Instant Replay: Flyers 5, Islanders 2

ap-flyers_isles.jpg

Instant Replay: Flyers 5, Islanders 2

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK — Call it the “scratch game.”

Sunday night’s regular-season finale between the Flyers and New York Islanders at the Barclays Center featured a contest neither team cared much for, evident by the combined 18 healthy scratches.
 
The Flyers won the game, 5-2, to finish 41-27-14, an improvement of eight wins and 12 points from last season.
 
On Saturday, Dave Hakstol’s club clinched the Eastern Conference’s second wild card and No. 8 playoff seed, rendering Game 82 essentially meaningless for the orange and black.
 
With 12 scratches, the Islanders (45-27-10) lost and secured the East’s top wild card, avoiding the NHL’s hottest team in the Penguins for the first round of the postseason. Instead, they’ll face the Panthers, who won the Atlantic Division.
 
Thanks to the Islanders’ throwing in the towel, the Rangers finished in third place of the Metropolitan Division and draw Pittsburgh in the opening round.
 
The Flyers-Islanders game was a makeup from the Jan. 23 postponement forced by Winter Storm Jonas.
 
Michael Raffl recorded a three-point game (one goal, two assists), while Brayden Schenn (two assists), Scott Laughton (one goal, one assist) and Evgeny Medvedev (one goal, one assist) all registered two points apiece.
 
The Flyers went 3-1-1 against the Islanders in five regular-season meetings.
 
Notable goals
The Flyers overcame a 2-0 deficit on goals by Shayne Gostisbehere, Medvedev and Raffl.
 
Laughton and R.J. Umberger added insurance with third-period goals.
 
Gostisbehere got it all started for the Flyers, lacing home a wrist shot for a power-play marker at 11:15 of the first.
 
Gostisbehere finished the regular season leading all rookie defensemen in goals (17), assists (29) and points (46).
 
Playing in just his second game since March 5, Medvedev tallied a power-play marker on a deflection with eight seconds left in the first.
 
Raffl then scored the game-winner 6:38 into the second with a snap shot off a nice find from Laughton.
 
Goalie report
Michal Neuvirth started in net for his first game action since March 16, as he was out until April 7 recovering from a lower-body injury.
 
Neuvirth was hardly tested by the Islanders. He allowed a pair of goals in the game’s opening 9:19 and needed to make just 15 saves for the win.
 
Islanders goalie Thomas Greiss played just the first period and surrendered two goals. Christopher Gibson played the final two stanzas and stopped 15 shots.
 
Power play
The Flyers went 3 for 4; the Islanders 0 for 4.
 
Penalty kill
The Flyers killed off all four Islanders power plays, while New York went 1 for 4 on the PK.
 
Scratches
Forwards Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds and Sean Couturier, defenseman Mark Streit and goalies Steve Mason and Alex Lyon all sat as healthy scratches.
 
As a result, forwards Jordan Weal, Umberger and Laughton and defenseman Medvedev were inserted into the lineup, while goalie Ray Emery dressed and backed up Neuvirth.
 
For the Islanders, they scratched: Forwards John Tavares, Mikhail Grabovski, Anders Lee, Kyle Okposo, Frans Nielsen and Casey Cizikas, defensemen Nick Leddy, Travis Hamonic, Brian Strait and Johnny Boychuk, and goalies Jaroslav Halak and Jean-Francois Berube.

Next up
The 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs, which begin Wednesday.

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 on the current coaching staff.

But, when we put things in perspective, there are positives. Provorov has proven he’s the real deal before he 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 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 on 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 trust the process with the Flyers. Just enjoy the course.

Best of NHL: Penguins halt Capitals 9-game streak with wild 8-7 OT win

Best of NHL: Penguins halt Capitals 9-game streak with wild 8-7 OT win

PITTSBURGH -- Conor Sheary scored 34 seconds into overtime and the Pittsburgh Penguins ended the Washington Capitals' nine-game winning streak with a wild 8-7 victory Monday night that included nine second-period goals.

Sheary had two goals and an assist for the Penguins, who snapped a three-game losing streak. Evgeni Malkin picked up his 11th career hat trick during a frenetic second period, and Sidney Crosby collected his NHL-leading 27th goal to go with two assists. Bryan Rust and Nick Bonino also scored for Pittsburgh, and Matt Murray got the win despite allowing seven goals on 28 shots.

The Penguins trailed 3-0 before scoring six goals in less than 11 minutes in the second period, more goals than the Capitals had allowed in a game all season. Pittsburgh led 6-5 after 40 minutes.

Lars Eller scored twice for Washington, and T.J. Oshie, Brett Connolly, Nicklas Backstrom, Justin Williams and Andre Burakovsky also found the net. Philipp Grubauer made eight saves after coming on in relief of Braden Holtby, who was pulled during Pittsburgh's second-period deluge (see full recap).

Eichel scores twice to give Sabres' 4-1 win over Stars
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Jack Eichel scored two goals and the Buffalo Sabres defeated the Dallas Stars 4-1 on Monday.

Tyler Ennis scored 19 seconds into the first period. Ennis returned after missing 30 games with a groin injury that required surgery.

Jake McCabe also had a goal and Robin Lehner made 31 saves after missing the past three games with an illness.

The Sabres snapped a two-game losing streak and beat the Stars for the first time in four matchups.

Radek Faksa scored for the Stars in the opener of a three-game road trip. Kari Lehtonen stopped 25 shots. Dallas has lost two in a row and six of eight (see full recap).

Bishop anchors Lightning to 2-1 win over Kings
LOS ANGELES -- Brian Boyle scored the go-ahead goal late in the second period, and the Tampa Bay Lightning opened a six-game road trip with a 2-1 victory over the Los Angeles Kings on Monday.

Ben Bishop made an early mistake that led to Kyle Clifford's goal for the Kings, but bounced back to make 31 saves in his second start back from a three-week absence with a lower-body injury.

Tyler Johnson scored in the first period for the Lightning, who won for just the second time in seven games.

Peter Budaj stopped 27 shots for the Kings.

Both teams played without stars due to illness. Kings captain Anze Kopitar missed his first game since Nov. 20, and All-Star defenseman Victor Hedman missed his first game of the season for Tampa Bay (see full recap).