Flyers took control in 2nd period to down Avs

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Flyers took control in 2nd period to down Avs

The Flyers’ night didn’t start out very well.

Sean Couturier took a slashing penalty less than a minute after the opening faceoff. The Flyers struggled to break out of their own zone early on, and when they did, Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov seemed unbeatable.

For the first 20 minutes of Thursday’s 3-1 win (see story), the Flyers didn’t look like the team that so recently impressed in California. They looked more like the team that’s struggled to do much of anything at times, especially on home ice.

Fortunately, though, that lasted only through those first 20 minutes.

“We knew we didn’t bring our best game in the first period,” Michael Raffl said. “Everybody had to step up, and that’s what we did.”

Something changed when the Flyers hit the ice for the second period. They were able to fluidly move the puck out of their own zone, and they were finally able to put some pressure on Varlamov. They outshot the Avalanche, 17-8, in the middle stanza.

In short, they took control of the game.

“I think we came back to our game, getting pucks deep and getting a good forecheck going and trying to play in their end,” Couturier said. “That’s how we create offense and control the play. I think we came back to the basics.”

It paid off at 6:21 of the period, when Mark Streit scored on the power play after Avalanche center John Mitchell took a hooking penalty. Streit’s shot from the point changed direction and beat Varlamov, breaking the scoreless tie and giving the Flyers the 1-0 lead they carried into the final period.

“I don’t know what happened in the first period,” Streit said. “It’s a good team, they have some quick guys up front, and we were in our end a whole lot.

“But we recovered and came back strong in the second period and had some offensive time in the offensive zone, and got scoring chances. I mean, both goalies were really good tonight, but this is a big game for us.”

The Flyers were fortunate to be facing an Avalanche team that had played three games in four nights and was visibly fatigued. But even so, they did a very good job of keeping pace with their noticeably faster opponent in the second period -- especially compared to how they looked in the first period and late in the third, when the Avalanche pulled Varlamov in favor of an extra attacker.

“We wanted to match their speed and their intensity, and it took us a couple minutes,” Couturier said. “But after that, I thought we did a good job in matching their intensity and playing solid hockey.”

The Flyers’ goal after returning from California (where they went 2-1 against some of the NHL’s top teams) was to carry that momentum into their final two games before the Olympic break.

That’s exactly what they did through the second period against the Avalanche -- and exactly what they’re hoping to accomplish Saturday, when they host the Calgary Flames.

“We played more our style, the way we wanted, and we played more responsible in our system,” Claude Giroux said. “We were able to get a goal. We’ve got to play more like that.”

Claude Giroux's struggles mirroring Flyers' offensive issues

Claude Giroux's struggles mirroring Flyers' offensive issues

PITTSBURGH -- He was plus-1 with an assist.
 
No shots on goal and obviously, no goals.
 
Another day's useless energy spent by Flyers captain Claude Giroux, skating around the rink looking for the net and finding nothing but darkness.
 
He hasn't scored a goal in nine games, which is a major reason why the Flyers are 2-6-1 over that same span of time, including Saturday night's 4-2 loss to the Penguins at Heinz Field in the Stadium Series (see game recap).
 
Indoors, outdoors it makes no difference right now for Dave Hakstol's band of minstrels. As goes the captain, so go the Flyers, and it's rough sledding these days with the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference fast disappearing.
 
"Yeah, it’s frustrating," Giroux said this weekend. "You try to do the best you can do to help the team. Right now it’s not going in. I really believe we’re playing some good hockey, playing the right way and we’re going to get rewarded soon."
 
Asked whether he believed his own production is a mirrored reflection of the team he plays for, Giroux hedged.
 
"You try to play the right way, do what’s asked of you," he replied. "I've had a lot of chances, but at the end of the day, it has to go in. We’re done with excuses."
 
Thing is, Giroux really hasn’t had that many chances. Just 13 shots during this nine-game stretch. In four of those games, he had no shots at all.
 
Teammate Jakub Voracek says it’s going to come for Giroux. But when? Time is running out on the Flyers.
 
"He's always been a streaky player," Voracek said. "And not streaky that he's going to go on a tear for 10 games and then disappear for 10. He was streaky for 18 and then struggled for two, then he had another 20 games.
 
