Flyers Weekly Observations: Crushing defeat caps frustrating week

Flyers Weekly Observations: Crushing defeat caps frustrating week

This past week of Flyers hockey was one to remember … for all the wrong reasons.

It was a crushing week of defeats that officially put the Flyers' playoff hopes and dreams on life support.

The week actually started off well with a 6-3 win Tuesday night in Buffalo against the Sabres. But things went downhill from there with a painful 4-2 loss to the Maple Leafs on Thursday in Toronto and Saturday afternoon's brutal 2-1 defeat to the Bruins in Boston.

Let's take a look back at the week that was for the Flyers.

• We have to start with Saturday's unbelievable loss in Boston. Goodness, gracious, what a way to lose such an important game. You have to feel for Brandon Manning, who was just trying to do his job and block a shot for his goalie. It's just instinct to do that. But it was such a harmless shot that Steve Mason would have handled easily. Easier said than done, but Manning just has to let that go. But the fact is, with the way the Bruins brought pressure in the third period and the way the Flyers sagged in the final stanza after a strong second frame, the Flyers were fortunate to even be in a position to get a point with 5.6 seconds left in regulation. Boston outshot the Flyers by a 12-4 margin in the third and had quality chance after quality chance while the Flyers struggled to get anything toward Tuukka Rask's net. It was a heartbreaking loss eerily similar to the one the Flyers suffered on a March Saturday afternoon in Boston in 2015 that all but closed the book on the Flyers' playoff chances that season. But at least the Flyers went to overtime and got a point in that 2015 game. With the Islanders' loss to the Blues on Saturday, the Flyers were 5.6 seconds away from having a chance to be within four points of the wild-card leading Leafs. A huge swing in the standings hinged on 5.6 seconds. Ouch.

• Let's chat about that no-goal call that went against the Flyers on Saturday in Boston. Jake Voracek broke in and was stoned by Rask, but Voracek slung the rebound toward the net. The puck was clearly loose next to Rask's pad and Brayden Schenn looked to have poked the puck across the goal line to open the scoring. But, after deliberation and review, the officials ruled the play dead and no-goal. How was that play dead? The puck was clearly loose on the replay and the whistle never blew. The Flyers got a raw deal on what should have been a goal. Was it the "intent to blow the whistle" call that we've heard numerous times before and is one of the most illogical rules in the league? We all intend to do a lot of things. Doesn’t mean all those things get done.

• Curious decision by Dave Hakstol to go with Michal Neuvirth in net over the streaking Mason for Thursday's important game in Toronto. In his four straight starts going into Thursday, Mason was 3-0-1 with a 1.50 goals-against average and a shutout. Hakstol reasoned his decision by saying the tight scheduled called for Neuvirth to start and that Mason's poor career numbers against the Leafs played a role. I get those facts. But when your season is basically on the line, that stuff has got to get thrown out the window and you have to go with the guy who gives you the best chance to win. With the way Mason was playing heading into the game, he was likely the guy who would have gave the Flyers the best chance to win. It's not like Mason hasn't played a bunch of games in a row before. Remember the end of last season when he lifted the Flyers toward a playoff berth? Thursday turned out to be a rough night for Neuvirth and the Flyers in another blown chance to move up the standings. A curious move by a coach who has been known to ride the hot hand in net.

• If there's one positive to come out of this tough week for the Flyers, it's the continued strong play of Jordan Weal. He was great in Buffalo on Tuesday with a goal and an assist for his first multi-point game. He added another tally Saturday in Boston for the Flyers' lone goal of the afternoon. The puck just seems to find him and he's not afraid to fire away. The thing you have to like most about Weal, though, is where his three goals on the year have come from -- the tough areas in front of the net. He's not afraid to take his 5-foot-10 frame near the crease and go to work in the dirty areas. Players typically get rewarded when they're willing to do that.

• Want a big reason why the Flyers' road trip went downhill? Ugly week for the Flyers' PK. They gave up two-power play goals to the Sabres on Tuesday that tied the game each time. Then they gave up two more to the Leafs, including an absolute backbreaker to Mitch Marner late in the third period that made the score 3-1 in favor of Toronto. And then there was David Pastrnak's opening tally on Saturday in Beantown. Sean Couturier was in position on Pastrnak, but couldn't locate the puck.

• Another week, another questionable offside review. This one came on Weal's goal on Saturday as Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy challenged that Wayne Simmonds entered the zone ahead of the puck. After a delay of several minutes, the good goal eventually stood. Why are these offside reviews taking so long? Offside should be a cut-and-dry rule. A guy is either onside or offside. At the GM meetings this past week in Florida, the GMs voted to keep the offside challenge the way it is. Why is the league insisting on creating such an unnecessary gray area for something that shouldn’t be so complicated?

Coming up this week: Monday vs. Columbus (7 p.m./CSN), Wednesday vs. Pittsburgh (7:30 p.m./NBCSN), Thursday at New Jersey (7 p.m./CSN), Sunday vs. Carolina (7:30 p.m./CSN).

