Flyers fail again to put together complete game

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Flyers fail again to put together complete game

For the Flyers, playing against the Pittsburgh Penguins is always an opportunity to get a real sense of how they stack up to one of the NHL’s best teams.

And after Thursday’s 4-1 loss, the verdict is in: Never mind their 1-7 record. The Flyers can hang with the Penguins, the team that lays claim to Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis.

They just can’t compete for a full 60 minutes -- and therein lies the problem.

“It’s tough to win games when we played one period like we can,” Max Talbot said. “I think in the third, that’s the type of hockey we want to play. First and second, especially the second period, I really think we didn’t show up.”

After 40 minutes, the Flyers trailed in shots, 29-13. They had incurred four avoidable penalties. They struggled to so much as break out of their own zone, getting caught flat-footed and failing to get much of anything generated offensively.

Had goaltender Steve Mason not put in yet another stellar performance, well, we could be talking about a total blowout in the second period alone. Remarkably, the Flyers entered the third period trailing only 2-1.

They were lucky.

“My opinion, and I think everybody else’s opinion, was [it was] terrible hockey,” Mason said. “You’re not going to win hockey games like that. I thought the guys came out with a lot more emotion in the third period, and that’s the way we need to play. If we can start playing like that, we’ll be more successful than we are.”

For days, head coach Craig Berube has commented on the Flyers’ progress. He’s made note of the small improvements from one game to the next. Even in the team’s last two games, the losses to Detroit and Vancouver, Berube was clear that there were positive takeaways. Their five-on-five play was improving, he said. They were moving their feet better, he said.

So what was the Flyers’ problem against the Penguins, then?

“They stopped playing,” Berube said. “They were standing around watching them play.”

The Flyers fell victim to yet another slow start Thursday night, trailing early in shots, 8-1, and taking two penalties in the first six minutes of play. But they were able to put together a few chances, and where they failed, Mason stood tall.

After 20 minutes, they held tightly to a 0-0 tie. It was after then that, for whatever reason, things truly imploded.

For a Flyers team that now officially owns the worst start in franchise history, it’s no surprise the players are starting to get irritated.

“Obviously, guys are frustrated,” Brayden Schenn said. “You want to win hockey games. But the same time, we have five or six days off here to regroup and look forward to a new start, new challenges ahead, if we can.

“Look at our record -- obviously now we’ve got to look forward, have a good week of practice here, and just be better after the break.”

The good news, perhaps, is that the Flyers really did ramp up their energy in the third period. They might not have scored, and they did give up two goals (one an empty-netter), but they looked like a team working in sync.

In the third period alone, the Flyers almost doubled their shot total to 25 sent in on Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. They were far more disciplined, and actually had a few very good chances on the two power plays they were awarded.

“We’ve got to play like that for 60 minutes,” Wayne Simmonds said. “We need to start being more desperate. It’s just not good enough.

The Flyers will not have a chance to attempt a complete game until next Thursday when they host the New York Rangers. Until then, they’ll have a full six days to skate hard and work to correct the obvious mistakes they’ve made thus far -- and, as Simmonds notes, work on their desperation level.

What they won’t do, however, is dwell on their 1-7 start.

“We all know what our record is,” Schenn said. “There’s no sense in dwelling on it. You might as well try to look forward, look at good things ahead, and not worry about our record right now.”

Flyers free-agent goalie fits: Jonathan Bernier

Flyers free-agent goalie fits: Jonathan Bernier

Each day this week until July 1, the day free agency begins, Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone will profile the five best goalie options for the Flyers on the open market and project their likelihood of signing.

Jonathan Bernier
Age: 28
Height: 6-0
Weight: 184
Last team: Anaheim Ducks
2016-17 cap hit: $4.15 million

Scouting report
After being drafted 11th overall in 2006, Bernier was a highly-touted goaltender coming up in the Los Angeles Kings system and performed well in a backup role for five seasons in L.A.

But with Jonathan Quick in Los Angeles, Bernier was blocked from getting a viable opportunity to be a No. 1 with the Kings. In June 2013, they shipped him to Toronto.

Bernier did not capitalize on his opportunity with the Maple Leafs, however. He never established himself as a high-end starting goalie in three seasons despite a strong first year.

