Flyers Weekly Observations: Dismal start to critical Western Canada trip

Flyers Weekly Observations: Dismal start to critical Western Canada trip

Another week of Flyers hockey this season is behind us.
 
And it was another week that ended with not many positives to talk about involving the Flyers.
 
There were only two games this week and neither went well. On Wednesday, the Flyers dropped a 3-1 decision to the Flames in Calgary to kick off a crucial Western Canada road trip. Things didn’t get any better the next night in Edmonton, as the Flyers were blown away, 6-3, by the Oilers.
 
Let’s take a look back at what went wrong for the Flyers out in Alberta.
 
• It’s not just that the Flyers dropped the first two games of the road trip this past week. The Western Canada trip is always a tough one, especially for teams from the Eastern Conference that have to make the long trip out there. It’s the manner in which the Flyers lost both games that has to be the most disheartening factor. They were lethargic and you just didn’t see the kind of urgency you should see from a team, that as poor as it has played in recent weeks, is still in the thick of a playoff chase in the jam-packed Eastern Conference. In Calgary, the Flyers actually did come out of the gates hot with a goal by Nick Cousins 1:30 into the game, but it fell apart from there. They had 34 shots in that game, but not many testers on Flames goalie Brian Elliott. The next night in Edmonton, the Flyers were just overwhelmed and steamrolled from the second the puck dropped. It was all Oilers and the Flyers were just standing by. At the end of the day, the Flyers are still alive in this playoff race and you’d like to see the urgency that comes along with that.

• If there was one thing that summed up the Flyers’ lack of apparent urgency this past week, it had to be that ugly five-minute power play that included a two-minute two-man advantage Wednesday night in Calgary. Ugly would actually be quite the compliment. It was downright brutal. First off, the Flyers were handed a gift because Alex Chiasson’s spear on Cousins was not a major penalty. Chiasson shouldn’t be spearing anyone, but that was a love tap compared to some others around the league this season. But the Flyers fumbled that gift away with a power play that was basically a practice drill for the Calgary penalty killers. The Flyers slogged around in the neutral zone or unsuccessfully dumped the puck in or turned it over. It goes back again to urgency. The best power plays feel the urgency to score every time out on the ice. It just wasn’t there Wednesday night with the low-percentage cross-ice passes and inability to track down the puck. The Flames had 11 clears compared to two shots for the Flyers. It was as disappointing as a power play can be. Over the last six games, the Flyers’ power play is just 2 for 19. That is not helping with the scoring woes.
 
• Hopefully this Connor McDavid-Brandon Manning nonsense is now over after Manning answered the bell and fought the much larger Patrick Maroon on Thursday in Edmonton. The whole thing was dumbfounding to begin with. McDavid lost an edge while Manning was defending against him last season when he broke his collarbone. It should have ended right then and there because for someone to even insinuate intent on Manning’s part or anything other than that it was an unfortunate play would be asinine. It continued to be dumbfounding when McDavid stirred the pot during and after December’s meeting between the teams. For it to even reach the point it did Thursday was just stupefying. And Milan Lucic’s low blow on Manning behind the Flyers’ net Thursday was cheap, to say the least. But good for Manning to stand up to Maroon.

• If there was one positive to take from this past week, it had to be the play of Cousins in Calgary on Wednesday. He was all over the ice. He was making plays happen with five shots on net, bringing energy and being a pest. He’s at the top of his game and most effective when he brings that energy and pest behavior. The goal he scored was well-deserved and he should have had another one if not for the great save Elliott made at the end of that long, wretched Flyers power play. If Cousins can play that effective way more consistently, he can be a valuable piece going forward for the Flyers. Most of the good teams in the league have that one player other teams just hate to play against.

• I also like what Cousins had to say in the locker room after the loss Wednesday. “We’ve got to make it harder on them,” he said. “We’ve got to get more traffic. It’s the same excuse here it feels like after every game. We’ve got to score more goals — simple as that.” He didn’t massage his way around anything, He came out and stated bluntly what’s going on right now. The Flyers can talk about playing good hockey and not getting the results. But the results come when you earn them. Can we say that about the Flyers earning results the past few weeks? Against the Sharks last Saturday, sure. But any other games?

• Shame that Jordan Weal was injured in Thursday’s loss to the Oilers. He was doing everything he could to try and provide a spark. He was bringing some of that much-needed energy and, more importantly, trying to make things happen by firing the puck toward the net. He had a team-high six shots on goal Wednesday in Calgary. His combination of speed and skill makes him an intriguing player going forward. The Flyers have to hope he recovers sooner rather than later so they can get an extended look at him with the big club.

• Is the offside challenge working as effectively as it should? It sure looked like the Oilers were offside before the opening goal of Thursday’s contest. But the league still ruled it a good goal. And you may recall the eight-minute delay in the Chicago-Minnesota game a few weeks ago as officials reviewed an offside play before a goal. In essence, offside is a pretty cut-and-dry rule. The play is offside or it isn’t. I’m not crazy to say there shouldn’t be this much grey area on a pretty cut-and-dry rule, right?

Coming up this week: Sunday night at Vancouver (10 p.m./CSN), Wednesday vs. Washington (8 p.m./NBCSN), Saturday’s Stadium Series game at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh (8 p.m./NBC10).

Nick Cousins scores, draws 5-minute major, stands out in Flyers' loss

Nick Cousins scores, draws 5-minute major, stands out in Flyers' loss

CALGARY, Alberta — The play was long since over when Alex Chiasson skated by Nick Cousins near the Flyers' bench and speared him.
 
Well, truth is, it seemed more a poke into the left side of his midsection.
 
Cousins, excellent at drawing penalties, sold it and Chiasson was tossed from the game barely eight minutes into play, setting up a five-minute power play for the Flyers. Unfortunately, the Flyers were simply dysfunctional in every respect.
 
