Flyers aim to end 'soft' play against Sabres

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Flyers aim to end 'soft' play against Sabres

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- "Soft" isn't a word normally tossed around when discussing the Flyers, but winger Scott Hartnell used the adjective in describing his team's two-game losing skid. 

"The last couple games especially, we got away from our game plan and got away from playing simple hockey, winning hockey," Hartnell said as the Flyers prepared for their 7:30 p.m. Tuesday night game against the Buffalo Sabres.

"We are just trying to be too cute. We're all collectively soft as a group on battles in front of their net and especially in our D zone. We've talked about it and addressed it and we're going to have a hard, tough game tonight."

The Flyers have been outscored 10-4 in consecutive losses, the first at home against Tampa Bay and the second a 4-1 Sunday loss to the Rangers at Madison Square Garden.

"We were a little lackadaisical the last two games," said Wayne Simmonds, who's a minus-3 in that span. "We missed quite a few defensive assignments and we gave up quite a few goals because of the missing of those assignments. We've gotta refocus and recalibrate a little bit and be ready to go."

And lessen the softness.

"You've gotta compete," Hartnell said. "You've gotta play without the puck. We've talked about it. You can't do anything but do your own job. There's going to be some times in the game where somebody does get beat or falls down and you have to recover, but you can't just get out of your own position and leave guys open."

The Flyers won't face American Olympic goaltender Ryan Miller Tuesday night, but his backup will also be suiting up in Sochi next month. Swedish Olympic backstop Jhonas Enroth is expected to get the call for Buffalo.

Enroth hasn't gotten much help from his offense. Despite a goals-against average (2.46) and save percentage (.916) better than his career average, Enroth has a 1-8-4 record thanks to a team in front of him that's scored just 17 goals in his starts and been shut out thrice.

"Buffalo is Buffalo," Simmonds said. "It's always a hard building to play in. Over my last three games in the Eastern Conference, it's probably one of the harder buildings to come into and play. We gotta focus on ourselves and make sure we're doing the right things."

The Sabres are mired in the league standings after a historically bad start, but have turned things around a bit, especially at home. Buffalo's 6-0-2 in its last eight home games.

"They play well here at home and they're playing a lot better defensively, so we expect a hard game," said Flyers coach Craig Berube.

Hartnell said the Flyers are treating the Sabres like a team vying for the playoffs and not taking them lightly because of their status in the Eastern Conference standings.

"This is a team that's playing really well and other than the start, they'd be right there, right in the mix," Hartnell said. "They got nothing to lose and we've gotta be ready to go."

The Flyers' back-to-back losses come on the heels of a 10-2-1 hot streak.

"We know where we went wrong in those two games and it's up to us to correct that," Simmonds said. "We've gotta have a good start tonight, a strong start to the game and make sure we're playing 60 minutes."

Flyers' poor division record biggest factor in being out of playoff picture

Flyers' poor division record biggest factor in being out of playoff picture

PITTSBURGH -- There's a bit of tragic irony to how the Flyers' season will end over the next two-plus weeks.
 
They have seven games left on the schedule. Six of them are teams residing in the Metro Division. Tuesday's opponent, Ottawa, is the lone exception.
 
There are so many reasons why the Flyers are scrambling now, clinging to the desperate belief they can still make the playoffs -- mathematically, they're alive -- against all rational thought.
 
They're six points behind Boston for the second wild-card spot, but they still have to hurdle Carolina, Tampa Bay and the Islanders just to get to Boston.
 
Yet one major reason for the Flyers' dilemma seems pretty obvious: They've been simply awful in head-to-head play against their own division.
 
The Flyers have a winning record against both divisions in the Western Conference.
 
That's not the case, however, in the East where the Metro Division is the only division with three teams over 100 points and where the Flyers have failed miserably to challenge from within.
 
Sunday's 6-2 rout of the Penguins in Pittsburgh left the Flyers with a poor 9-13-2 record against the Metro. It's the only division they have a losing record against.
 
Last season, Dave Hakstol's group finished 14-10-6 against their own division. That was a critical factor in enabling the Flyers to make the playoffs.
 
"We know where we are in the standings and it's not going to be easy to make the playoffs," Jakub Voracek said. "We all know that. We have to work off results of the other teams and try to play relaxed and loose."
 
Against the Eastern Conference overall, the Flyers are close to .500 (21-22-4) yet realize they should be better.
 
These two records represent a very large reason why the Flyers are sitting on the outside looking in as the playoffs near.
 
