Flyers Skate Update: Focus on Ottawa and improving the power play

Flyers Skate Update: Focus on Ottawa and improving the power play

There's still a pulse. However faint it may be, it's still there.

Through all their ups and downs and all their flaws, the Flyers are still alive in the hunt for the last wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.

Entering Tuesday night's game against the visiting Ottawa Senators, the Flyers are six points behind the Boston Bruins for the final wild-card slot. The Bruins host the Nashville Predators on Tuesday. So if the Flyers win and the Bruins fall in regulation to the Preds, the Flyers would somehow, some way be just four points back.

The caveat is the Flyers still have three teams -- Carolina, the New York Islanders and Tampa Bay -- to jump to get right behind the Bruins.

"We're in a position where we know what we have to do," Steve Mason said following Tuesday's morning skate at the Wells Fargo Center. "We can't focus on what other teams are doing. We just have to go out there and play hockey and have fun and put forth a good effort. I feel like if we do that, we'll have a good chance at winning."

Points are obviously at a premium right now. And with the handful of teams to hurdle, the Flyers know they basically need every game left.

They feel the best way to get that tall task done is to focus game by game and not on the teams ahead of them in the standings, as difficult as that may be. They can't jump every team in one fell swoop.

But the Flyers do have some momentum coming into Tuesday's game after steamrolling the rival Penguins, 6-2, on Sunday night in Pittsburgh.

"We need to find a way," Claude Giroux said. "When we play Pittsburgh, we always have a little bit more motivation to win the game. We just need to find that same motivation.

"I think we need to look at the small picture and that picture is Ottawa tonight. We'll play Ottawa tonight and we'll worry about the other teams after.

"For us, it's about winning games. We've been playing some good hockey, but a couple times there, we just couldn't find ways to win. We go to Columbus and play a great game and a great 60 minutes and we can't find a way to get points."

One thing that would greatly help the Flyers' point-earning cause would be getting the power play out of the rut it's been in all month. The Flyers' man advantage has been mired in a miserable 3-for-44 slump and has just looked downright awful for stretches. There have been instances where opponents have had better shorthanded chances than the Flyers' power-play chances.

While the Ottawa team the Flyers host on Tuesday is fighting for the Atlantic Division crown, the Sens feature a middle-of-the-pack penalty kill (17th in the league at 80.6 percent) that could present the Flyers opportunities to take advantage of.

That's been easier said than done lately for the Flyers, although they did fire 10 power-play shots on net in three chances in Saturday's 1-0 loss in Columbus.

"We know we've had games where we've gone 1 for 7 or 1 for 8 and that happens sometimes," Jake Voracek said. "We've all played together for a long time. We just have to find a way to get the shots through."

"Our power play needs to get us some big goals," Giroux said. "We've had the same power play for a lot of years here and we've been successful. We've got to keep working on it.

"There's no confusion and there's no doubt in the way we want to be on the power play. When our power play is going, we get the chances that we want and we have all the tools that we want to have."

Lineup
Nick Cousins, who hasn't played in the last six games thanks to a suspected concussion suffered March 15 against the Penguins, took part in the morning skate but was not involved in line rushes. He'll sit again against the Sens. Dave Hakstol had no official update on Cousins' status, but did say it was good to see the 23-year-old forward back on the ice.

Sticking with his modus operandi after victories, Hakstol will not be making any lineup changes for the Flyers after Sunday's win in Pittsburgh.

Mason will start in net. He'll be opposed by Ottawa's Craig Anderson.

F: Matt Read-Claude Giroux-Jake Voracek
Jordan Weal-Valterri Filppula-Wayne Simmonds
Dale Weise-Sean Couturier-Brayden Schenn
Chris VandeVelde-Pierre-Edouard Bellemare-Travis Konecny

D: Ivan Provorov-Andrew MacDonald
Shayne Gostisbehere-Michael Del Zotto
Radko Gudas-Brandon Manning

G: Steve Mason
Michal Neuvirth

Flyers' poor division record biggest factor in being out of playoff picture

Flyers' poor division record biggest factor in being out of playoff picture

PITTSBURGH -- There's a bit of tragic irony to how the Flyers' season will end over the next two-plus weeks.
 
They have seven games left on the schedule. Six of them are teams residing in the Metro Division. Tuesday's opponent, Ottawa, is the lone exception.
 
There are so many reasons why the Flyers are scrambling now, clinging to the desperate belief they can still make the playoffs -- mathematically, they're alive -- against all rational thought.
 
They're six points behind Boston for the second wild-card spot, but they still have to hurdle Carolina, Tampa Bay and the Islanders just to get to Boston.
 
Yet one major reason for the Flyers' dilemma seems pretty obvious: They've been simply awful in head-to-head play against their own division.
 
The Flyers have a winning record against both divisions in the Western Conference.
 
That's not the case, however, in the East where the Metro Division is the only division with three teams over 100 points and where the Flyers have failed miserably to challenge from within.
 
