Ten (or 11) can't-miss Flyers home dates this year


Ten (or 11) can't-miss Flyers home dates this year

Oh, Western Conference, where art thou? After laboring through last season’s 48-game schedule that featured only Eastern Conference opponents, hockey fans can be excited and re-engaged in a season with a schedule that finally features every team playing in every NHL city, an element that has been missing since the previous lockout of 2004-05.

Which games at the Wells Fargo Center are worth circling on your calendar? Here’s my take:

10. Flyers vs. Blue Jackets, Thurs., Dec. 19 
This matchup may have been slightly higher on my list if Ilya Bryzgalov were still a member of the Flyers, but regardless, Sergei Bobrovsky steps foot in Philadelphia for the first time since he was shipped to Columbus for a string of draft picks. In his first season in Columbus, Bob not only out-dueled Steve Mason (now with the Flyers) for the starting job, but he outplayed everyone else in the league to win the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s top goaltender. Barring injury, it will be intriguing to see how a Mason-Bobrovsky matchup will play out.

9. Flyers vs. Wild, Mon., Dec. 23
The final game before the Christmas break will allow Flyers fans to see Minnesota’s $196 million free-agent heist from 2012 when the Wild landed the two hottest UFAs on the market in Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, who will also be prominent players for Team USA at the Sochi Olympics a few months later. You can attribute some of the Flyers' failures from last season to Paul Holmgren’s endless pursuit of these two marquee players, who didn’t really seem to have much interest in coming to Philadelphia, and after this game, they still might not. It’s also the Flyers' last home game for 18 days.

8. Flyers vs. Predators, Thurs., Jan. 16 
It was the seven most tense, and perhaps intense, days of the Flyers' 2012 summer. The Flyers had signed Nashville defenseman Shea Weber to  a 14-year, $110-million offer sheet (the largest in league history) and then had to desperately wait a week before the Predators organization matched the offer. Weber hasn’t stepped foot in Philly since touring the Flyers' facilities back in July 2012. Nashville also brings one of the league’s top goaltenders in Pekka Rinne, and perhaps we’ll see future superstar defenseman Seth Jones as well.
7. Flyers vs. Penguins, Sat., March 15
The two cross-state rivals will square off five times in 2013-14, and this game will mark the final one at the Wells Fargo Center. The orange and black crowd always seems revved up for a Saturday matinee and it appears as if the two teams always feed off that emotion. Plus, these two squads may be ready to hang each other by their shoelaces as this will the second game of a home-and-home on back-to-back nights.
6. Flyers vs. Lightning, Sat., Jan. 11 
Even though Vincent Lecavalier will have already made his return to Tampa with the Flyers by this time, there shouldn’t be any lack of motivation for him to face the Lightning in front of his new home crowd and a nationally-televised audience on this Saturday afternoon. With the new divisional format, this will also be Tampa Bay’s only visit to the Wells Fargo Center when in previous years they had typically played twice here. Aside from “le Lecavalier connection,” you can’t help but isolate your eyes on the one-on-one battles between Claude Giroux and Steven Stamkos, two of the game’s superstars.

5. Flyers vs. Red Wings, Tue., Jan. 28 
This matchup will have considerably more meaning now that Detroit has shifted to the Eastern Conference. It’s also a chance to see the two-way wizardry of Pavel Datsyuk, who’s always worth the price of admission. The Flyers and Wings will have faced each other twice in Detroit leading up to this game, significant because the Red Wings still haven’t won in Philadelphia since sweeping the Flyers in the 1997 Stanley Cup Final -- a streak that has seen the Flyers win seven in a row.
4. Flyers vs. Kings, Mon., March 24 
“Flyers West” comes East to Philadelphia for the first time since Oct. 15, 2011. As we know, these two teams have more connections than a flight from Scranton to Tokyo. Now, there’s a few more following the Flyers' addition of Ron Hextall to the front office and the Kings' acquisition of Dan Carcillo this offseason. The addition of “Car Bomb” will only add gasoline to this game's flame. Former Flyer Jeff Carter still hasn’t played at the Wells Fargo Center since his offseason trade to Columbus in 2011. Jonathan Quick, the 2012 Conn Smythe trophy winner, is expected to be the starting goalie for Team USA.

