Flyers beat Canadiens to push home streak to 10


Flyers beat Canadiens to push home streak to 10


You could make a compelling case that for so many games on home ice this season -- and even last -- the Flyers too often found ways to lose games.

These days, home or away, with the confidence flowing, with a different line scoring every game, with good defense and goaltending, the Flyers are finding ways to win.

They won their 10th straight at home on Wednesday, 3-1, over the Montreal Canadiens. Confidence abounds these cold January days.

“Earlier in the year, we were finding ways to lose games and now we’re finding way to win games,” Sean Couturier said. “Even if we’re down a goal or two, we’re still confident we can come back and score goals. When we’re up a goal or two now, we’re confident we can close a game, too.”

The Flyers’ confidence has never been higher this season. Craig Berube’s team is 9-2 in its last 11 games.

They have 50 points to maintain second place in the Metropolitan Division with a three-point lead over the New York Rangers, who have catapulted over the Washington Caps for the third spot. 

Amazing what confidence can do for a hockey club.

“It’s big, confidence is big and right now we feel we can find ways to win games,” Couturier said. “Sometimes we’re not in games and our goalie makes big saves. All it takes is one little play to turn momentum around. We’re confident in games that we can shift momentum.”

It’s a fine line, too.

“Little details or turnover or chip or chip out that goes the other way and they score and now we’re doing a good job on those little details,” Couturier added.

Little details?

How about goalie Steve Mason (19 saves) getting an early stop on a Danny Briere breakaway? The night before in New Jersey, it was a goal on Ray Emery and forced the Flyers to play catch-up.

This time, it’s a save that allows the Flyers to get it together for Couturier’s goal five minutes later, followed by Zac Rinaldo’s goal.

A 2-0 lead after one period. It stretched to 3-0.

The days when the opposition would make a push and steal a point or even the game from the Flyers has vanished.

“We’re winning a lot of different ways,” Berube said. “Tonight we had a good first period, had the lead and did what we had to do to win the game. I didn’t think we gave them a whole lot.

“We played pretty good defensively. Jersey game we got down 1-0 but battled back. I can go back to the Phoenix game, we got down and battled back.

“They’re confident guys right now. They believe they can win. They might not always play their best hockey, but we’re squeezing wins out.”

Contributions abounded in this game.

Three assists from Andrej Meszaros –- the most he’s had in a game since he was with Ottawa in 2006. This was his eighth straight game playing in the lineup since Erik Gustafsson got hurt.

“Obviously, if you play more games, you're going to have more confidence,” Meszaros said. “I've been playing a lot of games lately, so that's good for my confidence. Hopefully, I'm doing a good enough job that the coaches will keep me in.”

Vinny Lecavalier still doesn’t seem like the same player he was a while ago because of his back injury, but the tall forward chipped in with another assist, giving him points in two of his last three games.

Rinaldo, who is known for racking up hits by the minute –- literally -– actually scored a goal, his first of the season.

Michael Raffl, back in the lineup two straight games coming off a concussion, got a key goal in the third period to make it 3-0 and break Les Canadiens’ backs.

It wasn’t a setup, just a loose puck and pop-up shot in and out of the net on goalie Peter Budaj.

“I had some really, really good scoring chances [this season],” Raffl said. “And then to get something like that, a rebound and you just whack at it and it bounces in.

“It’s life. Sometimes it goes in and sometimes it doesn’t. It was just bouncing there. I was trying to get through those sticks laying around.”

Best part about this game was that the Flyers didn’t have to scramble back. They got a lead and had it to the end.

“It’s always nice to have a lead,” Raffl said. “You can save a lot of energy. Just wait for them to attack and feed off their turnovers. They’re trying to create stuff. You just get it deep and grind them out.”

Flyers-Hurricanes 5 things: Avoiding another bad 1st period

Flyers-Hurricanes 5 things: Avoiding another bad 1st period

Flyers vs. Hurricanes
7 p.m. on CSN, Pregame Live at 6:30

Another season, another slow start for the Flyers.

After dropping their home opener Thursday, the Flyers (1-2-1) welcome the Hurricanes (1-1-2) to the Wells Fargo Center Saturday night looking to snap a three-game losing skid.

