Instant Replay: Flyers 5, Islanders 2

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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.

Playing with 'swagger,' Gostisbehere flashes glimpse of rookie self vs. Canucks

Playing with 'swagger,' Gostisbehere flashes glimpse of rookie self vs. Canucks

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – The Flyers’ “Ghost” headed home Monday on a high note — for a change.

Defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere recorded three assists for the first three-point night of his NHL career Sunday as the Flyers edged the Vancouver Canucks 3-2 in the final game of a three-game Western Canada road trip (see story). In one night, he matched his offensive output of his previous 10 games played. 

He was a healthy scratch for three games in the meantime. On many other occasions, he has struggled while dealing with the NHL’s proverbial sophomore jinx following a standout rookie season. 

“It’s been a while coming,” Gostisbehere said. “It’s good to get some points, but I thought it was more important to get two points for our team.”

The win moved the Flyers (28-24-7) within a point of the eighth and final playoff spot, currently held by Toronto, in the Eastern Conference. With considerable thanks to Gostisbehere, the club’s much maligned power play scored on two of three man-advantage opportunities. 

“He played great,” Wayne Simmonds said of Gostisbehere. “He had his confidence and a little bit of swagger.”

Gostisbehere’s first assist enabled the Flyers to get off to a quick start offensively as Simmonds deflected in his point shot only 1:11 into the game. On the Flyers’ second goal, Gostisbehere head-manned the puck to Sean Couturier on a rush. Jakub Voracek easily put Couturier’s big rebound into a gaping net with Canucks goaltender Ryan Miller caught out of position.

One minute and 27 seconds later, Brayden Schenn took Gostisbehere’s pass and put in a shot from the slot. Altogether, Gostisbehere’s assists enabled the Flyers to build an insurmountable 3-0 lead in the game’s first 23 minutes.

“Ghost has had his ups and downs this year, but he's a heck of a player and has unbeliveable skill,” Simmonds said. “He can be a catalyst offensively for us, that’s for sure.”

Gostisbehere now has four goals and 18 assists on the season. Until Sunday, the 23-year-old had seemed like an apparition of his former self. 

He had a less-than-ideal recovery period from offseason hip (labrum) and abdominal surgeries, due to his participation with Team North America in the World Cup. Then he suffered a facial cut in the Flyers’ season opener and took a bruise on his right hand in December.

He also struggled defensively to the point where he was scratched — for the first time in his NHL career — in November and was later benched and pulled out of the lineup again. Heading into Sunday’s game, he had a woeful minus-22 mark, but he was only on the ice for one Canucks' goal.

He helped the Flyers shut out the Canucks in the first and third periods. 

“We don’t like how they came back, but we held the lead and, like I said, we got the two points,” Gostisbehere said.

Ghost’s offensive showing evoked memories of his seemingly other-worldly 2015-16 season. In 64 games last season, he notched 17 goals, the most by an NHL rookie defenseman since Dion Phaneuf, then with Calgary, who scored 20 over a full 82-game schedule in 2005-06. Gostisbehere also enjoyed a historic 15-game point streak in 2015-16, the longest ever for a first-year rearguard, and he was a runnerup for the league’s Rookie of the Year award.

His return to form Sunday bodes well as the Flyers face two Metropolitan Division rivals this week, first Washington at home on Wednesday and then the Penguins in Pittsburgh on Saturday in an outdoor game that will pack plenty of hype and pressure. 

After those games, the Flyers face a more compressed schedule than they have lately. The Feb.12-27 portion of their calendar contains only five games. But starting Feb. 28, they will play their final 21 games of the regular season over 41 days as they push to make the playoffs.

“We definitely know we’re a playoff team, for sure,” Gostisbehere said. “It shows. It’s a big test for us (this) week, playing these really good teams.”

Flyers, at this point, should sell a few valuable veterans ahead of deadline

Flyers, at this point, should sell a few valuable veterans ahead of deadline

Dave Hakstol’s Flyers returned home from Vancouver on Monday not quite resembling conquering heroes.

Sure, they salvaged two points from their three-game trek to Western Canada, but for a team that supposedly sees itself as a wild card, that just ain’t gonna get it done.

The Flyers required at least four points — ideally, five — from the trip to give us some proof they’re a legit contender for the wild card.

Right now, their wild-card hopes remain on life support.

Yes, they’re only two points behind Toronto. Thing is, the field of wild-card contenders have officially caught up and even passed them.

When the Flyers left for the trip, they were even in points with the Maple Leafs while holding down the 9-seed in the Eastern Conference. Toronto had the second wild card.

Hakstol's team is the 11-seed now. Toronto, Florida and the New York Islanders are ahead of them with games in hand.

This trip should offer enough evidence to general manager Ron Hextall that his team is still floundering.

There are no moves Hextall can initiate at the trade deadline that will guarantee a playoff spot without mortgaging the future.

Since their return from the All-Star break, the Flyers are 3-5-1. Those numbers don’t suggest they’re headed to the playoffs.

And even if the Flyers were to qualify as the second wild card, they would face a very early exit against the Washington Capitals.

Again.

At this point, with the March 1 NHL trade deadline staring Hextall in the face, he has to be a seller at the deadline.

If you trust Hextall’s long-term plan of patience, you understand that what this is about is preserving assets and preparing young players to be integrated into the system next year and the year after, and the year after that.

Mark Streit and Michael Del Zotto are two unrestricted free agents who could help someone else right now.

Streit has been strong this season on the power play, which is his forte. He’s the perfect deadline rental.

Even if Hextall would like to have Streit’s veteran leadership on the blue line next season on a one-year, low salary to “tutor” Robert Hagg or Sam Morin or Travis Sanheim, he could still move Streit now and re-sign him later this summer.

Del Zotto, at 26, will get a nice return in draft picks or a prospect. Del Zotto is going to want a big contract this summer (he’s making $3.87 million now).

There’s no incentive for Hextall to go that direction given the sheer number of young, outstanding defensive prospects in the system that will be arriving shortly, all of whom come with very low salary cap hits.

Don’t blame Hextall for not getting involved in the Matt Duchene/Gabriel Landeskog saga that is going on in Colorado. GM Joe Sakic is asking a lot.

Hextall seems reluctant to part with any future prospects or young players just to get the same in return.

Much of the fan base has been saying for a while now it’s time to move team captain Claude Giroux. He's in the midst of his fourth consecutive season in which his numbers have declined, and in some respects, dramatically from his two best seasons — 2011-12 (93 points) and 2013-14 (86 points).

Yet there is no indication from Hextall or anyone in the Flyers' organization that such is even being contemplated.

Or that the organization feels Giroux’s leadership abilities have been assumed by Wayne Simmonds, who is arguably the most popular Flyer, two years running now.

Hextall still sees veterans such as Giroux, who is only 29, as a player who would help the transition of younger pups coming along — Travis Konecny, German Rubtsov, Nick Cousins, Jordan Weal, etc. — and he also believes Giroux can recapture his offense.

In short, Hextall is not going to tear his roster apart nor is he going to make a blockbuster trade next Wednesday. But he will likely try to sell veteran assets that make the team younger in some way.

Which is the correct thinking for the Flyers now and right into this summer, as well.