In 2013-14, Bernier was 26-19-7 with a 2.68 goals-against average and .923 save percentage with the Leafs but that save percentage continually dropped the next two years.

Toronto decided to cut ties with Bernier after the 2015-16 season and traded him to the Anaheim Ducks for a conditional draft pick. He spent last season backing up John Gibson.

Appearing in 39 games last season for the Ducks, Bernier posted a 21-7-4 record with a 2.50 goals-against average, .915 save percentage and two shutouts.

One note about Bernier: Flyers general manager Ron Hextall was an assistant GM in Los Angeles when the Kings drafted him in 2006, so there is a connection there.

Dougherty's projection
I don’t think Bernier is the best option available for the Flyers but the most likely. Maybe I’m putting too much weight on the Hextall connection here, maybe not. We’ll see.

Bernier fits what the Flyers appear to want in a goalie going forward: a short-term veteran option who can share the net with Michal Neuvirth in a platoon situation.

Hextall isn’t looking for the Flyers’ goalie of the future this summer. He believes he has that in the system already but needs to bide time for Carter Hart and Felix Sandstrom.

But he will be looking for a goalie who he can trust playing around 40 games or more next season and give the team quality in net. In that role, Bernier would be a solid fit.

He hasn’t panned out as projected and we could use him as one example of why we don’t see many goaltenders drafted high in the first round. They’re tough to project.

With that said, Bernier has found success in the past, including last season in Anaheim, in either a platoon or backup situation. He’ll come at a reasonable price, too.

A tandem of Neuvirth-Bernier would not be the worst thing in the world for the Flyers; it wouldn’t be the best, either. I think it would give them enough in net to compete.

If I had to predict which goaltender on the market will be here next season, it is Bernier.

Hall's projection
I see Bernier as one of the least realistic options for the Flyers.
 
The 2006 11th overall pick hasn't quite lived up to the hype, but he still has some cachet, probably too much for the Flyers in this spot.
 
He turns only 29 in August and in a backup role last season, his 2.50 goals-against average and .915 save percentage still ranked in the top 15 among NHL goalies that played 39 games or more.
 
The role and price in which the Flyers will offer shouldn't attract Bernier much. From the sound of Hextall, I expect him to be judicious in adding a goalie. This sounds much more like a stopgap, temporary position than anything future oriented.
 
There's a connection with the Flyers' GM here, but that might be it when it comes to the Bernier scenario.

Paone's projection
I find Bernier to be an intriguing option for the Flyers.

First and foremost, there is plenty of familiarity with Bernier within the Flyers' organization. Hextall and current Flyers goalie coach Kim Dillabaugh were both parts of the Kings' organization when Bernier was drafted in 2006 and worked with him during his development into an NHL goaltender. They not only know the type of player and competitor they'd be getting, they also know the type of person they'd be getting and that plays a role, too.

Bernier had a very strong campaign for the Ducks last season. That certainly makes him an attractive option for the Flyers. He did his best to prove he can be a reliable option again after things soured for him in Toronto. But, hey, a lot of things went sour in Toronto during those times.

But that strong campaign with Anaheim last season will have Bernier wanting opportunity and more of it. With Neuvirth entrenched here, how much opportunity would there actually be for Bernier here? Would the Flyers present the type of opportunity he's looking for after last year's showing with the Ducks? My guess is no. He'll likely want an opportunity to take on much more of a workload.

So while the option is intriguing for many reasons and it certainly isn't out of the realm of possibility, I ultimately feel this is an option both he and the Flyers pass on.

Flyers re-sign defenseman Mark Alt to 1-year, 2-way deal

Flyers re-sign defenseman Mark Alt to 1-year, 2-way deal

One day after extending qualifying offers to seven restricted free agents (see story), the Flyers re-signed Mark Alt, who was unrestricted.

The Phantoms' defenseman agreed to a one-year, two-way deal on Tuesday that will play him $125,000 in the AHL and $650,000 in the NHL.

The 25-year-old has played four years with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. 

He had one goal and 11 points last season in 40 AHL games.

Alt's only NHL appearance was his debut as a Flyer on March 28, 2015, at San Jose.

Alt has 68 points (12 goals) in 237 AHL games.