Flyers suffer big letdown in loss to Panthers

slideshow-022113-flyers-bryzgalov-uspresswire.jpg

Flyers suffer big letdown in loss to Panthers

BOX SCORE

You sensed this would happen. Past history suggested it was a real possibility.

The Flyers had played an emotional, leave-it-all-on-the-ice game against the Pittsburgh Penguins. They won in the final 1:31 when every player was spent.

Return home to Wells Fargo Center for Thursday’s back end of a back-to-back against the struggling Florida Panthers.

And …

“We all knew it was going to be a challenge,” Mike Knuble said. “And quite frankly, in the first 5-6 minutes, it was obvious we weren’t up for it and it cost us the game.”

It wasn’t so much the Flyers weren’t skating. It was a series of turnovers and sloppy defensive play that killed them in the opening period of a 5-2 spanking.

“I don’t usually make excuses; I’m usually straight-forward,” Kimmo Timonen said. “You saw a tired Flyers team today.

“Coming back from six-game road trip and play a really hard-charged game yesterday, get back at 2 a.m. We were tired.”

Before the game, coach Peter Laviolette addressed the letdown scenario with his team.

“We talked about positive things as opposed to negative things,” Laviolette said. “It’s a big game for our team. We want to make this game mean something. It’s an opportunity to get back to a starting point.

“We’ve been sub par the entire season so far and I think the guys recognize that. It’s been a … very tough ride with regard to a lot of things. Tonight is a chance to get back and take a quick breath.”

So much was riding on this. The first of five straight home games against lesser Eastern Conference opponents when the Flyers could fatten up on points get themselves into playoff position.

They could have reached .500 with this one win.

Gone. They are now 4-8 in back-to-backs and 2-4 in the second game.

“It is what it is, the schedule and games last night was hard fought and we came back. You want to prepare and put yourselves in position to win a hockey game,” Laviolette said.

“It was an important game tonight. It was evident in the first 10 minutes we weren’t as sharp, weren’t as crisp at last night … We didn’t make a lot of mistakes but the ones we made were point blank.”

Ilya Bryzgalov was very mediocre, giving up four goals on just 15 shots. He was yanked for Brian Boucher in the second period.

Take away a couple turnovers and the Flyers trail 1-0 after the first intermission instead of 3-0.

“It’s a frustrating one, a tough one to lose after all the effort we put in yesterday, all the battling we did, everything we fought for yesterday,” Danny Briere said.

“To come out today and have a game like this, we talked about coming out strong and playing hard.

“It was mental mistakes that did us in. We were trying to play hard … It’s mental mistakes that cost us. The first three chances to score, they scored.”

Florida’s first two goals were 29 seconds apart. Peter Mueller, working hard to get open in the slot, measured Bryzgalov and beat him at 8:15.

On the next goal, the Flyers botched an attempted pass through the neutral zone and it was picked off by Mike Weaver, who quickly fed Tomas Kopecky for a snap wrister to make it 2-0.

Laviolette immediately called his timeout. That trick worked in Pittsburgh -- as it often does. Not this time.

Barely two minutes later, Luke Schenn’s point shot was blocked by Panther rookie Jonathan Huberdeau, who raced up the ice so quickly that Timonen had no choice but to haul him down.

Penalty shot. Good call.

You know how Bryzgalov handles shootouts. Penalty shots -- same thing. Huberdeau came down the slot slowly, turned his body to the right, then backhanded the puck through the five-hole. Easily.

It was 3-0 and the Flyers were cooked.

“I’ve seen this happen a million times in my life,” Timonen said. “You’re coming back from a road trip, the hardest game is the next home game. It proves it’s mentally tough. We had a bad sleep last night.

“When you are mentally tired, you are not 100 percent into the game. You make easy mental mistakes and usually those things end up in the back of your net.”

Harry Zolnierczyk nearly got one back near the end of the period. Early in the second period, Sean Couturier had a partial breakaway and slid a backhander wide of the open side. Could have been 3-2 “if” they score.

Before the second period ended, Huberdeau tipped one past Bryzgalov. He leads the Panthers with eight goals (five in five games). That brought Boucher into the game.

“He’s very skilled, very slick,” Briere said of Huberdeau. “Offensively, he’s a very dangerous players. Pretty impressive for his first year in the league. I thought he showed a lot of poise with the puck.”

