Flyers stumped by Bernier, PK in opening loss

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Flyers stumped by Bernier, PK in opening loss

BOX SCORE

Updated: 11:42 p.m.

They had energy. They were sharp much of the game. As was their goalie, Steve Mason.

The only troubling carryover from exhibition play that doomed the Flyers in their season opener Wednesday night against Toronto was … their power play.
 
Seven opportunities. One goal. Thirteen scoring chances.
 
“Yeah, we had our chances,” said Flyers captain Claude Giroux after a 3-1 loss. “(Jonathan) Bernier played well but we had the offense. It’s a tough loss but we did a lot of good things out there and most of the game, we dominated.”
 
Bernier -- 31 saves -- was superb in goal, even denying Wayne Simmonds on a penalty shot.
 
The goals on Mason weren’t his fault. Two saw breakdowns in front of him. Did we mention he became the eighth different starting goalie for the Flyers in the past 11 seasons?
 
“You make the initial save and do your best to get into position for the next shot,” Mason said. “They made some good plays on rebounds.”
 
This was a back-to-back for Toronto, which was without one of its top forwards -- David Clarkson (suspension). The Leafs were very strong in the final period. Once they took the lead, they hunkered down.
 
“It's never easy to come into this building, especially on a back-to-back,” Bernier said. “We got in to a little bit of a PK problem but we came back from it, and that's what a good team does.”

Dave Bolland broke a 1-1 tie just 2:30 into the third period with an uncontested shot on Mason as Matt Read pretty much lost sight of him in the slot.

The Flyers then had consecutive power plays, failed and visibly sagged as Toronto’s PK momentum kicked in.
 
“Yeah, it seemed after that it wasn’t like the first period,” Vinny Lecavalier said. “We had trouble getting in there and keeping position. They played back more when they went up 2-1. They played a good road game.”
 
There were a couple of surprises in this one.
 
Jakub Voracek, who spent time in practice on the third line this week, stayed there working with Sean Couturier and Max Talbot.
 
His spot on the top line with Scott Hartnell and Giroux was taken by Brayden Schenn.
 
“We’re trying to get a balance on scoring throughout [the lineup],” explained coach Peter Laviolette. “We threw 75 attempts at the net and 30-plus shots. You’d like to walk away with more than one goal.
 
“Having Brayden up there and trying to get him going, I thought he played good on that line. That line generated some chances. Again, you’d like to see one or two of them drop in on five-on-five.”
 
Poor opening periods have been the Flyers' nemesis during the regular season in past years, but that wasn’t the case here.
 
Despite being outshot early, they rallied off a couple of very strong power plays and had the puck in Toronto’s end most of the opening period.
 
So dominant were the Flyers early, that Toronto went 12:13 without a shot.
 
“Defensively, we were responsible,” Giroux said.
 
Hartnell, in perhaps the best shape of his life as a Flyer, had an excellent chance off the rush that period on a pass from Giroux, but his quick redirect kissed the left post. He had seven attempts at the net in the game, yet just one official shot.
 
Actually, the Flyers had a number of good scoring chances and were finally rewarded on their third power play of the game with 6.9 seconds left in the period.
 
Schenn, who had briefly fought Joffrey Lupul (check on Giroux), got out of the box in time to camp out in the slot. Lecavalier sent him the puck from behind the net, and Schenn one-timed it past Bernier.
 
“Anytime you score a goal and help contribute to the team is obviously a plus and a bonus,” Schenn said. “There was some pretty nifty work by Vinny down low, which just goes to show you how good he is.”
 
Mason had a very strong second period, facing nine shots, and he nearly escaped unscathed. He stopped Lupul in the crease around the 12-minute mark, had a nice kick save on Phil Kessel after Kimmo Timonen turned it over at the blue line and two stops on Bolland.
 
Kessel, however, seemed determined to score after that save and put in a late rebound to tie it. That goal began with a bad, errant long pass by Max Talbot in neutral ice that quickly got turned back up on the Flyers.
 
To make matters worse, Talbot didn’t get back quick enough and defenseman Nick Grossmann got tangled up with Nazem Kadri after Dion Phaneuf’s shot became the rebound for Kessel.
 
Still, the Flyers caught a break with 3.1 seconds left as Simmonds stole a puck for a breakaway and was awarded a debatable penalty shot after being tripped by Paul Ranger.
 
Simmonds attacked Bernier with a weaving attempt to get him moving, then tried to go five-hole and was denied.
 
“It would have been the difference in the game I think,” Simmonds said.
 
Not as much as the failed power play chances.

Flyers-Oilers 5 things: Winning streak meets Connor McDavid

Flyers-Oilers 5 things: Winning streak meets Connor McDavid

Flyers (15-10-3) vs. Oilers (14-10-4)
7 p.m. on CSN and CSNPhilly.com, Pregame Live at 6:30

The hottest team in the NHL will meet the hottest young star on Thursday night when the Flyers host the Edmonton Oilers at the Wells Fargo Center.

Here are five things you need to know for the matchup:

1. McDavid and Co.
The Flyers are going for their seventh consecutive victory, which would tie their longest winning streak since Dec. 2-15, 2011, when they also won seven in a row.

In order to do so, they’ll have to slow down transcendent talent Connor McDavid and the prolific but streaky Oilers.

McDavid, a generational player, has thus far lived up to all the hype surrounding him as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 draft. In just his second NHL season — and first with a healthy start after an injured-shortened rookie year (45 games) — the 19-year-old leads all of hockey in points with 36, while no other player has yet to eclipse 30.

