Flyers' 'best game' wasted by another meltdown

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Flyers' 'best game' wasted by another meltdown

BOX SCORE

Updated: 11:24 p.m.

They had earned themselves a point. Maybe even a victory.
 
Now it was early in the third period and the Flyers were clinging to a 2-1 lead and likely thinking to themselves: Something bad will happen.
 
Sure enough, Vancouver’s Henrik Sedin stood behind the net. Chris Higgins was in front flanked by Claude Giroux and Braydon Coburn.
 
When Sedin started to make to his right, Nick Grossmann challenged. That’s when Sedin found Higgins with a pass and he buried a shot on goalie Steve Mason while others watched.
 
“We had an unchecked man behind the net and an open guy in front,” said Coburn, who was minus-3 in the game.
 
Added Giroux: “It happened pretty quick, but obviously, [Higgins] has to be picked up.”
 
It was another in a growing list of deflating third-period moments, a stanza in which the Flyers have been outscored 10-2 and saw yet another good effort wasted.
 
Ultimately, the Flyers lost 3-2 to the Canucks on Tuesday at the Wells Fargo Center.
 
Tye McGinn’s two-goal effort was in vain.
 
“There’s a couple of breakdowns there on those goals that we definitely have to correct,” coach Craig Berube said.
 
“Giroux and Grossmann got a little mixed up on who was going and who wasn’t going. Sedin went to the other side and Grossy jumped on him a bit. He popped it out.
 
“We got to cover them. Grossy should stay with his guy. And Giroux should keep pressuring them.”
 
And Coburn? He watched the lead disappear. For good.
 
“You got to take it to teams in the third period and win the game,” Berube said. “We’re kind of sitting back a bit and waiting for something bad to happen ... we've got to get over that hump -- be mentally tough and go out and do it.”
 
Once upon a time, the Flyers had swagger to go after teams in the third period. Now they wilt.
 
“Three years ago when I came here, we had that attitude that no matter if we were down in the third period, there was no hesitation that we couldn’t come back,” Jakub Voracek said.
 
“Last two years, it feels like we’re up 2-1 or down one goal, the team would tie it. We are scared to make something happen on the ice. We've got to stick with the same game plan for all 60 minutes.”
 
Almost forgotten here was Voracek and his line had a scoring chance and failed prior to Vancouver turning the puck back up ice for the tying goal. If the Flyers score, Higgins' goal doesn’t happen.
 
“We played our best game and it’s frustrating, and [Mason] made the saves to keep us in the game,” said Giroux, the Flyers’ captain. “We’re getting better every game, that’s a fact. If anybody knows anything about hockey ... we played our best game.”
 
For 50-plus minutes they did, until disaster struck. And they still could have won it.
 
With 8:21 left to play, the Flyers got a power play. This is when special teams has to make a difference in a tight game. Yet, the Flyers still struggle to get points, shots and chances. They had one shot that entire power play as their skid hit 0 for 17.
 
Of the two power plays the Flyers had on Tuesday, they managed one official shot. That’s unacceptable.
 
Soon after that last power play, Ryan Kesler won it on a series of shots that had both the Flyers and Mason scrambling. Kesler had two goals.
 
Vancouver gets up the ice quicker than any opponent the Flyers have seen so far. The problem has been what the Canucks do with the puck once there. It took the third period for Vancouver to solve its dilemma.
 
Berube said he wanted to see the Flyers get to the net a lot quicker than they have been, and get some rebounds.
 
That is exactly what McGinn has done since rejoining this club after being sent to the Phantoms early in training camp.
 
He scored in the first period with a diving backhand effort, and gave the Flyers a 2-1 second-period lead with a follow shot in the slot, as well.
 
So in just two games, McGinn is the Flyers' leading goal scorer with three.
 
“We have to shoot the puck -- that’s how goals go in and I’m just seeing shots from the far side,” McGinn said. “They are simple shots, but sometimes the goalies just can’t handle it and it pops right out into the slot and that’s where we need guys to be.”
 
