Flyers fail to get enough quality scoring chances in 2nd straight shutout

Flyers fail to get enough quality scoring chances in 2nd straight shutout

BOX SCORE

Another tight, defensive logjam.
 
Another shutout loss.
 
This time to the St. Louis Blues, 2-0, on Monday night (see Instant Replay).
 
For the macabre side in you, that’s back-to-back shutout losses for Dave Hakstol’s Flyers, who haven’t scored a goal in 122 minutes, 49 seconds.
 
The last time the Flyers were shut out twice in succession on home ice was in October 1999.
 
“It goes back probably the last 10, 15 games that we’re probably not scoring a whole lot of goals,” Brayden Schenn said. “Obviously in this league, we know you have to play good defense, but you also have to score goals and we’re just not doing that right now.
 
“We’re not generating enough grade-A opportunities, maybe shooting away or flipping pucks too much. We need to open up the ice and use all parts of the ice. After that, chances will start coming.”
 
St. Louis had 16 shots. Paul Stastny scored when a puck ricocheted off his skate. A Jakub Voracek turnover led to Kenny Agostino’s goal in the third period (see feature highlight).
 
They weren’t great shots, yet the Blues converted. 

Conversely, the Flyers had 26 shots — an 11-1 advantage in the first — yet they sorely lacked for quality chances. Voracek and Michael Raffl had attempts early. Nick Cousins late. Not much in between. All this defense has led to no offense for the Flyers. None.
 
The power play? That used to be the Flyers’ forte. They lived and died by the PP. They are now 1 for 9 without Shayne Gostisbehere back there (see 10 observations).
 
“You look at Ghost and look at (Mark) Streit, they are two different elements,” Schenn said. “Streiter is good at carrying the puck up the ice, he can make stuff happen up there. He’s obviously been doing it for a while.
 
“You look at his 5-on-4 points over his career, he’s scored quite a few of them. Ghost has a bigger shot as far as that goes. Both guys bring a good dynamic.”
 
Well, one dynamic is missing, but the fact remains the Flyers are lacking for offense in every part of their lineup right now.
 
“Tonight we didn’t get a lot of grade-A looks on our power play,” Hakstol said. “I think we had six shots on goal. We need to generate a little bit more there.
 
“That is not all on the power play. You have to score 5-on-5 and be able to win games 5-on-5. Tonight, we didn’t do that.”
 
Hakstol made a couple line changes. The most significant was moving Wayne Simmonds to Sean Couturier’s checking line with Nick Cousins against St. Louis’ big line of Alex Steen-Paul, Stastny and Vladimir Tarasenko to give the Flyers more muscle and a harder edge.
 
They did just that and held them pretty much in check amid numerous scrums.
 
“We tried to get their top players off their game and I thought we did a pretty good job,” Cousins said. “Keep them off the score sheet and in our end. I thought we had better shifts than they did.”
 
Again, defensively, the Flyers are playing very soundly. It’s just they have nothing behind that to help them score a goal and win, especially when the power play can’t get a cycle going, can’t set up and has the puck being cleared on them every couple seconds.
 
Things only got more frustrating for them in the second period as the Flyers’ penalty killers did some marvelous work to kill off a four-minute penalty only to see the Blues score seconds later on the Stastny deflection.
 
Hakstol challenged the play was offsides but the goal stood (see story). The Blues had 11 shots that period.

Around this same time, Travis Konecny left the game limping. His awkward collision into the boards left him with a left knee and ankle sprain, according to a source (see story). He's in a walking boot, too.
 
St. Louis iced the game in the third period on Agostino’s breakaway goal off Voracek's errant cross-ice pass.
 
“It was for G (Claude Giroux),” Voracek said. “I was trying to get it past the first guy and didn’t see the second guy (Jori Lehtera) behind him. It’s a bad play, a bad turnover. In my opinion, it cost us the game.”
 
Back in December, when the Flyers were scoring at will, that turnover goal would have been quickly erased.
 
Now, with the Flyers starved for goals (four over the last last four games), all it takes to have a negative impact in the game is a critical error.
 
“It was unfortunate that bounce there on the first goal, but still we weren’t able to turn it around in the last [period],” Streit said. “We had a few good looks, but certainly not enough to win the hockey game.”

Flyers look to limit goals against, improve 5-on-5 play in second half

Flyers look to limit goals against, improve 5-on-5 play in second half

VOORHEES, N.J. — As bad as things have been for the Flyers — just three wins in their last 14 games — there was no massive shakeup during their mandatory five-day bye week.
 