His 25 assists also rank atop the NHL, while his 11 goals are among the top 22 and his plus-8 rating is tied for ninth best between all centers.

“He’s one of the best players in the world,” Pierre-Edouard Bellemare said Wednesday. “It’s tough not to be excited when playing against a guy who plays like this. He competes every second he is on the ice.”

And he has help.

Linemates Leon Draisaitl (11 goals, 11 assists) and Milan Lucic (eight goals, 12 assists) can do damage, as can Jordan Eberle (eight goals, 13 assists).

2. Defense wins games
The Flyers are playing better and cleaner in front of their goaltender — who has been great (see below) — and the results are showing.

The orange and black have gone five straight games of allowing two or fewer goals.

Why were they so up and down before this run? Well, they had surrendered two or fewer goals in just five of their previous 23 games.

“That’s unbelievable for us,” Wayne Simmonds said after Tuesday’s 3-2 win over the Panthers. “At the beginning of the year, to say we’d have five straight without giving up more than two would be a stretch.
 
“We’ve locked it down defensively and Mase has played unbelievable. We’ve been pretty good as five-man units.”

3. Mase the man
A confident Steve Mason is a dangerous Steve Mason.

Right now, Mason has the net and is gaining steam by the game.

Over his past five outings, the 28-year-old is 5-0-0 with a 1.74 goals-against average and .947 save percentage.

Just as impressive, since Nov. 12, Mason is 8-3-1 with a 2.11 goals-against average and .930 save percentage.

“I've said it numerous times, I want to be playing lots of hockey,” Mason said Tuesday. “This is a position that I'm used to being in and where I'm most comfortable. So just have to keep continuing to put my work in and whenever [head coach Dave Hakstol] calls my name, be ready."

4. Keep an eye on ...
Flyers: You always have to watch Simmonds, but especially now with the winger coming off back-to-back two-goal games. Simmonds leads the NHL with eight power-play goals and is second in man-advantage points (13) to only teammate Claude Giroux (14).

Oilers: With all the attention zeroed in on McDavid, we’ll go with the 21-year-old Draisaitl, who has seven goals in his last nine games and 14 points in his past 12. The No. 3 overall pick in 2014 is an intelligent playmaker capable of hurting you.

5. This and that
• Mason is 8-4-0 with just a 3.49 goals-against average and .872 save percentage in 13 career games against Edmonton.

• Oilers goalie Jonas Gustavsson will make his fourth start of the season. He’s 1-1-1 on the year with 84 saves on 91 shots faced, but is 0-4-1 lifetime against the Flyers with a 3.57 goals-against average and .865 save percentage.

• The Flyers are fourth in the NHL in goals per game (3.11), while Edmonton is seventh (2.93).

• The Oilers have lost 10 of their last 15 games (5-7-3).

Flyers skate update: Wayne Simmonds, power play key to beating Oilers

Flyers skate update: Wayne Simmonds, power play key to beating Oilers

Todd McLellan saw a lot of Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov as a junior player in the Western Hockey League whenever the Brandon Wheat Kings would turn up in Edmonton.

“I watched him play in junior and had a chance to see that Brandon team play in Edmonton twice last year,” said the Edmonton Oilers coach.

“Obviously, a smooth, confident [player] with great vision. He has patience with the puck. Those are his offensive assets. 

“But he also positions himself well, defensively. He accepts that responsibility. For a young d-man, he is ahead of a lot of others because he can play on both sides of the puck.”

Provorov rattled Jaromir Jagr Tuesday when Florida was here (see story). Tonight he gets his first NHL taste of Connor McDavid.

McLellan said the Oilers' biggest challenge against the Flyers will be stopping the NHL’s second-ranked power play. Edmonton has the 11th best penalty kill.

His concern is Wayne Simmonds (8 power play goals) and Claude Giroux (14 power play points). 

“That power play is deadly and it really hasn’t changed — it’s just clicking,” McLellan said. “It has a couple trigger points. Obviously, Simmonds has the most goals in the league  and Giroux has the most points. But there’s other pieces to that power play, which are exceptional. 

“Our penalty kill has been taking it on the chin and I had to ask our guys today, 'Is it the penalty kill or the penalties?' In my opinion, it’s as much the penalties as the penalty kill. We have to stay out of the box.  

“This is a confident Flyers team. They feel very good in the offensive zone and make things happen. Their goaltender [Steve Mason] has been making saves for them that keeps them confident going the other way. It’s a team on the rise.”

The Streak
The Flyers are looking to make it seven straight wins tonight against the Oilers. The last time they won seven in arrow was Dec. 2-15 in 2011. They did not have a morning skate.

On Mason
Tuesday’s win against Florida was Steve Mason’s 88th as a Flyer, moving him past Pelle Lindbergh into sixth in franchise history. Mason needs six wins to move into third place in franchise history. 

Debut
Defenseman Dillon Simpson will make his Oilers debut tonight in Philadelphia. He is the son of former Oiler Craig Simpson. 

The oddity? Last year, Keegan Lowe made his Oilers' debut here in Philadelphia. He is the son of Kevin Lowe, longtime coach and front office executive for the Oilers. 

Colors
The Oilers wear three colors during their morning skate. Their defensemen dress in orange; their third and fourth lines dress in white and their top six skaters dress in blue. Now that’s an NHL hierarchy.