Flyers hope to carry over momentum on road trip

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Flyers hope to carry over momentum on road trip

They have transformed themselves on home ice.

They’ve gone from a team that lost seven of its first nine home games to a team that has won nine straight at the Wells Fargo Center, matching their win streak of October 2005, following a 4-1 win over Minnesota on Monday night (see Instant Replay).

It’s a big reason why the Flyers go into the Christmas break over .500 at 17-16-4 and with a hold of a playoff spot as the third team in the Metropolitan Division.

“We wanted to end this Christmas break off with a big win -- a lot of smiles on our faces,” Scott Hartnell said. “We have a lot of pride to wear the orange jersey in this building. We came out flying, came out hard.

“Two games ago, we had an epic win here [over Columbus]. We’re finding different ways here. We came out tonight and played a solid 20 minutes where we were hard on the puck and didn’t stop. We kept going.”

The Flyers' home record is now 11-7 -- a far cry from what it was a while ago.

“In the beginning, I think we played better on the road than at home,” Jakub Voracek said. “But it switched. Now we have to find that level to get some points on the road. It’s what we got to do. Make teams earn wins here.

“When I came here a long time ago with Columbus, this was a tough building to win in. That’s what we got to do. Make them a little bit scared before the game. Make sure they earn that win.”

Goalie Steve Mason notices the difference at home.

“There definitely is a sense of confidence playing at home," he said. "First, you are staying at your own house, sleeping in your own bed, so that is nice to get a little better rest.

"And you play in front of home fans and you don’t have to deal with the opposition’s fans. You have that sense of confidence, and we have been able to take advantage lately and that’s probably the reason we have been able to climb out of the hole we were in. We just have to make sure we are carrying it onto the road trip.”

Indeed, the Flyers haven’t been very good away from home, going 6-9-4 on the season with an ongoing five-game losing streak (0-3-2) on the road.

“We’ve obviously changed some things up,” Hartnell said. “I think it took a little while to learn how to play the right way and I know no one doesn’t want to let anyone down in here. Turning the puck over, making soft plays and you’re accountable to your teammates, the guy next to you in the dressing room. You play hard, you play smarter.

“We have to eliminate some simple penalties that we’ve been taking lately. It’s been a lot of fun here at home and we got to take this show on the road.”

Coach Craig Berube isn’t quite sure what changed on home ice, but clearly the Flyers' focus to generate some home momentum seems to have carried over along with the fact they’ve started to score goals here. That’s boosted the confidence factor all-around.

“I look back on some of the games and they were there to be won, and we just didn’t do it,” Berube said.

“I look back on that road trip coming back, coming out of Dallas and coming out of Chicago we were up 1-0 and things are fine, and all of a sudden come out for the second period and have a collapse.

“On the road, we tend to not push the issue enough at certain times and end up letting our guard down a bit and getting down a goal or two and that’s tough on the road.

“We got to do a better job of keep playing and doing the same things. Don’t get away from the system or what you are doing. Stay on it. Play a little smarter and stay out of the penalty box. We still have to do a better job at that, including tonight.”

Best of NHL: Surging Capitals rock Blues in St. Louis

Best of NHL: Surging Capitals rock Blues in St. Louis

ST. LOUIS -- Andre Burakovsky, T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov each had a goal and an assist to lead the Washington Capitals to a 7-3 victory over the St. Louis Blues on Thursday night.

Jay beagle, Brett Connolly, Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams also scored, and Alex Ovechkin and Daniel Winnik each had two assists to help Washington earn at least a point in its 12th straight game (10-0-2) for an NHL-best 66 points.

Braden Holtby bounced back from his roughest outing of the season with 22 saves. Holtby was pulled after giving up a season-high five goals on 26 shots in an 8-7 overtime loss at Pittsburgh on Monday. He improved to 22-8-4 and 5-0 lifetime against St. Louis (see full recap).

Grabner scores 2 goals, Rangers top Leafs
TORONTO -- Michael Grabner scored two goals against his former team, helping the New York Rangers snap a three-game losing streak with a 5-2 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night.

Pavel Buchnevich, Brady Skjei and J.T. Miller added goals for New York, and Henrik Lundqvist made 23 saves following a series of rough outings.

Tyler Bozak and Zach Hyman scored for Toronto, which had a three-game winning streak stopped. The Maple Leafs had earned 21 of a possible 26 points in their previous 13 games (10-2-1). Frederik Andersen gave up four goals on 40 shots (see full recap).

Tavares leads Islanders to shutout of Stars
NEW YORK -- Getting a new coach this week didn't change things much for the Islanders -- and oddly enough, that's a good thing for New York.

John Tavares narrowly missed out on his second hat trick in a week, Thomas Greiss got his second straight shutout and the Islanders beat the Dallas Stars 3-0 on Thursday night in their first game since firing longtime coach Jack Capuano.

New York canned Capuano in the middle of his seventh season Tuesday, replacing him on an interim basis with Doug Weight (see full recap).

Niederreiter, Wild dodge letdown, edge Coyotes
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Nino Niederreiter had two power-play goals and an assist, including the go-ahead score for the Minnesota Wild with 7:06 remaining in a 4-3 victory over Arizona on Thursday night after the Coyotes came back from a two-goal deficit.

With Shane Doan in the penalty box for hooking, Niederreiter knocked in a nifty redirect of Mikael Granlund's slap shot for the winner. Devan Dubnyk stopped 20 shots for the Wild, who are 18-2-2 in their last 22 games.

Louis Domingue made 21 saves for the Coyotes, who lost their fourth in a row and fell to 2-12-1 in their last 15 games starting with a 4-1 loss to Minnesota in Arizona on Dec. 17 (see full recap).

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.