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).

Flyers' wild-card hopes suffer setback with loss to Maple Leafs

Flyers' wild-card hopes suffer setback with loss to Maple Leafs

BOX SCORE

TORONTO – When it's all said and done, if the Flyers don't make the playoffs, they might look back on their 4-2 loss to the Maple Leafs as the game-changer.
 
This is the time of year when players raise their game, raise their intensity and show signs of desperation -- sooner, not later.
 
The Flyers didn't do enough of that Thursday night at Air Canada Centre against a hungrier Leafs squad that now has a four-point lead on them in the wild-card chase (see Instant Replay).

To make matters worse, the wild-card-leading Islanders topped the Canucks in OT late Thursday night, so the Isles now have a five-point cushion on the Flyers.
 
"We had glimpses of it (desperation) all game, but when something happens we responded pretty good and almost came back at the end," Shayne Gostisbehere said.
 
Gostisbehere nearly pulled the game out himself with goal late to make it 3-2 right after goalie Frederik Andersen had made two incredible stops on him and Claude Giroux.
 
"He made a great save there. We had a big play and he came up big for them," Gostisbehere said.
 
Andersen rose to the occasion while Michal Neuvirth did not.
 
After sitting four straight games, Neuvirth was beaten three times from the circle. Although he denied a strong Toronto push early in the third, he didn't deliver the way he has in the past.
 
"Yeah, the first one I was too deep and the third one I didn't see too much," Neuvirth admitted.
 
Flyers coach Dave Hakstol's decision to go with Neuvirth over Steve Mason, who had very poor lifetime numbers against the Leafs, backfired. Mason was on a 3-0-1 run with a 1.45 goals-against average and .954 save percentage.
 
Asked to evaluate Neuvirth, Hakstol paused for a second.
 
"It's that time of year when I thought we needed a save on the first one," Hakstol said of William Nylander's screaming wrister from the right circle on the power play that tied the game at 1-1 in the opening period.
 
"He made some real good saves throughout the game. It was a tough game, a hard-fought game."
 
The Flyers owned the game early, but Mike Babcock's Leafs owned it when it mattered most in the third period. They were the team showing desperation at the start, clutching a 2-1 lead.
 
"It was frustrating," Giroux said. "It wasn't our best game. ... We've got to be better."
 
In a chess game of matchups, Hakstol attempted to get Valtteri Filppula's line head to head against Auston Matthews in this one. The matchups were good. They didn't stop the Flyers from winning.
 
Filppula played a terrific game with an assist and nearly scored late on one of several Andersen scramble saves with the Flyers attacking with an extra skater.
 
Gostisbehere assisted on Wayne Simmonds' power-play goal early.
 
Gostisbehere's shot appeared to hit the underside of the crossbar and go in off Simmonds. But when the puck came out, Simmonds rapped it back inside on Andersen just to make sure.
 
"Ghost and G (Giroux) were playing with it up top and G made a good pass to Ghost. He shot it and I was able to tip it in," Simmonds said.
 
Either way, it was 1-0 at 6:09. Babcock said at the morning skate he was leery of the Flyers' power play and he had reason.
 
Then again, it didn't take Toronto long to tie it with its power-play goal via a wicked wrister from Nylander – his fifth point (three goals) in four games against the Flyers – from the right circle at 13:57.
 
Toronto's other power-play goal, off Mitch Marner's first shot of the night, late in the third was the shot Neuvirth said he never saw.
 
Truth is, the Flyers allowed the Leafs a bit too much ice in the middle during the second period and didn't have enough sustained offensive zone time.
 
"They kind of waited for turnovers and counter attack pretty good," Sean Couturier said. "We played right into their game plan and forced too many plays."
 
Added Giroux, "They're a young team, they're fast and they check well. It took us a while to wake up a bit. When we did, we were fine but we have to be better."
 
 The second period hurt the Flyers.
 
