Flyers notch first victory in Berube's debut

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Flyers notch first victory in Berube's debut

BOX SCORE

Updated: 11:30 p.m.

Sometimes you win ugly in hockey.

And when your team is 0-3, with a discombobulated power play, has fired its coach, torched itself with bad penalties, and yet somehow managed a win … well, Craig Berube will take it.

Thanks to goalie Steve Mason, who was unconscious in net (see story), the Flyers were able to overcome their own shortcomings with a gut-check 2-1 win over the Florida Panthers on Tuesday night at Wells Fargo Center for “The Chief’s” first NHL victory as a head coach.

“He played great,” Berube said of Mason’s 33 saves. “His composure in net, he looked real solid, right on top of things. Saw all the pucks. Just looked big in net.”

Mason kept the Flyers in the game, helping them erase a four-minute Panthers' power play with a couple of saves and four huge blocked shots from the penalty kill units, which were superb as well.

“It was good -- guys are getting on the same page and Mason making some big saves when we need it,” Braydon Coburn said. “We really needed him to play good. He really stuck out his head for us. That’s been a strong point for us right now.”

Clutching a 2-1 lead that last period, Jay Rosehill picked up a roughing call behind the play. A scrum broke out as Rosehill, headed to box, then turned around and darted across the ice to knock down Tomas Kopeck from behind as teammate Zac Rinaldo was surrounded by Panther jerseys.

Rosehill drew a double minor and 10-minute misconduct.

Along with that, Rinaldo and Kopecky had minors to cancel each other out, leaving the Panthers with a four-minute power play.

That could have been the game right there. Instead, the Flyers rose to the occasion.

“It’s a fine line. You don’t want to be in the box all the time, but at the same time, when he’s surrounded by four other guys, I feel a need to get in there,” Rosehill said.

“If I had to do it over again, I might not have gone in there the same way or I would have tried to take someone with me.”

Berube, a fierce enforcer himself as player, said that turning around when you’re just about to step into the box and picking up those extra minutes were “unacceptable.”

He’s been preaching better team discipline. Yet when a newspaper columnist asked whether Rosehill would be disciplined, Berube fired back, “You want me to spank him? Get lost.”

As bad as that was, Eric Gudbranson’s five-minute boarding of Scott Hartnell later was worse, giving the Flyers a five-minute power play.

The Flyers had three quality chances from Mark Streit, Vinny Lecavalier and Brayden Schenn but no goals. In all, five shots on goalie Jacob Markstrom.

They were 0 for 5 on the power play and are just 2 for 19 on the season.

“Our penalty kill was great,” Hartnell said. “Blocking shots, defensive play … Our power play was awful again, especially our unit.

“We worked to get it into the zone, they pressured us and we were a step behind. We had some shots, but perimeter shots.”

There was a first for the Flyers on the season in this game. Not just scoring two goals, but actually having a 2-0 lead.

Panthers goalie Tim Thomas had trouble with puck caroms off the back boards on both those goals and appeared to injure his groin defending on them, as well, because he left the game after the second goal at 7:31 and never returned.

“They’re lucky goals and that happens,” Berube said.

Jakub Voracek’s shot off the left boards bounced ahead of Thomas’ reach into the slot for Schenn’s easy rebound at 4:49. He now has two goals and three points in four games.

“It’s still early,” he said. “I just want to keep on contributing and get the opportunity to play with Vinny Lecavalier and Jake Voracek right now. You have to make the most of those opportunities and that is what I am trying to do.”

The second goal saw Sean Couturier line one off the boards that had Thomas moving awkwardly. He was well out of position for the crazy carom that ended up on Braydon Coburn’s stick, making it 2-0.

Thomas removed himself from the game for Markstrom.

“Anytime you put pucks on net or shooting the puck, you know things can happen like a bounce, rebound or going off the boards,” Coburn said. “You just have to play the pucks. There is no other way about it.”

