Flyers-Caps Series Preview: Our Q&A With Al Morganti

Flyers-Caps Series Preview: Our Q&A With Al Morganti


Al Morganti has provided entertaining and informative coverage of the Flyers and
Philadelphia sports for years,
and he's currently a co-host of the 610 WIP Morning Show and Comcast's
Flyers game day coverage. His columns during his days with The Hockey News shaped my view of the league, and he continues to be one of the most respected voices in hockey. We're grateful for the opportunity to discuss
the upcoming Flyers-Caps series with Al and share his insights with
you.

What's been the most pleasant surprise about this Flyers season?

The rapid development of defenseman Braydon Coburn. He still makes some big mistakes, which is normal for a young defenseman, but he has displayed a real ability to skate the puck out of trouble, and he has been coached into a player who is willing to launch a shot from the point. Of all the moves that general manager Paul Holmgren made last season, the deal to bring Coburn to Philadelphia from Atlanta for Alexei Zhitnik was his best. Coburn has a chance to be to the Flyers what Brian Rafalski was to the Devils in terms of skating the puck through any trap, and he has a better upside in terms of booming a shot for goals and points.

Has the team met, exceeded, or fallen short of where you thought they'd be?
At the beginning of the season I said the team would battle to make the playoffs, and after their quick start I thought I had seriously undervalued their talent. However, the Flyers stumbled and then regained their balance. Overall, I think they are perhaps a little ahead of where I thought they would be at this time. Remember—they were the worst team in the NHL last season, and the fact that they could recover from a serious slump is even more impressive than their quick start.

Chris Therien suggested that Scottie Upshall might be the key to the series with the Capitals, in that he could be the forward who harasses Alex Ovechkin the way Keith Jones once did Jaromir Jagr. Would you agree?
I
love Jonesey, but I don’t think he is going to keep Jagr out of the Hall of Fame. I don’t think Upshall will be able to upset Ovechkin. I would also worry that if Upshall got too involved in that stuff he would wind up in the penalty box too often in the first two games in Washington, and Ovechkin would be seen with that gap-toothed grin after scoring on the power play. However, I do agree with Chris that Upshall is the sort of player who can have a huge impact in a playoff series. He has the kind of game that can be very effective in the playoffs – if he stays under control.

(Much more with Al Morganti, including his pick for the series, after the jump.)

How else do you think the Flyers can eliminate, or at least minimize the 8 Factor?

I really think they have to just assume Ovechkin will get his goals,
and they have such a balanced offense that can score more goals. Rather
than worry about Ovechkin, it would be far better to make sure other
players such as Semin are taken out of the equation. No matter how
great they are, no player (other than a goalie) can beat you alone, and that
includes Gretzky, Lemieux, and Orr.


Which team is the tougher squad? To what degree do you think rough play
will be a factor in this series, as some have touted it will be?

The Flyers are the more physical squad, but Washington is tough in that
the Caps can take a hit without losing their wits. If the Flyers think
they can bash Ovechkin and watch him shrink they will be badly
mistaken. If they bash Ovechkin, he will bash back. The Flyers biggest physical advantage will be their willingness to use
a hard two-man forecheck and thump the Caps defensemen in the
Washington zone.


Does Marty Biron have what it takes to carry a team deep into the playoffs? Does Cristobal Huet?

I believe Biron does, but there is no track record. Nobody has any idea
about Huet. I don’t believe either goalie will be the hero or the goat
in this series.


Other than Ovechkin and Huet, what are the most dangerous elements of
the Caps' game? What are their most glaring (exploitable) weaknesses?

The weakness will be their defense, especially if their injured regulars Jeff Schultz and Shaone Morrisonn cannot play. The Caps' biggest weapons will be their skilled forwards, especially the
Russian quartet of Ovechkin, Semin, Viktor Kozlov and Sergei Fedorov—the only Russian to win the Hart (MVP), and he could be a huge
factor in this series

What's your series prediction?
I think the Flyers have too much scoring balance, I like Philly in six.


What is the Flyers biggest off-season need, and how do you think they'll address it?

I don’t think there are huge needs. I suppose it's to replace captain Smith and
maybe Hatcher if his injury status (knee) is a problem. The bigger
issue might be how to deal with the concussion problems of Simon Gagne, can
they count on him? Or do they have to sign Vinny Prospal?

Flyers answer Ron Hextall's plea with comeback OT win over Islanders

Flyers answer Ron Hextall's plea with comeback OT win over Islanders

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK — Shayne Gostisbehere’s fist pump was so vicious and mighty, the celebration was probably felt back in Philadelphia.

This was an exultation the entire Flyers felt, too.

When it started to look like the bye week wasn’t the break they needed, the Flyers reached down deep and got one Sunday night at the Barclays Center in the form a 3-2 overtime victory over the Islanders (see Instant Replay).

“It allows you to take a breath,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “That’s one thing for sure.”

A sigh of relief for a team beaten and bruised — losers of three straight by a combined score of 15-4, not to mention 3-9-3 in its past 15 games. The Flyers had lost the day prior on home ice to the Devils, 4-1, with a performance not exactly inspiring confidence following five days off.

On Sunday, they trailed 2-0 in the second period.

“We've got to get better at dealing with adversity when something goes wrong,” general manager Ron Hextall said bluntly before the game. “We need to get back on the horse and get back going. Big deal, a team scored a goal. We need to react better to it.”

Finally, the Flyers reacted the way their GM had been hoping.

They flipped the deficit into a victory when Gostisbehere skated behind the net and put the puck on Claude Giroux’s stick for the game-winner with 1:40 left in the extra session. Gostisbehere whipped his arm through the air and embraced Giroux, along with Jakub Voracek, who started the play by stripping Islanders captain John Tavares.

