washington. “But on a day-to-day basis, I always look at how we can make our club better, and if there’s something that we think makes our club better, we’ll do it.

“The worst thing you can do is overreact when things aren’t going right and that’s not gonna happen. But if we can find a way to make ourselves better, we will.”

Let’s take a step back and make some sense of the Flyers’ current state. They are seventh in the Eastern Conference with 50 points as of Tuesday morning. They are 8-12-3 on the road, with nine straight defeats away from South Philadelphia. They are a top-10 scoring team, with 127 goals, but have allowed a league-high 144 goals against.

Steve Mason’s confidence is completely shook. Michal Neuvirth hasn’t been much better, if at all. Claude Giroux hasn’t scored a goal in 11 games and has just one marker in his last 17 games. (To be fair, he does have seven assists in his last eight games.)

Shayne Gostisbehere has been a healthy scratch twice this season, with his latest coming last Saturday in Boston. He’s struggled with his gap defense, among other areas, and is enduring growing pains in his second NHL season — as expected.

While the Flyers’ defense has scored 102 points, second most in the NHL, it struggles with gaps, turnovers and has too many breakdowns. Ivan Provorov, 20, has been the lone bright spot among the group of eight defensemen.

Head coach Dave Hakstol has juggled his lines and defensive pairs in attempts to find something that works. Some of the moves have worked, others have not. Questioning some of Hakstol’s lineup decisions is fair, but there’s no question his systems work.

There is only so much Hakstol can do with what he has to work with. Part of the blame can be placed on Hextall because this team, as currently constructed, is not there yet. It is, however, unfair to put every decision Hakstol makes under a microscope.

“Hak has tried a lot of things,” Hextall said. “In the end, it’s a group and we win together, we lose together. We have to react as a group better when something doesn’t go our way. That’s bottom line. … Line changes, different D combinations, flipping Mase, Neuvy. Everything that’s there, Hak has tried. In the end it comes down to our whole group just being better and not reacting the way we do when something negative happens.”

One of the reasons Hextall opted to hire Hakstol, who came directly from college with no prior NHL coaching experience, is development. Growth takes time, and there is rhyme or reason behind each Hakstol benching, whether we see it or not.

The Flyers’ play the last few weeks has been dumbfounding because a lot of the same mistakes that plagued the team in the beginning of the season — lax team defensive coverage, bad decisions with the puck, letting opponents enter the zone too easily, among others — are reappearing, and that’s a fair criticism of the current coaching staff.

But, when we put things in perspective, there are positives. Provorov has proven he’s the real deal, and he just turned 20 last Friday. Travis Konecny is here, and while he’s been the victim of a Hakstol benching, he’s shown glimpses of what’s to come. Jakub Voracek (41 points) has bounced back, Wayne Simmonds is an All-Star and has added penalty kill to his résumé. Brayden Schenn leads the NHL in power-play goals with 11, though his 5-on-5 scoring could improve. And there’s a lot of upside in the farm system, with the potential of seeing an influx of kids joining the Flyers as early as next season. 

“The window is actually starting to open, the way I see it,” Hextall said last week. “The kids we have on our team. The kids we have coming. There’s things happening here that are good. We’re going to get better here. We’re not going to get worse.”

And Hextall is right — the window is just opening and will only open wider. Patience remains key here, and don’t just trust the process with the Flyers. Enjoy the course.