Thomas came into this game with a career 8-0 record in Philadelphia with a 1.86 goals-against average and .947 save percentage. So, this was a rather huge loss for the toothless Panthers.

The second period was all Mason with 12 saves among breakdowns with uncontested shots.

“There’s always work to be done and right now it’s a difficult game because there is new stuff being thrown our way because of the coaching change,” Mason said.

“At the same time, our own end is going to take care of itself eventually. Just a matter of keep working at it.”

His pad stop on Shawn Matthias' shorthanded breakaway that period stood out.

“He was on his game,” Matthias said.

What hurt the Flyers in the second was the same thing that harmed them in Montreal -- penalties. They took consecutive ones to wipe out whatever momentum they were generating five-on-five.

Hence, they seemed tired at period’s end when Luke Schenn blocked a shot from Aleksander Barkov, but the puck went onto Brad Boyes’ stick for an easy rebound, setting up a tense final period.

“The players are squeezing their sticks -- everybody can see that,” Berube said. “I really liked our third period. We did a lot of good things without the puck.

“And I thought we did a lot of good things with the puck ... Overall effort, I have no problem with it.”

Ugly or not.

NHL Notes: Islanders fire head coach Jack Capuano

NHL Notes: Islanders fire head coach Jack Capuano

The struggling New York Islanders fired coach Jack Capuano on Tuesday, ending his tenure in the middle of its seventh season.

General manager Garth Snow named assistant GM/coach Doug Weight as Capuano's interim replacement. Snow told reporters Tuesday that the Islanders weren't where they wanted to be in the standings and that everyone's disappointed in their performance his season.

"At the end of the day organizationally I don't think Jack was probably going to be a coach that we were going to bring back," Snow said, adding that the team will begin a full-time coaching search now.

Snow said the halfway point of the season played a role in the timing of firing Capuano a day after beating the Boston Bruins 4-0. The Islanders were 17-17-8 and are in last place in the Eastern Conference with 42 points (see full story).

Predators: Hunt claimed, Fiala sent to AHL
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Nashville Predators have claimed defenseman Brad Hunt off waivers from the St. Louis Blues.

In other moves announced Tuesday, the Predators assigned forward Kevin Fiala to their American Hockey League affiliate in Milwaukee and have placed defenseman Petter Granberg on injured reserve.

Hunt had one goal and four assists in nine games for St. Louis this season. He has appeared in a total of 30 NHL games over parts of four seasons with the Edmonton Oilers and St. Louis. He has two career goals and six assists.

Fiala has six goals and three assists in 32 games for Nashville this season.

Granberg has played in 10 games for the Predators and has 10 penalty minutes.

Difficult to see now, but remember: Flyers’ window just starting to open

Difficult to see now, but remember: Flyers’ window just starting to open

They can’t win away from the Wells Fargo Center. They’ve seen a nine-point cushion in the wild-card standings vanish and when they resume play on Saturday, they’ll be out of the playoff picture.

The Flyers are who we thought they were. A fringe playoff team lacking in too many areas to be considered a serious contender, despite the overachievement of last season.

When the Flyers entered their bye week, they sat one point ahead of Carolina for the final wild-card spot and two points ahead of Florida and Ottawa. They are 3-8-3 in 14 games since their 10-game winning streak was snapped and were blown out in back-to-back games in Boston and Washington by a combined score of 11-3.

Yet, they’re still on the brink of the postseason — for now. Perhaps it’s time for a trade from the front office to send a shockwave through the locker room? Not so fast.

“If we can make our team better, we will,” Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said last week at Flyers Skate Zone in Voorhees, New Jersey. “But we’re staying on course.

“I don’t care if we win every game the rest of the year or lose every game, we’re staying on course. We set out on a course two and a half years ago — we’re not deviating from what we planned. I’m not going to make a trade to send a message.”

It’s easy to get carried away in win streaks and unexpected playoff appearances, especially in Philadelphia, where the four major sports teams are rebuilding. It’s even easier to scream for a team to go for it when it shows a glimpse into its full potential.

