Flyers-Oilers: 5 things you need to know

flyers-oilers-matchup.jpg

Flyers-Oilers: 5 things you need to know

It’s been a rough week for the Flyers.

They suffered an overtime loss Tuesday to a Carolina Hurricanes team that had dropped five straight entering the game. The orange and black followed that up with a 3-0 loss Thursday to the New Jersey Devils, who had been shut out in their previous two contests.

Now, the Flyers (4-10-1) are set to face the Edmonton Oilers (4-11-2), who have just one win in their last seven games and agreed to sign Ilya Bryzgalov on Friday. Puck drop is set for 1 p.m. at the Wells Fargo Center (CSN), and here are five things you need to know:

1. Still no offense
At this point, you can’t even say the Flyers’ offense is struggling. It’s non-existent.

The Flyers enter Saturday as the NHL’s worst team offensively. They are averaging just 1.47 goals per game and have scored more than twice just once in 15 contests this season.  

It’s pretty easy to figure out why the Flyers aren’t finding the back of the net. They can’t keep possession of the puck. They’re not getting pucks deep and forechecking. They’re not testing opposing goaltenders. Heck, they’re not even moving their feet.  

What’s the solution? Get back to basics. Yes, easier said than done, but the Flyers need to master the little things -- breakouts, offensive-zone entry, puck battles etc. -- if they want to get back into the win column consistently.

Head coach Craig Berube has repeatedly talked about his players needing to think and react quicker. When the Flyers start doing that, they will be able to enter the offensive zone easier, get pucks deep, win more battles along the boards and create more scoring chances. It’s all about fundamentals, folks.

2. Long time, no G
Hard times have fallen on Flyers captain Claude Giroux.

It’s been 21 games since the Flyers’ franchise player last scored a goal. He’s a team-worst minus-11 so far this season. He was so frustrated Thursday that he left the Wells Fargo Center without talking the media. This is not the 93-point Giroux that we saw two seasons ago.

The 25-year-old has been lackadaisical at times this season. Giroux blew his coverage on Hurricanes forward Jordan Staal in the final minute of regulation that led to the game-tying goal Tuesday. He was also on the ice when Carolina scored in OT.

In other games, Giroux has shown plenty of effort. Against the Devils on Thursday, he won 11 of the 16 faceoffs he took and recorded five hits.

Where the Flyers need to see Giroux’s name on the scoresheet, however, is in the goal and assist column. He has just seven helpers in 15 games. Sure, the Flyers need other players to step up, but a high-scoring Giroux can go a long way for a team lacking confidence.
 
3. More changes
Berube has again shuffled up the Flyers’ lines.

At practice on Friday, Giroux skated with Brayden Schenn and Matt Read on the top line. Vinny Lecavalier was given Scott Hartnell and Wayne Simmonds on his wings, leaving Sean Couturier to center Michael Raffl and Jakub Voracek on the third line (see story).

“Just trying to find some life and some spark offensively, and moving it around a bit,” Berube said. “Still got guys playing together that have been together for a while, though. Just trying to find some combinations that get some offense going.”

You can’t blame Berube for continuing to mix and match players in an attempt to find some chemistry. The Flyers have been outscored 12-2 over their past five games and have been shut out in their past two games at the Wells Fargo Center.

This is a game the Flyers’ anemic offense needs to capitalize on. The Oilers are allowing an NHL-worst 3.82 goals per game. This is the perfect opportunity for the orange and black to bust out of their scoring slump.

4. Injury report
Steve Downie participated in his first full practice Friday since sustaining a concussion on Nov. 1, his first game with the Flyers this season. He won’t play against Edmonton and is considered day to day.

For the Oilers, forwards Steve MacIntyre (knee), Corey Potter (back), Ryan Hamilton (knee) and Tyler Pitlick (knee), defensemen Justin Schultz (groin) and Anton Belov (lower body) and goaltender Richard Bachman (lower body) are on injured reserve and will not play against the Flyers. Forward Jesse Joensuu is listed as questionable.

Edmonton, however, is expected to get a key forward back Saturday. Former Blues winger David Perron, who has missed the past four games with a neck injury, could return to play against the Flyers. He practiced Friday on a line with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle.

5. This and that
• The last time these two clubs met, Devan Dubnyk registered 35 saves to give the Oilers a 2-0 win over the Flyers in Edmonton on Feb. 23, 2012.

• Dating back to the 2003-04 season, Edmonton has gone 6-1-0 against the Flyers. Three of those victories came via shutout.

• Lecavalier, who hasn’t had a point in three games, has five goals and four assists during his current six-game scoring streak against the Oilers.

• The Oilers have lost 26 straight when scoring two or fewer goals, dating back to Feb. 25 of last season.

• The Flyers are 2-7-0 at home this season and have totaled just 11 goals at the Wells Fargo Center.

NHL Playoffs: Penguins beat Senators in 2OT of Game 7 to reach Stanley Cup Final

NHL Playoffs: Penguins beat Senators in 2OT of Game 7 to reach Stanley Cup Final

BOX SCORE

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins are heading back to the Stanley Cup Final.

Chris Kunitz beat Craig Anderson 5:09 into the second overtime to give the defending champions a 3-2 victory over the Ottawa Senators in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final Thursday night.

Kunitz scored twice, his first two of the playoffs. Justin Schultz added the other in his return from an upper-body injury, and Matt Murray stopped 28 shots on his 23rd birthday.

The Penguins are trying to become the first team since the Detroit Red Wings in 1998 to win back-to-back titles. They will host Western Conference champion Nashville in Game 1 on Monday night.

