Hartnell, Lecavalier suffer injuries in Flyers' loss

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Hartnell, Lecavalier suffer injuries in Flyers' loss

BOX SCORE

Updated: 11:45 p.m.

As if things could not possibly get any worse for the Flyers -- who are struggling for goals, wins and consistency throughout a game -- they lost two key forwards on Friday night.

Scott Hartnell, who might have been the best conditioned forward on the team, and Vinny Lecavalier, who was among the very few players with some points, both were injured during a 2-1 loss to the Phoenix Coyotes at the Wells Fargo Center.

Hartnell (upper body) and Lecavalier (lower body) will each miss at least a week and undergo MRIs on Saturday, general manager Paul Holmgren said. At least one player will be recalled from the Phantoms.

“They’re huge for our team,” Flyer captain Claude Giroux said.

Meanwhile, the Flyers have just six goals through five games.

“We’re not desperate enough around the net for me,” Flyers coach Craig Berube said. “We don’t have enough traffic at the net to get second and third opportunities. We need to get some greasy goals.”

Giroux, who remains without a point this season, needed time to compose himself before meeting the media late.

“It’s time for guys to step up, myself also,” he said. “I know we have our chances, but at the end of the day, we’ve just got to put the puck in the net. It doesn’t have to be pretty.

“It’s definitely frustrating -- the chances are there. We're going to the net, we're creating our own chances and when things like that happen, you gain confidence and build from there.”

The absences of Hartnell and Lecavalier didn’t help matters, but you can pin the loss entirely -- yet again -- on the Flyers killing themselves with penalties. We’ll get to that shortly.

Hartnell was injured with 6:55 left in the first period and did not return. He skated to the bench hunched over in pain. Lecavalier went down in the second period.

“We don’t know their status right now, but it’s obviously two great offensive guys, two big parts of our team, so it’s tough to try to do a comeback without these two guys,” Max Talbot said.

Berube talked about better discipline from his players. He might want to start with Zac Rinaldo.

Rinaldo’s setup of the lone goal was completely negated by four penalties, including a needless crosscheck to the back of Paul Bissonnette in the third period that saw the Coyotes' winger flatten goalie Steve Mason in the net.

Mason, who has been the club’s best goalie so far, had to be attended to by trainer Jim McCrossin, yet remained in the game.

“It happened a couple times in Carolina, as well," Mason said of the penalties. "Our guys are battling, but we can’t be taking penalties like that.”

It’s happened three times in the regular season.

Rinaldo had a daily double in this one with bad penalties. After the Flyers had tied the game late in the second period, 1-1, he took a needless high-sticking call and Phoenix burned the Flyers with a power-play goal to take the lead.

“It’s a dumb penalty,” Berube said. “It's a fine line with [Rinaldo]. You can't cross it, and he did.”

The Coyotes defeated Detroit on Thursday night in Motown, so the Flyers caught them in the second half of a back-to-back situation.

Despite a strong opening period in which the Flyers had the better scoring chances on goalie Thomas Greiss, outplayed and outshot Phoenix, they still trailed 1-0 when it was over.

And it was a fortunate goal, too, by the Coyotes as Derek Morris' shot from the right point got lost in a scrum at the net long enough for Rob Klinkhammer to slip it under Mason at 2:41.

“It hit Luke [Schenn] in front there and I’m not sure if it dropped down between my legs or something like that, but I didn’t see it,” Mason said.

At that point, the Flyers already had a couple of scoring chances from Lecavalier’s line. They would also get a penalty shot opportunity from Adam Hall after he was hauled down shorthanded by defenseman Michael Stone.

Alas, Hall, who is anything but Giroux with the puck, tried to get too fancy on his penalty shot attempt and flubbed the puck under Greiss, though it nearly trickled into the net.

Lecavalier and Brayden Schenn created another chance off the rush, but Greiss was again up to the task later in the period. Through two periods, they had four shots combined.

The most important aspect was two terrific penalty kills involving Giroux. When a player is struggling to score, sometimes his defense inspires him to raise his offensive game, and the Flyers certainly hope that is the case with Giroux.