3. Flyers vs. Rangers, Sat., March 1 
Broadway vs. Broad Street, Part II. The Rangers will have already played the Flyers at the WFC in October, but I think this Saturday 1 p.m. tilt will have a little more zest to it as we approach the stretch run toward the playoffs. The Blueshirts have owned the Flyers over the past three seasons, but perhaps the tide starts to shift the Flyers' way again. Fans will be itching for Flyers hockey, and this game marks the second one coming out of the Olympic break. By this time, the Rangers should be adjusted to new coach Alain Vigneault and his more offensive-minded system.

2. Flyers vs. Maple Leafs, Wed., Oct. 2 
Opening night. There’s always a tremendous amount of anticipation that comes into a new season as Toronto comes to Philadelphia in the opener. How will the defense look with the addition of Mark Streit? How will Peter Laviolette utilize his lines with Lecavalier in the mix? Who will start in net? Many questions surround a Flyers team that will be anxiously looking to prove that missing the postseason last year was a fluke. The Leafs have also upgraded their roster with the additions of Jonathan Bernier and David Clarkson.
1. (Tie) Flyers vs. Blackhawks, Tues., March 18 
The defending Stanley Cup champions come to the Wells Fargo Center for their only visit. Will the Flyers be able to keep up with Chicago’s speed and aggressive forecheck that carried them to their second Stanley Cup championship in four years? It’s a tremendous measuring stick for a Flyers team looking to re-establish themselves as one of the league’s elite. The last time the Flyers beat the Blackhawks in Philly, Ray Emery was in net for Chicago. This time, he can get back at his old team.

Flyers vs. Penguins, Thurs., Oct. 17 
Does anything top seeing the Flyers' most-hated rival for the first time just eight games into the young season? Pittsburgh comes to Philadelphia just twice (the other game is No. 7 on this list), but this could set an early tone to the season. The Flyers opened last season against the Pens, a 2-1 Pittsburgh victory, but aside from that game, the Flyers seem to be in Marc-Andre Fleury’s head and could have a distinct advantage in goaltending.

Flyers' defense continues to abandon team through 1-2-1 start

Flyers' defense continues to abandon team through 1-2-1 start

It was the home opener Thursday night and his team went 1 for 7 on the man advantage with five such opportunities in the second period alone.

However, Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol remembers one play more than any other in his team’s 3-2 loss to the Anaheim Ducks at the Wells Fargo Center (see game recap).

The Flyers had swung and missed on their final power play of the middle stanza, when the Ducks came pushing up ice with post-kill energy. Somehow, Anaheim came barreling down on the Flyers with a four-on-two rush seconds after the orange and black just had the benefit of an extra player.

Center Ryan Getzlaf dumped a pass back to winger Corey Perry, who had all the time in the world to wind up and blast one home thanks to 6-foot-4 Getzlaf’s screening of 6-foot defenseman Ivan Provorov.

Just like that, the game was tied when it looked like the Flyers would add cushion and cruise into the third period with a lead to protect.

“Our power play was OK,” Hakstol said. “The bigger thing for me is the goal that we gave up a few seconds after the last power play in the second period. Those are the type of goals as a team that we can’t give up.”

The rookie Provorov couldn’t find his way around the veteran Getzlaf, while defenseman Brandon Manning stayed in retreat, allowing Perry to unleash a slap shot.

“It’s the best league in the world, the best players play here,” Provorov said. “Even a little mistake can cost you, slightly out of position can cost you. I’m still learning.”

Provorov has endured his rookie lumps through the Flyers’ 1-2-1 start. A game after finishing with a minus-5 rating against the Blackhawks, the 19-year-old committed two giveaways and a cross-checking penalty for a minus-1 mark Thursday.

Nonetheless, the Flyers went from a man up to two down in a matter of seconds to relinquish the lead.

“We didn’t handle that well,” Hakstol said. “When you give up a four-on-two after you’ve had those kind of opportunities, it’s going to change the momentum of the game.”

Were the defensemen in a bad spot?

“Yes,” Hakstol said.

Poor defensive coverage cost the Flyers momentum in the second and the game in the third.

About midway through the period, Ducks defenseman Korbinian Holzer carried the puck behind goalie Steve Mason before adeptly finding Ryan Garbutt uncovered with a reverse pass. The Anaheim center scored easily top shelf as Flyers defensemen Andrew MacDonald and Shayne Gostisbehere were caught standing in front of the net without seeing Garbutt.

“We had a little bit of tired legs,” Hakstol said. “We lost coverage on that play. There was a switch. We didn’t lose coverage for long. We had communication, we had talked, but we lost coverage for a split second and that allowed them to make the play to the same side on the backdoor.”