“On a lot of different levels, it’s an important win,” Hakstol said. “It’s huge. And more importantly for us, a great effort. Thought we deserved the two points. Sometimes maybe that’s what it takes to get over the hump — a tremendous effort for 60-plus minutes. I thought we got that out of everyone tonight.”

For Giroux, it was his first goal since Dec. 21.

For Steve Mason, his first win since Dec. 21.

And for the Flyers, their first road victory since Dec. 14, as they went 0-6-3 in the previous nine games away from home.

Yeah, “it was needed,” as Wayne Simmonds said of the win.

“We’ve been fighting it lately and I thought that was a good game from start to finish,” he said. “I thought everyone played well. I think we made bounces go our way tonight instead of hoping and waiting.”

Simmonds scored what might have been the biggest goal of the game. The Flyers, down 1-0 in the second period, came up empty for 33 seconds of a 5-on-3 power play and the proceeding 5-on-4 advantage. The Islanders then padded the lead to 2-0 moments later, putting the Flyers’ backs against the wall.

But Simmonds kept his team from uncoiling with a goal at 14:10 of the period, giving the Flyers life at second intermission. If not for that score, who knows how the Flyers come out in the third period, trailing by multiple goals yet again.

"I think we were plying well,” Giroux said. “We had a lot of chances and [the puck] wasn't going in. Everybody on the bench was frustrated. When Wayne got that first goal, I think [there was] a little relief on the bench. I haven't see a team celebrate so much just for a first goal. It was kind of a relief and we had a little boost out of that.”

Ivan Provorov scored the equalizer 1:47 into the final period when he maintained possession from the blue line to the circle, adeptly skating around two Islanders to put the puck on net. Provorov’s pass to Travis Konecny hit off the skate of New York’s Adam Pelech and into the net.

“I came off the bench and I saw [Brayden Schenn] was going into the zone, so I took a few hard strides, got the puck from him and I saw it was kind of an odd-man situation,” Provorov said. “I held on to the puck a little bit, saw T.K. going backdoor, passed it there and it went off their D skate.”

Just as important as the timely goals was the Flyers’ discipline. Against the Devils, the Flyers compiled 19 penalty minutes, forcing them on seven penalty kills. This time, the Flyers sharpened up, not allowing the Islanders a power play until midway through the third period. In total, they had just four penalty minutes and killed off both power plays faced.

That gave them a chance.

“We just kept saying it the whole time, ‘Keep going, keep going, guys,’” Simmonds said. “We just need one [goal] and from one comes two, and Mase held the fort.”

Mason made 17 of his 36 saves in the third period and overtime combined.

Now, the Flyers at least go into another important back-to-back — starting Wednesday at the Rangers before welcoming the Maple Leafs Thursday — with some confidence instead of a lost weekend.

“I thought the focus was purely on going out and playing well,” Hakstol said. “And you know, that’s harder to do than you might know — when you start to feel some of the pressure without a win in a little bit. I really liked that side of it. Even in that situation, all the guys played well. Hopefully that puts our entire team in the right direction.’’

Best of NHL: Crosby scores league-leading 28th goal in win vs. Bruins

Best of NHL: Crosby scores league-leading 28th goal in win vs. Bruins

PITTSBURGH -- Conor Sheary scored two goals, Sidney Crosby added his league-leading 28th and the Pittsburgh Penguins won their fourth straight game, 5-1 over the Boston Bruins 5-1 on Sunday.

Pittsburgh led 2-1 through two periods before breaking out in the third with three goals in a span of 2 minutes, 57 seconds.

Sheary scored his 17th and has nine goals in nine games. Bryan Rust added his 12th and Patric Hornqvist his 11th for the Penguins, who won a season-high seventh straight at home. Pittsburgh the NHL's best home team, is 13-0-1 in its last 14 home games.

Evgeni Malkin had two assists for a season-best seven-game point streak. Crosby added two assists for a three-point game. Matt Murray made 44 saves to win his fourth straight game.

David Krejci scored his 11th for the Bruins, who have lost four straight and five of their last six (see full recap).

Rangers shut out Red Wings in 1-0 OT win
DETROIT -- J.T. Miller scored at 1:56 of overtime to lift the New York Rangers to a 1-0 victory over the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday.

Henrik Lundqvist made 21 saves for his second shutout of the season and 61st of his career. The Rangers managed only 19 shots in a game that featured few memorable chances by either team.

The winner came when Mats Zuccarello and Miller swooped in alone on Detroit goalie Jared Coreau. Zuccarello made a simple pass to Miller, who lifted the puck over Coreau for his 16th goal of the season.

Detroit defenseman Niklas Kronwall played for the first time since Jan. 4, returning from a lower-body injury. The Red Wings put forward Drew Miller on waivers (see full recap).

Atikinson lifts Jackets over Senators in wild OT win
OTTAWA, Ontario -- Cam Atkinson's second goal of the game at 1:09 of overtime lifted the Columbus Blue Jackets a 7-6 win over the Ottawa Senators on Sunday night.

Atkinson had a breakaway after a shot by Senators captain Erik Karlsson missed the Columbus net and went around the boards out to Atkinson, who was at center-ice.

The Blue Jackets trailed 5-3 after two periods before Lukas Sedlak and Matt Calvert scored 31 seconds apart to tie it less than 2 1/2 minutes into the third. Atklnson then gave Columbus a 6-5 lead with 9:10 remaining, before Kyle Turries tied it for Ottawa on the power play less than 2 minutes later.

Nick Foligno, Scott Harrington and Zach Werenski also scored for the Blue Jackets, and Joonas Korpisalo finished with 28 saves.

Zach Smith and Mike Hoffman each had two goals and Mark Stone also scored for the Senators. Mike Condon had 22 saves (see full recap).