Flyers allow big lead to slip away in loss to Pens

slideshow-030713-flyers-bryzgalov-gervais-uspresswire.jpg

Flyers allow big lead to slip away in loss to Pens

BOX SCORE

They outdid Pittsburgh in everything at the start.

They even scored first.

They had a three-goal lead after one period.

And still, the Flyers lost Thursday night to the Penguins because … well, because they stopped playing Flyer hockey and never got themselves going again in a 5-4 loss.

Essentially, the Flyers kissed away two points they absolutely, positively had to earn.

“We talked about it after the first period that the Pittsburgh Penguins weren’t going to sit back and hand over two points,” Scott Hartnell said. “They were going to come hard.

“Low and behold, before you know it, it’s 4-4. We just can’t do that. It’s embarrassing to the fans, embarrassing to one another, and we let another two points slip away … It was a big letdown. I don’t know why we would have stopped playing.”

That’s 18 times now in the past 24 matchups between these two that the road team won.

Peter Laviolette’s club came into the week in eighth place. This latest loss drops them to 11th in the Eastern Conference standings.

Worse, the games this week against the “Big Three” so far have been a disaster.

The Flyers needed to get four of six points from their games against the Rangers, Penguins and Bruins before meeting Buffalo on Sunday. All they can get now is two on Saturday in Boston.

“When you have a 4-1 lead, the game is in your hands big time,” Kimmo Timonen said. “What happens in the second period, we go on the ice and we’re not there for some reason.

“That’s the mental issue to me. Somebody might [have] a different opinion. You have to be mentally prepared to go in there and do you job, [even] if it’s 4-1 or 1-4.

“Never change your game. That seems to be an issue for us, either way with the score.”

It really puts the pressure on for a win in Beantown.

“Go into Boston with a do-or-die attitude,” Hartnell said. “We’ve been saying it but now it’s time to get out there and back up our words and get a decisive win.

“We played a great 20, but 20 doesn’t get you anything these days.”

Ironically, the game-winner came off a turnover.

Eighteen seconds into the third period, Timonen tried to contain a puck at center ice and instead it came back the other way with Chris Kunitz scoring his second goal of the night, breaking the 4-4 tie.

“I tried to keep in,” Timonen said. “[Sidney] Crosby fell down and there’s a loose puck. I try to get it by the guy and he was close to me. That’s my mistake. I should have played it safe.”

Hartnell appeared to retie it with 12:53 left but the official ruled “no goal,” saying his stick was higher than the crossbar.

Laviolette felt the third period lacked “jam,” as well.

“Even going out for the third period and the score is 4-4,” Laviolette said. “Being able to finish off games.

“We have to do a better job than what we’ve done this year. We’ve had a lot of tie games and situations to win games and they’ve slipped away.”

Though the Flyers started out strong with a 6-1 shot advantage, all the real action came into the final 9:45 of the first period. It was 4-1, thanks largely to James Neal taking three penalties.

Pens goalie Marc-Andre Fleury seemed to have trouble the entire period with his catching glove, while Zac Rinaldo needed just a fight to get a Gordie Howe hat trick.

Tomas Vokoun started the second period for Fleury and finished the game.

Jakub Voracek began and ended the opening period with a power-play goal.

Neal’s early elbow to Claude Giroux caused Hartnell to say something to him after Voracek’s first goal and then the two tried to fight, with Hartnell picking up an extra minor for unsportsmanlike conduct.

The Pens' lone goal that period came off the resulting power play as Kunitz's first goal. He’s on a tear with six goals over his last five games.

Rinaldo gave the Flyers a 2-1 lead at 15:06, rebounding Nick Grossmann’s point shot just as a Flyer power play expired.

The Flyers scored twice in the final 1:43 with Timonen beating Fleury shortside, and then Voracek picking up his 19th point in 10 games with a shot off Paul Martin’s skate at 19:52, making it 4-1.

In retrospect, Neal seemingly took the Penguins out of the game. His slash on Flyer goalie Ilya Bryzgalov after a puck had been whistled dead was totally unnecessary.

Still, Pittsburgh came roaring back with two goals less than three minutes apart and then tied it by the end of the middle stanza.

“The effort is there but we need to execute out there,” Giroux said. “We have to find a way to close a game up. We knew they were a good team offensively …”

The second period began with Pascal Dupuis scoring at 5:30.

