Flyers-Sabres 10 observations: A lifeless, inexcusable effort in Buffalo

Flyers-Sabres 10 observations: A lifeless, inexcusable effort in Buffalo

The Flyers closed out two road games with two losses Tuesday night against the Sabres in Buffalo.

Dave Hakstol's club was competitive in losing, 2-1, in Columbus on Sunday.

But not this one.

The Flyers were lifeless and listless during their 4-1 spanking they earned on their own by the Sabres. They were no-shows. Despite a push in the third period, this was one of the Flyers' poorer road performances and efforts this season.
 
With apologies to Bill Lyon, here are 10 things I think I think from this less-than-thrilling affair in upstate New York.
 
1. The game was not even six minutes old when Nicolas Deslauriers egged Brandon Manning into a fight. It was rather one-sided, but Manning gets major props for taking on a better fighter than himself. Manning has had four bouts this season and never backs down.
 
2. The Flyers' power play got one late and is now 4 for its last 34, but what happened on that first PP? They had six shots — six! — against the 29th-worst penalty kill in the NHL and couldn't dent backup goalie Anders Nilsson. Brayden Schenn had three of those shots, and he scored on the second man advantage, but the game was over by then.

3. Speaking of shots, Shayne Gostisbehere, whose overall game is slumping, had a couple of decent shots in this game at both 5-on-5 and on the power play. Gostisbehere seems like a ghost of himself from a year ago, when he set a Flyers rookie defenseman record with 15 goals. He has just four this season — on course for eight — and hasn't scored in 19 games.
 
4. Nice play by Andrew MacDonald, who got turned inside-out by Evander Kane but still forced the speedy winger to the outside for a backhander on Steve Mason. Alas, as the game went on, MacDonald's defensive play got worse. He finished as a minus-2.

5. The Flyers have had mostly dominant second periods this season, but they more or less rolled over against the Sabres with a poor effort Tuesday. They simply didn't try very hard, which is inexcusable.
 
6. How do the Sabres get a power-play goal on just one shot? Believe it or not, Buffalo has the higher-ranked PP — seventh vs. ninth. The problem was, the Flyers couldn't get a clear and had a tired group of penalty killers stuck on the ice, while the Sabres moved the puck quickly at will.

7. Kane had several scoring chances in this game, but the Flyers' letting him score with 8.9 seconds left in the second period was inexcusable. That made it 3-0. Game, set, match. There is no excuse giving up a goal in the final minute of any period. Period.
 
8. Claude Giroux has not played very well of late and hasn't scored in eight games. He was snoozing on the ice in the slot when he allowed William Carrier an uncontested easy score. The captain was minus-3 in this game.
 
9. Mason failed to come up with any kind of momentum saves in this one. From a strategic standpoint, he should have been pulled after the second period, if for no other reason than a momentum shift. That said, the Flyers had a series of turnovers and lazy players that allowed that scoring chance at the very end of the period.
 
10. Don't look now, but the Flyers have lost seven consecutive road games. They last won on Dec. 14 in Colorado, which coincidentally was the final win of their 10-game win streak.

Flyers Weekly Observations: Dismal start to critical Western Canada trip

Flyers Weekly Observations: Dismal start to critical Western Canada trip

Another week of Flyers hockey this season is behind us.
 
And it was another week that ended with not many positives to talk about involving the Flyers.
 
There were only two games this week and neither went well. On Wednesday, the Flyers dropped a 3-1 decision to the Flames in Calgary to kick off a crucial Western Canada road trip. Things didn’t get any better the next night in Edmonton, as the Flyers were blown away, 6-3, by the Oilers.
 
Let’s take a look back at what went wrong for the Flyers out in Alberta.
 
• It’s not just that the Flyers dropped the first two games of the road trip this past week. The Western Canada trip is always a tough one, especially for teams from the Eastern Conference that have to make the long trip out there. It’s the manner in which the Flyers lost both games that has to be the most disheartening factor. They were lethargic and you just didn’t see the kind of urgency you should see from a team, that as poor as it has played in recent weeks, is still in the thick of a playoff chase in the jam-packed Eastern Conference. In Calgary, the Flyers actually did come out of the gates hot with a goal by Nick Cousins 1:30 into the game, but it fell apart from there. They had 34 shots in that game, but not many testers on Flames goalie Brian Elliott. The next night in Edmonton, the Flyers were just overwhelmed and steamrolled from the second the puck dropped. It was all Oilers and the Flyers were just standing by. At the end of the day, the Flyers are still alive in this playoff race and you’d like to see the urgency that comes along with that.