Mark Stone and Ryan Dzingel scored for Ottawa. The Senators rallied twice to tie it, with Dzingel making it 2-2 with 5:19 left in regulation.

Craig Anderson made 39 saves, but couldn't get a handle on Kunitz's shot from just outside the left circle. The Senators are 0-6 in Game 7s in franchise history.

The Senators forced a return trip to Pittsburgh -- where they lost 7-0 loss in Game 5 on Sunday -- by leaning heavily on Anderson in a 2-1 Game 6 victory, putting both teams at odds with history.

Ottawa came in 0-for-25 years in winner-take-all games, while the Penguins were 0-7 in Game 7s at home in series in which they also dropped Game 6.

Ottawa coach Guy Boucher told his resilient team to not get caught up in the big picture but instead focus on the small ones, a recipe that carried the Senators throughout a bumpy transition under their first-year head coach to the brink of the franchise's second Cup appearance.

The Penguins, trying to become the first defending champion to return to the finals since Detroit in 2009, came in confident they would advance if they could replicate their dominant Game 6, when they were undone only by Anderson's brilliance.

Pittsburgh has been nearly unflappable in the face of adversity under Mike Sullivan, going 12-2 in playoff games following a loss over the last two springs. He encouraged his team to "just play," code for fighting through Ottawa's neutral zone-clogging style and the bumping, grabbing and pulling that comes along with it.

A chance to play for their sport's ultimate prize on the line, the sheets of open ice the Penguins found so easily in Games 4-6 closed up. For most of the first 30 minutes, loose pucks hopped over sticks to spoil some scoring opportunities while Anderson and Murray gobbled up the rest.

Kunitz, relegated to the fourth line since returning from injury in the second round, picked up his first postseason goal in a calendar year when he completed a two-on-one with Conor Sheary -- a healthy scratch in Games 5 and 6 -- by slipping the puck by Anderson 9:55 into the second period.

The momentum lasted all of 20 seconds. Ottawa responded immediately with Stone -- who stretched his left skate to stay onside -- fired a wrist shot that handcuffed Murray.

Pittsburgh kept coming. Schultz, returning after missing four games with an upper-body injury, zipped a shot from the point through Kunitz's screen and into the net with 8:16 left in the third.

Once again, the Penguins could not hold the lead. Dzingel set up at the right post and banged home a rebound off Erik Karlsson's shot that hit the left post and caromed off Murray's back right to Dzingel's stick.

Notes
The home team is 21-20 in overtime Game 7s in NHL playoff history. ... Pittsburgh F Patric Hornqvist skated during warmups, but was held out of the lineup for a sixth straight game with an upper-body injury. ... Karlsson had 16 assists in the playoffs to set a team record. ... The Penguins are 10-7 in Game 7s. ... It was the fifth one-goal game of the series.

Are we there yet? Philly Sports Talk examines the state of the Flyers

Are we there yet? Philly Sports Talk examines the state of the Flyers

All week on Philly Sports Talk on CSN, we examine how our teams got to this point and where they are in the rebuilding process. 
 
Today, we finish up by taking a look at the Flyers.

 
How did we get here?
The Flyers' rebuild had begun when Ron Hextall returned to his old stomping grounds in the summer of 2013 as the team's new assistant general manager.
 
He took over GM duties after one season and the philosophical change was in place. Paul Holmgren was made president and Hextall's imprint, which had already started, was ready to become bigger.
 
What Hextall inherited was a cap-stricken team fresh off a first-round playoff loss, an organization that had tried to spend its way to immediate results instead of putting greater focus on the long game.
 
Some of the past decisions are well-documented: signing enigmatic goalie Ilya Bryzgalov to a nine-year, $51 million deal in 2011 after trading for him. With a buyout, the Flyers are still paying Bryzgalov through 2027. Signing veteran center Vinny Lecavalier to a five-year, $22.5 million contract in 2013. And signing imposing defenseman Chris Pronger to a seven-year, $34.55 million extension — nobody could foresee the unfortunate concussion issues that suddenly derailed Pronger's career, but it was nonetheless a hurdle for the Flyers moving forward.
 
Hextall has adeptly maneuvered through much of those rocky waters.
 
Now, the Flyers are a more cost-efficient (partly because they have to be in this salary cap world), draft-oriented organization planning for the future while not ignoring the present. This rebuild hasn't been a total demolition, but more of a retooling — a smart but tricky process, especially down the line.
 
Are the Flyers on the right path back to prosperity?
The youth is coming.
 
Hextall, oftentimes close to the vest, made that abundantly clear at his end-of-the-season press conference.
 
"Our young players, they've done enough," Hextall said in early April. "Our young players are going to get a long look. We don't plan on going out and signing veterans on the back end. Our kids, it's time to give them a shot, and we're going to do that."
 
But the really hard part is just beginning — results. Can the prospects catch up and meet the current core? The pressure for it to start has never been higher.
 
Help does appear to be on the way, though, for a team that regressed this season and missed the playoffs for the third time in the past five years.
 
Anthony Stolarz, Alex Lyon, Felix Sandstrom and Carter Hart give the Flyers future options in net.
 
Two promising prospects are expected to join Ivan Provorov, Shayne Gostisbehere and company on the blue line.
 
Oskar Lindblom, a dynamic 20-year-old winger, could crack the Flyers' group of forwards, which should have Jordan Weal and Valtteri Filppula for a full season.
 
Also, don't forget forward Mike Vecchione, a Hobey Baker finalist who signed with the Flyers out of Union College in late March.
 
Oh, and the No. 2 pick of the draft — likely a talented center — is in the Flyers' grasp.
 
The 2017-18 season will be a telling time for the Flyers. Patience has been required, but when will it be rewarded?
 
The clock is ticking.