"It's only a matter of time. I think the last two games he played really well. For the guys who don't watch the hockey game, they look at the stat sheet and say, 'Oh, he didn't have any points.' But that's the way it is."
 
The Flyers used the word "desperation" before and after their outdoor loss to the Penguins. They played another pretty good overall game, but one thing stood out: they didn't make it difficult enough for Pens goalie Matt Murray in terms of traffic.
 
Pittsburgh's fourth goal was an example of what the Flyers couldn't do – screen out the goalie.
 
"I thought in the first couple periods we – not a whole lot, but I thought there were a few opportunities where we didn't make it difficult enough for [Murray] to find the puck," Hakstol said.
 
"But we had enough quality, no question. We did have good quality. Is it enough? Obviously tonight it wasn't. We didn't win the hockey game."
 
There were spurts where the Flyers carried the play, showed momentum, and then it died. When Shayne Gostisbehere made it a 3-2 affair early in the third, the Flyers needed to seize the moment. They didn't get the equalizer.
 
Eight minutes later, the Penguins scored from the point off a lost faceoff draw between Evgeni Malkin and Sean Couturier. Michal Neuvirth didn't see the puck soon enough. On Matt Cullen's wraparound goal that made it 3-1, Neuvirth was unaware.
 
Neuvirth wasn't very good in this game.
 
"There's no question they had two or three spurts where they carried some momentum for short periods of time, but I thought overall through the 60 minutes, our group did a good job and played the type of game that we wanted to play," Hakstol said.
 
Giroux was asked this weekend how much pressure he is putting on himself right now to salvage the Flyers' fading playoff hopes.
 
"It’s tough not to put a lot of pressure on yourself when it’s not going the right way," Giroux said. "At the end of the day, you have to take a step back and know what you’re playing for.
 
"I’ve been playing since I was three years old and I love the game so much, just try to go out and enjoy the game even if it’s not going your way. You have to find a way to love the game and play with passion."
 
You've seen the Flyers do that throughout all this losing – 3-7-1 in their last 11 – but passion doesn't always result in goals. Voracek had a goal in this game. His second in three games.
 
The Flyers need a bunch of guys to get going simultaneously like last season when they made their playoff charge. Over the last 16 games (6-9-1), the Flyers have scored just 25 goals. That's a bad trend that needs to be reversed immediately.
 
"Obviously, we haven't been able to score a whole lot," Hakstol said. "There's been a lot made of that. And you know what, fairly so. I think that's fair.
 
"Yet tonight, I look at the opportunities at this time of year, the type of opportunities and the number of opportunities that we generated were pretty reasonable.
 
"We've got to stick with it. We've gone through a tough stretch here, and through that stretch we've played for the vast majority, we've played some pretty good hockey.  ... We've got to make sure that we completely stay together as we have, and we've got to keep pushing the envelope."
 
Hakstol was pleading his case.
 
Whether he wins it, is another story.

Brandon Manning to face hearing for hit on Penguins' Jake Guentzel

Brandon Manning to face hearing for hit on Penguins' Jake Guentzel

As if Saturday night's deflating loss to the Penguins at Heinz Field wasn't enough, the Flyers could be coming out of the defeat minus a defenseman in the lineup.

Brandon Manning will have a hearing with the NHL's Department of Player Safety on Monday morning for his hit on Pittsburgh forward Jake Guentzel during the second period of the Stadium Series game.

That means a suspension is looming.

Just over three minutes into the second stanza on Saturday, Guentzel tried to corral a bouncing puck as he exited the Penguins' zone. He did not see Manning, who flattened him with a huge hit.

While the hit did seem a bit late in real speed to the naked eye, no interference penalty was called and play continued. Manning did look to leave his feet to the deliver the hit and make contact with Guentzel's head, though, so both could work against him during the hearing.

Video of the hit in question can be seen above.

Guentzel was not injured on the play, stayed in the game and finished the evening with two assists.

Manning has a clean history as he has never been suspended in the NHL.

If Manning does get suspended by the league, Michael Del Zotto is likely to draw back into the Flyers' lineup Tuesday against visiting Colorado.

Del Zotto, who is a prime candidate to be moved before Wednesday's trade deadline, has sat out the past three games as a healthy scratch.