Flyers Notes: Some celebration in order?

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Flyers Notes: Some celebration in order?

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Claude Giroux was almost being sheepish in admitting it happened.
 
The Flyers actually allowed themselves a bit of celebration after clinching a playoff berth Tuesday night with a 5-2 victory over the Florida Panthers at BB&T Center (see recap).
 
“A little bit [of celebrating] to be honest,” Giroux said of the postgame atmosphere in the Flyers’ dressing room.
 
The Flyers almost looked like they were celebrating on ice after making it 4-0 heading into the final period. They got a little too lax, and Florida scored twice to make it a bit hairy.
 
“We were playing pretty good to get into playoff position right now,” Giroux said. “We played well. The third period tonight wasn’t acceptable. We let [Steve] Mason playing by himself and we need to do a better job playing in the third period and get dialed in at the end of games like this.
 
“We kind of took our foot off the gas. It was unacceptable. ... We only have three games [left] to work on our game and get ready for the playoffs.”
 
The Flyers will practice Wednesday in Tampa before meeting the Lightning on Thursday night.
 
The goalie
For Mason, this will be only his second taste of playoff hockey. He dined five years ago in Columbus, where he won the Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year, but admits it was so long ago it doesn’t matter.
 
“You see what the Flyers' fan base brings every single game, and it’s an exciting thing to be part of,” said Mason, who had 38 saves in the win. “I haven’t been part of a playoff series with this team.
 
“But watching on TV, there’s a great atmosphere within the Wells Fargo Center. Come the first game, it’s going to be rocking.”
 
Two goals
Giroux had his 11th career two-goal game as the Flyers improved to 20-2-1 when he scores a goal.
 
Both scores came less than three minutes apart in the second period to make it a 3-0 game.
 
“Obviously, those goals were huge for us to get the lead,” Giroux said.
 
Third period
Coach Craig Berube wasn’t happy with it.
 
“They made it closer than it should have been,” he said, adding that the first period wasn’t great, either.
 
“For me, it was turnovers and just sloppy play. Sloppy hockey more than anything. We didn’t execute very well. Too soft and we weren’t doing what we talked about in the game plan.”
 
The Flyers let their focus slip, then got it back.
 
Playoffs
The Flyers qualified  for the playoffs for the 37th time in their 45 years of play and the 17th time in the last 19 seasons.

Loose pucks
• The Flyers committed just one penalty in the game and killed off the ensuing Florida power play. It was their 20th consecutive successful kill on the road. They haven’t allowed a power-play goal on the road since Feb. 3 at San Jose.

• The Flyers scored four goals in the second period. That’s nine goals in the second period of the last three games. Prior to that, they had scored 65 second-period goals in 76 games this season (0.86 per game).

• The Panthers had 40 shots, marking only the fourth time Florida has ever recorded 40 or more shots in a game against the Flyers.

• Adam Hall had two assists for his 14th career multi-point game and first with the Flyers.

• Defenseman Nick Grossmann was a plus-4, which is the second-highest single-game rating of his career. He was plus-5 for Dallas in a 5-2 win over Calgary on Oct. 9, 2009.

Shayne Gostisbehere was right: Let's not forget the big picture

Shayne Gostisbehere was right: Let's not forget the big picture

Shayne Gostisbehere spoiled us.

In 64 games last season, we were spoiled by his 17 goals, most by an NHL rookie defenseman since Dion Phaneuf scored 20 over a full 82 in 2005-06.

Spoiled by a historic 15-game point streak, the longest ever for a first-year blueliner.

And spoiled by four overtime winners, an NHL rookie single-season record.

With it all, Gostisbehere created a mighty and somewhat unfair challenge. He exceeded anyone’s wildest expectations and perhaps made for even greater ones as an encore.

So, naturally, questions and doubts have swirled around his quiet sophomore season. Speaking to reporters last week after a 4-1 loss in Buffalo, Gostisbehere, for the first time, expressed just a hint of frustration. In the midst of his current 22-game goal drought, he wanted to make a point.

Astutely, he did.

“I’m doing my job,” he said. “I mean, I’m a defenseman, I’m not a goal scorer.”

It served as a reminder of what many wanted to see improve in Gostisbehere’s second NHL go-round — a more sound game in his own end by honing in on the defensive skills to his position.

Yes, he can change a game offensively, but could he be reliable and responsible defensively?

After all, Gostisbehere is a defenseman, like he said. We’ve already seen the offensive potential. From the onset, defensive growth is what head coach Dave Hakstol wanted to see.

“Consistency every day,” Hakstol said in early October. “Just be an everyday worker who is pushing hard to really improve himself as an NHL defenseman.”

Now, not only is Gostisbehere in a malaise offensively with four goals and 15 assists through 43 games, but he also hasn’t been sharp or consistent defensively. That certainly is a part of the concern permeating through the Delaware Valley. The 2015-16 Calder Memorial Trophy (top rookie) runner-up has been benched twice because of it and is a team-worst minus-17 on the season.

However, the positive here is he’s focused on it. Forget scoring goals for a moment. Even with Gostisbehere’s struggles, Flyers defensemen have provided offense among the league’s best. And for a stretch of 20 games following his first healthy scratch on Nov. 17, Gostisbehere was cleaner and more active with 17 giveaways and 24 blocked shots just partially telling the story. In the 17 games prior, he had 19 giveaways and only 20 blocked shots.

“I’m here to help the team in any way possible,” Gostisbehere said last Sunday. “Right now, it’s just getting back to work and doing the little things. It’s not going to come easy. That is something that me personally, and a lot of us have to look at.”

Even some of the all-time great defensemen went through the proverbial sophomore slump. Hall of Famer Nicklas Lidstrom went from 60 points and a plus-36 rating as a rookie to 41 and a plus-7 in his second season. Brian Leetch, also in the Hall of Fame, saw a dip in production across the board in Year 2 after winning the Calder Trophy.

But let’s not draw crazy comparisons. Let’s just understand the important thing here, which is Gostisbehere’s understanding that defense is paramount. He’s learning through his lumps, starting at the end of his breakout rookie campaign in which he looked spent from the NHL grind. He underwent minor offseason surgeries on his hip and lower abdomen, suffered a nasty face cut in the season opener, then a bone bruise on his right hand in December.

We’re just over halfway through the 2016-17 schedule. Gostisbehere is only 23 years old, a 2012 third-round pick with a cap hit less than 16 other Flyers in a season that looks more like a continued rebuild than a jump to contention.

Really, Shayne Gostisbehere should be some of the least of our worries.

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).