• If there was one thing that summed up the Flyers’ lack of apparent urgency this past week, it had to be that ugly five-minute power play that included a two-minute two-man advantage Wednesday night in Calgary. Ugly would actually be quite the compliment. It was downright brutal. First off, the Flyers were handed a gift because Alex Chiasson’s spear on Cousins was not a major penalty. Chiasson shouldn’t be spearing anyone, but that was a love tap compared to some others around the league this season. But the Flyers fumbled that gift away with a power play that was basically a practice drill for the Calgary penalty killers. The Flyers slogged around in the neutral zone or unsuccessfully dumped the puck in or turned it over. It goes back again to urgency. The best power plays feel the urgency to score every time out on the ice. It just wasn’t there Wednesday night with the low-percentage cross-ice passes and inability to track down the puck. The Flames had 11 clears compared to two shots for the Flyers. It was as disappointing as a power play can be. Over the last six games, the Flyers’ power play is just 2 for 19. That is not helping with the scoring woes.
 
• Hopefully this Connor McDavid-Brandon Manning nonsense is now over after Manning answered the bell and fought the much larger Patrick Maroon on Thursday in Edmonton. The whole thing was dumbfounding to begin with. McDavid lost an edge while Manning was defending against him last season when he broke his collarbone. It should have ended right then and there because for someone to even insinuate intent on Manning’s part or anything other than that it was an unfortunate play would be asinine. It continued to be dumbfounding when McDavid stirred the pot during and after December’s meeting between the teams. For it to even reach the point it did Thursday was just stupefying. And Milan Lucic’s low blow on Manning behind the Flyers’ net Thursday was cheap, to say the least. But good for Manning to stand up to Maroon.

• If there was one positive to take from this past week, it had to be the play of Cousins in Calgary on Wednesday. He was all over the ice. He was making plays happen with five shots on net, bringing energy and being a pest. He’s at the top of his game and most effective when he brings that energy and pest behavior. The goal he scored was well-deserved and he should have had another one if not for the great save Elliott made at the end of that long, wretched Flyers power play. If Cousins can play that effective way more consistently, he can be a valuable piece going forward for the Flyers. Most of the good teams in the league have that one player other teams just hate to play against.

• I also like what Cousins had to say in the locker room after the loss Wednesday. “We’ve got to make it harder on them,” he said. “We’ve got to get more traffic. It’s the same excuse here it feels like after every game. We’ve got to score more goals — simple as that.” He didn’t massage his way around anything, He came out and stated bluntly what’s going on right now. The Flyers can talk about playing good hockey and not getting the results. But the results come when you earn them. Can we say that about the Flyers earning results the past few weeks? Against the Sharks last Saturday, sure. But any other games?

• Shame that Jordan Weal was injured in Thursday’s loss to the Oilers. He was doing everything he could to try and provide a spark. He was bringing some of that much-needed energy and, more importantly, trying to make things happen by firing the puck toward the net. He had a team-high six shots on goal Wednesday in Calgary. His combination of speed and skill makes him an intriguing player going forward. The Flyers have to hope he recovers sooner rather than later so they can get an extended look at him with the big club.

• Is the offside challenge working as effectively as it should? It sure looked like the Oilers were offside before the opening goal of Thursday’s contest. But the league still ruled it a good goal. And you may recall the eight-minute delay in the Chicago-Minnesota game a few weeks ago as officials reviewed an offside play before a goal. In essence, offside is a pretty cut-and-dry rule. The play is offside or it isn’t. I’m not crazy to say there shouldn’t be this much grey area on a pretty cut-and-dry rule, right?

Coming up this week: Sunday night at Vancouver (10 p.m./CSN), Wednesday vs. Washington (8 p.m./NBCSN), Saturday’s Stadium Series game at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh (8 p.m./NBC10).

Flyers-Canucks 5 things: Claude Giroux’s regression a cause for concern?

Flyers-Canucks 5 things: Claude Giroux’s regression a cause for concern?

Flyers (27-24-7) at Canucks (26-27-6)
10 p.m. on CSN/CSNPhilly.com and NBC Sports App; Pregame Live at 9:30

The Flyers’ three-game trip through Western Canada ends tonight in Vancouver against the Canucks, as the orange and black will look to salvage one win on this disastrous road trip.

Vancouver enters the game on the backend of a back-to-back. The Canucks beat Calgary, 2-1, in overtime Saturday at Rogers Arena. The Flyers beat Vancouver, 5-4, in a shootout on Jan. 12.