While it’s true these two teams, who meet just twice a year, don’t like each other, there was no real reason why Chiasson did what he did.
 
“I’m not quite sure, it wasn’t even part of the play,” Cousins said. The play had stopped with a whistle on an icing call, and the Flyers were making a line change.

“I was trying to change and he comes up and spears me. I think the ref made the right call.”
 
Cousins had a very strong game, scoring the Flyers' lone goal in the team's 3-1 loss (see game story). He played 15:17 and had five shots. Only Jordan Weal, who also stood out, shot the puck more — six times.
 
Cousins also won 8 of 10 faceoffs.
 
“I thought we took it to them most of the game,” he said. “Their goalie (Brian Elliott) played well, but that’s been the excuse the last 10 to 15 games. We've got to make it harder on them. We've got to get more traffic. It’s the same excuse here it feels like after every game. We’ve got to score more goals — simple as that.”
 
The Flyers wasted that power play with two shots — both during a 5-on-3 portion that would come later — while Calgary cleared the zone an amazing 11 times.
 
The Flyers' first-unit power play was nothing short of awful.
 
“It wasn’t demoralizing,” Wayne Simmonds said. “We've just got to bear down and put the puck in the back of the net, guys. We’re playing good hockey here. We’re not scoring goals, but playing good hockey. Eventually, it’s gonna turn and when it turns, we’ll score in bunches.”
 
The power play went 0 for 4 and is 1 for 16 over the last five games.
 
Loose pucks
Brayden Schenn had six hits. ... There were 13 NHL scouts at this game, including representatives from the Rangers and Islanders in the Metro Division. ... This game marked the beginning of the 14th set of back-to-back games for the Flyers. They meet the Oilers on Thursday for the first time in their new digs. ... Former Flame and Flyer Joel Otto, an assistant coach with the WHL Calgary Hitmen, dropped by the Flyers' morning skate. He took a photo with fellow Bemidji State grad Matt Read.

Flyers open crucial Western Canada trip with loss to Flames

Flyers open crucial Western Canada trip with loss to Flames

BOX SCORE

CALGARY, Alberta — It’s become an all-too-familiar theme for Dave Hakstol’s Flyers.
 
Play a very strong, physical and sound road game in all areas of defensive play. Outshoot your opponent, out-chance them and still lose.
 
This time it was 3-1 to the Flames at the Scotiabank Saddledome, as the Flyers began a crucial three-game Western Canada trip in which they need points (see Instant Replay).
 
They left the points on the ice because their erratic power play abandoned them once again.
 
It was a 1-1 game in the opening period and then the Flyers got a gift from the hockey gods.
 
Alex Chiasson speared Nick Cousins in his left side near the bench long after a whistle and was ejected with a five-minute major (see feature highlight). CSN Flyers analyst Al Morganti quipped that Cousins has been poked harder on Facebook.
 
Anyway, pathetic doesn’t fully describe how brutal the Flyers looked on the ensuing power play. Plus, they had a 5-on-3 for a full two minutes.
 
“Yeah, we didn’t score. I hit the post, Cousins had an open net,” Mark Streit said. “We had a few good looks but it wasn’t enough for a five-minute power play and 5-on-3. A lot of times, it bites you in the ass and it did tonight.”
 
The Flames iced the puck 11 times and the Flyers had one turnover and two shots from Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds during the entire 5-on-3. Cousins had a final shot as the second power play ended.
 
“That’s one pivotal point of the game where we could have pushed the game back our direction,” Hakstol said. “We didn’t win enough puck battles on our power play, which is a strength of ours. Tonight, we didn’t win many of those on the five-minute or even on the 5-on-3.”

True to form, the Flyers dominated with puck possession in the second period and had some decent scoring chances — two on another power play — but got nothing out of it.
 
Naturally, the Flames had one extended shift and made the most of it as they got a goal from T.J. Brodie above the circles. The puck probably hit someone given the bodies in front of Michal Neuvirth.
 
“They had net-front presence and got the puck through,” said Andrew MacDonald, adding the puck never touched him. “Neuvy couldn’t see it.”
 
So instead of being ahead after two, the Flyers trailed, 2-1.
 
They ended up outshooting the Flames, 34-23, and out-chancing them, as well.
 
“It’s really frustrating because we played a really solid, sound game and generated some chances,” MacDonald said. “Give their goalie (Brian Elliott) credit. Any time you have a 5-on-3 and don’t score, most times it doesn’t end up in your favor and that’s how the game works out.”
 
You can blindly pick just about any Flyers player on the roster and come up with one that is going through a goal drought. That’s this team.  

Cousins was one of them. No goals in 10 games. Nothing compared to Shayne Gostisbehere (none in 30 now), but Cousins has been chomping at the bit for a goal.
 
He got it, too, just 1:30 into play after Matt Read stripped Dennis Wideman of the puck in front of his own net.
 
Read didn’t have a shot, but Cousins did and he gave him a splendid backhand feed for Cousins to bury it at the right post.
 
“Raffy (Michael Raffl) dumped the puck in and we got it in on the forecheck,” Cousins said. “Their D sort of turned the puck over to Reader and he was alone there and went in on his backhand.
 
“I was fortunate enough to be sitting there in the blue crease and it came right to me. It was a big goal and a pretty good road period for us.”
 
The lead was short-lived as Calgary tied it on a faceoff. Dougie Hamilton drove the puck from the point where Mikael Backlund redirected it over to Matthew Tkachuk in the left slot before Neuvirth could react.
 
“I think we have to get our power play going here a little bit,” Cousins said. “I think guys are getting a little angry at each other when we're not scoring and not setting it up, but they are doing a good job of killing. If we get that figured out, we'll be fine.”