That is what makes sports fun. It’s what makes for good sports debate programs and entertaining talking heads. But it’s not how organizations should run their operations.

It’s certainly not how Hextall runs his regime with the Flyers. Hextall has a clear vision, and time and time again has shown no signs of expediting his plan for immediate help. He has made it a purpose to build through the draft. We have to remember that and realize that the Flyers’ front office is playing the long game here, not the short game.

“Right now, we’re gonna stick with what we’ve got here and move forward,” Hextall said Sunday in Washington. “But on a day-to-day basis, I always look at how we can make our club better, and if there’s something that we think makes our club better, we’ll do it.

“The worst thing you can do is overreact when things aren’t going right and that’s not gonna happen. But if we can find a way to make ourselves better, we will.”

Let’s take a step back and make some sense of the Flyers’ current state. They are seventh in the Eastern Conference with 50 points as of Tuesday morning. They are 8-12-3 on the road, with nine straight defeats away from South Philadelphia. They are a top-10 scoring team, with 127 goals, but have allowed a league-high 144 goals against.

Steve Mason’s confidence is completely shook. Michal Neuvirth hasn’t been much better, if at all. Claude Giroux hasn’t scored a goal in 11 games and has just one marker in his last 17 games. (To be fair, he does have seven assists in his last eight games.)

Shayne Gostisbehere has been a healthy scratch twice this season, with his latest coming last Saturday in Boston. He’s struggled with his gap defense, among other areas, and is enduring growing pains in his second NHL season — as expected.

While the Flyers’ defense has scored 102 points, second most in the NHL, it struggles with gaps, turnovers and has too many breakdowns. Ivan Provorov, 20, has been the lone bright spot among the group of eight defensemen.

Head coach Dave Hakstol has juggled his lines and defensive pairs in attempts to find something that works. Some of the moves have worked, others have not. Questioning some of Hakstol’s lineup decisions is fair, but there’s no question his systems work.

There is only so much Hakstol can do with what he has to work with. Part of the blame can be placed on Hextall because this team, as currently constructed, is not there yet. It is, however, unfair to put every decision Hakstol makes under a microscope.

“Hak has tried a lot of things,” Hextall said. “In the end, it’s a group and we win together, we lose together. We have to react as a group better when something doesn’t go our way. That’s bottom line. … Line changes, different D combinations, flipping Mase, Neuvy. Everything that’s there, Hak has tried. In the end it comes down to our whole group just being better and not reacting the way we do when something negative happens.”

One of the reasons Hextall opted to hire Hakstol, who came directly from college with no prior NHL coaching experience, is development. Growth takes time, and there is rhyme or reason behind each Hakstol benching, whether we see it or not.

The Flyers’ play the last few weeks has been dumbfounding because a lot of the same mistakes that plagued the team in the beginning of the season — lax team defensive coverage, bad decisions with the puck, letting opponents enter the zone too easily, among others — are reappearing, and that’s a fair criticism of the current coaching staff.

But, when we put things in perspective, there are positives. Provorov has proven he’s the real deal, and he just turned 20 last Friday. Travis Konecny is here, and while he’s been the victim of a Hakstol benching, he’s shown glimpses of what’s to come. Jakub Voracek (41 points) has bounced back, Wayne Simmonds is an All-Star and has added penalty kill to his résumé. Brayden Schenn leads the NHL in power-play goals with 11, though his 5-on-5 scoring could improve. And there’s a lot of upside in the farm system, with the potential of seeing an influx of kids joining the Flyers as early as next season. 

“The window is actually starting to open, the way I see it,” Hextall said last week. “The kids we have on our team. The kids we have coming. There’s things happening here that are good. We’re going to get better here. We’re not going to get worse.”

And Hextall is right — the window is just opening and will only open wider. Patience remains key here, and don’t just trust the process with the Flyers. Enjoy the course.