Holmgren hopes Flyers hit rock bottom in rout

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Holmgren hopes Flyers hit rock bottom in rout

BOX SCORE

It got so bad, general manager Paul Holmgren left his suite high atop the Wells Fargo Center after the second period to address the Flyers himself.

At that point, they were trailing 6-0 to the Alexander Ovechkin-less Washington Capitals, on their way to an eventual 7-0 thrashing (see Instant Replay).

Friday night was the worst the Flyers have looked in a season defined so far by its ugly hockey -- and the GM’s attempt to wake up his team after 40 minutes wasn’t able to accomplish a thing. 

Is this rock bottom?

“I hope so,” Holmgren said.

To add injury to insult, the Flyers lost two key players to fights Friday night. Vinny Lecavalier has a facial injury and will miss at least Saturday’s game. Steve Downie was taken to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania after the game. He will be out indefinitely with a concussion, resulting from a second-period fight with Caps winger Aaron Volpatti.

“It’s embarrassing to play in front of our fans and lose 7-0 like that,” Claude Giroux said. “It’s unacceptable. We need to figure it out.”

The thing is, the Flyers actually started the game with some jump. They had early pressure on Capitals goalie Braden Holtby, and held the Caps without a shot for the first 15 minutes.

But once they allowed center Nicklas Backstrom to score -- on just the team’s second shot of the night -- everything crumbled. The Flyers stopped skating. They committed turnover after turnover. They could barely carry the puck past the red line. 

“The second period was pretty rough,” Holmgren said. “I thought we played pretty good for 15 minutes, and once they scored the first goal, we kind of just stopped playing. I think we just seem like we’re afraid to play the game right now, and we’re afraid to make plays, afraid to battle for pucks, afraid to skate after pucks.

“It’s tough to watch. I’m sure the players are very embarrassed like we all are. We’ve got to do better than that.”

The Flyers, obviously, are frustrated. The coaches are frustrated. The general manager himself is, too.

But no one has taken the Flyers’ rough start harder than the fans. To that end, before the second period had even come to a conclusion, “Fire Holmgren” chants rang out loud enough for the GM to hear. When the horn sounded to kick off the second intermission, loud boos filled the Wells Fargo Center.

Holmgren understands where it’s coming from.

“I can’t blame the fans,” he said. “We’re as frustrated as they are. If I was sitting in the stands, I’m not sure I’d be chanting, but I might be thinking the same thing. It’s part of the business.”

After Joel Ward had registered a hat trick, after Backstrom’s two goals and the tallies from Troy Brouwer and Jason Chimera, things truly deteriorated.

It started with a fight between Wayne Simmonds and Tom Wilson. Suddenly, Ray Emery was skating across the ice to take out his frustrations on Holtby, who wanted nothing to do with the fight. A complete line brawl ensued, resulting in 114 penalty minutes.

The time during the fights was the only time Friday the crowd at the Wells Fargo Center rose to its feet and cheered.

“Frustration shows sometimes that way,” Emery said. “We all grew up playing hockey, and sometimes that happens -- you don’t want anyone to get hurt, but we don’t take losses like that.”

Emery was kicked out of the game after his fight, and very well might receive a suspension for his actions. Steve Mason, who had been pulled after allowing the game’s third goal, went back in. He actually played well ‘til the final horn, too.

Where do they go from here? Where can they go from here?

“We go play a game tomorrow,” head coach Craig Berube said, referencing Saturday’s game in Newark against the Devils.

“Pick yourself up and go play. That’s it. Everybody’s been involved in these games before, they’re not fun obviously, but we can’t sit there and dwell on it, you’ve got to go play a game tomorrow. We’ll go compete tomorrow, work hard. That’s what you do.”

Flyers free-agent goalie fits: Antti Niemi

Flyers free-agent goalie fits: Antti Niemi

Each day this week until July 1, the day free agency begins, Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone will profile the five best goalie options for the Flyers on the open market and project their likelihood of signing.

Antti Niemi
Age: 33
Height: 6-2
Weight: 215
Last team: Dallas Stars
2016-17 cap hit: $4.5 million

Scouting report
Niemi signed with the Blackhawks as an undrafted free agent in 2008 and played three games for Chicago in 2008-09. He broke training camp with the Blackhawks in 2009-10 and eventually took over as the team's No. 1 goalie by the end of the season and for the playoffs.

The Vantaa, Finland, native started 22 games in the postseason and helped the Blackhawks to a Stanley Cup win over the Flyers in 2010, though his numbers in the Final weren't pretty. In six games against the Flyers, he posted an .882 save percentage. Overall, Niemi had a 2.63 goals-against average and .910 save percentage in the 2010 playoffs.

After winning the Cup with Chicago, Niemi filed for arbitration but the Blackhawks didn't want to pay the $2.75 million he was awarded and walked away. He signed a one-year deal with the San Jose Sharks, where he ended up spending the next five seasons.

In those five seasons, Niemi compiled a .917 save percentage and 2.40 goals-against average along with 25 shutouts. In the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, Niemi was 24-12-6 with a 2.16 GAA, .924 save percentage and four shutouts. He was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy, which Sergei Bobrovsky won.

