Flyers-Senators: 5 things you need to know

flyers-senators-matchup.jpg

Flyers-Senators: 5 things you need to know

Flyers vs. Senators
12:30 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet

The Flyers (33-30-18) will try to end the 2014-15 campaign on a high note when they host the surging Ottawa Senators (42-26-13) at the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday afternoon.

For the final time this season, here are five things you need to know before a Flyers game:

1. New deal for Manning
The past month of hockey hasn’t had many meaningful games for the Flyers, but one skater played well enough to earn himself a new contract.

The Flyers and defenseman Brandon Manning agreed to a one-year extension on Friday. In addition to Manning, Mark Streit, Andrew MacDonald, Luke Schenn, Nick Schultz, Nicklas Grossmann and Radko Gudas are also under contract for the 2015-16 season.

It’s also important to keep in mind that the Flyers still have to sign restricted free agent Michael Del Zotto. So it wouldn’t be surprising if general manager Ron Hextall actively shops a few of his blueliners this summer, especially with up-and-comers Sam Morin, Travis Sanheim, Robert Hagg and Shayne Gostisbehere waiting in the wings.

“You can never have enough [defensemen],” Hextall said (see story). “All of sudden, guys start going down and you lose two or three defensemen. It’s a hard hole to fill. We’ve got numbers and that’s a good thing.”

Which brings us back to Manning. The 24-year-old has been steady since entering the lineup for the injured Schenn. Manning has averaged nearly 20 minutes a game over his last six appearances and hasn’t looked out of place. He’s certainly earned the right to compete for a roster spot next season.

2. SEN-sational
Way back on Feb. 10, the Senators were tied for the third-fewest points in the Eastern Conference with 49 and 14 back of a playoff spot. Things were looking dim. Then they put together one of the most surprising and bewildering runs in recent memory.

Ottawa enters Saturday’s season finale having gone 22-4-4 in its last 30 contests and needs just one point against the Flyers to secure a playoff berth. Who saw that coming?

And what in the world sparked this incredible rally? Look no further than netminder Andrew Hammond. By now, you probably know him better as “The Hamburglar.” The 27-year-old has gone 19-1-2 with a 1.76 goals-against average in 22 starts since being called up from the AHL. He’s been simply astonishing and has proved to be the spark the Sens desperately needed.

3. Injuries
Defensemen MacDonald (hand), Schenn (abdomen) and Gudas (knee) and forwards R.J. Umberger (hip/abdomen) and Wayne Simmonds (leg) are all sidelined for the Flyers.

Veteran forward Vinny Lecavalier, who fought young Hurricanes defenseman Keegan Lowe twice during Thursday’s 3-1 loss, suffered an upper-body injury against Carolina and will miss the season finale.

For the Senators, winger Chris Neil (thumb), defenseman Chris Phillips (undisclosed) and goalie Robin Lehner (concussion) are all out. Forwards Milan Michalek (concussion) and Matt Puempel (ankle) are listed as day to day.

4. Keep an eye on …
Flyers: Shutdown center extraordinaire Sean Couturier has actually been bringing the offense over the past week and a half. The 22-year-old enters Saturday with two goals and four assists during his current five-game point streak. He scored the Flyers’ lone goal against Carolina and has meshed well with new linemate Brayden Schenn, who was recently converted to right wing.

Senators: Who is this Mark Stone guy and where did he come from? The 22-year-old has collected 33 points in his last 30 games and is currently riding an eight-game point streak in which he’s tallied six goals and assisted five more. The 6-foot-2, 205-pounder is a major reason Ottawa has climbed back into playoff contention and should be a fun player to watch moving forward. He wears No. 61.

5. This and that
• The last three games between the Flyers and Senators have been decided by shootouts. Foreshadowing much?

• No matter the outcome of Saturday’s game, the Flyers will finish with their fewest points in a non-shortened season since 2006-07, when they went 22-48-12 for just 56 points.

• Ottawa has not allowed a single power-play goal over its past four games.

• Jakub Voracek has eight goals and five assists in 15 career games against the Senators.

• Kyle Turris, who has a five-game point streak, has eight goals and 10 assists in his past 15 overall.

Pressing too hard? Claude Giroux realizes less can be more

Pressing too hard? Claude Giroux realizes less can be more

NEW YORK — Ron Hextall admitted there’s a bit of a double-edged sword to Claude Giroux.
 
“I think he’s pressing too hard,” Hextall said before Sunday night’s game. “It’s what you like about him; there’s a few guys like that. You like that [competitiveness] about them, but sometimes you become your own worst enemy because they beat themselves up.”
 
The captain was entering the day with a goal drought of 12 games, his longest since Oct. 2-Nov. 7, 2013, when he opened the season goalless in 15 contests.
 
“G wants to be successful at everything,” the general manager said. “Hopefully something good happens for him and he gets rolling. He’s too good of a player to play like this.”
 
Hextall got his wish.
 
Nearly four hours later, Giroux buried the game-winning goal of the Flyers’ 3-2 overtime win against the Islanders at the Barclays Center (see game story). Not only did it relieve Giroux of his funk, but it also did the same for the Flyers, who had lost three straight and 12 of their last 15.
 
"It's been tough the last couple of weeks,” Giroux said. “We know we're a better team. 
 
“Obviously we can still be better but we needed this win tonight.”
 
And Giroux needed that goal. Over the previous 12 games, the Flyers’ second-leading scorer was a minus-13 with seven assists and just one even-strength point. It’s no coincidence the Flyers went 2-8-2 in those 12 games.
 
Giroux didn’t disagree with his boss.
 
“You want to succeed and you want to play the best you can,” he said. “Sometimes you push it a little too much. When you sit back and kind of look at the big picture, sometimes I think that's when you kind of realize you need to relax and just go out there and play.”
 