Pierre-Edouard Bellemare's fight sparks Flyers in crucial win vs. Sabres

Pierre-Edouard Bellemare's fight sparks Flyers in crucial win vs. Sabres

TORONTO -- Less than a week after he was awarded an "A" as alternate captain, Flyers center Pierre-Edouard Bellemare was involved in a fight.

Bellemare fought the Sabres Nicolas Deslauriers just minutes into Tuesday's 6-3 Flyers win in Buffalo.

It was a terrible mismatch – Bellemare is not a fighter. He's from Paris and everyone knows Parisians are lovers, not fighters.

Yet Bellemare said it was something he felt obliged to do.

"It was early in the game and we knew how important those points were," Bellemare said on Wednesday after practice at Air Canada Centre.  "He asked me. I thought it was perfect timing to make sure we were all in the game."

Recall the Sabres came into play having lost five of their last six and were just two points behind the Flyers in the wild card standings.

"I knew as soon as I dropped [gloves] he was a little bigger and stronger and I was going to have to handle myself so nothing would happen to me," Bellemare recalled. "I had to find a way to pump the guys up. I think it worked."

Matt Read scored two minutes after the fight to give the Flyers an early 1-0 lead.

Bellemare denied he felt compelled to do this just because he now wears the letter that belonged to Mark Streit when he was here.

"I haven't changed the way I play since they rewarded me with the letter," Bellemare said. "Every game is the most important game of the season. I really thought that doing that was going to help the team and make sure everybody was in the boat together."

Flyers coach Dave Hakstol lauded Bellemare after the game for fighting. This was Bellemare's second fight of the season and fifth overall in the league during his three-year career.

Flyers-Sabres 10 observations: Gudas' game, Weal's speed, Giroux's goal and more

Flyers-Sabres 10 observations: Gudas' game, Weal's speed, Giroux's goal and more

Without stating the obvious, the Flyers' current four-game road trip figures to be the most pivotal of the season given the team went into Tuesday's game at Buffalo three points out of the wild card.

No one knows what the damage might be at the trip's conclusion on Saturday evening, but things really do have to pick up for Dave Hakstol's group if there are going to be playoffs this April at the Wells Fargo Center.

With apologies to former Inquirer colleague Bill Lyon, here are 10 things I think I think about the Flyers' 6-3 rout of the Sabres, who have lost seven of their last eight games (see Instant Replay).

The only minus Flyers were Ivan Provorov, Brayden Schenn, Andrew MacDonald and Valtteri Filppula.

The Flyers scored three goals in the second period to break a 1-1 tie (see game story). Their 68 goals in the middle stanza is nearly double (35) what they have scored in the first period this season.

1. Doug Allen sounded like he lost a little juice during the singing of the national anthems of both Canada and the U.S. Didn't even entice the crowd to join him like he usually does.

2. When was the last time Sean Couturier stripped a player of a puck and linemate Matt Read scored as a result? That's what transpired early when Couturier stunned Jack Eichel and Read redirected a Radko Gudas point shot for a goal. Cherish it. Could be a while before it happens again. It was Read's first goal in 12 games.

3. What a goal from Travis Konecny in the third period to make it 6-2. His last goal came in January before a lengthy injury. What was interesting was he went into the zone alone off the wing against four Sabres, who gave him space to skate and then scored to the far side of the net.

4. Michael Del Zotto had a nice setup at the right post on the second-unit power play in the opening period and failed to beat Robin Lehner. Del Zotto has not scored a goal since Dec. 14 at Colorado -- the final win for the Flyers in their 10-game win streak. Yes, he missed 10 games with a bone bruise, but this is the time of the season when setups like that matter greatly and Del Zotto is an offensive defenseman. Del Zotto and partner Gudas were both plus-5 in the game, a season first. Del Zotto lost a goal late to Chris VandeVelde on a scoring change.

5. Buffalo came into the game tied for first overall in power-play efficiency (22.9 percent) and made mincemeat of the Flyers on its first two chances with Evander Kane scoring to make it a 1-1 game and then Eichel scoring later.

6. Gudas was part of yet another Sabres turnover in the second period and shot one up high off the underside of the crossbar to give the Flyers a 2-1 lead. Gudas deserves credit for having turned his game around this season since beginning it on a suspension. He has found a way to play physical, cause havoc and turnovers without taking a bad penalty and is no longer actively on the referees' radar every game.

7. The Flyers' PK units were not very good. Eichel scored on the Sabres' second power play just three seconds after the drop of the puck. The Flyers have given up three power-play goals over their last two games.

8. Jordan Weal's go-ahead goal late in the second period at 3-2 was the result of a transition line created out of the Flyers' coming off the penalty kill with Couturier and Jakub Voracek. Weal has two goals in eight games, which puts him among the Flyers' top six scorers at the moment. His speed added an element to this game.

9. If you blinked late in the second period, you missed Claude Giroux's first goal in 13 games and 13th marker overall to give the Flyers a two-goal advantage. More significantly, Giroux has just three goals over his last 30 games. If the Flyers don't make the playoffs, that stat that will likely stand out.

10. It probably doesn't get enough credit but Couturier's unit with Read and the ever-irascible Nick Cousins did a superb job of applying defensive pressure to Eichel's line in this game.