Flyers 'turn the corner' in win over Penguins

usa-emeryschenn-slideshow.jpg

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.”

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.