Let’s take a closer look at game No. 59 for the orange and black.

1. Captain concern
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Since their 10-game winning streak, from Nov. 27 to Dec. 14, the Flyers’ season outlook has undergone a drastic shift toward a higher draft pick.

The Flyers are 8-14-4 in 26 games since the winning streak, and 2-5-1 in their last eight games. They’re 2-10-2 in their last 14 road games, and have lost their last eight games in Western Canada. They remain just two points out of the Eastern Conference’s second wild-card spot, but earning a playoff appearance appears to be just a wishful thought.

Not much is going well right now for the Flyers. Neither Michal Neuvirth or Steve Mason has taken grasp of the No. 1 job. Neuvirth has started six of the Flyers’ last seven games and seven of their last nine. Neuvirth will start again tonight.

They can’t score. They’re averaging 1.46 goals in their last 13 games, scoring 19 goals over that span and they’ve been shut out three times. Claude Giroux’s regression continues, as he has just two goals in his past 23 games. Giroux is on pace for 59 points, which would be the fewest he’s had in an 82-game season since 2009-10. (He finished the 2012-13 lockout-shortened season with 48 points in 48 games.)

“For whatever the reason, in the last month, he’s just gone in the wrong direction,” Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said of Giroux on Saturday. “That’s not just [the] individual. That’s a team item, and we’ve gotta push that in the right direction.”

As the captain has gone, the Flyers have, too.

2. Weal bad luck
Just as when it appears Jordan Weal had finally turned a corner in the NHL — albeit it in a very small sample size — an injury strikes. Weal will miss tonight’s game with an upper-body injury. The Flyers said Saturday the forward will be reevaluated Monday.

Dale Weise draws back into the lineup against Vancouver, and will take Weal’s place on the Flyers’ second line alongside center Sean Couturier and right winger Jake Voracek. Weise checks back in after sitting the last two games and seven of the last 12 as a healthy scratch.

Weal impressed in two games and a period before suffering his injury Thursday in Edmonton. He’s averaged 11:50 of ice time, playing a career-high 15:31 Wednesday in Calgary, a game he had six shots on goal. Through three games, Weal has an 83.0 corsi for percentage, which is remarkably high but an extremely small sample. He was more confident along the boards and with the puck, hungrier than at any point last season with the Flyers.

It was only a matter of time before the 24-year-old was going to pick up his first career NHL point. Now, he’s sidelined at least one game. If it’s not a long-term injury, Weal’s play in the two-plus games should be enough to warrant inserting him back in when he’s healthy.

“He added something every game,” Hakstol said of Weal on Saturday. “Obviously, it was two games and a period, but he’s dynamic. He hadn’t been here [this season], but he had the puck quite a bit. He looked like a player that was confidently on the top of his game, and I didn’t think any of that was lost in the transition from Lehigh to our team.”

3. Mediocre matchup
The Canucks are not exactly a team oozing with confidence, either. With Saturday's OT win over the Flames, the Canucks are now 4-8-0 in their last 12 games. They are four points behind Calgary now for the West's second wild-card spot, and gave up a valuable point to the Flames on Saturday by blowing a 1-0 lead with six seconds left in regulation.

Vancouver sits in the bottom 10 in goals for (2.3, 28th), goals against (2.8, 20th), power play (14.9, 27th) and penalty kill (79.1, 24th). It's a team that doesn't score a ton of goals, but also doesn't give up many, either. It's the epitome of a below-average team from a talent perspective — sound familiar? — that can grind its way to competitiveness.

With how the Flyers have been playing over their last two months and how this current Canucks team competes, it's safe to say tonight's game will be one filled with little scoring, a much different tune than the first matchup.

4. Keep an eye on …
Flyers: There is not a single Flyer worth watching right now. I suggest making one of those origami fortune teller games with a list of Flyers, play it and whoever you get, watch him.

Canucks: Vancouver’s leading scorer is no longer one of the Sedin twins. Instead, it’s 21-year-old Bo Horvat, who has 18 goals and 39 points in 58 games. Horvat, the ninth overall pick in 2013, made his first NHL All-Star Game this season. In the previous meeting with the Flyers, he picked up an assist.

5. This and that
• Lineup change: Andrew MacDonald will be a healthy scratch, along with Nick Schultz. Brandon Manning will move to the left side to the right side, and is expected to play with Ivan Provorov.

• The Flyers’ power play is five for its last 45 dating back 13 games.

• Friendly reminder: Shayne Gostisbehere’s goal drought is now at 31 games.