Instant Replay: Predators 4, Flyers 3 (SO)

uspresswire-predators-roman-josi.jpg

Instant Replay: Predators 4, Flyers 3 (SO)

BOX SCORE

If it were any other competitor who had registered a goal and two assists against the Flyers, it likely wouldn’t have hurt as much.

But in Thursday’s 4-3 shootout loss to the Nashville Predators, it was Shea Weber. Yes, that Shea Weber, who made the Flyers pay.

On display at the Wells Fargo Center for the first time since the Flyers attempted to acquire him, Weber demonstrated exactly why the Predators kept him dressed in yellow and blue.

And Thursday marked the first time the Flyers fell to the Predators at the Wells Fargo Center since 2006.

Of course, it wasn’t just Weber who dictated the game’s outcome. Despite a rather energetic start, the Flyers started to lose their grasp on the game as the first period wore on, and never seemed to regain control -- even after tying it up in the closing seconds of the second period.

The Flyers did their best to fight back, but unlike in recent weeks, simply weren't able to claw their way to two points.

The strong start
As Matt Read said at Wednesday’s practice, the Flyers want to have the lead in games at least some of the time -- they can’t always be the Comeback Kids. Well, they started off strong against the Predators. Taking advantage of the time he was given, Andrej Meszaros took a shot that was batted home by Brayden Schenn just 1:26 after the first puck dropped to give the Flyers an early 1-0 lead. Ten minutes in, they led in shots, 8-4.

Giving too much
Giveaways were a problem, especially early. A Michael Raffl turnover led to the play that resulted in the Predators' first goal (an Eric Nystrom redirect that Steve Mason couldn’t do anything about). Another turnover led to the Flyers’ first penalty of the night, committed by Claude Giroux. That penalty became a five-on-three for the Preds when Kimmo Timonen joined Giroux in the box. (And the Flyers gave up another goal on that one, too). In the first period alone. The Flyers were credited with seven giveaways.

The turning point
As they know they need to, the Flyers hit the ice with energy Thursday night. They scored first and put plenty of early pressure on Predators goalie Carter Hutton. But things changed as the opening stanza went on. That aforementioned five-on-three, which resulted in the Predators’ go-ahead goal, hit the Flyers like a punch to the gut. They backed off and allowed the Predators to catch -- and then surpass -- them in shots.

The save of the year?
The Predators’ net was empty, as Hutton had mismanaged a wrap-around behind it. And Raffl was charging in on the net with the puck in his possession. But somehow … it didn’t go in. Hutton launched himself in front of the net and caught Raffl’s shot just in time.

And the Meszaros factor
Meszaros actually didn’t have a particularly strong night defensively. But he was creating pressure. He scored the goal that tied the game at 2 at the very end of the second period, and put in the bulk of the work that went into Schenn’s first period goal.

Downie’s return
Steve Downie returned to the Flyers’ lineup after spending the past two games as a healthy scratch. He played on the fourth line with Chris VandeVelde and Adam Hall, and finished the game with 10:38 of ice time.

Nashville finally does it
Nashville's win was its first shootout win of the season. The Predators were 0-5 and had scored just once in shootouts this season.

That’s it?
Thursday’s game was just the 17th time -- total -- the Flyers and Predators have met. Coincidentally, 17 is also the number of trades that have occurred between the two teams since the Predators entered the NHL in 1998.

Best of NHL: Surging Capitals rock Blues in St. Louis

Best of NHL: Surging Capitals rock Blues in St. Louis

ST. LOUIS -- Andre Burakovsky, T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov each had a goal and an assist to lead the Washington Capitals to a 7-3 victory over the St. Louis Blues on Thursday night.

Jay beagle, Brett Connolly, Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams also scored, and Alex Ovechkin and Daniel Winnik each had two assists to help Washington earn at least a point in its 12th straight game (10-0-2) for an NHL-best 66 points.

Braden Holtby bounced back from his roughest outing of the season with 22 saves. Holtby was pulled after giving up a season-high five goals on 26 shots in an 8-7 overtime loss at Pittsburgh on Monday. He improved to 22-8-4 and 5-0 lifetime against St. Louis (see full recap).

Grabner scores 2 goals, Rangers top Leafs
TORONTO -- Michael Grabner scored two goals against his former team, helping the New York Rangers snap a three-game losing streak with a 5-2 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night.

Pavel Buchnevich, Brady Skjei and J.T. Miller added goals for New York, and Henrik Lundqvist made 23 saves following a series of rough outings.

Tyler Bozak and Zach Hyman scored for Toronto, which had a three-game winning streak stopped. The Maple Leafs had earned 21 of a possible 26 points in their previous 13 games (10-2-1). Frederik Andersen gave up four goals on 40 shots (see full recap).

Tavares leads Islanders to shutout of Stars
NEW YORK -- Getting a new coach this week didn't change things much for the Islanders -- and oddly enough, that's a good thing for New York.

