On paper, Flyers are better than record shows

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On paper, Flyers are better than record shows

This wasn’t supposed to happen.
 
The Sixers were supposed to be the worst team in town, not the Flyers. The Sixers still haven’t played a real game yet, so that means … it’s the Flyers.
 
And at 1-7, it’s the worst start to a season in the franchise’s 47-year history.
 
Incredibly, it feels a lot like last season’s lockout-shortened 2-6 start under Peter Laviolette, except the Flyers are actually a better team after eight games than that one was a year ago.
 
Now, try to convince the South Philly locals sitting around the bar at the Philadium of that. You can’t.
 
As one general manager with a recent Stanley Cup said this week, “On paper, this is a pretty good team.”
 
On the ice? There is no chemistry right now.
 
“It’s still the same feeling -- a bad feeling,” offered Wayne Simmonds after another hard, conditioning practice at Skate Zone.
 
“It feels crappy. The one thing we have going for us is our goaltending and we’re letting it kind of go to waste at this point. Both Mase [Steve Mason] and Ray [Emery] have played well for us. We haven’t picked up the slack on the other end.”
 
Flyers captain Claude Giruox did the quick math. There are 74 games left to turn this club around.
 
It’s not like the lockout when it was 48 games and because all of them were within your own conference, every night someone gained or lost in the standings, regardless.
 
“That’s a lot of games and we played eight,” Giroux said. “Obviously, the record, we’re not happy with it. We’re doing a lot of good things out there. We have to stay positive in this room. If we do, we’ll start winning games and putting ourselves back in playoff position.”
 
Asked about his message to the players as their captain, Giroux replied, “It’s not just up to me. There’s a lot of leaders here, coaches and Homer [general manager Paul Holmgren].
 
“We’re all getting on the same page. When that happens, that is when teams start being dangerous. Go out there without hesitation and just play the great game of hockey.”
 
The team has already fired its coach. Holmgren would be the next logical target, but how does firing your GM turn around a 1-7 start? And before that happens, Holmgren would likely make a major trade to shake things up.
 
That could very easily happen during this six-day break between games.
 
Newly-installed head coach Craig Berube admits you can make a case this fall resembles last January, but only in a superficial manner.
 
“It’s similar -- we’re not winning hockey games,” Berube said. “But I don’t look at it that way. I think we’re headed in the right direction.”
 
Last season, the Flyers had injuries even before the games began. Their defense was a mess and remained a mess. And they couldn’t score goals. Of those three issues, goal scoring woes are still present and that is the most alarming aspect of this club so far.
 
Simmonds said he doesn’t feel players “has quit on each other,” but that the team recognize it's still not playing a full 60 minutes every game.
 
“It’s a long season, we can only get better,” he said. “I don’t think we can get any worse at this point, anyway.”
 
On Thursday, the Flyers became the first team since the 1964 Boston Bruins not to score three goals in a game in at least one of their first eight contests.
 
So far, the Flyers have a measly 11 goals -- three of them from rookie call-up Tye McGinn.
 
“We got to be better -- plain and simple,” Simmonds said.
 
You can see players pressing to score on the ice. Rolling their eyes. Smashing sticks on the ice. Looking upward toward the ghost of Kate Smith overhead.
 
“It’s my job to keep these guys motivated and upbeat,” Berube said. “Look at a lot of the positive things we are doing good.
 
“You obviously have to look at the things we’re not doing good to win hockey games but they’re professionals ... So far, they are positive and motivated and they want to do well. That’s a good sign.”
 
A few wins would be an even better sign.
 
Loose pucks
Kimmo Timonen (lower body) remains day-to-day, Holmgren said, adding he is expected at Monday’s practice. Consensus among the staff is Timonen was not injured when hooked on the Penguins' first goal, but after being checked by Tanner Glass later in the second period. … Vinny Lecavalier (lower body) and Scott Hartnell (upper body) both will skate by themselves Sunday morning before joining teammates at the Eagles-Cowboys game. … Emery and Jakub Voracek each had a maintenance day off the ice. Both have minor aches, Berube indicated. ... The Flyers are off for the weekend.

NHL Playoffs: Penguins beat Senators in 2OT of Game 7 to reach Stanley Cup Final

NHL Playoffs: Penguins beat Senators in 2OT of Game 7 to reach Stanley Cup Final

BOX SCORE

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins are heading back to the Stanley Cup Final.

Chris Kunitz beat Craig Anderson 5:09 into the second overtime to give the defending champions a 3-2 victory over the Ottawa Senators in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final Thursday night.

Kunitz scored twice, his first two of the playoffs. Justin Schultz added the other in his return from an upper-body injury, and Matt Murray stopped 28 shots on his 23rd birthday.

The Penguins are trying to become the first team since the Detroit Red Wings in 1998 to win back-to-back titles. They will host Western Conference champion Nashville in Game 1 on Monday night.

Mark Stone and Ryan Dzingel scored for Ottawa. The Senators rallied twice to tie it, with Dzingel making it 2-2 with 5:19 left in regulation.

Craig Anderson made 39 saves, but couldn't get a handle on Kunitz's shot from just outside the left circle. The Senators are 0-6 in Game 7s in franchise history.

The Senators forced a return trip to Pittsburgh -- where they lost 7-0 loss in Game 5 on Sunday -- by leaning heavily on Anderson in a 2-1 Game 6 victory, putting both teams at odds with history.

