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.

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).

End to End: What adjustment would you make on Flyers' defense?

End to End: What adjustment would you make on Flyers' defense?

Throughout the season, we'll ask questions about the Flyers to our resident hockey analysts and see what they have to say.

With the Flyers on their bye week, let’s discuss a few topics.

Going End to End this week are CSNPhilly.com producers/reporters Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone.

Today’s question: What adjustment would you make on the Flyers' defense?

Dougherty
There is not much in Dave Hakstol’s arsenal to significantly improve the team defense with a lineup change. Sure, scratching Andrew MacDonald could be a positive step, but that does not solve the problem here. We can point fingers at the defensive group because the Flyers have allowed the league’s second-most goals at 144. They’re part of the problem.

What is plaguing the Flyers is not just the play of their six defensemen on any given night; it’s their overall team defense. Some forwards are quitting on the backcheck, and not providing enough support in their own zone, missing their own assignments.

The Flyers, I believe, are struggling with the lack of practice time. And while it is true that every team is dealing with the same compact schedule as the Flyers, Hakstol has to maximize the little practice time he gets going forward and preach team defense. Gaps have been a major issue with the current group of blueliners, and that is an area assistant coach Gord Murphy has to fix. Hakstol has singled out the team’s rush defense as an issue, and that’s another area the team has to work on, too.

A lot of the same issues that were appearing in the beginning of the season when the Flyers were struggling are reappearing in their game now. They were able to make adjustments earlier in the season to hone their game defensively. More film study and more coaching are just a couple of the adjustments I’d make with the current options.

Hall
Sometimes it takes a fresh face, some new blood to spark change.

If anything, it sends a bit of a message.

The Flyers have options at AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley and general manager Ron Hextall didn’t rule anything out last Sunday.

But, of course, given the Flyers’ salary cap conundrum, it’s not as simple as just calling up a player.

So, the easiest thing that can be done is change within the current personnel. That means scratching MacDonald from time to time, just how Hakstol has done so with Shayne Gostisbehere, Brandon Manning, Michael Del Zotto, Radko Gudas and many Flyers forwards.

MacDonald hasn’t been as bad as some may think. Oftentimes, his mistakes are magnified more than others. But too frequently do we see him out of position or misreading a play on a goal against. And that’s been true for all Flyers defensemen, yet MacDonald seems to be one of the only spared of the consequences.

Benching MacDonald isn’t a drastic fix and it may not do much at all, but it’s something we haven’t seen since Nov. 19.

Paone
This a really tough question because, to be quite frank, there is no easy solution here to fixing a Flyers defense that has been mired in a state of miserable play and has played a large part in the team's allowing 3.50 goals per game in the 14 contests since the 10-game win streak ended in mid-December. 

It's not like Hakstol or Hextall can push some magic button here and have things fixed in a matter of moments. The Flyers have salary cap and roster issues, so it's going to be tough to bring in a player via trade to help fix things on the back end. Same goes for bringing up a prospect because space on the roster would have to be made first.

This situation leaves the Flyers to fix the problem from within with the defensemen they currently have at the NHL level. They're going to have to play their way out of this. And that's why I'm interested in focusing on the younger defensemen like Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov right now. We know what the veteran defensemen on this team are and they've been through this sort of thing before. This will not be the last team-wide rut the younger defensemen will play through in their careers. It will happen again. They're going to have to learn how to play through this and not let it affect their individual play. That's why I didn't agree with Ghost's benching in Boston last weekend.  Sure, he has not played well this season and the warts to his game have been evident. And there are times when sitting back, taking a breather and watching can be beneficial. But I'm a believer that a young player has to play through his growing pains and grow from them.

This isn't going to be an answer most of you will like to hear, but with the way the Flyers' hands are tied, they're just going to have to play their way out of these defensive struggles with what they have.