Flyers 'turn the corner' in win over Penguins

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Flyers 'turn the corner' in win over Penguins

BOX SCORE

PITTSBURGH -- On Saturday, the Flyers proved they could actually score goals. On Tuesday, they showed their doubters that they could score and play solid defense.

And on Wednesday night at the CONSOL Energy Center, when the Flyers fought out a close 2-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins (see Instant Replay), they confirmed that those previous two games weren’t flukes.

Have they finally turned that metaphorical corner?

“Yeah,” Ray Emery said. “I think the last couple weeks, the boys scored more goals, had a great night in Ottawa [Tuesday], and a tough back-to-back against one of our rivals and a really good team in Pittsburgh. Getting a good road win, they’re all steps in the right direction.”

If ever there was a way to make a statement, holding the Metropolitan Division-leading Penguins to a single goal in their home arena was it. For the Flyers, it was a complete team, complete game performance; they were sharp on offense, clean on defense and very impressive in net.

The Flyers’ effort wasn’t a perfect one, however. They started out slowly, but pushed past it. They never backed down or got sloppy as the game progressed -- two issues that have plagued them for most of this young season.

“More than anything, I like the fact that we grinded the win out,” coach Craig Berube said. “We played the night before, and did a lot of little things right, getting the puck out, getting it in deep. It’s just another game, boys. Got a long way to go.”

The Flyers’ second line of Vinny Lecavalier, Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn shined in Wednesday’s victory, with Schenn netting both of the Flyers’ goals and Simmonds’ hard work standing out the entire night.

Though Sidney Crosby did score the Pens’ lone goal, Sean Couturier, when matched up against him, did a thorough job at keeping him quiet. Couturier, as he earned his stripes doing in the 2012 playoffs, also did a good job of getting under Evgeni Malkin’s skin.

The Flyers are still under .500, at 7-10-1, and they’re still lingering around the NHL’s basement in power-play production and scoring as a whole. But after Wednesday, their third consecutive victory, they’re starting to really believe they can get their season back on track.

“We’re working on it right now, trying to put some wins together,” Schenn said. “We’re playing some sound defensive hockey, waiting for opportunities to score, and right now we’re scoring when they’re there. Got to keep on it, keep going and finish off the road trip strong in Winnipeg.”

If Schenn was all the Flyers needed, offensively, to eke out their victory, it was Emery who came to the rescue defensively. The Flyers’ netminder stopped 30 of the 31 shots he faced, and as impressive as that number looks, it was even moreso -- the saves he did make were often very, very good ones.

Though some fans were clamoring for Steve Mason to get the start, Emery’s success didn’t come at all as a surprise to his coach.

“Ray’s been good all year,” Berube said. “Got a shutout in Jersey, played another good game at home against Jersey, we didn’t get him any support that night. Tonight, I thought he was great, especially early on in the game. He shut the door there and gave us an opportunity to win. He’s a winner. Always has been.”

The Flyers finish up their road trip Friday in Winnipeg. As pleased as they are to have won three games in a row for the first time all year -- and to finally reach .500 under Berube’s rule -- sweeping their road trip would prove they’re even closer to righting their proverbial ship.

At least, it would to those of us who watch. To the coach, there’s no such thing as a true turning point.

“I think it’s a work in progress all the time, I really do,” Berube said. “You can’t take a break. You’ve got to keep on ‘em. It’s my job to keep on ‘em. It’s my job to keep teaching. It’s my job to make sure they’re focused. It’s a constant job all the time.

“You got to keep working on it and keep practicing and keep talking about it.”

Flyers look to limit goals against, improve 5-on-5 play in second half

Flyers look to limit goals against, improve 5-on-5 play in second half

VOORHEES, N.J. — As bad as things have been for the Flyers — just three wins in their last 14 games — there was no massive shakeup during their mandatory five-day bye week.
 
General manager Ron Hextall didn’t make a trade, nor did he make any roster moves involving a call-up from the Phantoms.
 
Coach Dave Hakstol took one day off, then got back to watching video and live games, almost in a scout mode.
 
When the players hit the ice Friday afternoon at Skate Zone, Hakstol’s lineup was pretty much the same.
 
The only change saw Matt Read re-enter the lineup on the top line with Claude Giroux and Michael Raffl after missing two games with a skate cut.
 
The lines and defensive pairs remained the same. Goalie Michal Neuvirth will start Saturday against New Jersey at the Wells Fargo Center.
 
“For me, the biggest thing is our overall performance,” Hakstol said. “Coming out of a break, that may be a tough thing to do — to put it all together. But I think the energy will be there both mentally and physically. That’s important. The overall performance.
 
“The results are important on a different level when you start looking at the playoff picture and the race. At the end of the day, two points are going to be important, as well.”
 
The Flyers begin anew (see story) with back-to-back games against New Jersey here on Saturday and then the Islanders on Sunday in Brooklyn.
 
They will play four Eastern Conference opponents between Saturday and next Thursday before they begin the three-day All-Star break.
 
Three of these games are against Metropolitan Division opponents while the fourth is against Toronto. The Maple Leafs happen to hold the second wild-card spot that the Flyers previously had going into the bye week.
 
“Guys realize the situation we are in,” Brayden Schenn said. “We know the circumstances. The break came at a good time, mentally ... guys know what we’re coming into there with the back-to-backs.
 
“You were kind of scoreboard watching. We know where we’re at. We’re in a dogfight battle with teams for those wild-card spots. There’s a lot of hockey left. It’s no secret. Everyone pays attention where we’re at.”
 
