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.”

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.

Best of NHL: Matt Murray, Penguins cruise past Habs

Best of NHL: Matt Murray, Penguins cruise past Habs

MONTREAL -- Eric Fehr and Jake Guentzel scored in the second period to lead the Pittsburgh Penguins past the Montreal Canadiens 4-1 on Wednesday night.

Defensemen Ian Cole and Olli Maatta also scored for Pittsburgh, which won its second game in a row after a three-game skid.

Sven Andrighetto scored for Montreal, which lost its second straight and has only two wins in its last six games. The Canadiens' offense remained in a rut coming off a 1-0 loss Monday in Detroit.

Penguins goalie Matt Murray was back in form after Monday's wild 8-7 win over Washington, making 19 saves. But Carey Price's woes continued as Pittsburgh outshot Montreal 26-20. Price allowed three or more goals for the eighth time in 10 games (see full recap).

Vanek, Nielsen lead Wings over Bruins
DETROIT -- Thomas Vanek and Frans Nielsen scored in a shootout, lifting the Detroit Red Wings to a comeback 6-5 win over the Boston Bruins on Wednesday night.

The Red Wings rallied from 3-0 and 4-1 deficits in the first period, and with 3:04 remaining in regulation, Gustav Nyquist scored to pull them into a tie.

In the shootout, Tuukka Rask and Petr Mrazek stopped the first shots they faced before Vanek scored for the Red Wings and Brad Marchand countered with a goal for the Bruins. Nielsen, who like Vanek joined the team last summer as a free agent, scored on the team's third attempt and Vatrano missed the net with a chance to extend the 1-on-1 duels.

The Bruins were dominant early before blowing a chance to keep Detroit at a distance in the Atlantic Division standings (see full recap).

Burns, Pavelski push Sharks past Kings
LOS ANGELES -- Brent Burns, Joe Pavelski and Tommy Wingels scored in the San Jose Sharks' seventh win at Staples Center in their last eight trips, 3-2 over the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday night.

Joe Thornton had two assists and Martin Jones made 22 saves for the defending Western Conference champion Sharks, who wrapped up their regular-season series against their biggest rivals with three victories in five games.

After Burns scored his 19th goal in the opening minutes, San Jose hung on through a scoreless third period to continue its recent domination in downtown Los Angeles, including three victories in last season's first-round playoff series.

Tanner Pearson and Marian Gaborik scored for the Kings, who ended a seven-game homestand with four defeats (see full recap).

McDavid scores in OT, Oilers edge Panthers
EDMONTON, Alberta -- Connor McDavid scored the winning goal in overtime as the Edmonton Oilers won their fourth game in a row, 4-3 over the Florida Panthers on Wednesday night.

McDavid, who also had two assists in the game, got a breakaway late in overtime and got the puck away with 2.6 seconds left. Florida's James Reimer made the glove save, but the puck was ruled to be across the line via video review.

Zack Kassian, Mark Letestu and Jordan Eberle also scored for the Oilers, who have their longest winning streak since December 2015.

Vincent Trocheck, Michael Sgarbossa and Greg McKegg had goals for the Panthers, who have lost two straight (see full recap).