Flyers-Maple Leafs: 5 things you need to know


Flyers-Maple Leafs: 5 things you need to know

Flyers vs. Maple Leafs
7 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet

The Flyers (21-22-7) will try for a season-best fourth consecutive victory when they take on the nose-diving Toronto Maple Leafs (22-24-4) at the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday.

Here’s what you need to know before puck drop:

1. Change it up?
Is there a change coming to the Flyers’ blue line? Nicklas Grossmann, who has missed the team’s last nine games with a shoulder injury, has been skating all week and appears to be ready to return.

“Just taking it a day at a time,” he said after practice on Friday. “Every day it’s getting better. That’s the way we want to. We haven’t made any decisions for [Saturday].”

Here’s the issue: The Flyers are rolling and have received much better play from their defensive corps as of late. Hockey players are creatures of habit. Will head coach Craig Berube run the risk of throwing off his team’s chemistry? And if so, who comes out?

Mark Streit has been one of the highest-scoring defensemen in the entire NHL since early December. He’s safe. Michael Del Zotto is riding a career-high five-game point streak. He’s not going anywhere. Nick Schultz picked up his first goal as Flyer on Thursday and is arguably the club’s most reliable D-man. He’s earned his spot as a regular.

That leaves Carlo Colaiacovo, Luke Schenn and Andrew MacDonald. All three players have served as healthy scratches at some point this season. If Grossmann dresses against the Leafs, it would be safe to assume Colaiacovo would be the odd man out. Then again, Berube has made stranger decisions this season. It wouldn’t be a surprise if any of the three were benched in favor of Grossmann on Saturday.

2. Terrible in Toronto
To say it’s a difficult time for Leafs nation would be a severe understatement. Toronto is in a complete freefall with no end in sight. 

The Leafs have posted a 1-10-1 record in January, a stretch in which they’ve been outscored, 40-16. They’re one game away from matching their worst losing streak since 1996. They’ve looked listless at best under interim coach Peter Horachek, who took over behind the bench after Randy Carlyle was fired on Jan. 6. Their players have been called uncoachable. Their fans are throwing jerseys on the ice in outrage. Essentially, the Leafs have become the laughing stock of the NHL since the calendar switched over to the year 2015.

It all starts up front. Toronto has just seven goals during its 0-7-1 slide. Even worse, the Leafs have converted on just two of their last 26 power-play attempts in that stretch. Phil Kessel, James van Riemsdyk and company simply aren’t getting it done.

3. Injuries
Defenseman Braydon Coburn (foot) and center Scott Laughton (upper-body) remain sidelined for the Flyers. 

Forward Michael Raffl is listed as questionable. He’s missed the last two games because of an illness. If he’s unable to play, Petr Straka, who picked up his first NHL point on Thursday, will continue to skate in his place with Ryan White and Wayne Simmonds.

For the Leafs, captain Dion Phaneuf (hand) is out. 

4. Keep an eye on …
Flyers: Chris VandeVelde entered 2014-15 with just one career NHL goal to his name. In 40 games this season, the 27-year-old already has seven markers — all at even-strength. He’s picked up four of them in his last five games while skating with Vinny Lecavalier and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare on the Flyers’ fourth line. The trio has supplied a ton of energy on the forecheck and has been sound in the defensive zone, as well. Look for them to continue buzzing.

Maple Leafs: There aren’t many Toronto players worth watching, but JVR is having a tremendous season. He enters Saturday leading the Maple Leafs in goals (21) and is second on the team in points (43). The 25-year-old is finally using his 6-foot-3, 200-pound frame to his advantage, both along the boards and in front of the net. His defensive game is still raw, hence his minus-16 rating, but he’s always been a more-offensive minded forward anyway. He’s paid to score goals. Toronto needs as many as they can get right now.

5. This and that
• Seven of the last eight meetings between the Flyers and Maple Leafs have been decided by multiple goals. The Flyers have won the last two by a combined score of 11-6.

• Kessel and JVR have combined for 41 of Toronto’s 141 goals this season.

• The Flyers have scored at least three goals and one power-play marker in five straight tilts.

• Jonathan Bernier, who allowed possibly the worst goal of the season Thursday, is 2-3-0 with a 4.78 goals-against average and .865 save percentage in five career starts against the Flyers.

• Claude Giroux has eight goals and 15 assists in 21 career games against the Maple Leafs.

Flyers' defense continues to abandon team through 1-2-1 start

Flyers' defense continues to abandon team through 1-2-1 start

It was the home opener Thursday night and his team went 1 for 7 on the man advantage with five such opportunities in the second period alone.

However, Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol remembers one play more than any other in his team’s 3-2 loss to the Anaheim Ducks at the Wells Fargo Center (see game recap).

The Flyers had swung and missed on their final power play of the middle stanza, when the Ducks came pushing up ice with post-kill energy. Somehow, Anaheim came barreling down on the Flyers with a four-on-two rush seconds after the orange and black just had the benefit of an extra player.

Center Ryan Getzlaf dumped a pass back to winger Corey Perry, who had all the time in the world to wind up and blast one home thanks to 6-foot-4 Getzlaf’s screening of 6-foot defenseman Ivan Provorov.

Just like that, the game was tied when it looked like the Flyers would add cushion and cruise into the third period with a lead to protect.

“Our power play was OK,” Hakstol said. “The bigger thing for me is the goal that we gave up a few seconds after the last power play in the second period. Those are the type of goals as a team that we can’t give up.”

The rookie Provorov couldn’t find his way around the veteran Getzlaf, while defenseman Brandon Manning stayed in retreat, allowing Perry to unleash a slap shot.

“It’s the best league in the world, the best players play here,” Provorov said. “Even a little mistake can cost you, slightly out of position can cost you. I’m still learning.”