Ottawa came in 0-for-25 years in winner-take-all games, while the Penguins were 0-7 in Game 7s at home in series in which they also dropped Game 6.

Ottawa coach Guy Boucher told his resilient team to not get caught up in the big picture but instead focus on the small ones, a recipe that carried the Senators throughout a bumpy transition under their first-year head coach to the brink of the franchise's second Cup appearance.

The Penguins, trying to become the first defending champion to return to the finals since Detroit in 2009, came in confident they would advance if they could replicate their dominant Game 6, when they were undone only by Anderson's brilliance.

Pittsburgh has been nearly unflappable in the face of adversity under Mike Sullivan, going 12-2 in playoff games following a loss over the last two springs. He encouraged his team to "just play," code for fighting through Ottawa's neutral zone-clogging style and the bumping, grabbing and pulling that comes along with it.

A chance to play for their sport's ultimate prize on the line, the sheets of open ice the Penguins found so easily in Games 4-6 closed up. For most of the first 30 minutes, loose pucks hopped over sticks to spoil some scoring opportunities while Anderson and Murray gobbled up the rest.

Kunitz, relegated to the fourth line since returning from injury in the second round, picked up his first postseason goal in a calendar year when he completed a two-on-one with Conor Sheary -- a healthy scratch in Games 5 and 6 -- by slipping the puck by Anderson 9:55 into the second period.

The momentum lasted all of 20 seconds. Ottawa responded immediately with Stone -- who stretched his left skate to stay onside -- fired a wrist shot that handcuffed Murray.

Pittsburgh kept coming. Schultz, returning after missing four games with an upper-body injury, zipped a shot from the point through Kunitz's screen and into the net with 8:16 left in the third.

Once again, the Penguins could not hold the lead. Dzingel set up at the right post and banged home a rebound off Erik Karlsson's shot that hit the left post and caromed off Murray's back right to Dzingel's stick.

Notes
The home team is 21-20 in overtime Game 7s in NHL playoff history. ... Pittsburgh F Patric Hornqvist skated during warmups, but was held out of the lineup for a sixth straight game with an upper-body injury. ... Karlsson had 16 assists in the playoffs to set a team record. ... The Penguins are 10-7 in Game 7s. ... It was the fifth one-goal game of the series.

Are we there yet? Philly Sports Talk examines the state of the Flyers

Are we there yet? Philly Sports Talk examines the state of the Flyers

All week on Philly Sports Talk on CSN, we examine how our teams got to this point and where they are in the rebuilding process. 
 
Today, we finish up by taking a look at the Flyers.

 
How did we get here?
The Flyers' rebuild had begun when Ron Hextall returned to his old stomping grounds in the summer of 2013 as the team's new assistant general manager.
 
He took over GM duties after one season and the philosophical change was in place. Paul Holmgren was made president and Hextall's imprint, which had already started, was ready to become bigger.
 
What Hextall inherited was a cap-stricken team fresh off a first-round playoff loss, an organization that had tried to spend its way to immediate results instead of putting greater focus on the long game.
 
Some of the past decisions are well-documented: signing enigmatic goalie Ilya Bryzgalov to a nine-year, $51 million deal in 2011 after trading for him. With a buyout, the Flyers are still paying Bryzgalov through 2027. Signing veteran center Vinny Lecavalier to a five-year, $22.5 million contract in 2013. And signing imposing defenseman Chris Pronger to a seven-year, $34.55 million extension — nobody could foresee the unfortunate concussion issues that suddenly derailed Pronger's career, but it was nonetheless a hurdle for the Flyers moving forward.
 
Hextall has adeptly maneuvered through much of those rocky waters.
 
Now, the Flyers are a more cost-efficient (partly because they have to be in this salary cap world), draft-oriented organization planning for the future while not ignoring the present. This rebuild hasn't been a total demolition, but more of a retooling — a smart but tricky process, especially down the line.
 
Are the Flyers on the right path back to prosperity?
The youth is coming.
 
Hextall, oftentimes close to the vest, made that abundantly clear at his end-of-the-season press conference.
 
"Our young players, they've done enough," Hextall said in early April. "Our young players are going to get a long look. We don't plan on going out and signing veterans on the back end. Our kids, it's time to give them a shot, and we're going to do that."
 
But the really hard part is just beginning — results. Can the prospects catch up and meet the current core? The pressure for it to start has never been higher.
 
Help does appear to be on the way, though, for a team that regressed this season and missed the playoffs for the third time in the past five years.
 
Anthony Stolarz, Alex Lyon, Felix Sandstrom and Carter Hart give the Flyers future options in net.
 
Two promising prospects are expected to join Ivan Provorov, Shayne Gostisbehere and company on the blue line.
 
Oskar Lindblom, a dynamic 20-year-old winger, could crack the Flyers' group of forwards, which should have Jordan Weal and Valtteri Filppula for a full season.
 
Also, don't forget forward Mike Vecchione, a Hobey Baker finalist who signed with the Flyers out of Union College in late March.
 
Oh, and the No. 2 pick of the draft — likely a talented center — is in the Flyers' grasp.
 
The 2017-18 season will be a telling time for the Flyers. Patience has been required, but when will it be rewarded?
 
The clock is ticking.