Game of the Week preview: Three reasons why the Flyers are suddenly struggling

When you play a grueling (and occasionally tedious) 82-game season, it’s almost inevitable that you’ll hit a brick wall or two. Even the most dominant Stanley Cup winners of the past stuttered a little bit during their king’s speeches.

Last year, the Philadelphia Flyers probably struggled as often as they triumphed, as the team needed a shootout win over the New York Rangers to clinch a playoff spot in the last game of the 2009-10 season. Some thought that the team might regress a bit after their red-hot run to the Stanley Cup finals, but Peter Laviolette’s deep, talented group hasn’t missed a beat.

Until now, of course.

The Flyers are a pedestrian 7-6-1 in 14 games since the All-Star break and have lost their last three games (along with four of their last five). CSN Philly’s Tim Panaccio captured the “it’s better to struggle now rather than the playoffs” type-mood in the locker room, which is a sentiment that’s difficult to deny. Still, it’s also difficult to deny that they are struggling, so here are three reasons that might explain why.

1. A lack of hunger?

Look, professional sports teams always want to win. If athletes were indifferent to the idea, they’d probably be in a different field.

Still, there’s a reason why there is “bulletin board material” in sports. Sometimes you need that extra bit of motivation, something the Flyers probably lack to some degree. After all, it’s easier to win those late February/early March board battles or block that extra shot if you’re fighting for your playoff lives rather than simply trying to protect the top seed.

Philadelphia will see a desperate, but less talented team in the Rangers at 12:30 pm ET for the NBC Game of the Week. Chances are, if the Flyers match the Rangers’ intensity, the East’s first ranked team should win.

2. The Flyers’ scoring is drying up.

While the “hunger” factor is mostly subjective (and thus a hypothesis), the next two reasons are purely concrete. It’s surprising to see, but their vaunted offense is sputtering more than a bit lately.

Since their first post-All Star Game contest on February 1st, Philadelphia hasn’t scored more than three goals in a single game. It’s natural to point to goaltending when the Flyers struggle – heck, it’s a time honored tradition to blame their netminders – but what makes this team scary is their staggering offensive and defensive depth. If wave after wave of quality forwards can’t get it done, it’s not fair to fit Brian Boucher and Sergei Bobrovsky with goat horns.

3. A lack of closing strength.

The previous two points converge into their last problem: an inability to finish games strong. Ryan Bright highlights a disturbing stat during the Flyers’ last seven games: the team has been out-scored 12-3 during the third period (not counting empty netters). Call it a lack of hunger, goaltenders dropping the ball or simply a lack of punch, but that’s the kind of number that should raise a few eyebrows.

***

While many will point to the Flyers’ net as their biggest source of concern, there’s only so much the team can do about that right now. Yet as the playoffs approach, the team can improve their scoring, get better in the third period and learn to match the desperation of their opponents.

After scratching and clawing their way into the playoffs last season, the Flyers could sleepwalk into the postseason this year and still be in the mix. They would be wise to avoid taking that route if they want to go deep in the tournament, though.

Vegas wants ‘progressive’ head coach, says McPhee

Getty
2 Comments

Golden Knights GM George McPhee continued to list the characteristics he wants from a head coach this week, explaining that he’s searching for a forward-thinking bench boss.

“We want someone who is very current on the game, who is progressive on how the game should be played,” McPhee said in a recent phone call with season ticket holders, per the club website. “We’re looking for that progressive guy that can really help us through the early years and help develop our team and our players.”

So, time to connect the dots.

Back in November, Vegas owner Bill Foley laid the initial groundwork for McPhee’s coaching profile, saying he wanted to hire an experienced head coach.

“He’s not looking for a first-termer,” said Foley. “Some may or may not be available. … I would say the coach that we name is going to be a recognizable individual.”

Among the names that have already been floated, many fit the above billing: Jack Capuano, Gerard Gallant, Ken Hitchcock and Michel Therrien, among others.

Vegas has already spoken with Gallant and reportedly made contact with Capuano as well, which shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Gallant was nominated for last year’s Jack Adams as the NHL’s top coach, and McPhee is familiar with Capuano, having worked as an adviser to Isles GM Garth Snow prior to taking the Golden Knights gig.

It’s also believed former Flyers head coach Craig Berube is being considered, along with current Montreal associate Kirk Muller.

