Instant Replay: Blackhawks 7, Flyers 2

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Instant Replay: Blackhawks 7, Flyers 2

BOX SCORE

CHICAGO -- Ray Emery’s homecoming at United Center was more a disaster than a coming out party.

He gave up four goals on the first 10 shots and, well, that pretty much set the tone Wednesday night during a 7-2 humiliating Flyers’ loss to the Blackhawks.

Instead of making up some ground on Metropolitan Division foes, the Flyers return home having lost ground in the standings, earning just five of a possible 12 points during their six-game road trip which ended 2-3-1.

Not good enough.

The Flyers wanted to know how they measure up to the league’s best team and defending Stanley Cup champions.

What they found out is they don’t come close to stacking up to the Blackhawks.

The Flyers held a 1-0 lead going into the second period, when the Hawks scored twice in the opening 1:22 to grab the game by the throat.

They had 1:34 remaining on a carryover power play and made use of it with Duncan Keith’s blast from the left point to tie the game at 43 seconds.

On the ensuing shift, Andrew Shaw embarrassed Andrej Meszaros, going behind the Flyers' net to play with the puck, moving left to right, swinging around and ripping a wraparound shot inside the far post for a 2-1 lead.

Flyers coach Craig Berube called timeout because those two goals awakened the sleeping 'Hawks and their raucous crowd.

Before the period was over, however, ex-Flyer Kris Versteeg scored shorthanded, while the Hawks collected five goals in the stanza for a rout.

Mileage
The Flyers changed time zones five times during this 12-day, six-game trip. They flew 5,629 miles but if a fan drove to the games, he or she would have covered 6,801 miles.

Trending
This one isn’t good. Flyers goalies have given up at least four goals in regulation now for three straight games.

Welcome back
During a first-period timeout, the Blackhawks had a salute to Ray Emery, who was a vital part of their Stanley Cup-winning team last season. Fans gave him a standing ovation.

Big meltdown
Chicago scored five times on just 11 shots in the second period. Pretty good shooting percentage, eh?

Patrick Kane
The NHL’s second-leading scorer coming in (40 points) had some quality chances. Emery stopped him point-blank early in the game off a nice setup from Versteeg.

Patrick Sharp
The ex-Flyer, who never should have been traded (Matt Ellison), lost a goal to Jonathan Toews but scored in the final period.

The goalies
Emery yielded six goals on 18 shots before being relieved by Steve Mason 1:05 into the third period with the score 6-2. Four of the goals on Emery came on plays inside the Flyers’ zone. Only one came off the rush.

Special teams
Chicago came in with the 28th-worst penalty kill in the NHL. That’s something the Flyers needed to exploit on the power play. Well, Jakub Voracek did in the first period with a shot in the slot off Keith for a 1-0 lead. Sean Couturier had a steal on the Flyers' second power play that set up a Steve Downie breakaway, but goalie Antti Raanta made a pad stop. Brayden Schenn scored a power-play goal out of a scrum in the second period. Versteeg had a shortie for Chicago.

Big saves
Raanta had two shorthanded saves in the third period. One on Schenn and the other on Michael Raffl. Both on the same Chicago power play.

Power plays
Chicago was 2 for 7. The Flyers were 2 for 5.

Scoring
The Blackhawks have scored at least six goals in three straight games.

Stupid penalties
Luke Schenn’s elbow and Jay Rosehill’s roughing in the third gave Chicago a five-on-three power play that the 'Hawks converted on.

Look closer
Hard to believe, Harry, that the No. 1 team in the Western Conference has such a poor penalty kill. Which goes to show that the 'Hawks are simply outscoring everyone else. And they are. They had 122 goals coming into the game -- far outdistancing their nearest rival, Anaheim (106). Also, the Blackhawks' power-play units were fourth in the NHL with 25 power-play goals.

Five or more
This was the 14th game the 'Hawks scored at least five goals.

Fights
Draw between Wayne Simmonds and Sheldon Brookbank in the first period.

Scratches
Forward Tye McGinn (ill) along with defensemen Hal Gill and Erik Gustafsson, both of whom were healthy.

Loose pucks
The Flyers will return home after the game to host Danny Briere and the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday. This is Briere’s first game back in South Philly since being bought out last summer. ... The Flyers are now 2-3-1 against the Central Division and a very poor 3-6-1 against the Western Conference.

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.