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.”

Best of NHL: Capitals blow lead, rebound for OT win over Bruins

Best of NHL: Capitals blow lead, rebound for OT win over Bruins

WASHINGTON -- Nicklas Backstrom scored 1:36 into overtime, helping the Washington Capitals beat the Boston Bruins 4-3 after blowing a three-goal lead Wednesday night.

Justin Williams scored twice and Daniel Winnik also had a goal to put Washington ahead 3-0 about six minutes into the second period.

After Winnik's tally, Washington went over 26 minutes without a shot on goal. Boston dominated the final five minutes of the second period, when Dominic Moore and David Pastrnak beat goaltender Braden Holtby. Colin Miller's power-play score 8:19 into third tied it at 3.

Boston arrived in Washington 4-0-1 over its last five games with three wins in a row, including a 4-3 overtime triumph against Florida on Monday night.

Evgeny Kuznetsov had two assists for the Capitals and Alex Ovechkin got his first point since Nov. 26.

Boston outshot Washington 34-20. The Capitals have won two straight following a three-game losing skid (see full recap).

Staal scores on Leafs again in Wild win
TORONTO -- Eric Staal scored yet another goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs, lifting the Minnesota Wild to a 3-2 victory on Wednesday night.

Staal has 47 points in 43 career games against Toronto, and three of his six goals this season have come against the Leafs.

Jason Zucker and Chris Stewart also scored for the Wild, who wrapped a five-game trip 2-1-2.

Ben Smith and Tyler Bozak had goals for the Maple Leafs, who dropped to 8-4-0 at Air Canada Centre.

Devan Dubnyk made 35 saves for Minnesota and Frederik Andersen stopped 17 shots for Toronto (see full recap).

Connor McDavid, Oilers' speed, skill present Flyers with 'real good challenge'

Connor McDavid, Oilers' speed, skill present Flyers with 'real good challenge'

VOORHEES, N.J. — They are among the very best – and highest scoring — lines in the NHL this season.
 
And they’re gunning for the Flyers on Thursday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
 
Connor McDavid’s unit with Milan Lucic and Leon Draisaitl have a combined 30 goals and 78 points worth of offense. 
 
Among them, the lightning quick McDavid leads the NHL with 36 points. All 11 of his goals are even strength. 
 
He doesn’t have a single power-play goal, but is tied for the league lead with several players, including Claude Giroux, with 10 power-play assists.
 
You can expect to see Pierre-Edouard Bellemare’s unit with Chris VandeVelde and Dale Weise against this line with defenseman Ivan Provorov drawing McDavid for the first time this season.
 
“Speed and skill that Edmonton has up front presents a real good challenge for our team,” Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said. “We have to be better with the puck tomorrow. 
 
“We didn’t do enough when we had the puck. Gave it up a little too easily and because of that, you end up playing defense a lot of the night and that’s what happened last night to us.”
 
Bellemare, who had his share of forward battles with Jaromir Jagr in Tuesday, likes to analyze the matchups against McDavid.
 
“He’s one of the best players in the world,” Bellemare said of the 19-year-old McDavid. “It’s tough not to be excited when playing against a guy who plays like this. He competes every second he is on the ice. That line is an impressive line.”
 
The Flyers better have some bad, choppy ice to slow McDavid down. Edmonton has some of the fastest ice in the league and the Oilers use it to their full advantage. 
 
Asked of McDavid’s tendencies, Bellemare said, “Is that a tendency? To be super fast?”
 
Yes it is. 
 
“When you play against them, he is a kid who is freaky fast right from the start,” Bellemare said. “Against that line, you saw [against Buffalo] that everyone knows how fast he is and he still had two breakaways.”
 
Which means the Flyers need to watch their turnovers, especially in the neutral zone where McDavid can go 60 feet in a flash.
 
“Even blue line to the top of the circle, you can’t turn the puck over,” Bellemare said. “Or he’s gone. This is a tendency we have to be careful of. All of the ice, you can’t give him any time or space. The less time you give him, the bigger chance you have to frustrate a player like this.”
 
Bellemare did some talking with Jagr a couple times in Tuesday’s game. So did Provorov. Bellemare says it helps to add psychology to the mix.
 
“You try to be in his face,” Bellemare said. “If you can win that battle against that line and our first line can win the battle against their fourth line, then it’s a win-win situation. I was trying to be in [Jagr’s] face.”
 
Jagr actually got angrier at Provorov and it showed with his hooking calls. But when Bellemare and Jagr went into the corner, Jagr got testy with his stick there as well.
 
“He was trying to give it to me a little harder,” Bellemare said. “Exactly what I need. If he is less focused on the puck, then maybe I have a chance to win that puck.”
 
McDavid’s focus will be solely on the puck.
 
“McDavid has been playing some pretty good hockey,” Flyers captain Claude Giroux said. “They’re a high-tempo team. A smart team. We’ve got to be ready.”
 
Loose pucks
Boyd Gordon came off long term injured reserve onto the active roster to give the Flyers 13 forwards. In doing that, Matt Read (oblique pull) went on injured reserve. … Defenseman Michael Del Zotto will sit against the Oilers while Radko Gudas returns from an illness. Gudas will be paired with Mark Streit, as Ivan Provorov remains with Andrew MacDonald for now. … Steve Mason, who did not practice Wednesday, will start in goal.