Holmgren likes Flyers' roster, but changes are likely

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Holmgren likes Flyers' roster, but changes are likely

Paul Holmgren is fond of saying how much he “likes” his roster.

He’ll say it three or four times a season.
 
And then go out and make a couple of changes.
 
You can always “like” something else better out there. Given the Flyers' multitude of problems this season, it would be foolish to assume the roster will remain the same, regardless of how much he “likes” it.
 
It can’t.
 
To do so would only doom the franchise to another non-playoff season.
 
“We need a few changes on the back end,” one source said recently, referring to the Flyers' blue line.
 
The Flyers’ defense will change. Even Holmgren alluded to that.
 
“We’re always looking to get better on the back end,” he said of the blue line. He also mentioned getting “bigger,” which was interpreted to mean bigger up front, perhaps at center where the Flyers are a trifle small right now.
 
“I still like our team,” Holmgren said. “When we are healthy, we’re a good team. We had a lot of unhealthy players this year. I think we will be better next year. We will look around and makes ourselves better. Let’s see what we can come up with.”
 
Holmgren gave full support behind coach Peter Laviolette’s “attack” system even though the club’s five-on-five play was horrific until the final 15 games of the season.
 
“We didn’t perform to the level we needed to perform,” he said. “Not any individual or system. We just didn’t get the job done.”
 
Scoring off the rush was a problem the entire season at even strength (see story). The Flyers had just 83 goals playing five-on-five.
 
At times, the Flyers looked slow at even strength. By season’s end, however, they were just as quick, if not quicker, than the opposition despite a depleted lineup. No one really can figure out why that happened.
 
“There were times this year I would agree,” Holmgren said when told the club seemed slow at even strength.
 
“Other times, especially in the last little stretch, we looked faster than other times in the year. Some of that is understanding how we play defensively. There is a little bit of a catch-up.
 
“We had a tough time in our zone a lot this year. When you have tough time in your own zone, you don’t get the puck up into the forward’s hands. Maybe you don’t get opportunity to attack on the rush with speed.”

With the problems the club had on the back end and injuries up front, the defensive schemes attempted to slow things down to prevent goals off transition, and that affected five-on-five rushes.

The Flyers lost a ton of everything when they didn’t re-sign Jaromir Jagr. Not the least of which was someone trusted –- a future Hall of Famer –- who had a profound impact on their younger players. One reason for the sophomore slumps of Brayden Schenn and in particular, Sean Couturier, was not having Jagr around. Look what Jagr did for Jakub Voracek (see story).
 
“Probably not as good as they had hoped or we would [have hoped],” Holmgren said of both players’ slumps.
 
“We didn’t have Jagr, so why even talk about it. We didn’t have a chance to get him. Lots of guys didn’t have the years we wanted them to have or they wanted to have. That’s just the way it goes sometimes.”
 
Holmgren said he was very happy with the Flyers’ compete level at the end of the season and the almost instant transformation of Steve Mason as a competitive goalie again, one who should lend stability to what was a non-rotation this year with Ilya Bryzgalov being worked into the ground.
 
He also said that prospect Nick Cousins will need more seasoning to work on his defensive game and won’t be NHL-ready for a while.
 
Scott Laughton? He’s expected to challenge for a spot next fall.
 
“He dominated at his level, at times, and that is encouraging,” Holmgren said.

With increased workload, Steve Mason settling in as unquestioned No. 1 goalie

With increased workload, Steve Mason settling in as unquestioned No. 1 goalie

As Steve Mason has gone recently, the Flyers have gone right with him.

That theme held true in Tuesday’s 3-2 overtime win over the Florida Panthers, as the Flyers extended their winning streak to six games on the back of a 42-save performance from Mason.

For Mason, it was not only his fifth consecutive win, which equals a career high, but also the fifth straight game that he’s surrendered no more than two goals.

"Biggest thing is the saves we got, no doubt about that,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “I thought Mase, it was one of those nights where he was our best player."

"He's been amazing,” Jakub Voracek said. “He's had a lot of streaks like this through his career. Last five, six games, he's been outstanding. Last year he pushed us to the playoffs, he was outstanding. When he got traded here, he was outstanding. It's good to see him play like that."

"Mase was the difference tonight,” Wayne Simmonds said.

On a night where the Flyers’ overall play could be best described as sloppy, Mason was sharp from the opening puck drop.

Despite facing of barrage of shots early, Mason was locked in, stopping 14 of the whopping 15 shots he faced in the first period. The only blemish on his opening period record was a goal from the slot area off the stick of Aleksander Barkov, who beat Mason to his short side on a perfect cross-ice feed from Mark Pysyk.

After the Flyers rebounded with a cleaner second period to take a 2-1 lead, Mason was forced to stand on his head for the final 20 minutes of regulation. The Panthers dominated puck possession yet again in the third, outshooting the Flyers, 17-4, and tying the game at two with just under five minutes remaining.  