Provorov has endured his rookie lumps through the Flyers’ 1-2-1 start. A game after finishing with a minus-5 rating against the Blackhawks, the 19-year-old committed two giveaways and a cross-checking penalty for a minus-1 mark Thursday.

Nonetheless, the Flyers went from a man up to two down in a matter of seconds to relinquish the lead.

“We didn’t handle that well,” Hakstol said. “When you give up a four-on-two after you’ve had those kind of opportunities, it’s going to change the momentum of the game.”

Were the defensemen in a bad spot?

“Yes,” Hakstol said.

Poor defensive coverage cost the Flyers momentum in the second and the game in the third.

About midway through the period, Ducks defenseman Korbinian Holzer carried the puck behind goalie Steve Mason before adeptly finding Ryan Garbutt uncovered with a reverse pass. The Anaheim center scored easily top shelf as Flyers defensemen Andrew MacDonald and Shayne Gostisbehere were caught standing in front of the net without seeing Garbutt.

“We had a little bit of tired legs,” Hakstol said. “We lost coverage on that play. There was a switch. We didn’t lose coverage for long. We had communication, we had talked, but we lost coverage for a split second and that allowed them to make the play to the same side on the backdoor.”

Gostisbehere had trouble working his power-play magic and played big minutes with 22:58 of ice time.

“They’re a big-bodied team,” Gostisbehere said. “We just have to make our plays a little quicker.”

Even on the Ducks’ first-period marker, an outlet pass found its way behind the defense of Provorov and Gostisbehere. Over the first four games, the Flyers have allowed 16 goals, tied for the NHL’s most.

“You’re playing against a heavy team and they put a lot of pressure on the group back there when they’re able to get pucks deep,” Hakstol said. “So, I don’t think it was particular to one or two guys. When you let them gain the zone with some speed and get in on pucks, they’re a heavy team to handle.”

Facing a heavy team or not, the Flyers know defensive execution must be cleaned up.

“I think that from everyone’s personal standpoint we can all be better,” Mason said. “When you lose three games in a row, we can’t worry about what other people are doing, you just have to focus on your own job. From a goaltender’s perspective, personally, I have to find ways to come out and get a win here.”

Flyers' celebratory home opener spoiled by 'big-bodied' Ducks

Flyers' celebratory home opener spoiled by 'big-bodied' Ducks


It should have been a grand evening of celebrating 50 years of hockey in Philadelphia and Ed Snider’s legacy.
Instead, it evaporated into the Flyers' third straight loss, 3-2, at the hands of the Anahiem Ducks (see Instant Replay).
Coach Dave Hakstol could blame his power play for failing six times in seven chances, but even five-on-five, the Flyers lacked. The Ducks take teams to the net and make you pay, as the players on their roster average a 13-pound advantage than the average Flyer.
“You’re playing against a heavy team and they put a lot of pressure on the group back there when they are able to get pucks deep,” Hakstol said.
“You got to try and create gaps and that doesn’t start in your own zone, it starts up ice as a five-man unit. You got to carry good gaps through the neutral zone into your zone to defend some of those plays.”
Anaheim leaves teams black and blue as the Flyers no doubt will discover Friday morning.
“That's just the way Anaheim plays,” Wayne Simmonds said. “They play a rough style, but we're not going to back down from them. This is our building.”
While the Flyers didn’t back down, between turnovers and misreads and players failing to get back up ice, a lot of things went wrong in this one.
The turning point in the game came late in the second period when the Flyers were coming off their fifth power play of the period. The forwards – Travis Konecny, Sean Couturier and Dale Weise – were slow getting back up ice.
That left rookie defenseman Ivan Provorov to handle Ryan Getzlaf one-on-one with Corey Perry behind him near Brandon Manning on a four-on-two rush.
There was a drop pass to Perry and he fired from the circle to tie the game, 2-2.
“They do a good job, killing off three in a row and come down and score,” Simmonds said. “If we put one in on the power play there, it’s probably a different story.
“We’re turning pucks over in the neutral zone. Make sure we’re bearing down on it. We gotta be better at it.”
Among the issues in this one, both young defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere (minus-2) and  Provorov (minus-1) struggled on the offensive and defensive side of the puck.
"Ghost" is having too many shots blocked and fumbling pucks. Provorov is having difficulty making quick reads and pucks are ending up in the net.
Aside from rookie mistakes, some of that has to do with the forwards not backchecking and the Ducks’ overall size.
“They’re a big-bodied team. They pinch hard and they cut down time and space,” Gostisbehere said. “We have to make our plays quicker.”
While the Flyers talked about feeding off the energy of the night, it just didn’t materialize. They got an early power play and produced just one shot with Gostisbehere hitting the post.
The Ducks produced an early goal after a Flyers power play ended with Sami Vatanen’s stretch pass to Jared Boll for a two-on-one.
Boll went to the net, screened out Steve Mason and left a drop pass that Chris Wagner buried. On top of that, a bad line change, as well.
Mason had to defend quite a bit of net in this one without much defensive support.
“From everyone’s personal standpoint, we can all be better,” Mason said. “When you lose three games in a row, you can’t be worrying about what other people are doing.”
“It’s a tough go in the second period. They kill off [four power plays] and then Perry comes down and scores a goal there. We can’t dwell on that. I have to find ways to get back on top here.”
Anaheim’s winning goal midway into the third came when Korbinian Holzer ripped a pass from behind the net into the slot for Ryan Garbutt. He one-timed the puck before Mason knew it was there. There was no coverage on him, either.
“You focus on your own job,” Mason said. “From a goaltender’s perspective, personally, I have to find ways to come out and get a win here.”