Flyers' focus for 2014-15: Consistency

uspresswire-flyers-team.jpg

Flyers' focus for 2014-15: Consistency

VOORHEES, N.J. – It’s not a big, goal-scoring winger. It’s not a tough defenseman. It’s definitely not a top-rate goaltender.

In order to make it past the first round of the playoffs, the Flyers believe all they need is a little more consistency. 

“I don’t think we played too many full 60-minute hockey games in the playoffs,” Brayden Schenn said. “When you’re not playing 60 minutes in the playoffs, you’re not going to win.” 

Of the seven postseason games they played against the New York Rangers, the Flyers came closest to a consistent, 60-minute effort only in Game 6 a week ago at the Wells Fargo Center. But even that game started off with about five minutes of the Flyers running around in their own zone.

The series was, in a way, a microcosm of their season as a whole. When they played well -- like most of Game 6 -- they were practically unstoppable. When they played poorly, they played very poorly, no matter their opponent. But all along the way, they struggled to put in those elusive complete-game efforts.

That tendency to inexplicably stop executing for a period or so hurt them most when it mattered most -- Game 7. In the second period, they gave up the only two goals the Rangers needed to win the game and move on to the next round.

They know they were guilty of it, and they paid the price.

“I just think we tend to get away from our game too often,” Steve Mason said. “We can play 20 minutes, 40 minutes of unbelievable hockey and completely control our game, but we tend to get away from that a period at a time. Come playoffs, if you’re not going to gather a full 60 minutes, that’s what’s going to cost you. 

“I think in our first-round series, I don’t think there was a complete effort for a full 60 minutes, and that’s a frustrating point too, because we were one game left from coming away from that series and going to the next round. It’s disappointing to feel that we didn’t have a complete game throughout the whole series.”

Of course, the consistency issue isn’t just pertinent to the playoffs. The Flyers’ season as a whole was marked by inconsistency right from the beginning -- both on a game-by-game basis as well as overall. And not just a game or a period here and there; they were wildly inconsistent, beating the St. Louis Blues one week and struggling to keep pace with the Toronto Maple Leafs another.

Had they been just a bit more dependable during the season, they could have had home-ice advantage over the Rangers, who finished just two points ahead of them in the standings. 

“I think in the regular season we’ve got to be more consistent,” Vinny Lecavalier said. “I think from maybe the West Coast trip right before the [Olympic] break until the end, we played some pretty good hockey.

“… You don’t want to lose out in the first round, but Game 7s can go either way. We have to learn from it and players who have never been in that position grow from it, and get better as a team for next year.”

The Flyers believe their roster already looks good on paper (see story). There aren't any major missing pieces -- it wasn't a specific type of player or role player that kept them from advancing past the Rangers.

And looking ahead to 2015, that's what they plan to build on.

“We’ve just got to worry about how we play our game,” Claude Giroux said. “I think we did a lot of good things this year that we see what kind of team we are. 

“We have a lot of character in this room, and there’s a lot of positive.”

Flyers' power play rediscovers swagger in win over Canucks

Flyers' power play rediscovers swagger in win over Canucks

BOX SCORE

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – The Flyers got some swagger back Sunday night.

But especially so on the power play, which entered Sunday's clash just 2 for 19 over the last six games.

Two markers on the man advantage helped the Flyers edge the Canucks, 3-2, at Rogers Arena in Vanvoucer (see Instant Replay).

“It all comes back to finding a way to produce – and they did that tonight,” said Flyers coach Dave Hakstol, who had called for his power-play participants to rediscover that swagger.

Hakstol’s club won for the first time in its last nine games in Western Canada. More importantly, the Flyers (28-24-7) moved within a point of the eighth and final playoff spot, currently shared by Florida and Boston, in the Eastern Conference.

Thanks to the power-play success, the Flyers built a 3-0 lead in the game’s first 23 minutes and then hung on, atoning for a sub-par effort in a one-sided loss to the Oilers in Edmonton on Thursday night.

The Flyers converted two of three power plays while blanking the Canucks on all four of their man advantages. The loss prevented the Canucks (26-28-6) from getting closer to a Western Conference playoff berth.

“I thought we were playing some pretty good hockey of late, but the pucks weren't going in,” said Flyers center Brayden Schenn, who scored the winning goal on the power play at 2:38 of the second period. “Tonight, we tightened up defensively again from Edmonton's game and were able to score a few more goals. It's a huge two points going home."

Wayne Simmonds, also on the power play, and Jakub Voracek scored the Flyers’ other goals.

“We needed a win,” Simmonds said. “Especially after the game in Edmonton, this is good for the morale."

Shayne Gostisbehere assisted on all three goals, recording the first three-point night of his career.

Schenn’s winning goal came only a minute and 27 seconds after Voracek gave the Flyers a 2-0 lead at 1:11 of the second by sending Sean Couturier’s huge rebound into a gaping net behind Canucks goaltender Ryan Miller. Voracek’s goal was his first in 10 games. He had not scored since Jan. 25 against the New York Rangers.

How did long sought-after goal make him feel?