Hakstol said after his one-day off, he went right back to work in evaluating where this team is. That the team remains intact without any kind of moves seems to send a message to the players.
 
That message is: it’s on you at this point. Don’t count on getting help from the outside. It has to come from within the current roster.
 
“Anything we’ve talked about is us as a group doing things we do well,” Hakstol said. “We’ve had a rough couple weeks where we haven’t been able to do the things we need to and want to consistently.
 
“I’m very confident in this group and this team. For us, what the players said is true. It was a real good time to have a mental and physical break. Now it’s time to get back to work.”
 
What has to improve right from the get-go is the Flyers' 5-on-5 play. Forget for a moment they have scored 75 goals and are 13th in the NHL averaging 2.76 goals a game.
 
The critical factor is 5-on-5 goals against. The Flyers have allowed 98 goals in that situation — only Colorado (100 GA) has allowed more. The Flyers' 3.13 goals-against number is 28th worst in the league.
 
Unless those numbers improve significantly, the Flyers won’t be in the playoffs.
 
“We have to stay within our system,” defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere said. “We give up too many odd-man rushes. Especially in those final games before the break. That’s a big thing.
 
“When we’re giving up that many, it’s not going to be in our favor. It’s not fair to judge our goalies in those games because we didn’t give them too much help out there.”
 
Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, who plays on a checking line, said the 5-on-5 goals against is a telling stat.
 
“You have it right there,” he said. “You don’t have to say much more than that. You cannot be a consistently good team in the league if you are that low in goals against. It’s something we have to all work together at, as players.”
 
Hakstol said the Flyers enjoyed success 5-on-5 when they were winning because their team play was “consistent” game to game.
 
That hasn’t been the case during this 3-8-3 stretch.
 
“Our 5-on-5 game hasn’t necessarily regressed, but the consistency of it has,” Hakstol said. “That’s when you see the holes defensively. That’s when you see some of the problems you run into.
 
“We’ve got to get back to it. Back to a full 60 minutes of good 5-on-5 play. That’s up to each and every one of us, taking that responsibility and making the push to do that.”

In different spot after bye week, Flyers ready for playoff push with 'new perspective'

In different spot after bye week, Flyers ready for playoff push with 'new perspective'

VOORHEES, N.J. — When we last left the Flyers on Sunday evening, they were picking up pieces of themselves all over the ice at the Verizon Center after a 5-0 beatdown by the Washington Capitals.

They have had to stew over that defeat all through their five-day NHL mandated bye week, which ended Friday afternoon when they reported to Skate Zone for a rare 4 p.m. practice (see story).

They’ll host the New Jersey Devils on Saturday night.

“You go into the break thinking about [hockey], but the whole point of it is to refresh mentally,” said Wayne Simmonds, who got engaged. “I didn’t drive myself crazy over it. This a little stretch here before the final playoff drive.”

When Claude Giroux became engaged in late November, the Flyers won eight straight as part of their 10-game streak.

“So to replicate that, we need everyone in here to get engaged,” Simmonds said. “We've got a lot of work to do. We know that. We got off to a good start compared to the past and then we faltered.

“We know we've got to be better. We all have to be accountable to each other. We’re not starting from scratch, but we need a new perspective here. Come out of the gate and do it the right way, again.”

A lot has happened since the loss in Washington. The Flyers remain fifth in the Metropolitan Division, but the layoff has seen them plummet to ninth overall in the Eastern Conference.

None of that, however, is as important as this: the Flyers no longer hold the second wild card. Toronto has it now with the same number of points as the Flyers — 50.

Difference is, the Maple Leafs also have two games in hand on Dave Hakstol’s club. Worse, the Carolina Hurricanes are snapping at the Flyers' skates with 49 points and they have three games in hand.

All of this is entirely the Flyers' fault as they’ve gone 3-8-3 since their 10-game win streak ended.

Yet they remain in striking distance of the wild card, although they are 11 points out of third, which is an automatic playoff spot.

They are fortunate they’re not farther behind in the wild-card standings.

“For sure, over those days there ... our division did lose a little bit,” Brayden Schenn said. “It’s going to happen. But at the end of the day, if we don’t win hockey games, it’s not going to matter what the other team will do.”

After Saturday’s game against the Devils, the Flyers head to Brooklyn for a Sunday night encounter with the Islanders. Sit five days, then play a back-to-back. Ah, the joys of the NHL schedule this season.

“We know we lost all that ground we gained with the 10-game winning streak,” said Jakub Voracek, who shaved off the beard he’s had for a year and a half during the break. “We are right there in a playoff spot. Now we keep pushing.

“We have 36 games left. We go game by game. I don’t remember how many points out we were last year with the playoffs, but we’re in a better position now.”

Last year after 46 games, the Flyers had 48 points, but were seven points out of a wild-card playoff spot. They have two more points now but are in better wild-card shape.

They know they have to get themselves going quickly but the harsh reality is, they seldom play well coming out of a four or five-day break.

Most of the players went away during the break and didn’t think about hockey. They said they wanted to come back refreshed with a new attitude and clean slate. It starts Saturday.

“We have to stop overthinking things,” Voracek said. “When we were winning, we just kept going. When you are losing, you begin to overthink things.

“You’re a half step slower thinking whether you should go or not. That’s our problem. We have to refocus. Everyone is excited to be back. Get back to work. Push this team to the playoffs.”