The Flyers' lead off McGinn’s first goal lasted all of 10 seconds. Jannik Hansen’s dump-in pass after the faceoff took a crazy carom off the back boards as Mason was going for the puck behind the net.
 
Kesler was alone in the slot for an empty netter.
 
“You can't let things like that affect you -- you can't always control what the puck does,” Mason said. “You control what you do after that and I thought we played a pretty strong game.”
 
McGinn regained the lead for the Flyers barely two minutes into the second period.
 
Voracek drove hard down the right boards and angled a backhander that goalie Roberto Luongo tried kicking. The puck nicked Giroux and landed in front of McGinn in the paint. He made it 2-1.
 
The Flyers had a chance to widen their lead near the period’s end on their power(less) play, but the Canucks have the third-best penalty killers in the NHL at 90.5 percent efficiency and suffice to say, they showed the Flyers why.
 
“It’s tough,” Berube said. “I told my team afterward, just keep believing. We’re going in the right direction.
 
“It was a hard-fought game. When you play a John Tortorella team, you are in for a dog fight. We knew that. I thought our guys competed really hard.”

Playing with 'swagger,' Gostisbehere flashes glimpse of rookie self vs. Canucks

Playing with 'swagger,' Gostisbehere flashes glimpse of rookie self vs. Canucks

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – The Flyers’ “Ghost” headed home Monday on a high note — for a change.

Defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere recorded three assists for the first three-point night of his NHL career Sunday as the Flyers edged the Vancouver Canucks 3-2 in the final game of a three-game Western Canada road trip (see story). In one night, he matched his offensive output of his previous 10 games played. 

He was a healthy scratch for three games in the meantime. On many other occasions, he has struggled while dealing with the NHL’s proverbial sophomore jinx following a standout rookie season. 

“It’s been a while coming,” Gostisbehere said. “It’s good to get some points, but I thought it was more important to get two points for our team.”

The win moved the Flyers (28-24-7) within a point of the eighth and final playoff spot, currently held by Toronto, in the Eastern Conference. With considerable thanks to Gostisbehere, the club’s much maligned power play scored on two of three man-advantage opportunities. 

“He played great,” Wayne Simmonds said of Gostisbehere. “He had his confidence and a little bit of swagger.”

Gostisbehere’s first assist enabled the Flyers to get off to a quick start offensively as Simmonds deflected in his point shot only 1:11 into the game. On the Flyers’ second goal, Gostisbehere head-manned the puck to Sean Couturier on a rush. Jakub Voracek easily put Couturier’s big rebound into a gaping net with Canucks goaltender Ryan Miller caught out of position.

One minute and 27 seconds later, Brayden Schenn took Gostisbehere’s pass and put in a shot from the slot. Altogether, Gostisbehere’s assists enabled the Flyers to build an insurmountable 3-0 lead in the game’s first 23 minutes.

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

Gostisbehere now has four goals and 18 assists on the season. Until Sunday, the 23-year-old had seemed like an apparition of his former self. 

He had a less-than-ideal recovery period from offseason hip (labrum) and abdominal surgeries, due to his participation with Team North America in the World Cup. Then he suffered a facial cut in the Flyers’ season opener and took a bruise on his right hand in December.

He also struggled defensively to the point where he was scratched — for the first time in his NHL career — in November and was later benched and pulled out of the lineup again. Heading into Sunday’s game, he had a woeful minus-22 mark, but he was only on the ice for one Canucks' goal.

He helped the Flyers shut out the Canucks in the first and third periods. 

“We don’t like how they came back, but we held the lead and, like I said, we got the two points,” Gostisbehere said.

Ghost’s offensive showing evoked memories of his seemingly other-worldly 2015-16 season. In 64 games last season, he notched 17 goals, the most by an NHL rookie defenseman since Dion Phaneuf, then with Calgary, who scored 20 over a full 82-game schedule in 2005-06. Gostisbehere also enjoyed a historic 15-game point streak in 2015-16, the longest ever for a first-year rearguard, and he was a runnerup for the league’s Rookie of the Year award.

