Leaky defense costs Flyers in loss to Blue Jackets

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Leaky defense costs Flyers in loss to Blue Jackets

BOX SCORE

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The Flyers have sprung leaks.

The Blue Jackets beat the Flyers 5-2 in Nationwide Arena on Thursday night (see Instant Replay). It was the Jackets’ eighth consecutive victory. It was the Flyers’ second loss in a span of 24 hours.

Once again, the Flyers were exposed. They are not playing the type of team defense they featured when they were winning games in bunches not too long ago.

“We’re just not defending very well,” coach Craig Berube said. “We’re not very good in our own end. Breaking the puck out, turning the puck over, penalties. I don’t think it’s a work-ethic thing. I think it’s just execution, for the most part.

“It starts in our end, breaking the puck out. I believe we’re not doing a very good job of it and we end up spending too much time in our end.”

The Flyers were outscored 4-0 over the last 28:36 -- essentially, the second half of the game -- in Columbus.

Derek MacKenzie, a fourth-line center for the Blue Jackets, was set up in front by somebody named Corey Tropp. The goal came at the end of a veritable fire drill in the Flyers’ end. That made it 2-2.

Matt Calvert scored a power-play goal when he used his skate to redirect a lobbed wrist shot by James Wisniewski. Yes, the goal came with the man advantage. It should also be noted that it came at the end of a two-minute span during which the Jackets totally hemmed in, and toyed with, the Flyers’ penalty killers. That made it 3-2.

Brandon Dubinsky scored on a relatively uncontested wrist shot from the right hash marks. It was the product of some stout work at the blue line by Calvert and Jackets defenseman Fedor Tyutin. The Flyers should have cleared the zone there, but they could not negotiate the last five feet along the wall. Wayne Simmonds and Braydon Coburn got outworked, and Coburn got caught out of position. Dubinsky’s goal made it 4-2.

Nathan Horton walked right around Andrej Meszaros and finished, wickedly, with a wrist shot from the right dot to the top left corner. That made it 5-2. Game over.

“We’ve got to do a better job defensively, and follow the system -- everyone on the team,” center Claude Giroux said. “And when we do that, we’ll be winning again.”

The Flyers were 10-2-1 from Dec. 12 through Jan. 8. During that stretch, they allowed 30 or more shots four times.

The Flyers are 2-4-2 in their past eight. During this stretch, they have allowed 30 or more shots four times. They allowed 37 shots to the Nashville Predators, one of the five-most anemic offensive teams in the NHL. They allowed 43 shots to the Islanders.

They allowed 39 shots to the Blue Jackets, Jake Voracek’s former team, on Thursday.

“We gave up so much,” Voracek said. “Forty on net -- it’s crazy. … We’re playing bad defense and that’s where it all starts. We’re giving up the puck in the neutral zone and they’re just coming at us, coming at us. We’re making mental mistakes. One guy is not in the right position and everything opens up. We’re got to be more accountable.”

Next up: Home games against the Bruins and Red Wings, then a wicked swing through California.

“We’ve got to turn it up,” Voracek said. “The schedule is pretty tough, and it’s pretty tight in the standings. We’d better be ready for Boston.”

Instant Replay: Flyers 3, Wild 1

Instant Replay: Flyers 3, Wild 1

BOX SCORE

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- A much-needed win for the Flyers came in an unlikely spot: on the road against one of the Western Conference's top teams.

Sean Couturier, Matt Read and Jakub Voracek scored for the Flyers, and Steve Mason made 24 saves in a 3-1 win over the Wild on Thursday. It snapped a four-game winless streak on the road and kept the Flyers' playoff hopes alive.

Mason allowed an early goal to Zach Parise but recovered, and Couturier tied the game in the first. The Flyers responded as a whole and Read scored for the second time in an as many games, while Voracek had his first goal in 11 games with his 18th of the season.

Goalie report
Playing for the 11th time in 12 games, Mason was a little shaky at the start after not covering the puck twice and then coming far out of the cage, leading to a wraparound opportunity for Minnesota. But after Parise's goal -- one of the times Mason thought he had the puck covered -- the netminder was very steady. He didn't get out of position and allowed less than two goals for the fourth time in 12 games.

The victory marked Mason's 100th in a Flyers uniform. He is third in franchise history behind Ron Hextall (240) and Bernie Parent (232).

Faceoffs
The Flyers were dominant in the faceoff circle on Thursday, winning 61 percent of the draws.

Power play
The Flyers didn't take advantage of their one opportunity in the game as defenseman Ivan Provorov was called for a hooking penalty halfway through their lone power play. The Flyers are now 3 for 40 on the power play over the past 12 games.
 
