Flyers focused on actual game instead of Stadium Series event

Flyers focused on actual game instead of Stadium Series event

VOORHEES, N.J. -- The toughest challenge for the Flyers this weekend might be themselves.

They’re playing the Pittsburgh Penguins outdoors on Saturday as part of the NHL’s Stadium Series event. That should be a big deal.

Yet, given their circumstances right now, how can they possibly enjoy the moment?

Maybe had this game been played in early January, before the team hit a crisis point in the standings, and was winning, it would be easier to relax.

The fact is, the Flyers have lost seven of their last 10 games, are drifting as the 11th team in the Eastern Conference, and the second wild card they held for so long seems far from their reach.

Tough to have fun and soak up the atmosphere when there’s so much pressure to start making up ground in the playoff hunt.

“Yeah, we’re there to have two points,” Flyers captain Claude Giroux said Thursday. “If this was earlier in the season, we could take it in a bit more, but it’s all business for us right now. It’s just playing.”

That attitude extends right up to coach Dave Hakstol, who didn’t break a smile when talking about what’s really important here.

His team is desperate for points. There are 22 games left in the regular season and 19 are against Eastern Conference opponents.

The Flyers need to win a bunch of games and get hot like they did last season in March if they are going to recapture a wild-card berth.

“Honestly, it’s business first,” Hakstol said. “There is something to the event and certainly something important with family and the type of event it is. But, let’s be honest. Right now, it’s business first. That’s what our focus will be.

“Points. Simple as that. It’s two points. We need the two points and it’s a road game and it happens to be in an event-type situation.

“So we’ve got to make sure we handle all of that in terms of our preparation. But the bottom line is it comes down to the two points that are at stake on Saturday night.”

Michal Neuvirth will make his sixth consecutive start in goal for the Flyers. He was a backup to Semyon Varlamov at Heinz Field during the 2011 Winter Classic as a member of the Washington Capitals against Pittsburgh.

“We’ve got to focus on the game,” Neuvirth said. “There is going to be a lot of distractions. Lot of families and friends in town. But we’re gonna go there and it’s all about business and trying to get the two points.”

Hakstol is only slightly concerned about the hype taking away from the players’ focus. If the Flyers were coming into this game on a win streak, he and his players wouldn’t be quite as uptight as they are right now.

You can cut the tension in the Flyers' dressing room these days with a skate blade.

“You need a little mental attention to detail there,” Hakstol said. “That’s what it is. We’re in that mold. I don’t think that’s a big hump to overcome. I think we’ll be OK.”

Heinz Field holds 68,000 people. The NHL expects 60,000 in attendance. Regardless, it will be the largest crowd ever to witness a Flyers game.

“It’s more exciting and a must-win for us,” said Michael Raffl, who played outdoors once in Europe. “A huge game no matter where we would have played it. We could play it at Skate Zone and we’d be excited.”

Giroux said it will be “weird” being on the ice because his past experiences in outdoor games saw him drown out the fans as much as possible. Yet he admitted the sheer number of fans this time might make that difficult to do.

“It’s pretty exciting to play in the Steelers' stadium,” he said. “Playing against Pittsburgh, it should be a great game.”

Another solid effort for Flyers not enough in loss to NHL-best Capitals

Another solid effort for Flyers not enough in loss to NHL-best Capitals

BOX SCORE

You see it in their faces. Feel it in their voices.
 
And you wonder how it affects them night after night.
 
The Flyers played another pretty solid loss, as they say, Wednesday night against the Washington Capitals at the Wells Fargo Center.
 
A lot closer than 4-1 makes it appear (see Instant Replay). It was a lot like that solid loss last week in Calgary, too.
 
“Maybe a little bit similar,” coach Dave Hakstol said. “Our effort was good start to finish. There’s always a couple mistakes you make you want to clean up and do better. I thought tonight we had more opportunities than we did in the Calgary game.”
 
They had more goals, too. Except two got taken away.
 
One for goalie interference. The other hit the crossbar and even after a long celebration and delay, was ruled no good.
 
That’s been the Flyers’ no-luck this season. It’s all gone wrong for them as their wild-card aspirations slip further away.
 
“It’s very frustrating,” team captain Claude Giroux said. “Same story. We need to find a way here. We say the same thing after each game. I like the way we’re playing.
 
“We played a good hockey game, not good enough. We have a challenge in front of us. In the past, we’ve been a team that doesn’t back down. We have to keep our heads high and [battle].”
 
The Flyers had the right approach, coming out fast and aggressive on the Caps. In fact, Jakub Voracek scored 23 seconds into the game during a net scrum.
 
Thing was, Caps coach Barry Trotz correctly saw goalie interference as Dale Weise actually pushed Braden Holtby aside (see feature highlight). It was an easy coach’s challenge to overturn the goal and that’s what happened.
 
Weise was beside himself after the game.
 
“What I was trying to do was brace myself so I didn’t bowl him over and it comes back the other way,” Weise said.
 
“I don’t know what else to do there. I’m trying to poke the puck with one hand and brace myself so I don’t hit him.”
 
Naturally, six minutes later, Brandon Manning turned a puck over along the boards with T.J. Oshie and Alex Ovechkin, and it resulted in Nicklas Backstrom getting a great setup in the high slot for a 1-0 Caps lead.
 