The Flyers continued to be stymied by Greiss in the second period and went 0 for 4 in the game on the power(less) play.

What hurts here is the chances were there, like an easy rebound for Wayne Simmonds in the crease that he should have buried but fired it wide.

“I thought we had enough opportunities to score,” Holmgren said. “We’re just fighting it right now. We are obviously having a difficult time and you know we had some good opportunities as Wayne Simmonds had that open net on the power play -- I think it was a power play. Good enough opportunities to win the game.”

Nonetheless, the Flyers tied it with their third ugly goal in two games. This time, Rinaldo, who had a fight in the first period, got a puck in the high slot and simply wheeled around and fired.

Rinaldo’s scud missile was nowhere near the net, but it was on target to hit Talbot’s skate and redirect laterally across the crease on Greiss, tying the game at 1-1.

Of course, Rinaldo ruined things immediately with his high-sticking penalty in the final 26 seconds of the period.

On Phoenix’s ensuing power play, Oliver Ekman-Larsson made a spectacular move right around Talbot atop the right circle, then ripped a shot off the top of Mason’s right glove hand into the net.

Instead of being tied going into the third, the Coyotes led 2-1. Given the Flyers' scoring woes, it was enough.

“It’s a tight game,” Talbot said. “Phoenix plays really tight hockey and they came in and played well. They played solid defensively, and we worked hard, we did some good things, but it’s a process and we have to keep building.”

NHL Notes: Islanders fire head coach Jack Capuano

NHL Notes: Islanders fire head coach Jack Capuano

The struggling New York Islanders fired coach Jack Capuano on Tuesday, ending his tenure in the middle of its seventh season.

General manager Garth Snow named assistant GM/coach Doug Weight as Capuano's interim replacement. Snow told reporters Tuesday that the Islanders weren't where they wanted to be in the standings and that everyone's disappointed in their performance his season.

"At the end of the day organizationally I don't think Jack was probably going to be a coach that we were going to bring back," Snow said, adding that the team will begin a full-time coaching search now.

Snow said the halfway point of the season played a role in the timing of firing Capuano a day after beating the Boston Bruins 4-0. The Islanders were 17-17-8 and are in last place in the Eastern Conference with 42 points (see full story).

Predators: Hunt claimed, Fiala sent to AHL
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Nashville Predators have claimed defenseman Brad Hunt off waivers from the St. Louis Blues.

In other moves announced Tuesday, the Predators assigned forward Kevin Fiala to their American Hockey League affiliate in Milwaukee and have placed defenseman Petter Granberg on injured reserve.

Hunt had one goal and four assists in nine games for St. Louis this season. He has appeared in a total of 30 NHL games over parts of four seasons with the Edmonton Oilers and St. Louis. He has two career goals and six assists.

Fiala has six goals and three assists in 32 games for Nashville this season.

Granberg has played in 10 games for the Predators and has 10 penalty minutes.

Difficult to see now, but remember: Flyers’ window just starting to open

Difficult to see now, but remember: Flyers’ window just starting to open

They can’t win away from the Wells Fargo Center. They’ve seen a nine-point cushion in the wild-card standings vanish and when they resume play on Saturday, they’ll be out of the playoff picture.

The Flyers are who we thought they were. A fringe playoff team lacking in too many areas to be considered a serious contender, despite the overachievement of last season.

When the Flyers entered their bye week, they sat one point ahead of Carolina for the final wild-card spot and two points ahead of Florida and Ottawa. They are 3-8-3 in 14 games since their 10-game winning streak was snapped and were blown out in back-to-back games in Boston and Washington by a combined score of 11-3.

Yet, they’re still on the brink of the postseason — for now. Perhaps it’s time for a trade from the front office to send a shockwave through the locker room? Not so fast.

“If we can make our team better, we will,” Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said last week at Flyers Skate Zone in Voorhees, New Jersey. “But we’re staying on course.

“I don’t care if we win every game the rest of the year or lose every game, we’re staying on course. We set out on a course two and a half years ago — we’re not deviating from what we planned. I’m not going to make a trade to send a message.”

