A weak power play joins injuries and goaltending on Flyers’ list of concerns

Even though every game of the Buffalo Sabres-Philadelphia Flyers series has been decided by a goal* so far, there’s been a lot more hand-wringing on Philly’s side. Then again, there’s also been much more unrest. The Flyers are dealing with major injuries (Chris Pronger and Jeff Carter) and instability in net, as all three of their goalies appeared in this five-game series so far.

* Excluding one empty net goal, naturally.

While I think it’s important to reemphasize that razor-thin line between victory and defeat, the bottom line is that this team is on the brink of elimination with Buffalo up 3-2 in the series. Yet while people gravitate toward an issue that’s out of the team’s control (injuries) and one that is perennially unpredictable (goaltending), there is one correctable issue that could mean their doom.

The Flyers’ power play has been far from dangerous, which can be a fatal flaw in games that have been this tight.

As Jim Jackson discusses in his five thoughts for CSN Philly, the Flyers’ man advantage has been a major disadvantage. They haven’t scored a goal in their last 10 opportunities and only converted on two of 26 overall in the last five games. Playoff competition often brings even powerful groups down a few notches, but how can the Flyers expect to win when they’re only converting about eight percent of their chances?

Jackson points out just how often the Flyers end up with a loss when their power play is unproductive.

And if you want a barometer for the Flyers and their chances of winning, look no further than the power play. Including the playoffs, they are 8 for 133 with the man advantage in the 38 games they have lost this season. That’s a six percent success rate.

Not very surprisingly, Philadelphia is 0-for-13 in their three postseason losses and 2-for-13 (including a still-putrid 1 out of 10 in Game 2) in their two postseason wins. In their 49 wins combining the 2010-11 season with the playoffs, the Flyers PP scored 43 goals. That’s still not amazing – and honestly it never was, being that their power play only scored 49 goals this season, tying them with four other teams for 17th place – but it still reveals a startling contrast that makes a goal on the power play seem like a harbinger of success.

Of course, making the power play better is easier said than done. Much like the case of improving their goaltending, injuries stand in the way of some progress in this area. After all, Pronger’s defensive presence would make any of their three potential starting goalies look better.

The same can be said about Pronger’s hard slap shot from the point along with Carter’s elite finishing ability; those two factors would improve their man advantage as much as any change in strategy.

That being said, excuses – even reasonable ones – aren’t often welcome around this time of a year. The Flyers’ problems might bleed into each other, but finding a way on the power play might just stop the bleeding.

Power play success or failure might end up being the difference in this closely fought series.

Ducks deny rally, end Penguins’ winning streak

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When Ondrej Kase cashed in on another breakaway opportunity for the Ducks to make it 4-1 in the second period, it looked like that goal would be icing on the cake for Anaheim. Even if it would be especially pretty frosting.

Instead, that stylish goal ended up being critical, as the Pittsburgh Penguins nearly rallied in the third period to at least send Wednesday’s game to overtime. John Gibson ended up holding down the fort, and with an empty-netter in the dying seconds, the Ducks ended up beating the Penguins 5-3.

You could call it a game of periods and close calls.

The Penguins entered the first intermission thanks to a 1-0 Evgeni Malkin goal, but the Ducks dominated the middle frame with their first four-goal period of 2017-18. The Penguins’ prolific power play helped them stay in the game (2-for-4, with both goals coming during that third-period comeback bid), but the rally fell short. Pittsburgh’s winning streak ended at four victories.

Some bounces went both ways, as Antoine Vermette nearly scored for the Ducks while Carl Hagelin suffered a near-miss. So maybe those missed opportunities cancel each other out?

From the Ducks’ perspective, this is the latest argument in favor of this team being a threat now that key pieces have returned to the lineup. This win begins what they hope is a successful five-game homestand, as Anaheim still needs to battle for its own playoff hopes.

The Penguins can’t ruminate on this loss for very long. They head to Los Angeles to face what must be a frustrated Kings team (four straight defeats, only two wins in their last eight games) on Thursday, with little reason to expect any mercy.

This last stretch of wins improved the Penguins’ outlook, but dropping games in back-to-back nights could make things tense again in a hurry. You can check out that Penguins – Kings game on NBCSN Thursday.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Willie O’Ree celebrates 60th anniversary of debut with Bruins

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BOSTON (AP) Hockey pioneer Willie O’Ree was honored in Boston on Wednesday on the 60th anniversary of the Bruins forward breaking the NHL’s color barrier.

At a news conference at the TD Garden before the Bruins game against the Montreal Canadiens, Mayor Marty Walsh declared Jan. 18, 2018 to be “Willie O’Ree Day”. O’Ree made his debut in 1958 during a 3-0 victory against the Canadiens at the Forum in Montreal.

Walsh called O’Ree a Boston legend who changed the city for the better and thanked him for his courage. As part of the celebration, the city dedicated a new street hockey rink in the Allston-Brighton neighborhood to be known as Willie O’Ree Rink.

A native of Canada, O’Ree, 82, had four goals and 10 assists in 45 games over parts of two NHL seasons. He spent a total of 21 years in pro hockey.

For the past two decades, O’Ree has served as the NHL’s Diversity Ambassador, spreading the message that hockey is for everyone.

More AP NHL hockey at https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

Bruins cruise vs. Canadiens in Julien’s return to Boston

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Don’t blame Claude Julien if Wednesday made him think of better times, and not just because it was his welcome back night in Boston.

Coming into this one, it was a tale of two teams going in opposite directions, and the teams stuck to their scripts. The Boston Bruins remain red-hot with a 4-1 win, while the Montreal Canadiens are mired in mediocrity .. or worse?

When you’re as disappointing as the Canadiens have been, plenty of things are going wrong. It was a weak start even with a 1-0 lead and 1-1 first period in mind, and it obviously didn’t get any better.

Nights like these have to sting for Julien, a coach known for his sophisticated systems and eye for defensive detail.

There are questions about Max Pacioretty possibly being trade bait. People wonder if Jonathan Drouin or Alex Galchenyuk fit as centers, or if neither work that way. Yet, these performances make you realize that as exasperated as management must be, they may also appreciate more specific distractions.

Because, frankly, this was a team … non-effort.

Then again, the Bruins are a red-hot squad, so maybe they shine an especially harsh light on the Habs’ haplessness?

Boston generated a 32-22 shots on goal advantage in this one, with multiple contributors stepping up. Big guns came through (Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak were among the goal scorers, Patrice Bergeron collected two assists), while David Backes and others added to the fun.

It was the kind of effort Julien would have been very happy with, if it didn’t come at his expense.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

WATCH LIVE: Pittsburgh Penguins at Anaheim Ducks

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PROJECTED LINEUPS

Pittsburgh Penguins

Dominik SimonSidney Crosby — Daniel Sprong

Carl HagelinEvgeni MalkinPatric Hornqvist

Conor ShearyJake GuentzelPhil Kessel

Tom KuhnhacklRiley SheahanRyan Reaves

Brian DumoulinKris Letang

Olli MaattaJustin Schultz

Matt HunwickJamie Oleksiak

Starting goalie: Tristan Jarry

[NHL on NBCSN doubleheader: Canadiens vs. Bruins; Penguins vs. Ducks]

Ducks

Rickard RakellRyan GetzlafCorey Perry

Derek GrantRyan KeslerJakob Silfverberg

Nick RitchieAdam HenriqueOndrej Kase

Chris WagnerAntoine VermetteJ.T. Brown

Cam FowlerKevin Bieksa

Hampus LindholmJosh Manson

Francois BeaucheminBrandon Montour

Starting goalie: John Gibson