Gostisbehere had trouble working his power-play magic and played big minutes with 22:58 of ice time.

“They’re a big-bodied team,” Gostisbehere said. “We just have to make our plays a little quicker.”

Even on the Ducks’ first-period marker, an outlet pass found its way behind the defense of Provorov and Gostisbehere. Over the first four games, the Flyers have allowed 16 goals, tied for the second most in the NHL.

“You’re playing against a heavy team and they put a lot of pressure on the group back there when they’re able to get pucks deep,” Hakstol said. “So, I don’t think it was particular to one or two guys. When you let them gain the zone with some speed and get in on pucks, they’re a heavy team to handle.”

Facing a heavy team or not, the Flyers know defensive execution must be cleaned up.

“I think that from everyone’s personal standpoint we can all be better,” Mason said. “When you lose three games in a row, we can’t worry about what other people are doing, you just have to focus on your own job. From a goaltender’s perspective, personally, I have to find ways to come out and get a win here.”

Flyers' celebratory home opener spoiled by 'big-bodied' Ducks

Flyers' celebratory home opener spoiled by 'big-bodied' Ducks


It should have been a grand evening of celebrating 50 years of hockey in Philadelphia and Ed Snider’s legacy.
Instead, it evaporated into the Flyers' third straight loss, 3-2, at the hands of the Anahiem Ducks (see Instant Replay).
Coach Dave Hakstol could blame his power play for failing six times in seven chances, but even five-on-five, the Flyers lacked. The Ducks take teams to the net and make you pay, as the players on their roster average a 13-pound advantage than the average Flyer.
“You’re playing against a heavy team and they put a lot of pressure on the group back there when they are able to get pucks deep,” Hakstol said.
“You got to try and create gaps and that doesn’t start in your own zone, it starts up ice as a five-man unit. You got to carry good gaps through the neutral zone into your zone to defend some of those plays.”
Anaheim leaves teams black and blue as the Flyers no doubt will discover Friday morning.
“That's just the way Anaheim plays,” Wayne Simmonds said. “They play a rough style, but we're not going to back down from them. This is our building.”
While the Flyers didn’t back down, between turnovers and misreads and players failing to get back up ice, a lot of things went wrong in this one.
The turning point in the game came late in the second period when the Flyers were coming off their fifth power play of the period. The forwards – Travis Konecny, Sean Couturier and Dale Weise – were slow getting back up ice.
That left rookie defenseman Ivan Provorov to handle Ryan Getzlaf one-on-one with Corey Perry behind him near Brandon Manning on a four-on-two rush.
There was a drop pass to Perry and he fired from the circle to tie the game, 2-2.
“They do a good job, killing off three in a row and come down and score,” Simmonds said. “If we put one in on the power play there, it’s probably a different story.
“We’re turning pucks over in the neutral zone. Make sure we’re bearing down on it. We gotta be better at it.”
Among the issues in this one, both young defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere (minus-2) and  Provorov (minus-1) struggled on the offensive and defensive side of the puck.
"Ghost" is having too many shots blocked and fumbling pucks. Provorov is having difficulty making quick reads and pucks are ending up in the net.
Aside from rookie mistakes, some of that has to do with the forwards not backchecking and the Ducks’ overall size.
“They’re a big-bodied team. They pinch hard and they cut down time and space,” Gostisbehere said. “We have to make our plays quicker.”
While the Flyers talked about feeding off the energy of the night, it just didn’t materialize. They got an early power play and produced just one shot with Gostisbehere hitting the post.
The Ducks produced an early goal after a Flyers power play ended with Sami Vatanen’s stretch pass to Jared Boll for a two-on-one.
Boll went to the net, screened out Steve Mason and left a drop pass that Chris Wagner buried. On top of that, a bad line change, as well.
Mason had to defend quite a bit of net in this one without much defensive support.
“From everyone’s personal standpoint, we can all be better,” Mason said. “When you lose three games in a row, you can’t be worrying about what other people are doing.”
“It’s a tough go in the second period. They kill off [four power plays] and then Perry comes down and scores a goal there. We can’t dwell on that. I have to find ways to get back on top here.”
Anaheim’s winning goal midway into the third came when Korbinian Holzer ripped a pass from behind the net into the slot for Ryan Garbutt. He one-timed the puck before Mason knew it was there. There was no coverage on him, either.
“You focus on your own job,” Mason said. “From a goaltender’s perspective, personally, I have to find ways to come out and get a win here.”