Loss to Isles may be final nail in Flyers' coffin

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Loss to Isles may be final nail in Flyers' coffin

BOX SCORE

UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- Sometimes, the right play is the easy, defensive play -- not trying to make something out of nothing.

Recognizing the difference is the hard part. And it’s why the Flyers have given up some ill-timed and rather costly goals this season.

That scenario repeated itself Tuesday night at Nassau Coliseum as the Islanders drove a stake through the Flyers' collective hearts with a 4-1 victory that may have very well sealed the team's playoff fate.

“Couple times,” coach Peter Laviolette said, “there were a few mistakes made that way. It was a competitive game both ways. Sometimes that’s the difference -- just making the right decision at a different time in the game.”

In the final 2:18 of the second period, Brayden Schenn had a chance to get a puck deep from neutral ice after a long shift following a Flyers' timeout. He tried to make an offensive play with Wayne Simmonds.

It backfired and resulted in Michael Grabner beating goalie Steve Mason low to the glove side from the high slot for a 2-1 Islanders' lead.

The Flyers never recovered and were outplayed in the third period by a fiercely competitive Islanders group that can smell the playoffs.

“It was a two-on-two and me and Simmer could have gotten it deep and gotten the line change,” Schenn said. “Made the wrong play.”

The game had tremendous playoff implications. The Flyers came in five points behind the eighth-seeded Isles in the Eastern Conference. They remain five behind the new No. 8-seeded Rangers with nine games to play.

They gained no ground, and that could prove fatal. The Islanders were a team the Flyers had to beat. With each loss, they become more dependent on others for help. They almost need a miracle.

“Probably,” Scott Hartnell said. “We know where we sit and how big this game was. “You’re trying to do the right thing when you’re working hard and create things and stuff like that.

“There are times and places where, like the last minute of a hockey game or a period, where you need to make a smart play.

“Seems like when we make a mistake it always goes in our net and we’re always frustrated and the heads go down and it goes on from there.

“Their second goal, I think I thought the puck was being chipped by Kimmo [Timonen] and [I] went behind Kimmo to get it and I get the ref, and it becomes a two-on-one and they score. It seems one play filters into more after that.”

Right-handed goalie Mason made his first start for the Flyers since being acquired last week at the NHL trade deadline. He played the third period of Saturday’s loss in Winnipeg.

New York held a 2-1 lead when the third period -- without question, the biggest of this season -- began.

For whatever reason, the Flyers appeared tired during the opening minutes of that frame as they were badly beaten to pucks in their own end.

Even as the period progressed, they had difficulty on the breakout, getting trapped in their own end before gaining their balance.

“I thought the first three-quarters of the second period we carried the play and were doing the right things,” Mike Knuble said.

“Then we tried to get a little too courageous offensively at times when the rush wasn’t in our advantage and ended up turning pucks over. They have some good guys who really live off it, and they grabbed the momentum off turnovers.”

In the final 1:37 of the game, the Isles iced it off the rush when Erik Gustafsson slid in an attempt to stop a partial breakaway by John Tavares but ended up putting the puck into the net himself.

That was followed by an empty-net goal.

“We were pushing but obviously it wasn’t enough to get one in there,” Knuble said.

Things were different at the start.

Claude Giroux has thrown some uncanny stretch passes up the ice this season that have led to Flyers' goals. He tossed another at 6:28 of the first period to one of his favorite targets, Jakub Voracek.

Catching it in full stride and into the Isles' end, Voracek went backhand on Evgeni Nabokov, who oddly trapped it under his pads.

“I knew G saw me so I kind of cheated a little bit,” Voracek said. “I think the puck bounced over their defenseman's stick.”

The problem was that Isles defenseman Andrew MacDonald pushed Voracek into Nabokov, who slid completely into the net with the puck as the net went off its moorings. After a review, it was ruled a good goal.

“I tried to square [Nabokov] up and slide the puck past him,” Voracek said. “I was a little lucky that it was early in the period because if it was at the end of the period, I don't think he would have slid in with it.”

The 1-0 lead lasted nine minutes before the Isles tied it. Brad Boyes gave Matt Moulson a perfect pass in the slot. His shot deflected off the stick of Bruno Gervais (minus-16 for the season).

The second period was pretty much like the first -- a lot of up-and-down skating and tight checking.

