Elements will play factor for both Flyers, Penguins in outdoor game

Elements will play factor for both Flyers, Penguins in outdoor game

PITTSBURGH -- The ice on Friday afternoon at Heinz Field was watery and slushy.
 
That’s because the city set a historic record at 78 degrees for Feb. 24.
 
So what were the ice conditions?
 
“They were pretty good,” Sidney Crosby said. “It was pretty bright there. Started off the practice and the sun was beating down pretty good.
 
“I’ve played in a few of these and the ice was pretty good considering how warm it was. It’s supposed to cool down and I’m sure it will get better.”
 
The Penguins will host the Flyers on Saturday night in a Stadium Series outdoor game.
 
Pittsburgh took the ice Friday at 4 p.m. The Flyers got on the ice a little more than an hour later and things started to cool down.
 
“We had a pretty good practice given the circumstances,” Jakub Voracek said. “This is a little better setup than Philly. The fans are closer.”
 
It was much hotter when Pittsburgh took the ice, but the temperature was still warm after the sun went down.
 
Shayne Gostisbehere said, “It was hot for sure. … It was fun, but it was pretty hot.”
 
Defenseman Radko Gudas said the ice surface was, “playable, but a little rough.”
 
On Saturday, rain is expected, with temperatures falling to 42 degrees by 5 p.m.
 
During the game, which begins at 8 p.m., the temperature is projected to continue to drop and there will be wind gusts up to 31 mph. By the end of the night, the forecast says temps will be in the 20s. 

Players are more concerned about the wind than the ice at this point. Crosby, who has played in three previous NHL outdoor games, said wind is a huge factor. It happened to the Penguins at the 2014 Stadium Series game in Chicago.
 
“It can definitely be a factor,” Crosby said. “I want to say in Chicago that was something we kind of had to look at. We felt it a little more there compared to the other two [outdoor games]. If it's going to get windy like that, it’s something to be aware of.”
 
It remains to be seen how the NHL will handle which team goes into the wind first.
 
“Yeah, the wind,” Penguins assistant coach Rick Tocchet said of what element will be a big factor. “I hope you don’t have to backcheck. Who gets the advantage? They change in the third period. But who picks what end? There is a wind factor.”
 
Tocchet rated the ice Friday as “a little slushy.”
 
“It was good early and then it got tough because it was hot outside,” Tocchet said. “But we got a half-decent practice out of it.
 
“The one thing, the puck didn’t bounce, which was good. Players can adapt a lot better when the puck doesn’t bounce. When things bounce, it’s a tough night.”

Flyers' power play rediscovers swagger in win over Canucks

Flyers' power play rediscovers swagger in win over Canucks

BOX SCORE

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – The Flyers got some swagger back Sunday night.

But especially so on the power play, which entered Sunday's clash just 2 for 19 over the last six games.

Two markers on the man advantage helped the Flyers edge the Canucks, 3-2, at Rogers Arena in Vanvoucer (see Instant Replay).

“It all comes back to finding a way to produce – and they did that tonight,” said Flyers coach Dave Hakstol, who had called for his power-play participants to rediscover that swagger.

Hakstol’s club won for the first time in its last nine games in Western Canada. More importantly, the Flyers (28-24-7) moved within a point of the eighth and final playoff spot, currently shared by Florida and Boston, in the Eastern Conference.

Thanks to the power-play success, the Flyers built a 3-0 lead in the game’s first 23 minutes and then hung on, atoning for a sub-par effort in a one-sided loss to the Oilers in Edmonton on Thursday night.

The Flyers converted two of three power plays while blanking the Canucks on all four of their man advantages. The loss prevented the Canucks (26-28-6) from getting closer to a Western Conference playoff berth.

“I thought we were playing some pretty good hockey of late, but the pucks weren't going in,” said Flyers center Brayden Schenn, who scored the winning goal on the power play at 2:38 of the second period. “Tonight, we tightened up defensively again from Edmonton's game and were able to score a few more goals. It's a huge two points going home."

Wayne Simmonds, also on the power play, and Jakub Voracek scored the Flyers’ other goals.

