Philadelphia Flyers v Florida Panthers

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.

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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.

Eaves to stick with Benn, Seguin on Dallas’ top line

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Patrick Eaves‘ cameo alongside the dynamic duo of Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin looks like it’ll continue at least one more game.

Eaves, who along with Benn assisted on Seguin’s goal in Saturday’s loss to Chicago, practiced on Dallas’ top line today and should be there tomorrow when the Stars take on the Wild.

“Seguin, Benn and Eaves were in on 11 chances [Saturday against Chicago],” head coach Lindy Ruff explained, per the Stars’ website. They could have three or four [goals]. They should have had three or four. We missed too many good opportunities.”

This latest development is a positive in what’s been a tough year for Eaves. He was hurt early in the season after an awkward fall against the Oilers — a game in which he opened on the club’s top line, next to Benn and Seguin.

All told, he has just three goals and six points in 33 games.

Last year, Eaves was plagued with concussion issues but still managed to produce well, scoring 14 goals and 27 points in just 47 games.

After re-upping in Winnipeg, Byfuglien says leaving ‘never really crossed my mind’

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There was some speculation Dustin Byfuglien would be out of Winnipeg by the Feb. 29 trade deadline or, failing that, when free agency hit on July 1.

But according to him, leaving was never really an option.

“I’ve been here five years and from where we’ve started and where we’re at now, I don’t feel as an organization or a group that we’re far off,” Byfuglien told TSN 1290 on Monday, after inking a big five-year, $38 million extension with the Jets. “My family and I have found Winnipeg nice, and we’re very happy to stay here.

“It never really crossed my mind of going anywhere, and I’m excited to be a Jet.”

Prior to this extension, though, some thought leaving had definitely crossed Byfuglien’s mind.

Back in mid-December, the Free Press reported his initial ask was a whopping eight-year, $55 million deal. Some viewed that as his first potential step out the door.

It would’ve been big money and a lot of term for the Jets to commit, especially given 1) Byfuglien is 30, 2) the team still hasn’t signed captain Andrew Ladd, and 3) the club has some prized youngsters that need new deals this summer, specifically Mark Scheifele and Jacob Trouba. (In that same Free Press report, Trouba’s ask was $56 million over eight years.)

Then, there was Byfuglien at All-Star weekend.

When asked about his future — sign, trade or head to free agency? — Byfuglien said he had “no problem” with Winnipeg, adding “I just want to put on a jersey, to be honest with you.”

Some, like TSN’s Frank Seravalli, who was in attendance for the Byfuglien media scrum, noted the response “did not exactly sound like a ringing endorsement.”

Of course, Byfuglien later clarified his remarks following the All-Star Game.

“Yeah, I’d love to,” he told reporters when asked about re-signing in Winnipeg. “I’ve met a lot of good people and now some really good friends. I’ve been here for a long time. You never want to leave home. I’ve been here long enough; my family has been here and I’ve had two kids here.

“It’s somewhere you don’t want to leave.”

And now — well, for the next five years anyway — Byfuglien won’t have to.

Video: Jets’ Stafford suspended one game for ‘forceful, reckless’ high-stick

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The NHL has dinged Winnipeg forward Drew Stafford one game for his ugly high stick on Colorado’s Nick Holden over the weekend.

“While we accept Stafford’s assertion that he did not intentionally strike Holden in the face, he is responsible for the consequences of swinging his stick in such a forceful and reckless fashion,” the Department of Player Safety explained.

Stafford, who wasn’t penalized on the play, will now miss Winnipeg’s next game — tonight, in St. Louis — and will be eligible to return on Thursday when the Jets host the Bruins.

Stafford will also forfeit $23,387.10 in salary to the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund.

Big Buff, Big Bucks: Jets ink Byfuglien to five-year, $38 million extension

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One of the most prized trade deadline targets is no longer.

On Monday, Winnipeg locked in pending UFA d-man Dustin Byfuglien to a five-year, $38 million extension, one that carries a $7.6M cap hit and makes him the highest-paid player on the team.

Byfuglien, 30, was in the last of a five-year, $26 million deal with a $5.2M average annual cap hit. One of the league’s most unique players — a 6-foot-5, 265 pounder that’s played forward and defense, and participated in this year’s fastest skater All-Star skills competition — his bio from the Jets’ release pretty much sums up how much he means to the club:

[Byfuglien] has recorded 32 points (15G, 17A) so far this season while appearing in all 52 games and sits in a tie for second amongst all NHL defencemen with his 15 goals.

Byfuglien leads the Jets so far this season in shots (163), penalty minutes (78) and ice time (24:14 per game).

The native of Roseau, MN, was named to the 2016 NHL All-Star Game in Nashville, TN where he recorded a goal and an assist for the Central Division team.

Byfuglien has been named to the All-Star Game in each of the last four seasons that the game has taken place (2011, 2012, 2015, 2016).

The deal keeps Byfuglien in Winnipeg through 2022 and is the latest long-term deal on the blueline: Tobias Enstrom is at $5.75M per through 2018, and Tyler Myers is at $5.5M per through ’19. Byfuglien’s deal also comes after some questioned how badly he wanted to stay in Winnipeg — at All-Star weekend, he raised eyebrows by responding “I just want to put on a jersey, to be honest with you,” when asked about his playing future.

The five-year term is also down from Byfuglien’s reported original ask, which was $55 million over eight years.

With this move done, Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff can now turn his attention to another prized pending UFA: Andrew Ladd, the club’s captain and another player that’s believed to have high interest around the league as a trade deadline rental.