The lone bright spot? Jakub Voracek picked up another goal late in the final period on a wrap around. He has seven goals and a team-high 19 points.

“We have to learn from this -- every game matters. We’re not 10-0,” Timonen said. “Every game matters and we’re fighting for a playoff spot. These games matter.”

Top NHL draft prospects Nolan Patrick, Nico Hischier get CHL awards

Top NHL draft prospects Nolan Patrick, Nico Hischier get CHL awards

Brandon center Nolan Patrick and Halifax center Nico Hischier, the projected top two picks in the 2017 NHL draft, on Saturday afternoon added some CHL hardware to their trophy case.

Patrick won the Sherwin-Williams Top Prospect Award, beating out Hischier and Windsor's Gabriel Vilardi, while Hischier edged Swift Current's Aleksi Heponiemi and Guelph's Ryan Merkley for the CCM Rookie of the Year Award.

Injuries forced Patrick to play just 33 games this season, but he still produced at a point-per-game pace for Brandon. He finished with 46 points (20 goals, 26 assists).

Hischier scored 38 goals and 86 points in 57 games with the Mooseheads, his first season in the QMJHL after coming over from Switzerland.

The Flyers have the No. 2 overall pick. If the draft goes as projected, the Flyers will come away with either Patrick or Hischier, whoever the New Jersey Devils do not pick.

The 2017 NHL draft is June 23-24 in Chicago.

Missing history
Flyers prospect Carter Hart had a chance to become the first goalie in CHL history to win the Vaughn CHL Goaltender of the Year Award twice, but this year's award went elsewhere.

Owen Sound goalie Michael McNiven on Saturday afternoon took home the 2016-17 CHL Goaltender of the Year Award. McNiven was 41-9-4 for the Attack this season. He posted a 2.30 goals-against average and .915 save percentage with six shutouts.

McNiven led the Ontario Hockey League in save percentage, and his six shutouts were tied with Windsor's Michael DiPietro for the league lead. His 41 wins were tops in the OHL.

Hart, 18, posted a 32-11-6 record in 54 games with the Everett Silvertips in 2016-17. His 1.99 goals-against average, .927 save percentage and nine shutouts were all ranked No. 1 in the WHL.

Despite missing out on the CHL Goaltender of the Year Award this year, Hart previously did win the Del Wilson Memorial Trophy as the WHL's Goaltender of the Year for the second straight season. He was twice named the Vaughn CHL Goaltender of the Week and had a shutout streak of 193 minutes and 48 seconds during the regular season.

Hart was one of three second-round picks by the Flyers in the 2016 NHL draft.

End to End: Who will Flyers protect, lose in expansion draft?

End to End: Who will Flyers protect, lose in expansion draft?

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

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

The topic: The expansion draft, who to protect and best guesses at Vegas' selection.

Dougherty
We have and will continue to discuss in detail the entry draft, but we haven't talked much about the June 21 expansion draft. That's what we're doing today.

The expansion draft will affect the Flyers' plans this summer because they will be losing a player to Vegas, but the impact will be a minimum. They will not lose any core pieces.

How the expansion draft works: Teams have two options in protecting players. They can either protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie, or eight skaters and one goalie. The expectation is the Flyers will protect seven forwards, three D-men and a goalie.

There are six forwards and two defensemen who are obvious protections: Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek, Sean Couturier, Brayden Schenn, Valtteri Filppula, Shayne Gostisbehere and Radko Gudas. Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny are exempt.

Flyers general manager Ron Hextall will have decisions to make on who the seventh forward and third defenseman he protects. Then there is the goalie protection.

That leaves forwards Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Nick Cousins, Taylor Leier, Scott Laughton, Michael Raffl, Matt Read, Jordan Weal and Dale Weise; and defensemen Andrew MacDonald and Brandon Manning.

Losing any of those six forwards would not be major blows to the Flyers. Now on the blue line, it gets interesting. My prediction is that the Flyers will choose to protect Manning with the hope Vegas takes MacDonald's contract.

Probably isn't going to happen.

Of the goalies, I don't think Vegas will have any interest in Anthony Stolarz, especially since he tore his right MCL in April. So that should cut the question here. That would mean the Flyers protect Michal Neuvirth, whom they signed to a two-year extension.