John Tavares narrowly missed out on his second hat trick in a week, Thomas Greiss got his second straight shutout and the Islanders beat the Dallas Stars 3-0 on Thursday night in their first game since firing longtime coach Jack Capuano.

New York canned Capuano in the middle of his seventh season Tuesday, replacing him on an interim basis with Doug Weight (see full recap).

Niederreiter, Wild dodge letdown, edge Coyotes
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Nino Niederreiter had two power-play goals and an assist, including the go-ahead score for the Minnesota Wild with 7:06 remaining in a 4-3 victory over Arizona on Thursday night after the Coyotes came back from a two-goal deficit.

With Shane Doan in the penalty box for hooking, Niederreiter knocked in a nifty redirect of Mikael Granlund's slap shot for the winner. Devan Dubnyk stopped 20 shots for the Wild, who are 18-2-2 in their last 22 games.

Louis Domingue made 21 saves for the Coyotes, who lost their fourth in a row and fell to 2-12-1 in their last 15 games starting with a 4-1 loss to Minnesota in Arizona on Dec. 17 (see full recap).

End to End: What adjustment would you make on Flyers' defense?

End to End: What adjustment would you make on Flyers' defense?

Throughout the season, we'll ask questions about the Flyers to our resident hockey analysts and see what they have to say.

With the Flyers on their bye week, let’s discuss a few topics.

Going End to End this week are CSNPhilly.com producers/reporters Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone.

Today’s question: What adjustment would you make on the Flyers' defense?

Dougherty
There is not much in Dave Hakstol’s arsenal to significantly improve the team defense with a lineup change. Sure, scratching Andrew MacDonald could be a positive step, but that does not solve the problem here. We can point fingers at the defensive group because the Flyers have allowed the league’s second-most goals at 144. They’re part of the problem.

What is plaguing the Flyers is not just the play of their six defensemen on any given night; it’s their overall team defense. Some forwards are quitting on the backcheck, and not providing enough support in their own zone, missing their own assignments.

The Flyers, I believe, are struggling with the lack of practice time. And while it is true that every team is dealing with the same compact schedule as the Flyers, Hakstol has to maximize the little practice time he gets going forward and preach team defense. Gaps have been a major issue with the current group of blueliners, and that is an area assistant coach Gord Murphy has to fix. Hakstol has singled out the team’s rush defense as an issue, and that’s another area the team has to work on, too.

A lot of the same issues that were appearing in the beginning of the season when the Flyers were struggling are reappearing in their game now. They were able to make adjustments earlier in the season to hone their game defensively. More film study and more coaching are just a couple of the adjustments I’d make with the current options.

Hall
Sometimes it takes a fresh face, some new blood to spark change.

If anything, it sends a bit of a message.

The Flyers have options at AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley and general manager Ron Hextall didn’t rule anything out last Sunday.

But, of course, given the Flyers’ salary cap conundrum, it’s not as simple as just calling up a player.

So, the easiest thing that can be done is change within the current personnel. That means scratching MacDonald from time to time, just how Hakstol has done so with Shayne Gostisbehere, Brandon Manning, Michael Del Zotto, Radko Gudas and many Flyers forwards.

MacDonald hasn’t been as bad as some may think. Oftentimes, his mistakes are magnified more than others. But too frequently do we see him out of position or misreading a play on a goal against. And that’s been true for all Flyers defensemen, yet MacDonald seems to be one of the only spared of the consequences.

Benching MacDonald isn’t a drastic fix and it may not do much at all, but it’s something we haven’t seen since Nov. 19.

Paone
This a really tough question because, to be quite frank, there is no easy solution here to fixing a Flyers defense that has been mired in a state of miserable play and has played a large part in the team's allowing 3.50 goals per game in the 14 contests since the 10-game win streak ended in mid-December. 

It's not like Hakstol or Hextall can push some magic button here and have things fixed in a matter of moments. The Flyers have salary cap and roster issues, so it's going to be tough to bring in a player via trade to help fix things on the back end. Same goes for bringing up a prospect because space on the roster would have to be made first.

This situation leaves the Flyers to fix the problem from within with the defensemen they currently have at the NHL level. They're going to have to play their way out of this. And that's why I'm interested in focusing on the younger defensemen like Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov right now. We know what the veteran defensemen on this team are and they've been through this sort of thing before. This will not be the last team-wide rut the younger defensemen will play through in their careers. It will happen again. They're going to have to learn how to play through this and not let it affect their individual play. That's why I didn't agree with Ghost's benching in Boston last weekend.  Sure, he has not played well this season and the warts to his game have been evident. And there are times when sitting back, taking a breather and watching can be beneficial. But I'm a believer that a young player has to play through his growing pains and grow from them.

This isn't going to be an answer most of you will like to hear, but with the way the Flyers' hands are tied, they're just going to have to play their way out of these defensive struggles with what they have.