"We need to keep skating," Filppula said. "We turned the puck over too much and we can't do that."
 
All it took for the Leafs to break the tie, however, was a series of mishaps, starting with Michael Del Zotto getting a gift rebound in the slot and putting it right back into Andersen.
 
As the play shifted down the ice, Couturier turned it over to Tyler Bozak in the offensive zone.
 
"The turnover, I thought I had more time and he was right on me," Couturier said. "You saw it, I saw it. Bad play. Whatever."
 
Bozak maneuvered in the circle on Neuvirth, then shot it over his shoulder at 9:28 for a 2-1 lead.
 
A bad goal all-around on a night when the Flyers could ill afford to have it happen.

Flyers and Maple Leafs set for most significant battle since 2004

Flyers and Maple Leafs set for most significant battle since 2004

TORONTO -- Most of the players in Thursday's game involving the Maple Leafs and Flyers weren't around in the spring of 2004 playing in the NHL.
 
Which is why tonight's game is easily the most significant head-to-head contest involving these two franchises this late in a season since that historic playoff series.
 
Fact is, the Maple Leafs haven't been in a playoff chase for a long time and now both they and the Flyers are locked in a wild-card battle, upping the ante.
 
And just to make it all the more intriguing from the Flyers' standpoint, goalie Michal Neuvirth will be in net for this very important game, not Steve Mason.
 
"No, not at all, I don’t really care," Neuvirth said, alluding to the past. "This is just another really big game for us.
 
"It's really tight in the standings. For us, every game is big whether Colorado, Toronto or Pittsburgh."
 
Neuvirth's career numbers aren't sterling against Toronto, but they are significantly better than Mason's. He has a 2.83 goals against average and .902 save percentage with a 9-4-1 record.
 
Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said, however, that's not why Neuvirth is starting this game. Mason had the net the previous four games.
 
"The schedule dictates it," Hakstol said. "Mase has been real good. He's done a great job for us and Neuvy has to do the same thing for us tonight.
 
"You look at the schedule right now, one guy is not going to be able to run the table. It's a good night for Neuvy to go in and do a job for his teammates."
 
Asked about the statistical difference -- Mason's GAA against the Leafs is 3.43 -- Hakstol said, "You try to factor some of those things in, but it wasn't the dominant factor in Neuvy getting the start."
 
Hakstol said his players are keenly aware this is an impact game with huge playoff implications, regardless of the past history between the two clubs.
 
"Everybody knows what is at stake," Hakstol said. "That doesn't need to be spoken of in terms of what is at stake this time of year. ...
 
"It still comes down to get ready and prepared, regardless of everything that surrounds the importance of the game. No question [history] adds to it. I don't think anybody is trying to downplay the significance ..."
 
Certainly, not Leafs coach Mike Babcock.
 
"It's an important game for us and for them," Babcock said. "We know where we're at. You want to be right in it right to the end. ... It should be fun."
 
On Filppula
Babcock coached Flyers newcomer Valtterri Filppula for the first eight years of his NHL career.
 
"He's probably a better player [now]," Babcock said. "I would think he's improved his game. He's a real good skater. A real good man ... he does things right as a pro. He plays well with the puck and he distributes it well."
 
Filppula, who waived his no movement clause at the trade deadline to come to the Flyers, admitted that Toronto was not on his list of clubs and the timing was such where the Leafs could not be added. He also turned down a deal to go to Toronto.
 
"I made a list earlier and the trade deadline came really quick," Filppula said. "I made the decision over the summer. Nothing against Toronto, obviously they have a great team and a coach who coached me before. Things happen so quick. ... You have to make some decisions. I'm here now and happy to be here."

Tonight's lineup 
F: Weal-Giroux-Simmonds
Schenn-Filppula-Voracek
Cousins-Couturier-Read
VandeVelde-Bellemare-Konecny
 
D: Provorov-MacDonald
Manning-Gostisbehere
Del Zotto-Gudas
 
G: Neuvirth