It’s easy to get carried away in win streaks and unexpected playoff appearances, especially in Philadelphia, where the four major sports teams are rebuilding. It’s even easier to scream for a team to go for it when it shows a glimpse into its full potential.

That is what makes sports fun. It’s what makes for good sports debate programs and entertaining talking heads. But it’s not how organizations should run their operations.

It’s certainly not how Hextall runs his regime with the Flyers. Hextall has a clear vision, and time and time again has shown no signs of expediting his plan for immediate help. He has made it a purpose to build through the draft. We have to remember that and realize that the Flyers’ front office is playing the long game here, not the short game.

“Right now, we’re gonna stick with what we’ve got here and move forward,” Hextall said Sunday in Washington. “But on a day-to-day basis, I always look at how we can make our club better, and if there’s something that we think makes our club better, we’ll do it.

“The worst thing you can do is overreact when things aren’t going right and that’s not gonna happen. But if we can find a way to make ourselves better, we will.”

Let’s take a step back and make some sense of the Flyers’ current state. They are seventh in the Eastern Conference with 50 points as of Tuesday morning. They are 8-12-3 on the road, with nine straight defeats away from South Philadelphia. They are a top-10 scoring team, with 127 goals, but have allowed a league-high 144 goals against.

Steve Mason’s confidence is completely shook. Michal Neuvirth hasn’t been much better, if at all. Claude Giroux hasn’t scored a goal in 11 games and has just one marker in his last 17 games. (To be fair, he does have seven assists in his last eight games.)

Shayne Gostisbehere has been a healthy scratch twice this season, with his latest coming last Saturday in Boston. He’s struggled with his gap defense, among other areas, and is enduring growing pains in his second NHL season — as expected.

While the Flyers’ defense has scored 102 points, second most in the NHL, it struggles with gaps, turnovers and has too many breakdowns. Ivan Provorov, 20, has been the lone bright spot among the group of eight defensemen.

Head coach Dave Hakstol has juggled his lines and defensive pairs in attempts to find something that works. Some of the moves have worked, others have not. Questioning some of Hakstol’s lineup decisions is fair, but there’s no question his systems work.

There is only so much Hakstol can do with what he has to work with. Part of the blame can be placed on Hextall because this team, as currently constructed, is not there yet. It is, however, unfair to put every decision Hakstol makes under a microscope.

“Hak has tried a lot of things,” Hextall said. “In the end, it’s a group and we win together, we lose together. We have to react as a group better when something doesn’t go our way. That’s bottom line. … Line changes, different D combinations, flipping Mase, Neuvy. Everything that’s there, Hak has tried. In the end it comes down to our whole group just being better and not reacting the way we do when something negative happens.”

One of the reasons Hextall opted to hire Hakstol, who came directly from college with no prior NHL coaching experience, is development. Growth takes time, and there is rhyme or reason behind each Hakstol benching, whether we see it or not.

The Flyers’ play the last few weeks has been dumbfounding because a lot of the same mistakes that plagued the team in the beginning of the season — lax team defensive coverage, bad decisions with the puck, letting opponents enter the zone too easily, among others — are reappearing, and that’s a fair criticism of the current coaching staff.

But, when we put things in perspective, there are positives. Provorov has proven he’s the real deal, and he just turned 20 last Friday. Travis Konecny is here, and while he’s been the victim of a Hakstol benching, he’s shown glimpses of what’s to come. Jakub Voracek (41 points) has bounced back, Wayne Simmonds is an All-Star and has added penalty kill to his résumé. Brayden Schenn leads the NHL in power-play goals with 11, though his 5-on-5 scoring could improve. And there’s a lot of upside in the farm system, with the potential of seeing an influx of kids joining the Flyers as early as next season. 

“The window is actually starting to open, the way I see it,” Hextall said last week. “The kids we have on our team. The kids we have coming. There’s things happening here that are good. We’re going to get better here. We’re not going to get worse.”

And Hextall is right — the window is just opening and will only open wider. Patience remains key here, and don’t just trust the process with the Flyers. Enjoy the course.