Before the game, head coach Dave Hakstol made a change that reaped the rewards. He decided to put Jakub Voracek back on the top line with Giroux and Michael Raffl. Giroux finished with six shots, his most since Dec. 21, while Voracek put up four and assisted the overtime winner.
 
“Well, I mean there are a lot of things that go into that,” Hakstol said of the move. “Those guys have success together, but more importantly, you look at some of the combinations as you go through the year when you’ve had success. Sometimes one change gives you a little bit of a jump-start. Those guys did a good job.”
 
Giroux’s goal was emblematic in a way that he simply planted himself in front of the net and tapped in Shayne Gostisbehere’s wraparound pass. There was no highlight-reel deke or miraculous shot.
 
Keeping it simple — as players often say — did the trick.
 
"Sometimes you don't need to try so hard,” Giroux said. “You need to go about your job and make sure you do the right things out there. Make sure you help your teammates and linemates. Just go out there and play hockey. We're supposed to have fun doing it, right? So sometimes you need to relax and kind of look at how you can get better.”
 
Sunday was a start.

Flyers Weekly Observations: Snowball effect avoided Sunday

Flyers Weekly Observations: Snowball effect avoided Sunday

There wasn't any Flyers hockey to talk about during the bye week, but this past weekend’s back-to-back set still left us with plenty of material.

It was an up-and-down weekend for the Flyers. They fell at home, 4-1, to the Devils during an ugly showing on Saturday but rebounded with an exciting 3-2 OT victory over the Islanders Sunday in Brooklyn thanks to Claude Giroux’s game-winning tally that snapped a 13-game goalless drought.

Let’s take a look back at the weekend that was for the Flyers:

• That showing against Jersey on Saturday night? Let’s just say that’s not the way one hoped the Flyers would look coming off an extended break. The Flyers were outplayed again by the Devils, just like they were during a 4-0 loss to New Jersey in late December. I get the theory that they needed to knock the rust off after such a long break. But you also wanted to see some energy and it just wasn’t there. Give the Devils some credit, too, as they played well. Of course, there was that terrible call against Radko Gudas that really shifted the game in the Devils’ favor (more on that in a bit). But still, it wasn’t an inspiring performance overall and still had more of the same defensive breakdowns that have plagued the Flyers in recent weeks.

• That said, the Flyers had a great bounce-back effort Sunday night against an Isles team that has been revived after head coach Jack Capuano was fired and came into the contest on a three-game win streak. The Flyers fell down 2-0 and were victims of another questionable call during a pile-up at the front of the Isles’ net when the puck crossed the line but no goal was rewarded, but they showed something they haven’t shown over the past few weeks: resiliency. Over the last few weeks, when something has gone wrong for the Flyers, it’s all gone wrong for the Flyers. It’s been a troubling snowball effect. But that trend came to a halt on Sunday and the Flyers earned two much-needed points. It was encouraging, to say the least. The goal now is to find that kind of consistency again. Easier said than done.

• What a spectacular play by Ivan Provorov on the Flyers’ tying goal Sunday night. He took a pass at the Isles’ blue line, weaved his way around a defender to create space and then sent a centering pass to the crease area. Sure, there was some puck luck involved as it hit a defender’s skate and went in the net, but sometimes a player gets rewarded like that when making a great play. It was the kind of play that a lot of veterans wouldn’t have the poise to make, let alone a rookie who just turned 20 a few weeks ago. The kid is so impressive and he’s just going to keep getting better.

• Alright, alright, alright ... let’s discuss the Gudas clipping penalty against the Devils on Saturday. First off, it shouldn’t have been a penalty. It was a classic, hard hip check and a good, physical hockey play. Is Gudas not given the benefit of the doubt sometimes because of his reputation and suspension history? Probably so. But there was no gray area to discuss on this hit. It was a clean hockey play. And then if we’re to believe Wayne Simmonds, his unsportsmanlike call to give the Devils a full 5-on-3 advantage was for protesting a lack of explanation for the call. If true, that’s pretty weak from the official. Like we discussed earlier, it was one of the things that didn’t go the Flyers’ way and sent everything else crumbling down afterward. The Devils scored on the ensuing power play to take a 2-1 lead and it was game, set, match.

• Notice Dave Hakstol's finally using Travis Konecny during a 3-on-3 overtime on Sunday night? That’s a good thing to see. I get that a big part of the 3-on-3 OT is defensive responsibility and that Konency is still working to complete that part of his game. But sometimes when the game is on the line, you have to take the good with the bad. Konecny’s got the offensive arsenal to win a game in the blink of an eye. He should get more chances in OT as the season goes on. Nick Cousins saw the ice during Sunday’s OT, too. Good for him. Having more fresh legs and energy out there during those frantic overtimes never hurts.

• You guys peek at the Eastern Conference standings lately? If not, here’s a spoiler: The standings are a jumbled mess where parity is king. As of Monday morning, the Capitals, Blue Jackets, Penguins and Rangers are ahead of the field. But after those teams, it’s anyone’s ballgame. Heading into Monday night’s action, the Flyers hold the last wild-card spot with 52 points. The eight teams behind them are all within five points them, with last-place Tampa Bay (!) bringing up the rear with 47 points. So that’s 12 teams fighting for four playoff spots. It’s further proof that there are no nights off or easy games in the NHL. Every point matters. It should be a hell of a playoff race over the next few months.

Coming up this week: Wednesday at NY Rangers (8 p.m./NBCSN), Thursday vs. Toronto (7 p.m./CSN), Sunday’s NHL All-Star Game in Los Angeles (3:30 p.m./NBC)