Flyers earn important win before holiday break

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Flyers earn important win before holiday break

BOX SCORE

Their goalie made a couple of timely momentum saves.

Their still fairly-new top line had another big game with four points.

And they got secondary scoring once again from a familiar face.

All three things played a role in the Flyers' 4-1 victory over the Minnesota Wild on Monday that sent the team into the Christmas break over .500 and secured a hold on a playoff spot as the third-place club in the Metropolitan Division (see Instant Replay).

You can talk at length about how Claude Giroux’s unit now has 28 points in the six games its been together, but you have to first mention that goalie Steve Mason had two critical saves at different times that gave the offense a chance to score.

First, Mason stoned Jason Pominville shorthanded with the Flyers holding a precarious 2-1 lead in the second period. A few minutes later, Giroux made it 3-1.

Then in the third period, the Wild made a hectic push for several minutes with Mikko Koivu charging down the slot to get his stick on a pass and one-time at Mason’s doorstep.

That save prevented what should have been a certain goal. And it gave the Flyers more momentum. Moments later, Simmonds (two goals and an assist) scored an empty netter (see highlights).

Game over.

“It was definitely a big save,” Mason said of the Koivu shot that drew thundering applause. “If we don’t make that, it becomes a one-goal hockey game and there is probably seven and a half, eight minutes left at that point.

“That could have become an entirely different hockey game, and those are the saves that we need to come up with in order to have success.”

What can you say about the top line that hasn’t already been said? Giroux has a career-high seven-game point streak (12 points), while Voracek has a career high eight-game streak (11 points).

The line came together Dec. 12 against Washington when Michael Raffl replaced Scott Hartnell at left wing.

“We’re finding the back of the net,” Giroux said. “It’s a lot more fun than the start of the year.

“We’ve got chemistry going. We’re controlling the play better. And [Raffl] is playing great for us. He’s moving everywhere and he has a great stick.”

Raffl had a couple of quality chances against the Wild, himself. His speed makes everyone go.

Coach Craig Berube says that’s the key.

“They all bring a different element,” Berube said. “The speed factor with Jake, the hands of Giroux and Raffl just strong on the puck. But they all skate and that is the key. They move their feet well in the offensive zone.”

Raffl is tough as nails on the wall, too, Berube said.

“It's nice to play with those guys,” Raffl said. “It's a challenge every day but I really enjoy it. I'm trying to stay on that line as long as possible.”

The Flyers kept pressing the offense against Minnesota.

“Our best defense is our offense and we keep pressuring them,” Giroux said. “We’ve got four lines going and everyone is playing great.”

Voracek seems just as relaxed as Giroux right now.

“We’re working hard all the time,” he said. “Back in the day when things didn’t go well, we stayed patient, we work real hard, and I think we’re old enough players to know we’ve got to work hard and we should be fine eventually. That’s exactly what happened and I think we’re making a difference in the game, which everybody is expecting from us.”

What has made it a bit easier on them is the contributions from others. Simmonds had two goals against the Wild. His new unit has Hartnell and Brayden Schenn in the middle.

“I think it’s worked great,” Simmonds said of his unit. “Like I said, we all do the same thing, we play north-south, we get bodies in, we grind on the other team's D, and we get the pucks to the point and we crash the net. I think that’s a good recipe and so far it’s been working.”

Right into Christmas.

Flyers-Blackhawks 5 things: Matinee showdown with NHL leader

Flyers-Blackhawks 5 things: Matinee showdown with NHL leader

Flyers (12-10-3) vs. Blackhawks (16-6-3)
1 p.m. on CSN and CSNPhilly.com

Behind captain Claude Giroux's two goals and overtime heroics Thursday, the Flyers enter Saturday's matinee with the Chicago Blackhawks on their longest win streak of the season.

That and more as we get ready for the afternoon showdown at the Wells Fargo Center.

1. Three's company
With their 3-2 OT win over the Senators, the Flyers have now won three (3!) games in a row for the second time this season, a sign the ship might be turning in the right direction.

Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol applauded his team's 61-minute effort afterward. Comparing it to Tuesday's win over Boston in which Steve Mason single-handedly stole two points from the Bruins, Hakstol said the Ottawa game was a "real, good, consistent effort" throughout the lineup, which the Flyers will have to mimic again Saturday in order to beat Chicago.

On Friday, Hakstol rewarded the Flyers with an optional practice. Brandon Manning, who has missed the last two games because of a possible concussion, returned to practice Friday and was cleared to play. If Manning returns Saturday, Andrew MacDonald seems like the likely candidate to come out.

Manning's return would be welcomed for the Flyers. The 26-year-old has been one of the team's most consistent players. He's been aggressive, both offensively and defensively, and his play is not deserving of a healthy scratch. But with no morning skate and limited player availability Friday, Manning's status for the Blackhawks' game remains unknown.

2. Power hour
For the Flyers to extend their winning streak to a season-high four games Saturday, they will have to do so not only with a sound, defensive game but also on special teams.

If there is one area Chicago has struggled this season, it has been the penalty kill. At 70.1 percent, the Blackhawks have the league's worst PK unit, and have a middle-of-the-road power play despite all of their offensive firepower.