Mental mistakes plagued the Flyers against the Rangers on Tuesday and here, as well, with Braydon Coburn leaving Evgeni Malkin alone in the slot to take a Neal pass across the goal line from the corner.

As Coburn raced over too late, the puck caught his skate into the net. Just like that, it was a one-goal game.

Tyler Kennedy’s long-distance shot at 15:47 tied it, chasing Bryzgalov for Brian Boucher.

“You go from a real strong first period to an inconsistent second period that ends up costing you a [game],” Laviolette said. “Certainly, it’s not where we want to be.”

And yet, it’s exactly where the Flyers have been all season.

Flyers Skate Update: Power play shakeup seems to be working

Flyers Skate Update: Power play shakeup seems to be working

VOORHEES, N.J. — They had taken another “0-for” on the power play on the road and lost a game in which they deserved to at least get a point.

Dave Hakstol had seen enough. Numbers don’t always tell a story. Yet, in the Flyers' case, they did: 4 for 42 on the power play over 12 games, including that 3-1 loss at Calgary.

The next morning in Edmonton, Hakstol met privately with Jakub Voracek to discuss, among other things, the power play. That night, Hakstol moved Voracek off the first unit power play and replaced him with Ivan Provorov.

He then told Shayne Gostisbehere to change his location on the power play on the half wall and let Provorov, the Russian rookie, worry about the blue line.

In the two games since, the power play is 3 for 6 and has the Flyers back up to ninth in the NHL after falling to 13th during that 12-game span of utter futility.

How the power play goes tonight against the Washington Capitals is critical if the Flyers have any shot of taking points away from the top club in the league.

“It’s a little bit different look,” Hakstol said. “We’re comfortable with either of the setups we have there. Whether it’s with Jake on the flank of the [Claude] Giroux unit or having Ghost there.

“Both are effective. Within the game, we can go back and forth with the other. We’ve had some pretty good play out of the other unit, regardless of the setup.”

Provorov has a very accurate point shot. Gostisbehere has the hardest shot of any on the top unit. The rest of the first unit – Giroux, Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds – hasn’t changed.

“We can’t score,” Provorov said bluntly. “We needed to change something up to spark the scoring. It definitely helped us. Now the two units have a different setup in the zone.

“Just a little different. It took us first game to get used to. We did pretty good in the second game [Vancouver].”

Ghost has never played the half-wall. He thinks this will help him snap a 32-game goal drought. He had three assists – two on the power play – against the Canucks on Sunday.

“It’s completely different,” Gostisbehere said. “I’ve always been at the top [blue line]. It’s definitely a different perspective from that view. I think I’ll get a lot more shots and plays that can be made.”

Voracek watches him when that unit is on the ice and offers advice after the shift.

“I have been talking to Jake a ton for pointers,” Gostisbehere said. “When I am out there, if you see something I could have done, please tell me. He is such an easy guy to talk to. He will give you the pointers right away.”

Hakstol said moving Ghost closer to the net has a payoff.

“He is in a pure one-timer side there if he gets himself in the right position,” Hakstol said. “But there is still some work we have to do there in terms of his overall positioning in that spot.

“He brings a different element than Jake does in that spot. Both of them were very, very effective in that spot. They just have different weapons.”

Even though there have been changes, Voracek still rotates back to the first unit if Provorov is on the ice the previous shift before the power play begins.

Because of Travis Konecny’s knee and ankle injuries, Sean Couturier’s second unit has changed the most. Mark Streit anchors from the point with Coots, Nick Cousins and Matt Read below the blue line and Voracek on the right-wall.

That unit has more player rotation on the ice than the top unit.

Hakstol doesn’t buy the argument the Flyers' power play crashed because it became too predictable. 

“In the game now, there’s not much hidden,” Hakstol said. “Everyone knows what the other team is trying to do, regardless of 5-on-5 or special teams.

“For us, it was a good time to make a small change that changes the look for our guys on the ice.”

Loose pucks
• A dozen players showed up for the optional morning skate at Skate Zone, more than half of what was expected. 

• Michal Neuvirth will start in goal tonight against Washington. 

• On Tuesday, Voracek got hit with a puck below the belt, during a tip drill in which Voracek tipped a shot into himself. “Feeling better,” he said today. 

• This morning was goalie Steve Mason’s turn to get hit. He took a point shot from Andrew MacDonald in the mask. Mason was temporarily shaken but no damage to either him or his mask.  

