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.”

Connor McDavid, Oilers' speed, skill present Flyers with 'real good challenge'

Connor McDavid, Oilers' speed, skill present Flyers with 'real good challenge'

VOORHEES, N.J. — They are among the very best – and highest scoring — lines in the NHL this season.
 
And they’re gunning for the Flyers on Thursday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
 
Connor McDavid’s unit with Milan Lucic and Leon Draisaitl have a combined 30 goals and 78 points worth of offense. 
 
Among them, the lightning quick McDavid leads the NHL with 36 points. All 11 of his goals are even strength. 
 
He doesn’t have a single power-play goal, but is tied for the league lead with several players, including Claude Giroux, with 10 power-play assists.
 
You can expect to see Pierre-Edouard Bellemare’s unit with Chris VandeVelde and Dale Weise against this line with defenseman Ivan Provorov drawing McDavid for the first time this season.
 
“Speed and skill that Edmonton has up front presents a real good challenge for our team,” Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said. “We have to be better with the puck tomorrow. 
 
“We didn’t do enough when we had the puck. Gave it up a little too easily and because of that, you end up playing defense a lot of the night and that’s what happened last night to us.”
 
Bellemare, who had his share of forward battles with Jaromir Jagr in Tuesday, likes to analyze the matchups against McDavid.
 
“He’s one of the best players in the world,” Bellemare said of the 19-year-old McDavid. “It’s tough not to be excited when playing against a guy who plays like this. He competes every second he is on the ice. That line is an impressive line.”
 
The Flyers better have some bad, choppy ice to slow McDavid down. Edmonton has some of the fastest ice in the league and the Oilers use it to their full advantage. 
 
Asked of McDavid’s tendencies, Bellemare said, “Is that a tendency? To be super fast?”
 
Yes it is. 
 
“When you play against them, he is a kid who is freaky fast right from the start,” Bellemare said. “Against that line, you saw [against Buffalo] that everyone knows how fast he is and he still had two breakaways.”
 
Which means the Flyers need to watch their turnovers, especially in the neutral zone where McDavid can go 60 feet in a flash.
 
“Even blue line to the top of the circle, you can’t turn the puck over,” Bellemare said. “Or he’s gone. This is a tendency we have to be careful of. All of the ice, you can’t give him any time or space. The less time you give him, the bigger chance you have to frustrate a player like this.”
 
Bellemare did some talking with Jagr a couple times in Tuesday’s game. So did Provorov. Bellemare says it helps to add psychology to the mix.
 
“You try to be in his face,” Bellemare said. “If you can win that battle against that line and our first line can win the battle against their fourth line, then it’s a win-win situation. I was trying to be in [Jagr’s] face.”
 
Jagr actually got angrier at Provorov and it showed with his hooking calls. But when Bellemare and Jagr went into the corner, Jagr got testy with his stick there as well.
 
“He was trying to give it to me a little harder,” Bellemare said. “Exactly what I need. If he is less focused on the puck, then maybe I have a chance to win that puck.”
 
McDavid’s focus will be solely on the puck.
 
“McDavid has been playing some pretty good hockey,” Flyers captain Claude Giroux said. “They’re a high-tempo team. A smart team. We’ve got to be ready.”
 
Loose pucks
Boyd Gordon came off long term injured reserve onto the active roster to give the Flyers 13 forwards. In doing that, Matt Read (oblique pull) went on injured reserve. … Defenseman Michael Del Zotto will sit against the Oilers while Radko Gudas returns from an illness. Gudas will be paired with Mark Streit, as Ivan Provorov remains with Andrew MacDonald for now. … Steve Mason, who did not practice Wednesday, will start in goal.

Ivan Provorov passes latest rookie test by shutting down Jaromir Jagr

Ivan Provorov passes latest rookie test by shutting down Jaromir Jagr

VOORHEES, N.J. — Maybe he saw some old video of how Chris Therien did it.
 
Or maybe Ivan Provorov just shrugged his 19-year-old shoulders and figured he’d do it his way.
 
Whatever the Flyers' rookie defenseman did, he shut down the ageless Jaromir Jagr during Tuesday’s 3-2 overtime victory against the Florida Panthers. 
 
Just like Therien used to do back in the day. 
 
Provorov frustrated Jagr into taking penalties. And when he wasn’t in the box for hooking the rookie, you could visibly see Jagr’s frustration across his face.
 
At one point, they were talking to each other on the ice. A Russian and a Czech. What was said?
 
“It stays in the game,” Provorov said with a smile Wednesday.
 
Provorov said he didn’t spend time watching a ton of video.
 
“We did our pre-scout in the morning,” he said. “That was it.”
 
Provorov, with help from centerman Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, held Jagr to one shot. His teammates were impressed.
 
“Unbelievable, a 19-year-old kid going against Jaromir Jagr,” Wayne Simmonds said. “I think he did a pretty good job. 
 
“I think he has done a great job all year long and he is only going to get better. If you watch him play, he is getting better and better, not every game but every shift.”
 
Provorov had an assist and two blocked shots, including a critical block on Reilly Smith that could have been a game-winner in overtime.
 
“Well we haven’t used him a lot in the 3-on-3 but we felt that it was time,” coach Dave Hakstol said. “Again, coming off of a real solid night where he’s playing against really good players all night long, he continued that right through the OT. 
 
“The impressive thing on that play is the read that he made to make that block … I haven’t looked at it on the replay or on tape yet. But I think that Mase might have been over on it but that play that Provy made was potentially a game saving play right there.”
 
Provorov doesn’t make flashy plays. He just makes the steady play every time he needs to. At season’s start, he was struggling to get his shot off without being blocked. Now he finds space along the blue to better position himself to get his shot through. He thinks before he reacts.
 
Behind the net, he is one of the few Flyers defensemen who almost never loses a puck battle. It’s often hard to believe he’s as young as he is.
 
“He moves so well and makes good reads, he’s a very intelligent player,” Andrew MacDonald said. “He has great poise with the puck, and not just for a 19-year-old, but for any aged player. 
 
“Defensively he always seems to be in the right positions and communicates well. We were fortunate to have some time together in camp, and a few games. I feel like we picked up where we left off the past few games.”
 
Jagr’s assets are size, strength — especially his lower core — and a skill set of moves without blinding speed.
 
Thursday will present a new challenge for Provorov: Edmonton’s Connor McDavid, the NHL’s leading scorer with 36 points. McDavid is all about youth and raw speed. 
 
“They’re different players, but it doesn’t matter,” Provorov said. “You take away time and space. Don’t give him time to get a lot of speed.”
 
This is another learning experience for Provorov. In a different age category. Hakstol credits assistant coach Gord Murphy for bringing Provorov up to speed at the NHL level.
 
“I think Murph has done a really good job in managing that progression along, most importantly, with Provy, managing it," Hakstol said.
 
“You can go back to the tell-tale sign of the tough night back in Chicago [third game]. That didn’t shake or rattle Provy in any way. He came back with pretty good determination the next day.
 
“You have to be an honest evaluator of your own game. I think Provy … whether it’s a real good night or a tough night, that allows you to keep an even keel and an even balance. I think that’s a real strength.”

Injury update
The Flyers on Wednesday placed left winger Matt Read on injured reserve and activated center Boyd Gordon. Gordon has been out since Nov. 3.