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.”

Best of NHL: Surging Capitals rock Blues in St. Louis

Best of NHL: Surging Capitals rock Blues in St. Louis

ST. LOUIS -- Andre Burakovsky, T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov each had a goal and an assist to lead the Washington Capitals to a 7-3 victory over the St. Louis Blues on Thursday night.

Jay beagle, Brett Connolly, Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams also scored, and Alex Ovechkin and Daniel Winnik each had two assists to help Washington earn at least a point in its 12th straight game (10-0-2) for an NHL-best 66 points.

Braden Holtby bounced back from his roughest outing of the season with 22 saves. Holtby was pulled after giving up a season-high five goals on 26 shots in an 8-7 overtime loss at Pittsburgh on Monday. He improved to 22-8-4 and 5-0 lifetime against St. Louis (see full recap).

Grabner scores 2 goals, Rangers top Leafs
TORONTO -- Michael Grabner scored two goals against his former team, helping the New York Rangers snap a three-game losing streak with a 5-2 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night.

Pavel Buchnevich, Brady Skjei and J.T. Miller added goals for New York, and Henrik Lundqvist made 23 saves following a series of rough outings.

Tyler Bozak and Zach Hyman scored for Toronto, which had a three-game winning streak stopped. The Maple Leafs had earned 21 of a possible 26 points in their previous 13 games (10-2-1). Frederik Andersen gave up four goals on 40 shots (see full recap).

Tavares leads Islanders to shutout of Stars
NEW YORK -- Getting a new coach this week didn't change things much for the Islanders -- and oddly enough, that's a good thing for New York.

John Tavares narrowly missed out on his second hat trick in a week, Thomas Greiss got his second straight shutout and the Islanders beat the Dallas Stars 3-0 on Thursday night in their first game since firing longtime coach Jack Capuano.

New York canned Capuano in the middle of his seventh season Tuesday, replacing him on an interim basis with Doug Weight (see full recap).

Niederreiter, Wild dodge letdown, edge Coyotes
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Nino Niederreiter had two power-play goals and an assist, including the go-ahead score for the Minnesota Wild with 7:06 remaining in a 4-3 victory over Arizona on Thursday night after the Coyotes came back from a two-goal deficit.

With Shane Doan in the penalty box for hooking, Niederreiter knocked in a nifty redirect of Mikael Granlund's slap shot for the winner. Devan Dubnyk stopped 20 shots for the Wild, who are 18-2-2 in their last 22 games.

Louis Domingue made 21 saves for the Coyotes, who lost their fourth in a row and fell to 2-12-1 in their last 15 games starting with a 4-1 loss to Minnesota in Arizona on Dec. 17 (see full recap).

End to End: What adjustment would you make on Flyers' defense?

End to End: What adjustment would you make on Flyers' defense?

Throughout the season, we'll ask questions about the Flyers to our resident hockey analysts and see what they have to say.

With the Flyers on their bye week, let’s discuss a few topics.

Going End to End this week are CSNPhilly.com producers/reporters Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone.

Today’s question: What adjustment would you make on the Flyers' defense?

Dougherty
There is not much in Dave Hakstol’s arsenal to significantly improve the team defense with a lineup change. Sure, scratching Andrew MacDonald could be a positive step, but that does not solve the problem here. We can point fingers at the defensive group because the Flyers have allowed the league’s second-most goals at 144. They’re part of the problem.

What is plaguing the Flyers is not just the play of their six defensemen on any given night; it’s their overall team defense. Some forwards are quitting on the backcheck, and not providing enough support in their own zone, missing their own assignments.

The Flyers, I believe, are struggling with the lack of practice time. And while it is true that every team is dealing with the same compact schedule as the Flyers, Hakstol has to maximize the little practice time he gets going forward and preach team defense. Gaps have been a major issue with the current group of blueliners, and that is an area assistant coach Gord Murphy has to fix. Hakstol has singled out the team’s rush defense as an issue, and that’s another area the team has to work on, too.

A lot of the same issues that were appearing in the beginning of the season when the Flyers were struggling are reappearing in their game now. They were able to make adjustments earlier in the season to hone their game defensively. More film study and more coaching are just a couple of the adjustments I’d make with the current options.

Hall
Sometimes it takes a fresh face, some new blood to spark change.

If anything, it sends a bit of a message.

The Flyers have options at AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley and general manager Ron Hextall didn’t rule anything out last Sunday.

But, of course, given the Flyers’ salary cap conundrum, it’s not as simple as just calling up a player.

So, the easiest thing that can be done is change within the current personnel. That means scratching MacDonald from time to time, just how Hakstol has done so with Shayne Gostisbehere, Brandon Manning, Michael Del Zotto, Radko Gudas and many Flyers forwards.

MacDonald hasn’t been as bad as some may think. Oftentimes, his mistakes are magnified more than others. But too frequently do we see him out of position or misreading a play on a goal against. And that’s been true for all Flyers defensemen, yet MacDonald seems to be one of the only spared of the consequences.

Benching MacDonald isn’t a drastic fix and it may not do much at all, but it’s something we haven’t seen since Nov. 19.

Paone
This a really tough question because, to be quite frank, there is no easy solution here to fixing a Flyers defense that has been mired in a state of miserable play and has played a large part in the team's allowing 3.50 goals per game in the 14 contests since the 10-game win streak ended in mid-December. 

It's not like Hakstol or Hextall can push some magic button here and have things fixed in a matter of moments. The Flyers have salary cap and roster issues, so it's going to be tough to bring in a player via trade to help fix things on the back end. Same goes for bringing up a prospect because space on the roster would have to be made first.

This situation leaves the Flyers to fix the problem from within with the defensemen they currently have at the NHL level. They're going to have to play their way out of this. And that's why I'm interested in focusing on the younger defensemen like Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov right now. We know what the veteran defensemen on this team are and they've been through this sort of thing before. This will not be the last team-wide rut the younger defensemen will play through in their careers. It will happen again. They're going to have to learn how to play through this and not let it affect their individual play. That's why I didn't agree with Ghost's benching in Boston last weekend.  Sure, he has not played well this season and the warts to his game have been evident. And there are times when sitting back, taking a breather and watching can be beneficial. But I'm a believer that a young player has to play through his growing pains and grow from them.

This isn't going to be an answer most of you will like to hear, but with the way the Flyers' hands are tied, they're just going to have to play their way out of these defensive struggles with what they have.