So what is my best guess at who Vegas plucks from the Flyers?

I think it will be a toss-up between Laughton and Raffl. I suspect the Flyers will re-sign Weal before the draft and then protect him, or have a verbal understanding they'll sign him after the expansion draft. Both parties appeared interested in him coming back.

My pick? Let's go with Laughton, a former first-round pick who turns 23 on Tuesday.

Laughton hasn't panned out as the Flyers hoped. He spent last season in Lehigh Valley and both Leier and Weal earned call-ups over him. I think that is a telling sign here.

So I'm predicting Laughton going to Vegas, where a change of scenery helps him out and the Golden Knights get a young forward that can slot into a third- or fourth-line role and still has upside.

Hall
There's a lot to the expansion draft — tons of possibilities and things can still change before June 21 that could impact the Flyers' decisions.

Albeit unlikely, Steve Mason could re-sign, which would obviously affect the Flyers' protection plan at goalie. Assuming that doesn't happen, I think the Flyers protect Neuvirth, especially considering Stolarz's health is in question this offseason and he may not be the true goalie of the future. Stolarz is also a pending restricted free agent, so he'll have to receive his qualifying offer from the Flyers before the expansion draft.

Now, let's say the Flyers go with the seven-forward, three-defensemen approach.

The blueliners are pretty clear: Gostisbehere and Gudas will be protected, as it comes down to MacDonald and Manning. I feel the organization thinks a bit more of MacDonald and his versatility compared to Manning, whose two-year deal last summer was likely strategic on the Flyers' part in planning for this expansion draft.

As for the forwards, Giroux, Voracek, Simmonds, Schenn, Filppula and Couturier are staying put. I believe Weal will be re-signed and protected.

Ultimately, I could see Raffl being Vegas' choice. At 28 years old, he's not super young or inexperienced, but also not old by any means, and the winger can play all four lines because of a well-rounded game that complements different styles.

Raffl's injuries last season (abdominal, knee) may cause red flags. At the same time, the Golden Knights should be intrigued by the two seasons prior in which Raffl played all 82 games of 2015-16 (and was a plus-9) after scoring a career-high 21 goals in 2014-15.

A loss of Raffl wouldn't be ideal, but not as damaging given the Flyers appear to be gaining more depth and youth at forward.

Paone
June 21's expansion draft will be the biggest wild card of the NHL summer. And that's not just some corny pun because it involves an expansion team from Vegas.

It'll be the first piece of player movement during the offseason, coming before the entry draft and free agency. But since it will be the first piece of player movement of the offseason, it will help mold how the Flyers and the rest of the teams around the league approach their summers.

None of the Flyers' "big guns" will be on the move and my gut tells me the Flyers will be protecting Neuvirth as they want him to shoulder the starting load this coming season.

We don't know exactly what Vegas is looking for in the expansion draft because general manager George McPhee is keeping that close to the vest. But if I'm the Golden Knights' GM, youth is at the top of my wish list.

That leaves three Flyers to stick out in my mind — Weal (25), Cousins (turns 24 in June) and Laughton (turns 23 on Tuesday).

After the sparkplug Weal was down the stretch with eight goals and four assists in 23 games, the Flyers should reach a new deal with the UFA and keep him in Philadelphia.

That leaves Cousins and Laughton.

My instinct tells me Vegas will gamble (sorry, still getting used to this whole Vegas having a team thing) on Laughton, a former first-round pick.

There's a reason he was a first-rounder in 2012. The guy can play, even if he hasn't shown it consistently in Philadelphia. But remember he's been yanked back and forth between the AHL and NHL on numerous occasions and when he's been with the big club, he's either been in the press box as a scratch or been tossed back and forth between center and wing. That constant instability in both level and position can be detrimental to a young player. Vegas would give Laughton a fresh start, a fresh home and some fresh stability.

Plus, I know there are only so many protections to go around, but Cousins is a guy the Flyers should want to keep around. Just 16 points (six points, 10 assists) in 60 games isn't good enough offensively, but not many Flyers were great offensively last season. Everyone needs to be better there. But Cousins has that pest intangible that can be so effective, especially in the rugged Metropolitan Division, where basically every game is a rivalry game. It's a good quality to have.