Please support the exclusive sponsor of our Flyers posts, COZZI JEWELERS, located in the Edgemont Shopping Center in Newtown Square. 20% DISCOUNT OFF ALL JEWELERY by mentioning CROSSING BROAD now through BLACK FRIDAY! Before shopping for your girlfriend or wife, shop CozziJewelers.com! $500 off CUSTOM MADE ENGAGEMENT RINGS TOO.
Well… they scored. Twice actually.
Nolan Patrick returned to the lineup from his “upper-body injury” for the first time in nine games. That’s a plus.
Brian Elliott had another really good start – that makes five in a row for him.
Much maligned to start the season, the one other thing that has been pretty steady for the Flyers in recent games has been their defense, and they were relatively good again last night.
Hey, they earned a point on the road against a good team in a difficult building in which to play.
But Radko Gudas looks like he’s going to be suspended for slashing someone in the neck – although the referees didn’t give him a game misconduct until after seeing a replay – which isn’t allowed.
ENOUGH! On both fronts.
Yes Flyers fans, this was another frustrating one-goal loss. They seem to be paramount these days. Much in the way one-run losses crippled a last-place Phillies team this past season, they’re starting to plague the last place Flyers a little now too.
And maybe that’s just the sign of a team that’s getting closer and just doesn’t have that killer instinct to put a game away.
Or maybe it’s a sign there isn’t enough talent on the team to get it done.
Either way, things aren’t looking very hot for the Flyers right now, and at some point, someone is going to have to identify where the issue is for a team that has stagnated both in style and philosophy.
But for now… to the takeaways.
1) Drought’s over… sorta
It didn’t take long for the Flyers to snap their goalless streak. All of two-and-a-half minutes actually:
The Flyers scored. pic.twitter.com/YwyUkq0nsx
— Chris Jastrzembski (@CFJastrzembski) November 17, 2017
And then they scored again, less than three minutes later:
POWER. PLAY. GOAL. pic.twitter.com/Q9OnFd2ot8
— Chris Jastrzembski (@CFJastrzembski) November 17, 2017
But what do you see on those goals? Here’s a clue: it’s something familiar.
That’s right. They were scored by the usual suspects. Jake Voracek and Sean Couturier with Claude Giroux involved in the action.
Voracek’s tally snapped a 158:36 span of hockey without a Flyers goal. They were starting to sneak eerily close to a franchise record for an inability to score, and only came 41 minutes short.
But there’s a more daunting number that still exists:
That’s how long it’s been since a player – any player, defense included – other than Voracek, Couturier or Giroux scored a goal. That’s more than four games. It’s more than 13 periods.
Something has to give. Dave Hakstol has to stop waiting for it to happen and he needs to break up his top line. It doesn’t need to be a permanent breakup – just until the offensive flow can start to regenerate through the lineup. But it needs to happen.
But how do you do it? How do you mix and match and keep lines equally responsible defensively as offensively?
Let’s break it down.
2) A new lineup
First thing’s first. There’s a clog at right wing. Voracek is a lefty shot, but doesn’t like playing left wing. He prefers the off wing. Always has, always will.
I remember former Flyers coach Craig Berube telling me once that if Voracek was willing to learn how to play the left side, he would have much more lineup flexibility.
When I asked him why he just didn’t put him over there and force him to learn, he just gave me a glance and said, “I want to keep my job.”
Well, he didn’t keep it much longer after that conversation.
I wasn’t sure if that meant Voracek had former GM Paul Holmgren’s ear, or word came down from above to Berube that Voracek had to play right wing, or what the case was, but Voracek has remained on the right wing since Day One in Philadelphia, and it doesn’t seem like that’s going to change either under the Ron Hextall/Hakstol regime.
So, who do you move off the top line?
Well, Voracek. Quite simply because you need to plug another right wing there since he has to take a right wing spot in the lineup somewhere.