"Like I scored a goal,” deadpanned Voracek. “We won the game. That’s the way I looked at it. It doesn't matter who scored the goals. Special teams were huge tonight. I liked our power play. We were going all 60 minutes. This one kept us in the race."

The Flyers were a well-rested team thanks to a two-day break between games and a three-day break before the start of the road trip. The Canucks, on the other hand, were playing their second of back-to-back home games with only a day’s rest following a grueling six-game United States road trip. But there was still considerable suspense over the final 30 minutes.

Markus Granlund and Jannik Hansen tallied for the Canucks, who are known as comeback artists, at 3:43 and 12:42 of the second, respectively, before the Flyers shut Vancouver down the rest of the way. Voracek indicated the Flyers were not nervous in the final frame.

"I don't think we changed anything to be honest,” he said. We were pretty tight in the neutral zone. We didn't give them much. When we had a couple of breakdowns, [Michal Neuvirth] was on his act.”

Neuvirth stopped 18 of 20 shots as the Flyers outshot the Canucks, 28-20. He enjoyed a much better start Sunday, holding the Canucks scoreless in the opening period after allowing four goals on his first 12 shots on Thursday in Edmonton. One of his better saves came with just over a minute into the game as he got his toe on Markus Granlund’s dangerous chance from in close.

"I felt good,” said Neuvirth. “I have been practicing well and playing with confidence. The last game, it didn't work out. I put that one behind me and restarted my mind and got back to work tonight.”

“I thought he was excellent,” said Hakstol. “He was calm and settled in there. You can go back through that 60 minutes and you can pick out three or four pretty darned good saves.”

Neuvirth excelled while making his fourth consecutive start and sixth in the past seven games overall.

“It feels good,” he said of the heavy workload. “It feels better when we win.”

But he was not about to get too excited. The Flyers have a tough clash at home Wednesday against NHL-best Washington and a road game Saturday at Pittsburgh's Heinz Field against the rival Penguins as part of the NHL’s Stadium Series.

“We have a tough schedule coming and we have to be ready,” Neuvirth said.

Instant Replay: Flyers 3, Canucks 2

Instant Replay: Flyers 3, Canucks 2

BOX SCORE

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- The Flyers passed a freshness test Sunday night — barely.

After building a 3-0 lead in the first 23 minutes, the Flyers held on for a 3-2 victory over the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena.

The Flyers were the more rested team. They had two days off here following Thursday’s loss in Edmonton — and a three-day break before the start of the trip.

But they almost allowed Vancouver to come back in the Canucks' second of back-to-back home games with only a day’s rest following a grueling six-game United States road trip.

The Flyers (28-24-7) moved within a point of the eighth and final playoff spot, currently shared by Florida and Boston, in the Eastern Conference. The Canucks (26-28-6) were denied a chance to gain ground on the final postseason berth in the Western Conference.

Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek and Brayden Schenn — who added the goal that proved to be the winner — scored for the Flyers. Two of the three goals came on the power play. Both teams failed to score in the third period.

Markus Granlund and Jannik Hansen replied for the Canucks.

With the win, the Flyers avoided going winless on a three-game tour through British Columbia and Alberta. They posted their first victory in Western Canada in the past nine attempts.

Goalie report
Coach Dave Hakstol showed loyalty in Michal Neuvirth after the Flyers' netminder allowed four goals on his first 12 shots in Thursday’s one-sided loss in Edmonton. Neuvirth started off much better Sunday, as he got his toe on Markus Granlund’s dangerous chance from in close early and stopped all eight shots that he faced in the first period.

Power play
Hakstol was looking for the Flyers to rediscover their “swagger” on the power play. He got his wish early as Simmonds jammed in a Shayne Gostisbehere rebound only 5:45 into the game. The puck barely crossed the line but was clearly in, as confirmed by a video review. Vancouver winger Alex Burrows was off for hooking at the time. In the second period, Schenn padded his NHL power-play goals lead as he gave the Flayers a 3-0 lead at 2:38. Schenn scored his 14th power-play goal of the season on a shot from the slot as Simmonds screened Canucks goaltender Ryan Miller. With his goal, Simmonds moved into a tie for second in NHL man-advantage markers with Washington’s Alex Ovechkin. Both players have 12.

Voracek busts his slump
The drought is over for Voracek. The winger busted his scoring slump as he gave the Flyers a 2-0 lead at 1:11 of the second period. The goal was Voracek’s first in 10 games. He had not scored since Jan. 25 against the New York Rangers.

Shayne the unfriendly ghost
Gostisbehere did not live up to his nickname. Ghost was quite visible as he assisted on all of the Flyers’ goals. It was Ghost's first career three-point game.

Did you notice?
Defenseman Michael Del Zotto had a chance for a rare breakaway with about five and a half minutes left in the first period, but missed a well-placed lead pass as he was coming out of the penalty box. Instead of a scoring opportunity, the missed pass led to an icing call and a face-off in the Flyers’ end.

Up next
The Flyers head back home to meet the NHL-best Washington Capitals on Wednesday night at the Wells Fargo Center. Puck drop is set for 8 p.m.