Penalty kill
The penalty kill had one of its better performances in recent games. The Flyers killed off both penalties and allowed just two Minnesota shots in the three minutes of penalty time. Entering the game, the Flyers had allowed 10 goals in 28 occasions on the penalty kill in the previous nine games.

A small move
With the win, the Flyers were able to pull closer to the eighth playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Boston lost, 6-3, at home to Tampa Bay, allowing the Flyers to close within six points with nine games left. The Bruins have only eight games remaining. Two of the teams between Boston and the Flyers -- the Lightning and Hurricanes -- did win Thursday, while the Islanders were idle (see wild-card standings).

Lines change
Looking for a spark, three of the four lines were changed for Thursday's game. Claude Giroux centered Read and Voracek. Valtteri Filppula was between Jordan Weal and Wayne Simmonds. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare teamed with Travis Konecny and Chris VandeVelde. Coach Dave Hakstol kept the line of Brayden Schenn, Couturier and Dale Weise together.

Blue line return
Defenseman Brandon Manning made his return after missing five games with a shoulder injury.
 
Scratches
Forwards Nick Cousins (upper body) and Roman Lyubimov (healthy), and defenseman Michael Del Zotto (healthy).
 
Up next
The third game of the four-game road trip is Saturday at Columbus. The Flyers are 0-1-1 against the Blue Jackets this season, including a 5-3 loss at home on March 13.

Flyers-Wild 5 things: Road trip about to become a horror story?

Flyers-Wild 5 things: Road trip about to become a horror story?

Flyers (33-31-8) at Wild (44-22-6)
8 p.m. on CSN, CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App; Pregame Live at 7:30

A four-game road trip takes a daunting turn Thursday night when the Flyers play the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center.

Here are five things to know for the matchup:

1. Hazardous road
You thought things were already ugly?

It looks like it could get much, much worse.

The Flyers now visit three of the NHL's top five clubs, starting with the Wild, followed by the Blue Jackets and the Penguins.

Those three are a combined 137-58-21 overall and 79-24-5 at home.

And it's safe to say the Flyers don't have any momentum heading into this gauntlet. They're coming off a 3-2 loss to the Jets, a non-contender decimated by injuries, and are 4-15-3 on the road since Dec. 19 with a minus-36 goal differential.

"We need to have a better effort," Steve Mason said postgame Tuesday. "We keep playing like this and we'll be mathematically eliminated before we know it."

2. Hole gets deeper
With a win over the Blue Jackets on Wednesday, the Maple Leafs moved past the Bruins for third place in the Atlantic Division, making Boston the current leader for the Eastern Conference's second wild-card spot at 82 points.

The Flyers, with 74 points, trail the Bruins, Islanders (80), Lightning (77) and Hurricanes (75), who have a game in hand, as well. Oh, and the Panthers are just one point behind the Flyers.

Ten regular-season games remain and Dave Hakstol's group needs a miracle.

In search of some type of spark, the Flyers will strut out a different look against the Wild.

"We're running out of time here, so hopefully a couple line changes here gives us a little spark offensively," Matt Read said Wednesday. "We've still got to play better defensively, but you know it's kind of do-or-die right now. So hopefully chemistry clicks right away and things can start going off the bat."

3. A look at the Wild
Minnesota, which went 30-6-3 from the start of December to the end of February, has cooled off a bit but is still one of the most well-rounded teams in the NHL.

The Wild are 3-8-0 in March. For the season, however, they rank among the league's top 10 in goals per game (3.22 -- second), goals against per game (2.47 -- tied for sixth), power-play percentage (21.3 -- ninth) and penalty-kill percentage (83.8 -- seventh).

Mikael Granlund, Eric Staal, Nino Niederreiter and Jason Zucker all have 20 or more goals, while netminder Devan Dubnyk has been a top-five goalie at 37-18-3 with a 2.17 goals-against average and .927 save percentage.

4. Keep an eye on ...
Flyers: Jakub Voracek has no goals and an assist in his last six games for a minus-5 rating. When he's not providing offense, the Flyers predictably struggle. The good thing: Voracek owns 16 points in 18 career games against Minnesota.

Wild: Ryan Suter has been a stud for the Wild. The defenseman leads the NHL as a plus-34 and is third with 27:07 of ice time per game. The 32-year-old is Minnesota's backbone and the Wild are 21-6-1 in games that he has at least one point.

5. This and that
• Mason will make his 11th start in the last 12 games. He is 7-6-1 lifetime against Minnesota with a 2.59 goals-against average and .911 save percentage.

• Dubnyk is 2-4-1 with a 2.72 goals-against average and .917 save percentage in seven career games against the Flyers.

• Brandon Manning is back in the lineup for Michael Del Zotto (see Skate Update). Manning missed the last fives games with a shoulder injury.

• Former Flyer Ryan White is out for the Wild with an illness.