Remember Voracek coming to Giroux’s defense recently? Well, Schenn did the same for Mason after he got run into by Matt Martin. Schenn took Martin on in a fight six minutes into the period.

Near period’s end, Mason’s righthand ability came up big time with a huge save on Kyle Okposo’s breakaway.

Mason wasn’t so fortunate on Grabner’s shot soon after.

“We keep going,” Knuble said. “Thursday [against Ottawa] is another game for us. Obviously, we’re gonna start needing some help. But we can only worry about the games we have to play. That’s as simple as it is … Win the games in front of you.

“Any points would have been helpful tonight. Every day that ticks off the calendar, every game, every point is more valuable than the previous.

“You have to come up with something. To come up empty-handed the last two games … is not what we need right now.”

Flyers-Canucks 5 things: Claude Giroux’s regression a cause for concern?

Flyers-Canucks 5 things: Claude Giroux’s regression a cause for concern?

Flyers (27-24-7) at Canucks (26-27-6)
10 p.m. on CSN/CSNPhilly.com and NBC Sports App; Pregame Live at 9:30

The Flyers’ three-game trip through Western Canada ends tonight in Vancouver against the Canucks, as the orange and black will look to salvage one win on this disastrous road trip.

Vancouver enters the game on the backend of a back-to-back. The Canucks beat Calgary, 2-1, in overtime Saturday at Rogers Arena. The Flyers beat Vancouver, 5-4, in a shootout on Jan. 12.

Let’s take a closer look at game No. 59 for the orange and black.

1. Captain concern
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Since their 10-game winning streak, from Nov. 27 to Dec. 14, the Flyers’ season outlook has undergone a drastic shift toward a higher draft pick.

The Flyers are 8-14-4 in 26 games since the winning streak, and 2-5-1 in their last eight games. They’re 2-10-2 in their last 14 road games, and have lost their last eight games in Western Canada. They remain just two points out of the Eastern Conference’s second wild-card spot, but earning a playoff appearance appears to be just a wishful thought.

Not much is going well right now for the Flyers. Neither Michal Neuvirth or Steve Mason has taken grasp of the No. 1 job. Neuvirth has started six of the Flyers’ last seven games and seven of their last nine, but Mason is expected to get the starting nod tonight.

They can’t score. They’re averaging 1.46 goals in their last 13 games, scoring 19 goals over that span and they’ve been shut out three times. Claude Giroux’s regression continues, as he has just two goals in his past 23 games. Giroux is on pace for 59 points, which would be the fewest he’s had in an 82-game season since 2009-10. (He finished the 2012-13 lockout-shortened season with 48 points in 48 games.)

“For whatever the reason, in the last month, he’s just gone in the wrong direction,” Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said of Giroux on Saturday. “That’s not just [the] individual. That’s a team item, and we’ve gotta push that in the right direction.”

As the captain has gone, the Flyers have, too.

2. Weal bad luck
Just as when it appears Jordan Weal had finally turned a corner in the NHL — albeit it in a very small sample size — an injury strikes. Weal will miss tonight’s game with an upper-body injury. The Flyers said Saturday the forward will be reevaluated Monday.

Dale Weise draws back into the lineup against Vancouver, and will take Weal’s place on the Flyers’ second line alongside center Sean Couturier and right winger Jake Voracek. Weise checks back in after sitting the last two games and seven of the last 12 as a healthy scratch.

Weal impressed in two games and a period before suffering his injury Thursday in Edmonton. He’s averaged 11:50 of ice time, playing a career-high 15:31 Wednesday in Calgary, a game he had six shots on goal. Through three games, Weal has an 83.0 corsi for percentage, which is remarkably high but an extremely small sample. He was more confident along the boards and with the puck, hungrier than at any point last season with the Flyers.

It was only a matter of time before the 24-year-old was going to pick up his first career NHL point. Now, he’s sidelined at least one game. If it’s not a long-term injury, Weal’s play in the two-plus games should be enough to warrant inserting him back in when he’s healthy.

“He added something every game,” Hakstol said of Weal on Saturday. “Obviously, it was two games and a period, but he’s dynamic. He hadn’t been here [this season], but he had the puck quite a bit. He looked like a player that was confidently on the top of his game, and I didn’t think any of that was lost in the transition from Lehigh to our team.”