The Flyers, on the other hand, have the league's third-best power play at 23.6 percent, and their penalty-kill units have improved lately, getting up to 80 percent. The Flyers have two PP goals in their last 19 opportunities.

Still, Chicago's power play is dangerous despite its recent struggles. The Blackhawks have just one power-play goal since Nov. 19, and went 0 for 4 on Thursday against the Devils.

3. Corey's crease
The Blackhawks also enter Saturday hot, winning three of their last four games; however, they have gone to overtime in their last three games. Chicago has had issues with slow starts in games recently, and the Devils' game Thursday was another example of that.

New Jersey took a 1-0 lead into the first intermission, but easily could have had a larger lead had it not been for Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford, who's been excellent this season. Crawford faced 13 shots in the opening period Thursday and kept the 'Hawks in the game, as he has all season long. The Blackhawks sit atop the NHL with 35 points, and Crawford is a major reason for that.

Crawford has a 2.27 goals-against average and .927 save percentage this season. He's pitched two shutouts and has faced 33 or more shots in his last four games. Scoring on Crawford has not been easy for opponents this season, but the Flyers do average 3.1 goals, third in the NHL.

4. Keep an eye on …
Flyers: Let's stick with Giroux. The 28-year-old snapped a nine-game goal drought Tuesday with power-play goal, and then added two more Thursday — one at 5-on-5 and one in the 3-on-3 overtime. Giroux's play at even strength has been scrutinized, but his point production remains potent. Giroux has a four-game point streak — three goals, two assists — and has 22 points in 25 games this season. He also got engaged Thursday in Ottawa.

Blackhawks: So many players to watch, but let's highlight the ageless Marian Hossa. The 37-year-old continues to be an effective player even as he grows older. Now in his 18th NHL season, Hossa leads Chicago with 12 goals, including the game-winner in overtime against New Jersey Thursday. Hossa tallied his 500th career goal against the Flyers back on Oct. 18, and has 15 goals in 48 career games against the orange and black. He still has it.

5. This and that
• Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews is out for Saturday's game because of an upper-body injury, per CSN Chicago's Tracey Myers. Toews hasn't played since Nov. 23.

• Mason, Saturday's projected starter, is 7-12-3 with a 3.42 GAA and .890 save percentage in 23 career games against the Blackhawks. After a disaster start to the season, Mason has a 2.22 GAA and .912 save percentage over his last nine games.

• Chicago has five players with seven or more goals, and five players with double-digit assists.

Flyers' trip to Ottawa brings back 'fond memories' for Travis Konecny

Flyers' trip to Ottawa brings back 'fond memories' for Travis Konecny

OTTAWA, Ontario — Exactly one year ago, Dec. 1, 2015, Travis Konecny was a member of the Ontario Hockey League’s Ottawa 67’s.

He had just learned that he had been invited to the Team Canada selection camp for the World Junior Hockey Championship and he was at the Canadian Tire Centre spending time with future Flyers teammates during the morning skate as they prepared for a game that night against the Ottawa Senators.

Fast forward one year to today, Dec. 1, 2016, and Konecny is back at the CTC, this time to face the Senators alongside his current Flyers teammates as a key part of the team’s offense.

Quite a step forward in just one calendar year for a kid not named Crosby or McDavid.

“It’s crazy how fast it happened and I’m definitely humbled I was given the opportunity. They believed enough in me to make the jump this year and it definitely hits me every day that I get the opportunity to play in the NHL,” said Konecny, who has scored four times and added nine assists through the first 25 games of his NHL career. He has also added a team-leading 33 penalty minutes and that goes a long way in explaining the type of game he plays.

“I don’t know what happened. I’ve never been like that before," Konecny said before the Flyers' 3-2 overtime win Thursday (see game story). "When you’re playing in the NHL, some guys will run over you all game if they can so I think part of these penalties I’m taking is me just having to step up and I’m just setting an example of sticking up for my teammates."

It wasn’t until his second game in the league that he took his first penalty, but he was on the score sheet before that having collected two assists in his debut Oct. 14 in a 4-2 win over the Kings in Los Angeles.

His first goal came Oct. 25 in a 4-3 win over the Buffalo Sabres. The key for his success in making the jump from junior to the NHL is simple.

“Just keeping things simple," he said. "Learning in the NHL is about reading off mistakes. You can’t always make a play, you have to be smart and make sure you’re doing what’s right for the team and I think just keeping my game simple is what got me here." 

There is one main difference between the two levels, Konecny added.

“The speed, and I don’t necessarily mean just skating," he said. "Thinking wise and how fast plays happen. Guys like [Senators defenseman Erik] Karlsson, he’s thinking so fast and he knows his play two or three steps before the next guy does, so you just have to try and outthink guys and to me that’s been the biggest jump.”

Konecny is not foreign to the Senators’ home ice surface. He spent part of his time in junior playing there while the 67’s home arena was being renovated.

He had to leave several passes for friends and family for the game Tuesday night, his first as a pro in the city that was dazzled by his play in junior for 2½ seasons.

“It was a lot of fun and it brought back a lot of memories," Konecny said after going scoreless in 14:13 of ice time. "We didn’t play in front of as many fans as we did tonight but definitely a lot of games played here and a lot of fond memories.

“Even flying in [Wednesday] was something special and driving around the city looking at the roots where I was for three years.”