Lineup
F:
Schenn-Giroux-Simmonds
Weise-Couturier-Voracek
Raffl-Cousins-Read
VandeVelde-Bellemare-Lyubimov

D: Provorov-Manning
Gostisbehere-Streit
Del Zotto-Gudas

G: Neuvirth

Flyers-Capitals 5 things: Washington on ridiculous roll into Wells Fargo Center

Flyers-Capitals 5 things: Washington on ridiculous roll into Wells Fargo Center

Flyers (28-24-7) vs. Capitals (39-12-7)
8 p.m. on NBCSN, CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

After finding some offense to finish up a 1-2-0 road trip, the Flyers return home for a not-so-glorious welcome when they host the NHL-leading Washington Capitals on Wednesday night at the Wells Fargo Center.

We’ll get into that and more with five things to know:

1. Capping things off
What’s the Flyers’ reward for salvaging the final game of a road swing through Canada? A date with the Capitals, who are the NHL’s hottest team since New Year’s Eve, and by a landslide.

Just how dominant has Washington been?

Dating back to Dec. 31, the Capitals are 19-3-2 and have scored an incomprehensible 104 goals in those 24 games. That’s 4.33 goals per game, while yielding only 50 markers over that stretch.

Meanwhile, the Flyers have scored an NHL-low 40 goals since New Year’s Eve and allowed 62 for an Eastern Conference-worst goal differential of minus-22.

Washington, coming off its first back-to-back defeats since Dec. 27-29, has lost three straight games only once this season.

2. A Ghost sighting
On Sunday, for the first time in close to four months, we saw the Shayne Gostisbehere from the Calder Memorial Trophy (top rookie) runner-up season last year.

The sophomore blueliner delivered his first three-point game of his career to ignite the Flyers to a 3-2 win over the Canucks.

Although Gostisbehere has made it clear he’s focused on his defensive game, the Flyers are a different animal when he’s generating offensive chances at 5-on-5 and the power play.

“He had his confidence and a little bit of swagger,” Wayne Simmonds said of Gostisbehere’s performance Sunday.

“Ghost has had his ups and downs this year, but he's a heck of a player and has unbelievable skill. He can be a catalyst offensively for us, that’s for sure.”

3. Good cage match
This one makes for an intriguing goalie matchup between Michal Neuvirth and Braden Holtby, who were once battling for the net in Washington.

Holtby is having another stud season after winning the 2015-16 Vezina Trophy (top goalie). Among all netminders, he is tied for first in goals-against average (2.01) and shutouts (seven), while he hasn’t been beaten in regulation since Dec. 27.

The 27-year-old blanked the Flyers twice in the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs and stopped 149 of 154 shots over the first-round series that the Capitals won in six games.

Neuvirth hasn’t been too shabby himself, starting eight of the Flyers’ last 10 games. Aside from a bad showing in a 6-3 loss to the Oilers, Neuvirth has not surrendered more than two goals in any other outing during that span.

A 2006 second-round pick of Washington, Neuvirth was brilliant last postseason against his former club, making 103 saves on 105 shots faced to get the Flyers two victories.

4. Keep an eye on ...
Flyers: Pierre-Edouard Bellemare can be crucial in these types of games. The fourth-line forward often sees work against the opposition’s top offensive threats and is the Flyers’ most important piece to the penalty kill. Bellemare has played 16-plus minutes in both meetings with the Capitals this season, while the PK is 15 for 17 in February and tied for the NHL’s third-fewest goals against this month.

Capitals: T.J. Oshie is such an underrated asset for Washington. The right winger, who played his college hockey at North Dakota under Flyers coach Dave Hakstol, leads the NHL with a 22.8 shooting percentage, a big reason why the Capitals are scoring 3.34 goals per game, good for second most in hockey. Oshie has 26 points (13 goals, 13 assists) in his past 22 games and is a plus-24 on the season.

5. This and that
• Neuvirth has just two career regular-season matchups against the Capitals, going 1-0-0 with a 2.44 goals-against average and .914 save percentage.

• Holtby is 6-4-7 with a 2.71 goals-against average and .911 save percentage in 18 lifetime matchups with the Flyers.

• The Flyers are three points out of the Eastern Conference’s second wild-card spot, trailing the Panthers, Bruins and Islanders, all of whom have 66 points.

• Simmonds has four goals in his last five games.

• Claude Giroux has two points (one goal, one assist) in his previous 10 games.

• Washington ranks first in the NHL with a plus-69 goal differential.

• Jordan Weal (upper-body injury) is expected to miss his second straight game.