“We needed a win,” Simmonds said. “Especially after the game in Edmonton, this is good for the morale."

Shayne Gostisbehere assisted on all three goals, recording the first three-point night of his career.

Schenn’s winning goal came only a minute and 27 seconds after Voracek gave the Flyers a 2-0 lead at 1:11 of the second by sending Sean Couturier’s huge rebound into a gaping net behind Canucks goaltender Ryan Miller. Voracek’s goal was his first in 10 games. He had not scored since Jan. 25 against the New York Rangers.

How did long sought-after goal make him feel?

"Like I scored a goal,” deadpanned Voracek. “We won the game. That’s the way I looked at it. It doesn't matter who scored the goals. Special teams were huge tonight. I liked our power play. We were going all 60 minutes. This one kept us in the race."

The Flyers were a well-rested team thanks to a two-day break between games and a three-day break before the start of the road trip. The Canucks, on the other hand, were playing their second of back-to-back home games with only a day’s rest following a grueling six-game United States road trip. But there was still considerable suspense over the final 30 minutes.

Markus Granlund and Jannik Hansen tallied for the Canucks, who are known as comeback artists, at 3:43 and 12:42 of the second, respectively, before the Flyers shut Vancouver down the rest of the way. Voracek indicated the Flyers were not nervous in the final frame.

"I don't think we changed anything to be honest,” he said. We were pretty tight in the neutral zone. We didn't give them much. When we had a couple of breakdowns, [Michal Neuvirth] was on his act.”

Neuvirth stopped 18 of 20 shots as the Flyers outshot the Canucks, 28-20. He enjoyed a much better start Sunday, holding the Canucks scoreless in the opening period after allowing four goals on his first 12 shots on Thursday in Edmonton. One of his better saves came with just over a minute into the game as he got his toe on Markus Granlund’s dangerous chance from in close.

"I felt good,” said Neuvirth. “I have been practicing well and playing with confidence. The last game, it didn't work out. I put that one behind me and restarted my mind and got back to work tonight.”

“I thought he was excellent,” said Hakstol. “He was calm and settled in there. You can go back through that 60 minutes and you can pick out three or four pretty darned good saves.”

Neuvirth excelled while making his fourth consecutive start and sixth in the past seven games overall.

“It feels good,” he said of the heavy workload. “It feels better when we win.”

But he was not about to get too excited. The Flyers have a tough clash at home Wednesday against NHL-best Washington and a road game Saturday at Pittsburgh's Heinz Field against the rival Penguins as part of the NHL’s Stadium Series.

“We have a tough schedule coming and we have to be ready,” Neuvirth said.

Flyers Weekly Observations: Lack of shots not helping offensive woes

Flyers Weekly Observations: Lack of shots not helping offensive woes

And so another week of Flyers hockey this season is in the books.

And it was a week that has played out just like many others have this season – a week of ups, downs and general inconsistency.

The Flyers started off the week with a miserable performance in a 5-1 loss in Carolina to the Hurricanes, rebounded with a strong 3-1 victory over the Atlantic Division-leading Canadiens on Thursday at the Wells Fargo Center and finished it all off by getting a single point even though they were stifled by the visiting Kings in a 1-0 overtime loss Saturday afternoon.

Let’s dive a little deeper into the week that was, shall we?

• Since the Flyers came off their bye week on Jan. 21, offensive production has been a major issue. In the seven games since the bye ended, the Flyers have scored just 12 goals, an average of 1.71 goals a game. On Tuesday night in Carolina, a major reason for the Flyers’ offensive problems came into focus – a passive attack that limits shots on goal. Through two periods of an awful showing against the ‘Canes, the Flyers had a grand total of six shots on goal. Six! That’s almost unbelievable. The Flyers wound up finishing the contest with 16 shots. Sure, they were overwhelmed by Carolina all night, but there was one play that really stuck with me. With the Flyers down 4-0 late in the second period, Jake Voracek cut through the Carolina defense and made his way toward goalie Cam Ward. As a defender closed, Voracek turned away from the net and then sent a pass into the slot that was easily picked off rather than taking a shot on net in the first place. When you’re down 4-0, you think you would want to take every chance to shoot. While L.A. is a stingy defensive team, the Flyers still managed just 17 shots in almost 65 minutes of action. With the way the offense is floundering, the Flyers need to get back to a shoot-first mentality and take more advantage of open looks. They’re not in a position these days to be forcing passes rather than shooting the puck. If you put the puck toward the net, you never know when a rebound or bounce will go your way. A few dirty goals here and there and the offensive confidence can be back on track. If you've got a lane, take the shot.