Conventional wisdom would tell you to put Wayne Simmonds there, but I don’t think that’s a good idea. First of all, Simmonds is in the second longest stretch of his Flyers career without a goal (11 games), so he’s pressing a bit. Not to mention, he’s still likely not completely recovered from a groin injury that has been hounding him for a month.
But most importantly, he changes the way the line is playing.
Simmonds isn’t a playmaker like Voracek. He plays a game too similar to what’s working for Couturier right now – go to the net and make things happen in front.
With two guys like that on the top line, it leaves Giroux as the only creator, and defenses would clamp down on him and force others to create the offense – which they wouldn’t be able to do with any regularity.
No, instead, Giroux and Couturier need another playmaker on the other side.
Enter Travis Konecny.
The young winger has speed to burn, is incredibly creative and is an offensive risk-taker, often forcing defenders to make a quick decision, sometimes one they don’t want to make.
His skating ability will still give Giroux some room to operate on the left side and not clog the middle for Couturier.
Now, Konecny is still prone to defensive lapses – and I know that’s what frustrates Hakstol about him – but playing him with Couturier, who is one of the top five most defensively responsible forwards in the entire NHL, will help cover for those occasional errors in judgment.
He also doesn’t have Voracek’s heaviness with the puck, which could affect puck possession a little bit, but there has to be some trade off to improve the lineup elsewhere.
Now the second line is where things would get really new.
With Patrick back in the lineup (more on him in No. 3 below), I’d love to see a line full of creative types play together, especially if you can coach it in such a way to keep them away from the other team’s top scoring line via a smart deployment strategy. Maybe give them only offensive/neutral zone starts. Maybe make a quick line change if the top unit from the other team is out there against them. Whatever… be smart about their use 5-on-5 and you could end up with something special here.
That combination would be Jordan Weal, Patrick and Voracek.
Again, three different styles, but if you want to instill confidence in Patrick’s game, and get Weal more chances to score, you play them with one of the league’s best assist men.
So where does this drop Simmonds?
Onto a third line I love for grit, puck possession, energy, and reliable defense that you can throw out with confidence against the other team’s top unit without much worry.
This line would be Michael Raffl, Scott Laughton and Simmonds.
Yes, I know I’m breaking up the best fourth line in Flyers history, but again… we’re talking temporarily here.
And yes this diminishes Simmonds scoring opportunities a bit, but it puts him into a role where he doesn’t have to press as much, and can still get to the front of the net. Put this group out there when Shayne Gostisbehere is on the point, or even Ivan Provorov, guys who know how to get the puck to the net, and watch them collect the trash and put it in the bin where it belongs.
Not to mention, Simmonds creates space and Laughton and Raffl are good enough to make things happen with a little room.
Finally, the fourth line, using players that are here mind you and not elsewhere in the organization, would be Dale Weise, Valtteri Filppula and Taylor Leier.
This isn’t a brutal fourth line and actually has a little bit of skill with Filppula and Leier that can take advantage of the fourth line of the opposition.
Ultimately, I’d like to see Mike Vecchione of the Phantoms get a chance here in this spot, but if we’re using what’s on this team right now, this is what I’d go with.
I could also swap Weise with Matt Read and not be disappointed. I don’t want to see any more of Jori Lehtera. I’ve seen enough.
Point is, something needs to change. Because this is one of the most dreadful scoring droughts for 15 of 18 forwards I’ve ever seen.
3) Patty’s back
Patrick returned to the lineup for the first time in almost a month for the Flyers. He did so in his hometown of Winnipeg. He started on the second line, but didn’t play much. just 7:32 of ice time. He didn’t look especially good or noticeably bad. He just existed.
The thing is, he didn’t miss all this time with his “upper body injury” – a.k.a. concussion.
No, he could have played sooner. The Flyers just wanted to work on his game with him. When you hear a 19-year-old player say the things he said, I can assure you he is parroting what his coaches are telling him.