Here are five things to know for Game 5 of 82.

1. Slow starts
Through four games, there are a few areas behind the Flyers' lousy start.

The defense continuing to abandon the goaltending and the lackluster power play are near the top of the list, but look no further than the first period of games.

The Flyers have been outscored, 6-1, in first periods through four games. Only Tampa Bay and Vancouver have scored fewer first-period markers with zero. The six first-period goals allowed are tied for the second most in the NHL. Only Calgary has more with seven.

It was an issue last season as well. In 2015-16, the Flyers were outscored, 62-50, in first periods, and the 50 goals ranked in the bottom five of the league. We've talked about slow starts in terms of wins-losses, but this issue extends to first periods too.

While the Flyers have exerted far greater efforts in second periods — leading the league with eight second-period tallies — getting behind so early results in playing from behind, and while resiliency is a trait of winning teams, it's ultimately cost them thus far.

On Saturday night, it doesn't get any easier for the Flyers, either. Carolina is an improved club from last season, which it, too, struggled scoring in opening periods.

That hasn't been the case this season. The 'Canes have outscored opponents, 5-2, in first periods, so it'll be important for the Flyers to come out of the gate with more authority.

2. Read-emption Song
One of the highlights of the early season for the Flyers has been the play of Matt Read.

Read scored his team-leading fourth goal of the season during the Flyers' 3-2 loss to the Ducks on Thursday, dusting off a play that brought back memories of years past.

The 30-year-old got behind the Anaheim defense on the backhand, drove to the net and deposited the puck into the net past John Gibson for a go-ahead score. It was very much a play we saw Read make a few years ago, but has been missing the last two seasons. Read came into training camp early this season hungrier than the previous two seasons, and on Wednesday, general manager Ron Hextall said Read knew he had to get back to the brand of hockey he was playing in 2013-14.

After the game Thursday, Read said his self-evaluation this offseason resulted in him realizing he has to get into the greasy areas to score and avoid playing the outside.

"I think that's something the last two years, I kind of faded away from, I was a perimeter player," Read said Thursday. "It's easy to be a perimeter player if you're going to be making plays and stuff like that. But if you want to score goals, you've got to get into those tough areas, be nasty around the net and battle for loose pucks."

3. Not so special
Special teams so often decide hockey games and it should factor into Saturday's game, too. Carolina comes into the game with a power play and penalty kill both in the top five.

The Hurricanes' man advantage has found twine five times in 16 chances, and their penalty kill has killed off 15 of 16 power plays against. On the other hand, the Flyers have had their struggles on special teams in the early going.

On Thursday night, the Flyers’ PP played a huge role in their loss. They finished 1 for 7 on the man advantage against Anaheim but were 1 for 5 in the second period alone. With Anaheim asking to be beaten, the Flyers couldn’t make the Ducks pay. 

“I thought we had pretty good power plays, our first power play,” Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said. “I thought we had a good power play during the second, scored a good goal. Had opportunities to stretch to 3-1. It’s disappointing we couldn’t.

“We had one poor power play at the end of the first, where we weren’t able to get set up at all. Our power play was OK. The bigger thing for me is the goal we gave up a few seconds after the last power play in the second period. Those are the type of goals that as a team we can’t give up.”

4. Keep an eye on …
Flyers: It hasn't been the smoothest transition to the NHL for Ivan Provorov, one of two 19-year-olds on the roster. Provorov has shown glimpses, but there have been hiccups, as expected. He had a nightmare of a game in Chicago on Tuesday, and followed it up with a not-so-great effort against Anaheim. But we have to remember he's a teenage rookie. Patience is important. Still, the spotlight should remain on him Saturday. How does he respond after a pair of games in which he's made visible mistakes?

Hurricanes: Carolina has a few young players that are a joy to watch, but let’s highlight defenseman Justin Faulk, who quarterbacks the power play. The 24-year-old has a goal and three assists in four games, with two of the helpers coming on the man advantage. An extremely gifted blueliner, Faulk has scored 15 and 16 goals, respectively, the last two seasons, but that wasn’t enough to get him on Team USA for the World Cup of Hockey. We all know how that panned out.

