Giroux, Voracek carry Flyers to win over Capitals

usa-claude-giroux-flyers-slideshow.jpg

Giroux, Voracek carry Flyers to win over Capitals

BOX SCORE

It should not have become a nail-biter.

Not with a 4-0 lead and everything going so well and the Flyers having played two of their best opening 40 minutes all season, allowing just eight shots.

But it happened.

Luckily, their top line bailed them out and Steve Downie gave them a much-needed empt-netter to secure the Flyers’ wild 6-4 victory over the Washington Capitals on Wednesday night at Wells Fargo Center (see Instant Replay).

“They didn’t play the way they wanted the first two periods and we were and that third period they became aggressive and sat back a bit,” said Flyers captain Claude Giroux.

“When we get a lead like that, we’ve got to keep it. The first two periods we were playing well and winning battles and we got away from it. We need to play 60 minutes.”

His line with Scott Hartnell and Jakub Voracek did yeoman’s work in the win with six points. Voracek and Giroux each had two goals.

Voracek’s second marker (18th overall), late in the game, gave the Flyers a 5-3 lead that would shrink again before Downie decided it with his empty-netter.

“They’re attacking and skating with speed,” said Flyers coach Craig Berube. “Making plays and working hard down low. Cycling the puck and competing. Power play, doing a good job.”

The victory kept the Flyers in second place in the Metro Division with 72 points -- two more than the third-place Rangers while dropping the Caps four points behind the pace.

Thing is, the Flyers made it look so easy, enjoying a 4-0 lead, chasing starting goalie Braden Holtby and even having an ‘ol fashioned brawl to get them going (see story).

So much early emotion may have distracted the Flyers from finishing the task as the Caps whittled down a 4-1 deficit in the third period thanks to the usual suspects -- bad penalties.

Did we mention the Flyers' usually adroit penalty-kill units gave up three power-play goals, as well?

“Penalties and a couple goofy goals,” Berube said. “Penalties. I haven’t looked at them yet or am sure if they were warranted, but it definitely gave them life.”

And nearly ruined all the good work early.

“It was good hockey. We were intense, we were quick, we were on things,” Berube said. “We had everybody going.”

Flyers goalie Steve Mason picked up his 26th victory but he looked like he was fighting the puck a bit in the third period when the Caps scored three goals.

“The first two periods we played some of the best hockey all season long,” Mason said. “Going into the third period, we stopped moving our feet, stopped playing the way we had been playing.

“They have offensive talent on that team and they can take advantage of sloppy play. That’s exactly what happened. We’re fortunate to come out of it with two points.”

The PK units had gone 6 for 6 against the Caps in the previous game but gave up three power-play goals in four chances on Wednesday.

“Couple bad breaks and any time you have [Alex] Ovechkin on the ice and try to focus on him, he can shoot the puck as well as anybody in the league,” Mason said. “They took advantage of it.”

Still, the Flyers survived, thanks to Giroux (two goals, 23 overall) and Voracek.

He and Voracek scored a combined seven goals against the Caps in this now completed home-and-home series, which includes Sunday’s 5-4 Flyers' overtime win in D.C.

This was the fifth time Giroux has had three or more points in a game. Over his last 11 games, he has nine goals and nine assists for 18 points. 

“When they are going, everybody follows,” Mason said of the top line. “We have to have that on a consistent basis moving forward because every game is so important.”

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.