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.”

Best of NHL: Nikita Kucherov hat trick lifts Lightning over Bruins

Best of NHL: Nikita Kucherov hat trick lifts Lightning over Bruins

BOSTON -- Nikita Kucherov had his third career hat trick to lead Tampa Bay to a 6-3 victory over the Boston Bruins on Thursday night, snapping the Lightning's three-game losing streak.

Jonathan Drouin had a goal and two assists, Brayden Point had a goal and an assist and Anton Stralman also scored to help the Lightning pull three points behind the Bruins for the second wild card in the Eastern Conference.

Peter Budaj finished with 28 saves for the Lightning to earn his 29th win of the season. Ondrej Palat had three assists, and Jake Dotchin and Victor Hedman added two each.

Riley Nashy had a goal and an assist for Boston, and David Pastrnak and Zdeno Chara also scored. Tuukka Rask stopped 23 shots as Boston, which won seven of the first eight games under interim coach Bruce Cassidy, has now lost four straight and six of 11 (see full recap).

Oshie beats Bobrovsky to give Caps SO win
WASHINGTON -- T.J. Oshie scored the shootout winner as the Washington Capitals overcame a stellar performance from Columbus goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky to beat the Blue Jackets 2-1 Thursday night.

Despite 44 saves from Bobrovsky, the Capitals reached 104 points and extended their lead atop the Metropolitan Division and NHL standings. Oshie engendered memories of his Sochi Olympic shootout performance by again beating Bobrovsky, the goalie he scored on four times in six chances that day.

Dmitry Orlov finally cracked Bobrovsky early in the third period on Washington's 35th shot of the game. Orlov's goal tied the score after Seth Jones beat Braden Holtby on a wild scramble early in the third for his first goal since Feb. 7.

Holtby had 29 saves in regulation and overtime and three more in the shootout to pick up his 38th victory of the season, one shy of Bobrovsky for the league lead (see full recap).

Senators take down Penguins in shootout
OTTAWA, Ontario -- Kyle Turris and Bobby Ryan scored in the shootout to lift the Ottawa Senators to a 2-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday night.

Mike Hoffman scored in regulation for the Senators and Mike Condon finished with 34 saves, including two incredible point-blank stops in overtime to keep the game going.

Nick Bonino had the goal in regulation for the Penguins and Matt Murray stopped 29 shots.

After being outplayed for much of the first two periods, the Senators were much better in the third and tied the score 1-1 on the power play at 9:43 as Hoffman beat Murray over the shoulder with a wrist shot just 14 seconds after Matt Cullen was penalized for holding (see full recap).

Flyers regroup behind Steve Mason for big win over Wild

Flyers regroup behind Steve Mason for big win over Wild

BOX SCORE

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- When Zach Parise scored for the Minnesota Wild just 2:07 into Thursday's game, the Flyers were in another difficult position on the road.

This time, they responded with the type of game they've needed on the road all season.

The Flyers scored three unanswered goals by Sean Couturier, Matt Read and Jakub Voracek to beat Minnesota, 3-1, and snap a four-game losing streak on the road (see Instant Replay).

"They're a tough team to handle in their transition," Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said of Parise's goal. "It's quick and it's fast. The players on the bench were outstanding, talking, real calm. Just go out and push it the other way the next shift and I thought we were able to do that."

The Flyers responded with one of their best efforts on the road in nearly two months and pulled within six points of Boston for the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference (see standings). The Bruins lost, 6-3, at home to Tampa Bay.

Steve Mason made 24 saves in goal for his 100th win with the Flyers as the team was rarely challenged thanks to an all-around performance that has been missing on the road. The Flyers entered the night tied for the second-fewest road wins in the conference this season.

"Certain things on the road, you've got to be a little more specific with your game and detailed, and I think we did a better job of that tonight," said Flyers defenseman Nick Schultz, who returned to the arena where he played 10 seasons with Minnesota. "Everybody throughout the lineup did that and that's why we got a big win."

The beginning looked all too familiar, though.

An innocent looking dump-in slid to Mason, who tried to cover the puck. The puck went off his stick and Parise quickly poked it past Mason. The Wild had four quality chances early before the Flyers took control.

"They came hard early on in the game and to be able to match that speed; that was a completely different pace of game compared to what we came from in Winnipeg," Mason said. "So, it almost took a second to get your bearings straight to get up to speed."

The Flyers weathered the early flurry by Minnesota, which is safely in playoff position in the West but is facing its own late-season issues. The Flyers killed off both Wild penalties, allowing just two shots on the penalty kill.

Couturier's 12th goal of the season was critical in tying the game with 2:01 left in the first (see feature highlight).

"Coming into the room after the period, I think it's important when you get a big goal like that," captain Claude Giroux said. "You feel like you have the momentum a little bit, so it definitely helped us a lot."

Read provided the lead in the second and the Flyers, who are now 15-2-2 when leading after two periods, pressured in the third. They outshot the Wild, 9-4, in the final period.

"We didn't sit back," Hakstol said. "I thought we were confident with the puck and made some plays and spent a good amount of time in the offensive zone. We played with real confidence in our game."

Mason had been critical after the Flyers lost in Winnipeg on Tuesday, saying the team needed to be more desperate. The Flyers responded Thursday in the difficult position of being on the road and allowing the first goal.

"We knew we had to be better," Schultz said of Mason's comments. "I think on the road, you've got to be at least a .500 team and take care of business at home, and we haven't done that this year. So, obviously, we've got to get better and I think we did respond tonight. Now we have to build on it."