Flyers undone by missed power-play chances

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Flyers undone by missed power-play chances

The Flyers looked good on the power play. Really good.

They had fans in the packed Wells Fargo Center on their feet Wednesday night at times during each of their seven power-play chances. There were pretty plays, lightning-fast shots -- everything you could ask for in a hockey game.

Except for the goals, though. There weren’t enough of those.

The Flyers were a disappointing 1 for 7 on the man advantage in their season opener, a sizable contributing factor to their 3-1 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs (see story). They looked strong and the effort was there, but it was all for nothing in the end.

“We’re doing the right things out there,” Claude Giroux said. “I had a couple of good shots, Hartsy (Scott Hartnell) had a one-timer in the slot and I think [Maple Leafs goalie Jonathan] Bernier got a glove on it, and Kimmo [Timonen] had a couple shots.

“The puck was going to the net. We had our chances, but we just couldn’t put it in.”

In total, the Flyers sent 13 shots in on net during the man advantage, but sent plenty more high or wide. Only Brayden Schenn was able to connect, with just seven seconds left on the clock in the first period.

It should have been a momentum changer.

“Definitely [frustrating],” said Vinny Lecavalier, who assisted Schenn’s goal. “I thought we moved the puck around pretty well. Both units had many chances. Grade-A chances, but couldn’t put it away.”

Last season, as you might recall, the Flyers actually excelled on the power play. They were third in the league and unstoppable at times. It was their even-strength play, then, that thwarted their postseason chances (they were actually successful on the kill, as well, ranked fifth in the league).

This year, though, they’re supposed to be even better on special teams. Two of the big offseason additions, Mark Streit and Lecavalier, were hyped not just as overall improvements but as power-play specialists, too.

Instead, the Flyers allowed far too many missed opportunities, which not only hurt them on the scoreboard but emotionally benefited the Maple Leafs.

“I really believe that when you kill a penalty, you get momentum,” Giroux said. “We had our chances. It’s frustrating because power play was clicking, ours and the other one. It’s frustrating, but you’ve got to stay positive. It’s only one game.”

Coach Peter Laviolette, actually, was positive when asked to reflect on his team’s power-play performance.

“I think the power play did a good job,” Laviolette said. “Both the units were able to get in and get the scoring opportunities and the looks they wanted. It would have been nice if one or two more could have fallen, but it didn’t happen.”

Of course, a lot of credit is due to Bernier, the Leafs’ goalie, who completely kept his team in the game, even through a stretch of 12:13 during which the Leafs failed to register a single shot. The Flyers sent 32 total shots in on him Wednesday night.

Had they been facing any other netminder, perhaps, there’d have been a much different outcome.

“He just battled and stopped the puck,” Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle said. “Any of the loose pucks that were around, he seemed to have the ability to scoop up with his trapper or his blocker. He grabbed pucks and when there were loose pucks around he didn’t get many of the second opportunities.”

The Flyers now have a couple days of practice before they travel to Montreal on Saturday to face the Canadiens. In preseason, they were good at identifying mistakes and working to correct them. It's not that their power-play was a "mistake" per se, but there’s no doubt that after the loss to the Leafs they know what they’ll have to work on.

“Sometimes you get caught in those games where you feel like you are out-chancing them,” Schenn said. “… We did create some chances there, and we just have to find a way to finish -- and finish teams when you are getting those chances."

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.

Best of NHL: Matt Murray, Penguins cruise past Habs

Best of NHL: Matt Murray, Penguins cruise past Habs

MONTREAL -- Eric Fehr and Jake Guentzel scored in the second period to lead the Pittsburgh Penguins past the Montreal Canadiens 4-1 on Wednesday night.

Defensemen Ian Cole and Olli Maatta also scored for Pittsburgh, which won its second game in a row after a three-game skid.

Sven Andrighetto scored for Montreal, which lost its second straight and has only two wins in its last six games. The Canadiens' offense remained in a rut coming off a 1-0 loss Monday in Detroit.

Penguins goalie Matt Murray was back in form after Monday's wild 8-7 win over Washington, making 19 saves. But Carey Price's woes continued as Pittsburgh outshot Montreal 26-20. Price allowed three or more goals for the eighth time in 10 games (see full recap).

Vanek, Nielsen lead Wings over Bruins
DETROIT -- Thomas Vanek and Frans Nielsen scored in a shootout, lifting the Detroit Red Wings to a comeback 6-5 win over the Boston Bruins on Wednesday night.

The Red Wings rallied from 3-0 and 4-1 deficits in the first period, and with 3:04 remaining in regulation, Gustav Nyquist scored to pull them into a tie.

In the shootout, Tuukka Rask and Petr Mrazek stopped the first shots they faced before Vanek scored for the Red Wings and Brad Marchand countered with a goal for the Bruins. Nielsen, who like Vanek joined the team last summer as a free agent, scored on the team's third attempt and Vatrano missed the net with a chance to extend the 1-on-1 duels.

The Bruins were dominant early before blowing a chance to keep Detroit at a distance in the Atlantic Division standings (see full recap).

Burns, Pavelski push Sharks past Kings
LOS ANGELES -- Brent Burns, Joe Pavelski and Tommy Wingels scored in the San Jose Sharks' seventh win at Staples Center in their last eight trips, 3-2 over the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday night.

Joe Thornton had two assists and Martin Jones made 22 saves for the defending Western Conference champion Sharks, who wrapped up their regular-season series against their biggest rivals with three victories in five games.

After Burns scored his 19th goal in the opening minutes, San Jose hung on through a scoreless third period to continue its recent domination in downtown Los Angeles, including three victories in last season's first-round playoff series.

Tanner Pearson and Marian Gaborik scored for the Kings, who ended a seven-game homestand with four defeats (see full recap).

McDavid scores in OT, Oilers edge Panthers
EDMONTON, Alberta -- Connor McDavid scored the winning goal in overtime as the Edmonton Oilers won their fourth game in a row, 4-3 over the Florida Panthers on Wednesday night.

McDavid, who also had two assists in the game, got a breakaway late in overtime and got the puck away with 2.6 seconds left. Florida's James Reimer made the glove save, but the puck was ruled to be across the line via video review.

Zack Kassian, Mark Letestu and Jordan Eberle also scored for the Oilers, who have their longest winning streak since December 2015.

Vincent Trocheck, Michael Sgarbossa and Greg McKegg had goals for the Panthers, who have lost two straight (see full recap).