Here’s what he told the Courier-Post’s Dave Isaac before yesterday’s game:
“I think I need to move my feet a little more. I think too much out there. I was thinking instead of moving my feet and making plays. I think I need to contribute a little more offensively and stay good defensively and keep improving on faceoffs. I think those are the main things.”
Yeah… it wasn’t the concussion keeping him off the ice. It was the slow adjustment to the NHL pace.
Patrick will ultimately be just fine. The Flyers are going to baby him a little bit and only use him in certain situations, but it’s good to have the No. 2 overall pick back in the lineup. He just needs to start showing everyone why he was picked there.
4) Steady goaltending?
Those two words are rarely used together in reference to hockey in Philadelphia, but, for a few games at least, Elliott has been really strong for the Flyers.
Brian Elliott coming up big again. pic.twitter.com/hrrMvn1VKy
— Chris Jastrzembski (@CFJastrzembski) November 17, 2017
O.K. he didn’t look great in the shootout last night, but most goalies don’t. But in the game, he was excellent again. He made another 31 saves.
In his last five games, he’s allowed just seven goals (1.39 GAA) and has a .954 save percentage. And yet, he has only one win in that stretch.
That’s a tough break. But, he’s keeping his team in every game. He has to with the ineptitude in scoring. I expect he’ll be back in net tomorrow against Calgary, since he was the Flames goalie last year, and probably doesn’t get a game off until next week, when the Flyers play three games in four days around Thanksgiving.
He’s been a recent bright spot for the team while the struggles have been so incredibly noticeable elsewhere.
5) Gudas and the Stripes
Sounds like the name of a bad bar band, no?
O.K. first, here’s the play – which is definitely a penalty and probably deserving of some league discipline, especially with Gudas’ reputation:
Radko Gudas has been given a game misconduct for this play.
What do you think of the call? pic.twitter.com/tTL5rQnF6E
— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) November 17, 2017
One could argue that it was just the way Gudas came down and landed on the back of Mathieu Perrault’s neck. But, you still need to be in better control of your stick there.
Gudas has dodged suspensions before, and maybe he does again here – especially since the league isn’t as quick to hand out suspensions if there weren’t injuries involved, which is stupid, but hey.
However, I think Gudas gets one here. It may be just a one game suspension, but I think it’s a send-a-message type pf suspension.
Gudas has regressed so far this season after having a very good showing for the Flyers last season. Andrew MacDonald is close to returning, and when he does, it might not be a bad idea to sit Gudas for a game or two to make him remember that he plays precariously close to the edge. When he stays on one side, he’s effective. When he plays on the other side, he’s reckless and ineffective.
But the grander scale issue here is the scoreboard officiating.
Now, full disclosure, I didn’t watch the first part of the game live. I went back and saw it on DVR after the fact, but I didn’t need to see what happened more than once.
The penalty was originally called a slashing minor on Gudas. But then, the in-arena scoreboard showed the replay of the video, the officials looked up and saw it, huddled together and decided to change the call to a slashing major and a game misconduct.
That’s not allowed.
You can not use replay to change a call – and yet these guys did.
They tried to explain to the Flyers that they didn’t, but that was some serious B.S.
Once again, Dave Isaac from the Courier Post was all over it and reached out to a league official (I’m pretty sure I know which one, because there is one who answers emails during games all the time – and he would be the right person to go to).
Here’s what the official told him via email:
“The Situation Room is unable to confirm the exact sequence of events which occurred between the officials on the ice.”
Translation: Yep. They looked at the video.
That’s a disgrace. The league needs to stop protecting these guys from continued abuse of the rule book or finding loopholes in the rules to justify their poor decisions. There have been far more egregious mistakes in the first 19 games of this season than I can remember.
Whether they ultimately got the call right or not is not the point. The point is, allowing this to happen sets a precedent for the future of the game – and a bad precedent at that.
Not only does the NHL need to do something about this, but they need to address it publicly, otherwise they will be continued to be viewed as a flim-flam operation not just by me, but scores of other writers and fans of this sport.