General manager Ron Hextall didn’t make a trade, nor did he make any roster moves involving a call-up from the Phantoms.
 
Coach Dave Hakstol took one day off, then got back to watching video and live games, almost in a scout mode.
 
When the players hit the ice Friday afternoon at Skate Zone, Hakstol’s lineup was pretty much the same.
 
The only change saw Matt Read re-enter the lineup on the top line with Claude Giroux and Michael Raffl after missing two games with a skate cut.
 
The lines and defensive pairs remained the same. Goalie Michal Neuvirth will start Saturday against New Jersey at the Wells Fargo Center.
 
“For me, the biggest thing is our overall performance,” Hakstol said. “Coming out of a break, that may be a tough thing to do — to put it all together. But I think the energy will be there both mentally and physically. That’s important. The overall performance.
 
“The results are important on a different level when you start looking at the playoff picture and the race. At the end of the day, two points are going to be important, as well.”
 
The Flyers begin anew (see story) with back-to-back games against New Jersey here on Saturday and then the Islanders on Sunday in Brooklyn.
 
They will play four Eastern Conference opponents between Saturday and next Thursday before they begin the three-day All-Star break.
 
Three of these games are against Metropolitan Division opponents while the fourth is against Toronto. The Maple Leafs happen to hold the second wild-card spot that the Flyers previously had going into the bye week.
 
“Guys realize the situation we are in,” Brayden Schenn said. “We know the circumstances. The break came at a good time, mentally ... guys know what we’re coming into there with the back-to-backs.
 
“You were kind of scoreboard watching. We know where we’re at. We’re in a dogfight battle with teams for those wild-card spots. There’s a lot of hockey left. It’s no secret. Everyone pays attention where we’re at.”
 
Hakstol said after his one-day off, he went right back to work in evaluating where this team is. That the team remains intact without any kind of moves seems to send a message to the players.
 
That message is: it’s on you at this point. Don’t count on getting help from the outside. It has to come from within the current roster.
 
“Anything we’ve talked about is us as a group doing things we do well,” Hakstol said. “We’ve had a rough couple weeks where we haven’t been able to do the things we need to and want to consistently.
 
“I’m very confident in this group and this team. For us, what the players said is true. It was a real good time to have a mental and physical break. Now it’s time to get back to work.”
 
What has to improve right from the get-go is the Flyers' 5-on-5 play. Forget for a moment they have scored 75 goals and are 13th in the NHL averaging 2.76 goals a game.
 
The critical factor is 5-on-5 goals against. The Flyers have allowed 98 goals in that situation — only Colorado (100 GA) has allowed more. The Flyers' 3.13 goals-against number is 28th worst in the league.
 
Unless those numbers improve significantly, the Flyers won’t be in the playoffs.
 
“We have to stay within our system,” defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere said. “We give up too many odd-man rushes. Especially in those final games before the break. That’s a big thing.
 
“When we’re giving up that many, it’s not going to be in our favor. It’s not fair to judge our goalies in those games because we didn’t give them too much help out there.”
 
Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, who plays on a checking line, said the 5-on-5 goals against is a telling stat.
 
“You have it right there,” he said. “You don’t have to say much more than that. You cannot be a consistently good team in the league if you are that low in goals against. It’s something we have to all work together at, as players.”
 
Hakstol said the Flyers enjoyed success 5-on-5 when they were winning because their team play was “consistent” game to game.
 
That hasn’t been the case during this 3-8-3 stretch.
 
“Our 5-on-5 game hasn’t necessarily regressed, but the consistency of it has,” Hakstol said. “That’s when you see the holes defensively. That’s when you see some of the problems you run into.
 
“We’ve got to get back to it. Back to a full 60 minutes of good 5-on-5 play. That’s up to each and every one of us, taking that responsibility and making the push to do that.”

Difficult to see now, but remember: Flyers’ window just starting to open

Difficult to see now, but remember: Flyers’ window just starting to open

They can’t win away from the Wells Fargo Center. They’ve seen a nine-point cushion in the wild-card standings vanish and when they resume play on Saturday, they’ll be out of the playoff picture.

The Flyers are who we thought they were. A fringe playoff team lacking in too many areas to be considered a serious contender, despite the overachievement of last season.

When the Flyers entered their bye week, they sat one point ahead of Carolina for the final wild-card spot and two points ahead of Florida and Ottawa. They are 3-8-3 in 14 games since their 10-game winning streak was snapped and were blown out in back-to-back games in Boston and Washington by a combined score of 11-3.