5. This and that
• Read has 14 points in 20 career games against the Hurricanes.

• Dale Weise was suspended three games for an illegal check to the head of Anaheim defenseman Korbinian Holzer. Roman Lyubimov will replace Weise in the lineup.

• Carolina has killed off its last 11 penalties and has scored at least one power-play goal in three of its four games and two power-play goals in two of its four games.

Matt Read showing Flyers he's done his homework

Matt Read showing Flyers he's done his homework

To Matt Read’s credit, his hockey education never stopped.

Through a second straight subpar season with a murky summer ahead, Read realized he had to change, even on the cusp of his 30th birthday.

It was in late April when the much-maligned winger met with head coach Dave Hakstol and turned in his homework, almost like a student-teacher conference to address troubled grades.

Read vowed he had learned.

Now, nearly six months later, he’s off to the best start of his six-year career.

“He has always been a hard-working guy,” Hakstol said Thursday. “He is a guy that is doing things with a lot of confidence. For me, it started with Reader back in late August. He was in here working early, getting ready, getting prepared and he has carried that through everything he has done so far this year.”

What he has done is rip off a team-high four goals in four games, attacking the net at will and with an undeniable bravado. Really, it’s a Matt Read we haven’t seen before. On Thursday night in the Flyers’ 3-2 home-opening loss, he took a bouncing puck at the blue line, careened toward the net on a sharp, decisive angle and buried his fourth goal with skilled stick work.

“For myself, I’m just trying to play with speed and get to the net,” he said. “I had all the speed and kind of beat the goalie to the back post.”

Last season, the bottom-six forward needed 26 games to score four goals. The year prior, it took 54 games.

So Read studied. What exactly did he grasp?

“Even my linemates, we talk about that if we’re in the offensive zone, we’ve got to get somebody in the blue paint there,” Read said Thursday. “I don’t know the stat, but I think it’s near 90 percent of all goals are within 10 feet of the net. So if you want to score goals, you’ve got to get in that area.”

This offseason, Read looked in the mirror and, with some self-evaluation, knew what had to be done.

“I think that’s something the last two years, I kind of faded away from, I was a perimeter player,” he said. “It’s easy to be a perimeter player if you’re going to be making plays and stuff like that. But if you want to score goals, you’ve got to get into those tough areas, be nasty around the net and battle for loose pucks.”

A new outlook has brought renewed confidence. It’s fair to question whether over the last two seasons if Read ever makes the play he made Thursday. He also knows it’s early and more can be accomplished.

“I feel good out there right now,” Read said. “Hopefully I continue to have good health, keep working out and being strong on my feet. A lot of it has to do with confidence. If you’re shy or not having the confidence, you probably won’t go to that far post.

“I know for myself in the last two years, I know I’ve got to be better. Even going into last year, I knew I had to be better and I did as much I could in the offseason to have a good season and I guess it didn’t go my way, or over the course of the season, it took its toll.”

Read amassed 11 goals and 15 assists in 79 games. The 26 points were a personal low for a full season. Those figures didn’t sit well with Read and general manager Ron Hextall noticed.

“You know what, Reader came in early before camp, he's absolutely worked his tail off,” Hextall said Wednesday. “He understood that he hadn't been as good a player as he should have been last year. He understood it, he took it upon himself, put in a great summer, came in early, got himself in great shape, and he's a hungry hockey player right now and he's been back to where he was.”

When signed by the Flyers in 2011 out of Bemidji State University, it was uncertain where Read projected. Over the past two seasons, he’s fallen to a fourth-line role and was even healthy-scratched last season. More buzz surrounding his status within the organization heated up entering training camp as the Flyers made additions and Travis Konecny blossomed.

Thus far, however, Read has won himself a promotion to the third line because of his early success. He played only 16 power-play seconds Thursday, but if goals keep coming and the Flyers produce more 1-for-7 results on the man advantage, maybe Hakstol increases the 30-year-old’s minutes there, as well.

“When Matt Read is playing like he can play,” Hextall said, “he's a helluva player.”

Not a bad student, too.