• To piggyback off the previous observation, look at the game-winning goal Matt Read scored on Carey Price and Habs during the third period. The Flyers were barreling in on a 3-on-2 rush. Read took a pass near the faceoff dot and, instead of passing or forcing something that wasn’t there, he blasted away and beat Price with a slapper to break a 27-game goalless drought and gave the Flyers the lead. That’s what the Flyers should be doing more of. Again, you just never know what will happen if you send the puck toward the net. And good for Read to get off that schneid.

• Another week, another benching – or in this case, two – to talk about. Shayne Gostisbehere and Travis Konecny have both taken a seat for each of the Flyers’ last two games. And it sure sounds like they’ll be sitting again Monday when the Blues come to town. Both players last played Tuesday in Carolina, a game during which no Flyer played well. Konecny, in particular, committed an ugly defensive zone turnover that led to Sebastian Aho’s first of three goals on the evening. I’ve said it here before and I’ll say it again – while I can see the merit to a younger player watching a game to clear his head and reassess, I’m a firm believer that a younger player needs to learn how to play through his struggles. He can’t do that watching from the press box. And it’s starting to become a trend that can turn into trouble. This kind of stuff can mess with a younger player’s head. Interestingly enough, a longtime NHL scout told CSNPhilly.com Flyers Insider Tim Panaccio that it looks like "Ghost" is struggling with his confidence when he’s on the ice. With the way this kind of thing can linger for a younger player and how the Flyers could use speed and creativity, these benchings just seem counterproductive.

• Michal Neuvirth was spectacular against Los Angeles on Saturday and was still saddled with a hard-luck OT loss despite being the best player on the ice all afternoon. He made 28 saves, most of the difficult variety. His sprawling second-period stop on Dustin Brown was so good it left Brown to skate to the bench stunned afterward. And he made similar stops on Tanner Pearson in the third and Jeff Carter in OT. He actually got a chunk of Carter’s OT winner before it crossed the goal line, too. Neuvirth deserved a better fate, more along the lines of the one he got Thursday against Montreal when he made 15 stops and backstopped a strong defensive effort overall. Dave Hakstol has been known to ride the hot hand in net, and Neuvirth is the star in the latest episode of “As the Flyers Goalies Turn.” Let’s be honest with ourselves here – the Flyers are going to need both Neuvirth and Steve Mason at the top of their games as the air-tight Eastern Conference playoff chase heads down the stretch.

• Happen to see the line matchup when Carter scored the deciding goal Saturday? Carter-Anze Kopitar-Drew Doughty vs. Dale Weise-Brayden Schenn-Brandon Manning. Let’s just say that’s probably not the matchup Hakstol and the Flyers wanted.

• Needless to say, this current five-game homestand is huge for the Flyers, a team much better at the Wells Fargo Center than away from it (16-7-4 at home, 10-13-3 on the road). It’s off to solid start with three out of four possible points in the bag. Just one point against the Kings wasn’t what the Flyers would have liked, but it also wasn’t the worst outcome since the Kings’ points don’t affect the Flyers or the Eastern Conference standings. Six more potential points are on the home table for the Flyers this week, but they won’t come easy with the Blues and Islanders both fighting for their playoff lives and the juggernaut Sharks in town Saturday to finish the homestand off.

Coming up this week: Monday vs. St Louis (7 p.m,/CSN), Thursday vs. New York Islanders (7 p.m./TCN), Saturday vs. San Jose (1 p.m./CSN).