Right now, at least four clubs from the Metro -- half the division -- will make the playoffs. That says a lot about why games within your section are so pivotal at season's end.
 
"The numbers don't lie," Hakstol admitted on Sunday. "It's a tough road every single night. You've got to do a good job within your division, within your conference.
 
"We've played a lot of tight, hard games. The reality is, we're a number of points out of the playoffs and those points within your division are very valuable."
 
It's something the Flyers have to greatly improve upon next season if they want to be sitting in a playoff spot a month before the season ends instead of playing catch-up when the odds are hopelessly against them.
 
Pens killers
Every team in the NHL has a couple players who have fairly impressive career numbers against other teams.
 
Voracek averages better than a point against the Penguins. His goal Sunday gave him 17 goals and 34 points in 32 career games against Pittsburgh.
 
Voracek admitted after the game he's not sure why.
 
Claude Giroux also has excellent numbers against the Pens -- his two assists in the win left the Flyers' captain with 41 points (14 goals) in 40 career games vs. Pittsburgh.
 
Shayne Gostisbehere has been around a fraction as long as either Giroux or Voracek -- eight career games vs. the Pens -- yet has two goals and nine points in those games.
 
Brayden Schenn doesn't average a point a game against the Pens, but he's close. His assist on Sunday left the winger/center with 20 points (8 goals) in 26 games.
 
The only Flyer who has solid numbers against Pittsburgh and didn't make Sunday's score sheet was Wayne Simmonds. He has 23 points in 28 games. 

Dave Hakstol: Travis Konecny on 4th line 'makes sense in a lot of respects'

Dave Hakstol: Travis Konecny on 4th line 'makes sense in a lot of respects'

PITTSBURGH -- The curious line juggling of Travis Konecny continued Sunday night.

Flyers coach Dave Hakstol again started Konecny on Pierre-Edouard Bellemare's fourth line with Chris VandeVelde, but just as he did in Columbus, Hakstol moved the rookie around.

This was Konecny's third straight game off Valtteri Filppula's unit with Jakub Voracek at the start. The obvious message to Konecny seems to be: Get yourself into a more defensive-minded role early and then let the offense come to you.

Konecny has made some defensive strides.

"It makes sense in a lot of respects," Hakstol said of the move to Bellemare's unit. "He's playing with two players with a lot of structure. He excels in that type of setting.

"If you look at [Saturday], he can bounce around the lineup with different lines and we used him that way. He didn't just play with his two linemates. He moved around a little bit. He's very effective in that role when we're able to get him out there. He gives us a good boost, a good push."

Against Columbus on Saturday, Konecny played on two units with Sean Couturier -- one featuring Jordan Weal and the other, Dale Weise. He also played a few shifts with Filppula and Wayne Simmonds.

The same thing happened Sunday in the Flyers' 6-2 rout of the Penguins (see game story). Konecny finished with an assist and plus-1 in just 8:02. He is one of the very, very few Flyers who is an even. Most are minus.

Konecny, who just turned 20, and Weal, 24, gave the Flyers a lift on Sunday. Weal had a goal and an assist in 13:06.

"No matter who it is contributing, everyone is excited for everybody," Konecny said. "A lot of guys put up some numbers tonight and contributed. It was a good team effort. That's what we want to see."
 
The Flyers were so relaxed it makes you wonder if the pressure of trying to make the playoffs is gone because their odds are so stacked against them.
 
"We’re at that point where you just need to win and just show up," Konecny said. "There's nerves in the back of your mind. We're pretty loose and trying to enjoy it as much as we can going through a stressful time.
 
"We've handled it well. We played a good team, we knew they would push but we pushed harder."
 
Konecny said he's not fazed by the different line combinations he's a part of, often in the same period.
 
"It's not too bad," he said. "I kind of expected it going into a game. I know when I am playing with Belly and Vandy that throughout the game, there's going to be times like penalty kills come up and he'll fill me in with another line.
 
"At the start of the third [tonight], I filled in another line. I know it's going to come. I just expect it. I've played with pretty much everybody on the team. I'm comfortable out there."
 
Loose pucks
The six goals on the road against Pittsburgh last happened on Feb. 20, 2013, when the Flyers won, 6-5. ... Sunday was the Flyers' largest margin of victory in Pittsburgh since March 31, 2003, when they beat the Penguins, 6-1, at Mellon Arena. ... Weal picked up the second two-point game of his career -- both of which have taken place this month. ... Weise has three goals in his last seven games. ... Claude Giroux had two assists, and now has two goals and eight assists for 10 points in 13 games this month.