Sunday's 6-2 rout of the Penguins in Pittsburgh left the Flyers with a poor 9-13-2 record against the Metro. It's the only division they have a losing record against.
 
Last season, Dave Hakstol's group finished 14-10-6 against their own division. That was a critical factor in enabling the Flyers to make the playoffs.
 
"We know where we are in the standings and it's not going to be easy to make the playoffs," Jakub Voracek said. "We all know that. We have to work off results of the other teams and try to play relaxed and loose."
 
Against the Eastern Conference overall, the Flyers are close to .500 (21-22-4) yet realize they should be better.
 
These two records represent a very large reason why the Flyers are sitting on the outside looking in as the playoffs near.
 
Right now, at least four clubs from the Metro -- half the division -- will make the playoffs. That says a lot about why games within your section are so pivotal at season's end.
 
"The numbers don't lie," Hakstol admitted on Sunday. "It's a tough road every single night. You've got to do a good job within your division, within your conference.
 
"We've played a lot of tight, hard games. The reality is, we're a number of points out of the playoffs and those points within your division are very valuable."
 
It's something the Flyers have to greatly improve upon next season if they want to be sitting in a playoff spot a month before the season ends instead of playing catch-up when the odds are hopelessly against them.
 
Pens killers
Every team in the NHL has a couple players who have fairly impressive career numbers against other teams.
 
Voracek averages better than a point against the Penguins. His goal Sunday gave him 17 goals and 34 points in 32 career games against Pittsburgh.
 
Voracek admitted after the game he's not sure why.
 
Claude Giroux also has excellent numbers against the Pens -- his two assists in the win left the Flyers' captain with 41 points (14 goals) in 40 career games vs. Pittsburgh.
 
Shayne Gostisbehere has been around a fraction as long as either Giroux or Voracek -- eight career games vs. the Pens -- yet has two goals and nine points in those games.
 
Brayden Schenn doesn't average a point a game against the Pens, but he's close. His assist on Sunday left the winger/center with 20 points (8 goals) in 26 games.
 
The only Flyer who has solid numbers against Pittsburgh and didn't make Sunday's score sheet was Wayne Simmonds. He has 23 points in 28 games. 

Matt Read on Flyers' changes: 'We're running out of time here'

Matt Read on Flyers' changes: 'We're running out of time here'

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- As far as he can remember, in his six years with the Flyers, Matt Read hasn't played on a line with both Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek.

Read has spent time with each of the Flyers' top two scorers at various times but never together. The Flyers hope the cohesiveness comes together quickly after making changes to three of the lines on Wednesday in an attempt keep their sagging playoff hopes.

"We're running out of time here, so hopefully a couple line changes here gives us a little spark offensively," Read said. "We've still got to play better defensively, but you know it's kind of do-or-die right now. So hopefully chemistry clicks right away and things can start going off the bat."

Flyers coach Dave Hakstol had hinted at adjusting the lines recently but stuck with the current structure in Tuesday night's 3-2 loss at Winnipeg (see game story). With the ability to practice Wednesday in Minnesota before Thursday's game against the Wild, Hakstol followed through with the adjustment.

Hakstol met with the four centers before practice and then had Giroux with Voracek and Read. Valtteri Filppula centered Jordan Weal and Wayne Simmonds. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare was teamed with Travis Konecny and Chris VandeVelde.

Brayden Schenn, Sean Couturier and Dale Weise stayed together.

"That line, it's been a good line for us," Hakstol said of Schenn, Couturier and Weise. "Off their game a little bit yesterday, but they've been a good line and I'm confident they'll come back and do a good job tomorrow. The other changes are just looking at different things coming off a road performance yesterday… just looking at a way to inject a little bit more into our lineup for a real tough road game here tomorrow night."

The Flyers didn't lose any ground with Tuesday's loss with Boston, Tampa Bay and Carolina also losing. But the Flyers now have just 10 games remaining as they trail Toronto by seven points for the final wild-card spot.

"We didn't take advantage of the opportunity we had for two points," Hakstol said. "At the end of the day, you can't sit back and watch what's happening elsewhere. You've got to take care of your own backyard, and that's what our focus is. We didn't get it done yesterday. Point blank, we didn't get it done. So, we've got an opportunity tomorrow night for two points and that's what our job is."

Reuniting Giroux and Voracek, along with Read, is one way he hopes to solve the issue. Voracek said he knows the onus is on his line to lead the way.

"We know what to expect from each other," Voracek said. "When we move our feet, we are dangerous. So that's what we've got to do. We've got to have fun. We've got to find a way to score the goals and help the team to win the games, because we're going to play a lot of minutes."

Another possible change for Hakstol could come along the defense. Brandon Manning practiced on Wednesday and Hakstol said it's possible he could rejoin the lineup against the Wild.

Manning hasn't played since March 11 because of a right shoulder injury. Hakstol said he's confident Manning is ready and a decision will be made Thursday morning on which of the seven defensemen will play in the game.

"He's practiced well," Hakstol said. "He got extra work in yesterday. He practiced well today. We'll have a decision to make tomorrow."