 

Pre-game reading: Tonight’s Kings-Flames game could get testy

Leave a comment

— Up top, the Calgary Flames don’t want Matthew Tkachuk to play any differently — even though Drew Doughty called the rookie winger a “pretty dirty player” after taking the 19-year-old’s elbow to the face earlier this month.

— Tkachuk was suspended two games for that elbow. Still, there could be fireworks tonight when the Flames and the Kings meet again in Calgary. Especially after Tkachuk replied to Doughty’s remarks with the following: “I expected more from him, honestly, than to go right to the media and start complaining after a loss.” (Calgary Sun)

— TSN’s Gary Lawless thinks Sergei Bobrovsky should win the Hart Trophy over Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby. Lawless writes: “No other player has been as important to his team and its results as Bobrovsky has to the Columbus Blue Jackets. Take Bobrovsky off the C-bus and it’s not necessarily in the ditch but it isn’t nipping at the Capitals for the league lead.” (TSN)

— Coyotes captain Shane Doan is understandably frustrated about the lower-body injury that’s kept him out of the lineup the past six games. At 40, this could be Doan’s last year in the NHL, so hopefully he’s able to return and play at least once more in front of all his fans. (Arizona Republic)

— Golden Knights owner Bill Foley doesn’t want each team’s protected list to be made public ahead of the expansion draft. That being said, Foley is also realistic: “I’d rather we know what each team has left unprotected and we make our picks and it’s a big surprise. I think there’s going to be a lot of leaks, though. I found one thing about the NHL that … everyone talks.” (Yahoo)

— An appreciation of the Detroit Red Wings playoff streak, which will finally come to an end this season. The last time the Wings missed was 1990. As noted by Nick Cotsonika: “No player in the NHL today was in the NHL then, not even Jaromir Jagr. Nine of the franchises in the NHL today weren’t in the NHL, 10 if you include the Vegas Golden Knights, who begin play next season.” (NHL.com)

Enjoy the games!

The Leafs’ remaining schedule is no cakewalk

AP
2 Comments

The Toronto Maple Leafs took care of business last night, sending the floundering Florida Panthers to a 3-2 defeat at Air Canada Centre.

Now comes the hard part for the young Leafs. They have seven games left to book their first playoff appearance since 2013, and their schedule is no cakewalk.

The Leafs’ next three games are all on the road, in Nashville Thursday, Detroit Saturday, and Buffalo Monday. After that, it’s a four-game home stand to close out the schedule, all against formidable opponents: Washington, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, and Columbus.

With a four-point playoff cushion, the Leafs can afford to lose a few games down the stretch. But head coach Mike Babcock doesn’t want his players looking too far ahead.

“I really believe with our group if we just focus on the day we’re playing and play right, we have a real good chance to win,” Babcock said. “That’s what we talk about and that’s kind of our mantra every day is just play right, play fast and we have an opportunity to be successful. We don’t get all caught up in the race. We know the standings, it’s in the paper every day, so we know that.”

The Leafs today sent goalie Garret Sparks back to the AHL. That can only mean good news for starter Frederik Andersen, who could play Thursday after missing last night’s victory with an upper-body injury.

Backup Curtis McElhinney got the nod against the Panthers, calling it the biggest game of his career. The 33-year-old then went out and made 25 saves to earn the win.

“It was great,” said McElhinney. “Getting a couple of goals in the first period there helped out a little bit and let me settle into it. It was a nice win.”

Parise ‘pretty black and blue’ after Wilson high stick, but injury not serious

6 Comments

Zach Parise looked in bad shape after taking a Tom Wilson high stick to the face in Minnesota’s loss to Washington on Tuesday.

Thankfully for the Wild, Parise’s early diagnosis is a good one.

“He can see and is fine as far as that goes,” head coach Bruce Boudreau said on Wednesday, per the club’s Twitter account. “He’s sore in the upper body. I don’t think he’ll be out long.”

Boudreau went on to add that Parise was “pretty black and blue” and unlikely to play tomorrow, when Minnesota hosts Ottawa. That said, the club expects the 32-year-old to return next week.

It goes without saying that losing Parise is huge. The alternate captain has 17 goals and 37 points through 64 games this year, and is averaging 17:33 TOI per night. And for a Wild team that’s mired in a horrific slump — just three wins in its last 15 games — being down the services of such a vital contributor is costly.

Related: Stewart fought Wilson in response to the high stick