3. Mediocre matchup
The Canucks are not exactly a team oozing with confidence, either. With Saturday's OT win over the Flames, the Canucks are now 4-8-0 in their last 12 games. They are four points behind Calgary now for the West's second wild-card spot, and gave up a valuable point to the Flames on Saturday by blowing a 1-0 lead with six seconds left in regulation.

Vancouver sits in the bottom 10 in goals for (2.3, 28th), goals against (2.8, 20th), power play (14.9, 27th) and penalty kill (79.1, 24th). It's a team that doesn't score a ton of goals, but also doesn't give up many, either. It's the epitome of a below-average team from a talent perspective — sound familiar? — that can grind its way to competitiveness.

With how the Flyers have been playing over their last two months and how this current Canucks team competes, it's safe to say tonight's game will be one filled with little scoring, a much different tune than the first matchup.

4. Keep an eye on …
Flyers: There is not a single Flyer worth watching right now. I suggest making one of those origami fortune teller games with a list of Flyers, play it and whoever you get, watch him.

Canucks: Vancouver’s leading scorer is no longer one of the Sedin twins. Instead, it’s 21-year-old Bo Horvat, who has 18 goals and 39 points in 58 games. Horvat, the ninth overall pick in 2013, made his first NHL All-Star Game this season. In the previous meeting with the Flyers, he picked up an assist.

5. This and that
• Mason started the Flyers’ last game against the Canucks on Jan. 12, but was pulled after allowing four goals on 24 shots through two periods. Mason is expected to start tonight.

• With Ryan Miller starting in Saturday, Jacob Markstrom (10-11-3, 2.63, .910) could start tonight for Vancouver. If he does start, he would be the sixth backup goalie the Flyers have faced in their last 14 games — remember, the Flyers have 19 goals in their last 13 games.

• The Flyers’ power play is five for its last 45 dating back 13 games.

• Friendly reminder: Shayne Gostisbehere’s goal drought is now at 31 games.

Best of NHL: Sabres snap Blues' 6-game winning streak

Best of NHL: Sabres snap Blues' 6-game winning streak

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Robin Lehner stopped 16 shots in the third period and 37 overall, and the Buffalo Sabres snapped the St. Louis Blues' six-game winning streak with a 3-2 victory on Saturday.

Evander Kane and minor-league callup Nicholas Baptiste each had a goal and an assist in Buffalo's third straight win, matching a season best accomplished three times. Ryan O'Reilly also scored for the Sabres (26-23-10), who have three more wins than losses for the first time since closing the 2011-12 season 39-32-11.

Vladimir Tarasenko also scored for St. Louis, which lost for the first time since a 4-1 defeat to Pittsburgh on Feb. 4 (see full recap).

Jets spoil Julien's return to Montreal
MONTREAL -- Patrik Laine and Mathieu Perreault each had a goal and an assist, and the Winnipeg Jets spoiled Claude Julien's return to Montreal with a 3-1 victory over the Canadiens on Saturday.

Joel Armia also scored for Winnipeg (27-29-5), and Connor Hellebuyck stopped 19 shots. The Jets had dropped five of six.

The Canadiens fired coach Michel Therrien on Tuesday and hired Julien in hopes of getting their season back on track. Julien also coached Montreal from 2003-2006.

But Julien's first game back was more of the same for the first-place Canadiens (31-20-8), who have lost three in a row and seven of eight (see full recap).

Senators top Leafs to gain on Canadiens
TORONTO -- Mark Stone had a goal and four assists, Derick Brassard scored twice in the third period and the Ottawa Senators recovered after blowing a two-goal lead to beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 6-3 on Saturday night.

The Senators pulled within two points of Montreal for first place in the Atlantic Division. Ottawa led 2-0 after one period but trailed 3-2 in the third before getting a tying goal from Mike Hoffman and a power-play goal from Brassard. Stone and Brassard added empty-netters, and Chris Wideman and Ryan Dzingel also scored for the Senators.

Ottawa has won four of five overall and three of four against the Leafs this season. Craig Anderson stopped 34 shots.

Morgan Rielly, Nazem Kadri and William Nylander scored and Auston Matthews had two assists for the Maple Leafs. Frederik Andersen allowed four goals on 40 shots (see full recap).