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.

Flyers returning from World Cup enjoyed playoff-like atmosphere

Flyers returning from World Cup enjoyed playoff-like atmosphere

VOORHEES, N.J. – It’s as if the season began right where it left off for the handful of Flyers players that participated in the World Cup of Hockey. 

Five months removed from their first round series with Washington, the group that played in the international tournament says it was nearly identical to the tempo they saw in the NHL playoffs.

“Our division was really tight so right from the get-go you couldn’t afford to lose a game,” said Sean Couturier, who suited up for North America. “It definitely felt like playoffs, and it definitely didn’t feel like September.”

Couturier was joined by his World Cup teammate Shayne Gostisbehere, along with Team Czech Republic’s Jake Voracek and Michael Neuvirth, in their return to Voorhees for their first practice with the Flyers on Monday. Team Canada’s Claude Giroux and the Team Europe duo of Mark Streit and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare will be competing in the finals this week.

While it may have been an early exit for the first wave of Flyers who reported back, the experience of playing in a tournament with that high of intensity has left them more confident than they’ve ever felt at this time of the year, particularly for Gostisbehere. 

The Calder Trophy runner-up underwent offseason hip surgery following his 46-point season. Having missed a season two years ago because of a torn ACL, Gostisbehere is thankful for how much the World Cup prepared him for his second year. He says he feels better now than he ever has in his career after picking up four assists in the tournament.

“You don’t play in those games in September normally so it was pretty cool to do,” Gostisbehere said. “I think the tournament was a good stepping stone for me and to branch off my injury and give yourself the confidence that you’re feeling good for the year.”

Like Couturier and Gostisbehere, Voracek said the World Cup gameplay mirrored that of the NHL postseason. 

“When I look at the season for the Flyers, it was the best thing that could have happened for me,” Voracek said. “The World Cup was high level… I’m six games in before training camp even starts.”

After what he calls a “good offseason” of training, Voracek saw this opportunity as almost a saving grace – a chance to regain form before embarking on his sixth season in Philadelphia. The winger had one goal and one assist in three games that “felt like I was playing in the playoffs.”

Had this tournament occurred in 2015, the mindset coming back may have been different. Dave Hakstol was coaching his first professional season and as evidenced by their record to start the year and the comments made throughout, things took a little longer than expected when it came to picking up the new coach’s system.

That process is behind the Flyers, and it makes missing the first weekend of camp and possibly the first week of preseason games an easier obstacle to overcome.

“It’s always better when you know the system and what Hak wants in you,” Voracek said. “It’s obviously going to get better and better.”

The best-of-three World Cup finals will begin on Tuesday with the third game (if needed) commencing on Saturday. If the teams go the full distance, the remaining three Flyers involved would likely not play their first preseason game until Oct. 6 if not Oct. 8, the final exhibition game. 

Pressure is on Flyers' fourth-liner Chris VandeVelde to fend off competition

Pressure is on Flyers' fourth-liner Chris VandeVelde to fend off competition

VOORHEES, N.J. — Even before Flyers training camp opened, Ron Hextall talked about a plenitude of internal competition for jobs.
 
It’s all over the ice, too.

Who starts in goal: Steve Mason or Michal Neuvirth, who came on strong at the end of last season? 
 
Does Ivan Provorov win a spot on the roster? And if he does, who gets sent packing?
 
Between Scott Laughton and Nick Cousins, who gets the lion's share of ice time? 
 
Can Travis Konecny or Roman Lyubimov force a veteran forward off the team?
 
Then there’s free-agent signee Boyd Gordon, a PK specialist who was second only to Claude Giroux in the league last season on winning defensive zone draws. More competition.
 
Well, one of the key battles in training camp for both roster space and minutes concerns how veteran fourth-liner Chris VandeVelde handles the competition from Lyubimov — the 24-year-old Russian who plays a heavy game and can handle special teams — and others.
 
VandeVelde saw a bit of an offensive drop-off last season with 14 points. Though just a point fewer than the year before, the bigger dip was going from nine goals to two.
 
With no real goal-scoring additions in the offseason, Hextall is expecting bigger outputs from returning players.
 
In VandeVelde’s case, two goals is something Lyubimov could easily match or exceed.
 
“You have to go out there and give it your all,” VandeVelde said. “Hopefully, work hard and kind of make an impression. There’s a lot of guys fighting for a fair amount of spots. It’s going to be interesting.
 
“I think I’ve felt pressure every year. Obviously, you want to make an impression and get noticed out there. Reassure [them] I can still do the job and add a few things to my offensive game.”
 
And his self-evaluation?
 
“I think I was solid,” he replied. “As a fourth line, we were very good at times. Individually, I can add a little more and chip in a little more.”
 
VandeVelde is not scheduled to play in either of Monday’s split-squad games in New Jersey or Brooklyn.
 
At stake here isn’t just his job on the fourth line but the penalty kill, as well. VandeVelde’s 2:17 shorthanded ice time per game was second only to linemate Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (2:35) among the forwards.
 
The 6-foot-2, 207-pound Lyubimov has played on the penalty kill in the KHL, and Gordon is a PK specialist. What was VandeVelde’s edge is now something up for grabs, especially given both Hextall and coach Dave Hakstol have vowed there will be improvement on the PK, which ranked 20th last season after being among the bottom 10 much of the year.
 
Hakstol has said he intends to tweak the PK with some structural changes. That sounds like personnel changes and Gordon could be a guy on the fourth unit and will certainly be in the mix on the penalty kill.
 
How to make the kill better remains at large.
 
“We have to start a little more aggressively,” VandeVelde said. “Kind of like we finished the last couple games there against Washington [in the playoffs]. We kind of got burnt there, 6-1 [in Game 3]. We switched styles a little too late.”
 
The Flyers gave up five power-play goals in Game 3 to the Caps.
 
VandeVelde admits his penalty kill experience gives him a bit of an edge going into camp.
 
“If I can bring that extra edge and solidify a role, that is huge,” he said.
 
VandeVelde returned to his home in Moorhead, Minnesota, over the summer to focus on his skating, hoping to get a more explosive start on the ice that he could utilize better during the penalty kill.
 
One thing seems certain: VandeVelde says there’s a greater comfort level for returning players as to what to expect from Hakstol. Also, whereas last year’s camp was one of implementing systems, this year’s camp is one of expanding on them.
 
“Everyone knows what to expect,” VandeVelde said. “So do all three coaches. They are going to tweak some things, whether it's penalty kill or power play or other systems. We’ll learn that. That is what preseason is for. All the players know what to expect and are ready to go.”
 
VandeVelde said he’s already been informed what the team expects from him this season. The competition could push him in that direction.
 
“I know what they want,” he said. “Obviously, I can do more offensively and want to chip in a little more as a fourth line and as an individual. Maybe just work on that.”