"It was a game where you had to come up with big saves,” Mason said. “We spent a lot of time in our own end. It was good to come up with two points, but I think we all understand we have to be better."

While Jussi Jokinen, who was unaccounted for on a Florida rush, tallied the equalizer late in the third period, the Flyers were lucky that wasn’t the go-ahead goal thanks to a highlight-reel save by Mason earlier in the period.

An Aaron Ekblad shot from the point hit a screened Mason in the shoulder and bounced right onto the stick of Jokinen, who went around Mason and shot the puck on an open net.

But Mason made a last-ditch effort and dove at the puck, just getting his glove on it to protect the Flyers’ lead and cap off a spectacular save

"The original shot came through cross body and hit me in the shoulder so I didn't pick that up initially through the screens,” Mason said “Went down to my right there and just made a desperation attempt to get anything on it and fortunately I was able to get the glove on it.

“They had their chances. We were able to come through when we had to. Simmer comes up with some key goals again. At the end of the day we have to be better. The first period we weren't good enough, the second was a little bit better, but then again in the third we have to be better overall."

Mason began the season as a part of a goalie tandem with Michal Neuvirth. Neither goalie got off to a hot enough start to put a claim on the position, but Mason was trusted into the No. 1 role after Nuevirth went down with a lower-body injury against the Wild on Nov. 12.

Through his first 10 games prior to Nuevirth’s injury, Mason was stopping just 87.4 percent of the shots fired his way, while allowing an average three goals per outing.

Since then, Mason’s made 11 of a possible 12 starts and his increase in workload has coincided with his turnaround, boasting a .929 save percentage since becoming the consistent starter. During his current five-game winning streak, the 28-year-old carries a .947 save percentage and a 1.80 goals against average. 

And Mason getting hot at the same time he’s back as the Flyers’ unquestioned starting goaltender isn’t any coincidence either.

"You do read things at a higher level and that's something that you always work for,” Mason said of the increased workload. “To be reading plays and kind of reading things before they happen. It all goes back to practicing and working hard. You work hard sometimes you get rewarded for it.
 
“I've said it numerous times, I want to be playing lots of hockey. This is a position that I'm used to being in and where I'm most comfortable. So just have to keep continuing to put my work in and whenever Hak calls my name be ready."

Best of NHL: Last-place Islanders take down rival Rangers

Best of NHL: Last-place Islanders take down rival Rangers

NEW YORK -- Andrew Ladd scored in the second period and Jaroslav Halak stopped 36 shots to lead the New York Islanders to a 4-2 victory over the crosstown-rival Rangers on Tuesday night.

John Tavares, Jason Chimera and Scott Mayfield also scored at the Barclays Center to help the last-place Islanders improve to 4-0-1 in their last five games.

Jimmy Vesey and Marc Staal scored for the Metropolitan Division-leading Rangers and Henrik Lundqvist finished with 28 saves. The Rangers have alternated wins and losses in regulation in their last eight games.

Halak beat Lundqvist for the ninth time in their last 10 matchups. Halak had won eight straight -- including the last five after joining the Islanders before the 2014-15 season -- before Lundqvist ended the streak in the Rangers' 5-3 win in the season opener Oct. 13 at Madison Square Garden. Lundqvist is now 1-6-1 in his last eight against the Islanders (see full recap).

Schwartz lifts Blues over Canadiens in OT
ST. LOUIS -- Jaden Schwartz got his second goal of the game in overtime, leading the St. Louis Blues to a 3-2 victory over the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday night.

Paul Stastny also scored for St. Louis, which has won four of five. The Blues rallied from a 2-0 deficit and have a point in their last 13 home games.

Tomas Plekanec and Paul Byron scored for Montreal, which completed a five-game trip 2-3.

Goalie Jake Allen made 28 saves to improve to 13-3-3.

Schwartz lifted a backhander past goalie Al Montoya with 1:22 left in overtime.

Stastny and Schwartz scored in a 2:51 span in the third period to tie it at 2 (see full recap).

Blackhawks blank Coyotes to snap modest skid
CHICAGO -- Marian Hossa had two goals, Scott Darling made 22 saves and the Chicago Blackhawks beat the Arizona Coyotes 4-0 on Tuesday night to snap a two-game slide.

Artem Anisimov and Dennis Rasmussen also scored to help Chicago maintain a three-point lead over St. Louis in the Central Division.

Darling made a handful of tough stops but wasn't heavily tested in his first shutout this season and third of his career. He started his third straight game in place of No. 1 goalie Corey Crawford, who had an appendectomy in Philadelphia on Saturday.

The 37-year-old Hossa scored his team-leading 13th and 14th goals in his 27th game -- surpassing his total of 13 last season in 64 contests (see full recap).