Yet, they’re still on the brink of the postseason — for now. Perhaps it’s time for a trade from the front office to send a shockwave through the locker room? Not so fast.

“If we can make our team better, we will,” Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said last week at Flyers Skate Zone in Voorhees, New Jersey. “But we’re staying on course.

“I don’t care if we win every game the rest of the year or lose every game, we’re staying on course. We set out on a course two and a half years ago — we’re not deviating from what we planned. I’m not going to make a trade to send a message.”

It’s easy to get carried away in win streaks and unexpected playoff appearances, especially in Philadelphia, where the four major sports teams are rebuilding. It’s even easier to scream for a team to go for it when it shows a glimpse into its full potential.

That is what makes sports fun. It’s what makes for good sports debate programs and entertaining talking heads. But it’s not how organizations should run their operations.

It’s certainly not how Hextall runs his regime with the Flyers. Hextall has a clear vision, and time and time again has shown no signs of expediting his plan for immediate help. He has made it a purpose to build through the draft. We have to remember that and realize that the Flyers’ front office is playing the long game here, not the short game.

“Right now, we’re gonna stick with what we’ve got here and move forward,” Hextall said Sunday in Washington. “But on a day-to-day basis, I always look at how we can make our club better, and if there’s something that we think makes our club better, we’ll do it.

“The worst thing you can do is overreact when things aren’t going right and that’s not gonna happen. But if we can find a way to make ourselves better, we will.”

Let’s take a step back and make some sense of the Flyers’ current state. They are seventh in the Eastern Conference with 50 points as of Tuesday morning. They are 8-12-3 on the road, with nine straight defeats away from South Philadelphia. They are a top-10 scoring team, with 127 goals, but have allowed a league-high 144 goals against.

Steve Mason’s confidence is completely shook. Michal Neuvirth hasn’t been much better, if at all. Claude Giroux hasn’t scored a goal in 11 games and has just one marker in his last 17 games. (To be fair, he does have seven assists in his last eight games.)

Shayne Gostisbehere has been a healthy scratch twice this season, with his latest coming last Saturday in Boston. He’s struggled with his gap defense, among other areas, and is enduring growing pains in his second NHL season — as expected.

While the Flyers’ defense has scored 102 points, second most in the NHL, it struggles with gaps, turnovers and has too many breakdowns. Ivan Provorov, 20, has been the lone bright spot among the group of eight defensemen.

Head coach Dave Hakstol has juggled his lines and defensive pairs in attempts to find something that works. Some of the moves have worked, others have not. Questioning some of Hakstol’s lineup decisions is fair, but there’s no question his systems work.

There is only so much Hakstol can do with what he has to work with. Part of the blame can be placed on Hextall because this team, as currently constructed, is not there yet. It is, however, unfair to put every decision Hakstol makes under a microscope.

“Hak has tried a lot of things,” Hextall said. “In the end, it’s a group and we win together, we lose together. We have to react as a group better when something doesn’t go our way. That’s bottom line. … Line changes, different D combinations, flipping Mase, Neuvy. Everything that’s there, Hak has tried. In the end it comes down to our whole group just being better and not reacting the way we do when something negative happens.”

One of the reasons Hextall opted to hire Hakstol, who came directly from college with no prior NHL coaching experience, is development. Growth takes time, and there is rhyme or reason behind each Hakstol benching, whether we see it or not.

The Flyers’ play the last few weeks has been dumbfounding because a lot of the same mistakes that plagued the team in the beginning of the season — lax team defensive coverage, bad decisions with the puck, letting opponents enter the zone too easily, among others — are reappearing, and that’s a fair criticism of the current coaching staff.

But, when we put things in perspective, there are positives. Provorov has proven he’s the real deal, and he just turned 20 last Friday. Travis Konecny is here, and while he’s been the victim of a Hakstol benching, he’s shown glimpses of what’s to come. Jakub Voracek (41 points) has bounced back, Wayne Simmonds is an All-Star and has added penalty kill to his résumé. Brayden Schenn leads the NHL in power-play goals with 11, though his 5-on-5 scoring could improve. And there’s a lot of upside in the farm system, with the potential of seeing an influx of kids joining the Flyers as early as next season. 

“The window is actually starting to open, the way I see it,” Hextall said last week. “The kids we have on our team. The kids we have coming. There’s things happening here that are good. We’re going to get better here. We’re not going to get worse.”

And Hextall is right — the window is just opening and will only open wider. Patience remains key here, and don’t just trust the process with the Flyers. Enjoy the course.