“Even after that, we came back and played well and had good chances,” Weise said. “It’s the same story every night. We don’t capitalize on it and give up a few chances and they score on their opportunities.”
 
That’s when frustration seeped in on the Flyers and the penalties began to mount. Sean Couturier tried to get away with an elbow. Didn’t work.
 
The Caps dazzled the Flyers with brilliant puck movement, culminating with Evgeny Kuznetsov’s goal to make it 2-0 at 16:28. He had two goals in the game.
 
While that could have ruined them, the Flyers came out hard in the second as Ivan Provorov appeared to score in the opening minute. However, replay confirmed his shot hit the crossbar. Two near-goals for the Flyers.
 
“I shot it and saw that [the puck] went up and I didn’t hear a sound,” Provorov said. “I thought it went in.”
 
No matter. Manning atoned for his first-period miscue by saving a puck from leaving the zone and then firing on net where Brayden Schenn scored a rare 5-on-5 goal by batting the puck out of the air to cut the Flyers’ deficit in half.
 
Of Schenn’s 19 goals, 14 have come on the power play.
 
Giroux’s line with Schenn and Wayne Simmonds consisted of the Flyers’ only players on the right side of the plus-minus category. And to show how deceiving that can be, Voracek worked his tail off, too, but was minus-3.
 
That’s how it goes these days for this group.
 
“It’s been a lot of games where it’s been one- or two-goal hockey games and it’s tough to do,” Schenn said. “We’re generating shots, but I don’t know if we’re generating enough chances.
 
“At the end of the day, you feel you play hard and a pretty good hockey game and end up scoring one goal again. Whether it’s 3-1, 4-1, you score one goal, you won’t win many hockey games.”
 
The Flyers are 3-6-1 since coming out of the All-Star break. Of those seven total losses, including overtime, they have scored more than one goal just once.
 
“We’ve got to rise above it, each and every one of us,” Hakstol said. “Get back at it. And that is what this group has continually done. We have to do that one more time here.”

Flyers, at this point, should sell a few valuable veterans ahead of deadline

Flyers, at this point, should sell a few valuable veterans ahead of deadline

Dave Hakstol’s Flyers returned home from Vancouver on Monday not quite resembling conquering heroes.

Sure, they salvaged two points from their three-game trek to Western Canada, but for a team that supposedly sees itself as a wild card, that just ain’t gonna get it done.

The Flyers required at least four points — ideally, five — from the trip to give us some proof they’re a legit contender for the wild card.

Right now, their wild-card hopes remain on life support.

Yes, they’re only two points behind Toronto. Thing is, the field of wild-card contenders have officially caught up and even passed them.

When the Flyers left for the trip, they were even in points with the Maple Leafs while holding down the 9-seed in the Eastern Conference. Toronto had the second wild card.

Hakstol's team is the 11-seed now. Toronto, Florida and the New York Islanders are ahead of them with games in hand.

This trip should offer enough evidence to general manager Ron Hextall that his team is still floundering.

There are no moves Hextall can initiate at the trade deadline that will guarantee a playoff spot without mortgaging the future.

Since their return from the All-Star break, the Flyers are 3-5-1. Those numbers don’t suggest they’re headed to the playoffs.

And even if the Flyers were to qualify as the second wild card, they would face a very early exit against the Washington Capitals.

Again.

At this point, with the March 1 NHL trade deadline staring Hextall in the face, he has to be a seller at the deadline.

If you trust Hextall’s long-term plan of patience, you understand that what this is about is preserving assets and preparing young players to be integrated into the system next year and the year after, and the year after that.

Mark Streit and Michael Del Zotto are two unrestricted free agents who could help someone else right now.

Streit has been strong this season on the power play, which is his forte. He’s the perfect deadline rental.

Even if Hextall would like to have Streit’s veteran leadership on the blue line next season on a one-year, low salary to “tutor” Robert Hagg or Sam Morin or Travis Sanheim, he could still move Streit now and re-sign him later this summer.

Del Zotto, at 26, will get a nice return in draft picks or a prospect. Del Zotto is going to want a big contract this summer (he’s making $3.87 million now).

There’s no incentive for Hextall to go that direction given the sheer number of young, outstanding defensive prospects in the system that will be arriving shortly, all of whom come with very low salary cap hits.

Don’t blame Hextall for not getting involved in the Matt Duchene/Gabriel Landeskog saga that is going on in Colorado. GM Joe Sakic is asking a lot.

Hextall seems reluctant to part with any future prospects or young players just to get the same in return.

Much of the fan base has been saying for a while now it’s time to move team captain Claude Giroux. He's in the midst of his fourth consecutive season in which his numbers have declined, and in some respects, dramatically from his two best seasons — 2011-12 (93 points) and 2013-14 (86 points).

Yet there is no indication from Hextall or anyone in the Flyers' organization that such is even being contemplated.

Or that the organization feels Giroux’s leadership abilities have been assumed by Wayne Simmonds, who is arguably the most popular Flyer, two years running now.

Hextall still sees veterans such as Giroux, who is only 29, as a player who would help the transition of younger pups coming along — Travis Konecny, German Rubtsov, Nick Cousins, Jordan Weal, etc. — and he also believes Giroux can recapture his offense.

In short, Hextall is not going to tear his roster apart nor is he going to make a blockbuster trade next Wednesday. But he will likely try to sell veteran assets that make the team younger in some way.

Which is the correct thinking for the Flyers now and right into this summer, as well.