San Jose traded Niemi's rights to the Dallas Stars at the 2015 draft. Dallas signed Niemi to a three-year, $13.5 million contract to pair with Kari Lehtonen. In 2015-16, Niemi posted a 2.67 GAA with a .905 save percentage. He was 25-13-7 and was the backup in the playoffs.

Last season was a disaster in net for the Stars. Both Lehtonen and Niemi struggled, and Dallas missed the playoffs. Niemi had an NHL-worst 3.30 goals-against average and his .892 save percentage was the second worst in the league to Michal Neuvirth (.891).

Dallas acquired Ben Bishop this offseason and then placed Niemi on waivers with the intention to buy out his final year. The Stars will carry a $1.5 million cap hit over the next two seasons while Niemi is an unrestricted free agent.

Dougherty's projection
Niemi is the worst possible option on the market for the Flyers. Going into next season with the two worst goalies from last season based off save percentage would be a major slap in the face of Steve Mason. With that said, I do think he's an option, unfortunately. 

With Ryan Miller reportedly likely to sign in Anaheim, Mike Condon staying in Ottawa, Chad Johnson likely going back to Buffalo, the free-agent goalie market is filling up quickly. There appear to be three teams in the market for either a starter or tandem goalie.

The Flyers are one of them. Winnipeg and Vancouver are the other two. The three best options on the market are Mason, Jonathan Bernier and Brian Elliott. But that doesn't necessarily mean the Flyers view it the same or that any of those three will sign here.

So, it's fair to examine Niemi as a potential fit, albeit not a good one. Let's keep it simple.

Positive: He's cost effective. Since the Stars are still paying him and with his numbers from last season, it's hard to imagine a team handing out a lot of money for him.

Negative: Well, he's not very good. The Flyers may be better off calling Ilya Bryzgalov than signing Niemi. This is a hard pass from me.

Hall's projection
This shouldn't happen for the Flyers.

Niemi turns 34 years old in August and his goals-against average has ballooned each of the past five seasons, with the 2016-17 campaign being his most futile, as his 3.30 GAA was worst in the NHL among netminders with 25 or more games played.

Like Tom said above, Niemi would not take much out of the Flyers' pockets. Maybe the Flyers can get him on a strict one-year insurance policy for dirt cheap — still, extremely unlikely. The Flyers want some quality here, too, not just a bargain.

The Flyers will do their due diligence. Provided the goalie market, Niemi should be evaluated but not seriously considered. The Finn looks in decline and Dallas couldn't get anything in exchange for his services and contract before buying him out.

Paone's projection
The Flyers should be steering way clear of Niemi here.

It’s easy to see why the Stars, a team that was in desperate need of goaltending help before they landed Bishop, decided to cut ties with Niemi last week with a buyout and were willing to eat his cap hit that came with it. Niemi had the chance to take the reins on a star-studded Dallas team and responded by playing like a sieve last season. The numbers Tom and Jordan mentioned above are the proof you need. 

Sure, Niemi would come to Philadelphia on a bargain and that no doubt is a fact that would catch the eyes of Hextall and the Flyers’ brass. And they should do their due diligence on Niemi, as they should with every goaltender on the market. They’d be doing a disservice to the team if they didn’t closely examine any goalie on the market.

But a goaltender on the clear decline isn’t one of the criteria on the Flyers’ checklist here.

And that decline has been steady for Niemi. His goals against average has consistently risen from 2.16 in 2012-13 to that gaudy 3.30 mark last season. And his save percentage has steadily dipped from .924 in 2012-13 to an ugly .892 last year. There’s a reason San Jose decided to move on two offseasons ago and then give up an asset like a precious first-round pick for Martin Jones to shore up their net.

Think about it this way: Isn’t the point of signing and investing in a free agent to make an improvement over what you had last season? 

Would a Niemi-Neuvirth tandem be an improvement over a Mason-Neuvirth tandem? Nope.

NHL Notes: Blues lose Patrik Berglund until December after shoulder surgery

NHL Notes: Blues lose Patrik Berglund until December after shoulder surgery

ST. LOUIS -- Blues center Patrik Berglund is expected to be out until December after having surgery to repair a dislocated left shoulder.

The Blues say Berglund was injured during an offseason conditioning program in Sweden and flew to St. Louis for Tuesday's procedure. The team called it a successful surgery.

The 29-year-old Berglund scored a career-high 23 goals and finished with 34 points in 2016-17, adding four assists in 11 playoff games.

Berglund has spent his entire nine-year NHL career with the Blues, scoring 296 points in 637 regular-season games.

St. Louis fell to Nashville in the second round of the playoffs last season.

Red Wings: Worker dies after fall from new arena
DETROIT -- A worker has died after falling 75 feet (23 meters) at the Little Caesars Arena worksite north of downtown Detroit.

Deputy Detroit Fire Commissioner David Fornell says the 46-year-old man was in cardiac arrest when paramedics arrived about 8 a.m. Wednesday.

Other workers had started cardiopulmonary resuscitation which first responders continued. The man was taken to a Detroit hospital where he was pronounced dead.

Fornell says officials were told the man was an electrical worker and may have fallen from a catwalk. He says the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration likely will investigate.

The arena will be home to the NHL's Detroit Red Wings and the NBA's Pistons. It is scheduled to open this fall.