His return to form Sunday bodes well as the Flyers face two Metropolitan Division rivals this week, first Washington at home on Wednesday and then the Penguins in Pittsburgh on Saturday in an outdoor game that will pack plenty of hype and pressure. 

After those games, the Flyers face a more compressed schedule than they have lately. The Feb.12-27 portion of their calendar contains only five games. But starting Feb. 28, they will play their final 21 games of the regular season over 41 days as they push to make the playoffs.

“We definitely know we’re a playoff team, for sure,” Gostisbehere said. “It shows. It’s a big test for us (this) week, playing these really good teams.”

Flyers, at this point, should sell a few valuable veterans ahead of deadline

Flyers, at this point, should sell a few valuable veterans ahead of deadline

Dave Hakstol’s Flyers returned home from Vancouver on Monday not quite resembling conquering heroes.

Sure, they salvaged two points from their three-game trek to Western Canada, but for a team that supposedly sees itself as a wild card, that just ain’t gonna get it done.

The Flyers required at least four points — ideally, five — from the trip to give us some proof they’re a legit contender for the wild card.

Right now, their wild-card hopes remain on life support.

Yes, they’re only two points behind Toronto. Thing is, the field of wild-card contenders have officially caught up and even passed them.

When the Flyers left for the trip, they were even in points with the Maple Leafs while holding down the 9-seed in the Eastern Conference. Toronto had the second wild card.

Hakstol's team is the 11-seed now. Toronto, Florida and the New York Islanders are ahead of them with games in hand.

This trip should offer enough evidence to general manager Ron Hextall that his team is still floundering.

There are no moves Hextall can initiate at the trade deadline that will guarantee a playoff spot without mortgaging the future.

Since their return from the All-Star break, the Flyers are 3-5-1. Those numbers don’t suggest they’re headed to the playoffs.

And even if the Flyers were to qualify as the second wild card, they would face a very early exit against the Washington Capitals.

Again.

At this point, with the March 1 NHL trade deadline staring Hextall in the face, he has to be a seller at the deadline.

If you trust Hextall’s long-term plan of patience, you understand that what this is about is preserving assets and preparing young players to be integrated into the system next year and the year after, and the year after that.

Mark Streit and Michael Del Zotto are two unrestricted free agents who could help someone else right now.

Streit has been strong this season on the power play, which is his forte. He’s the perfect deadline rental.

Even if Hextall would like to have Streit’s veteran leadership on the blue line next season on a one-year, low salary to “tutor” Robert Hagg or Sam Morin or Travis Sanheim, he could still move Streit now and re-sign him later this summer.

Del Zotto, at 26, will get a nice return in draft picks or a prospect. Del Zotto is going to want a big contract this summer (he’s making $3.87 million now).

There’s no incentive for Hextall to go that direction given the sheer number of young, outstanding defensive prospects in the system that will be arriving shortly, all of whom come with very low salary cap hits.

Don’t blame Hextall for not getting involved in the Matt Duchene/Gabriel Landeskog saga that is going on in Colorado. GM Joe Sakic is asking a lot.

Hextall seems reluctant to part with any future prospects or young players just to get the same in return.

Much of the fan base has been saying for a while now it’s time to move team captain Claude Giroux. He's in the midst of his fourth consecutive season in which his numbers have declined, and in some respects, dramatically from his two best seasons — 2011-12 (93 points) and 2013-14 (86 points).

Yet there is no indication from Hextall or anyone in the Flyers' organization that such is even being contemplated.

Or that the organization feels Giroux’s leadership abilities have been assumed by Wayne Simmonds, who is arguably the most popular Flyer, two years running now.

Hextall still sees veterans such as Giroux, who is only 29, as a player who would help the transition of younger pups coming along — Travis Konecny, German Rubtsov, Nick Cousins, Jordan Weal, etc. — and he also believes Giroux can recapture his offense.

In short, Hextall is not going to tear his roster apart nor is he going to make a blockbuster trade next Wednesday. But he will likely try to sell veteran assets that make the team younger in some way.

Which is the correct thinking for the Flyers now and right into this summer, as well.