Jason Brough


An interesting stretch awaits the Flyers

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In the wake of a 10-game winning streak, the Philadelphia Flyers have hit a rough patch, with just one victory in their last seven.

Granted, this would be more of a concern if they hadn’t played so well Sunday night in Anaheim, where they lost 4-3 in a shootout.

But the Flyers have lost ground all the same. They’re now just three points up on Tampa Bay for the second wild-card spot, and Toronto, Florida and Carolina are lurking back there too.

Last night, the Flyers put 54 shots on Ducks goalie John Gibson, plus one more for good measure on Jonathan Bernier.

“We deserved better, we played a helluva hockey game,” head coach Dave Hakstol said, per CSN Philly. “For the most part, our execution was pretty good and we had a lot of quality chances. Couldn’t get an extra one to go in.”

That’s hockey. During their 10-game run, the Flyers won a couple of games they easily could’ve lost. In the end, these things have a way of evening out.

“Put up 55 shots, you’re going to win most games,” said d-man Michael Del Zotto. “It’s unfortunate we didn’t get the two points. We’ve been in a little bit of a lull, but we keep playing like that, we’ll be successful.”

The Flyers return home to face the Rangers Wednesday (on NBCSN). Their next game after that is a big one, with the Lightning paying a visit Saturday afternoon. And after that, they play seven of their next 10 on the road, where they’re a modest 8-9-2 so far this season.

If there’s one area where Hakstol’s group could improve, it’s defensively. At 2.97, the Flyers’ goals-against average ranks 25th in the NHL. Last season, when they made the playoffs, it finished 12th at 2.26.

Obviously, some (or maybe much) of that falls on the goaltending. It was great last season; it’s been disappointing this season, save for the odd solid stretch from Steve Mason (14-12-5, .904).

In fact, Hakstol’s decision to go with Mason against the Ducks was called into question by reporters.

From CSN Philly:

Flyers coach Dave Hakstol opted to play Steve Mason, who had a bruised left forearm from the Sharks loss, rather than go with rookie Anthony Stolarz, who was completely healthy and deserved the shot after 40 impressive minutes in relief during the 2-0 defeat in San Jose.

It’s almost seemed a panic move to salvage two points from the three-game road trip. This was Mason’s 21st start in 23 games.

When pressed as to why not allow Stolarz to play, Add Contact FormHakstol said, he “gave it consideration.”

“He played very well coming in the other night,” Hakstol said. “He did an outstanding job. That being said, Mase has been the guy who has done a great job for us. I didn’t give it a whole lot of second thought.”

With Michal Neuvirth getting close to returning from his knee injury, it will be interesting to see how Hakstol deploys his netminders. Neuvirth was not playing well before he got hurt. His record was good, at 4-2-0, but his save percentage was a ghastly .859.

If Neuvirth continues to struggle when he’s healthy, it’s either going to be a very busy stretch drive for Mason, or Stolarz could be called back to make a few starts.

Stolarz, 22, is 2-0-0 with a .938 save percentage for the Flyers. He also had great numbers in the AHL (6-2-0, .927) before he was recalled.

Related: Stolarz making case to be with Flyers full-time next season

Habs give backup Montoya a two-year contract extension


The Montreal Canadiens have given goalie Al Montoya a two-year contract extension.

The deal is worth a reported $1.065 million per season, and it gives the Habs a goalie to expose in the expansion draft.

Montoya is 4-4-2 with a .909 save percentage. Most notably, he allowed all 10 goals in a 10-0 loss to Columbus on Nov. 4.

However, he’s bounced back fairly well since. The 31-year-old finished December with a save percentage of .925 for the month.

Pre-game reading: On Beau Bennett, who’s developed a great perspective on life

— Up top, John Tortorella has found another thing he doesn’t like. Add “getting recorded by a phone” to the list. (P.S. — Too bad the phone didn’t start ringing.)

— With the help of his Twitter account, Devils forward Beau Bennett has developed a good sense of humor about his terrible injury luck. “It’s all perspective, right? I’m still able to play in the NHL. Honestly, the stuff other people deal with.… I went to the children’s hospital a lot in Pittsburgh, and saw little kids battling for their lives. They can’t even leave the hospital, and I’m supposed to be upset because I’m in a locker room with some of the great hockey players of our time? It’s not hard to be a good person. It’s not hard to put a smile on your face.” (Sports Illustrated)

— Here’s Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman, with a message for anyone worried about the consequences of signing Artemi Panari to a two-year contract extension: “My suggestion would be to try to enjoy the fact that we’ve got a great player who is a big part of our team. He wants to be here in Chicago, he loves playing with his teammates and he’s having a lot of fun and scoring a lot of goals. That’s really the thing that we’re excited about. The other stuff, we’ll make it work. The time to dissect that is not right now but we’ll get there eventually.” (CSN Chicago)

— Based on his play at the World Juniors, the Arizona Coyotes have got themselves quite a prospect in American center Clayton Keller. “I think the hockey world already knows what he’s about,” said U.S. captain Luke Kunin. “He’s a high-end skill player, and he’s going to do great things down the road.” The Coyotes may be struggling now, but with Keller and another World Juniors star, Canadian center Dylan Strome, in the stable, the future is certainly brighter than the past and the present. (Sportsnet)

— There are still tickets available for Sunday’s Centennial Classic outdoor game in Toronto. Though the league expects a full house at BMO Field, it’s been a tough sell in a city that’s pretty much tapped out when it comes to sports events. “Toronto also hosted the World Cup of Hockey in September, a CFL Grey Cup in November and the world junior hockey tournament, which is playing out right now (and in front of small crowds). That’s not to mention that the Raptors went to the NBA’s Eastern Conference finals last spring and remain a hot ticket this season, the Blue Jays made the MLB playoffs again in the fall and sold tickets through the (retractable) roof, and Toronto FC reached the MLS Cup final for the first time in franchise history.” (ESPN)

— Love him or hate him, you have to appreciate the path Alex Burrows took to the NHL. The undrafted former member of the Greenville Grrrowl and Baton Rouge Kingfish will play his 800th regular-season game for the Vancouver Canucks tonight. “When I first started, I wanted to stay as long as I could,” said Burrows. “Eight hundred…I never thought I’d get here.” (The Province)

Enjoy the games!

For the first time this season, the Leafs got a win from their backup goalie


Last night in Tampa, the Toronto Maple Leafs chalked up their first win of the season that No. 1 goalie Frederik Andersen didn’t start.

It was 22-year-old Antoine Bibeau who got the nod, and eventually the W, stopping 25 shots in a 3-2 overtime triumph.

For a team with its sights on a first playoff appearance since 2013, it was an encouraging performance from the youngster. Jhonas Enroth had struggled in the backup role, and he’s in the AHL now.

“We had got one point out of a backup until tonight so, you know, if you look at it there’s 20 games he’s got to play and you’ve got to get some points,” said head coach Mike Babcock. “That being said, good job. He’s a kid, he was a bit deep at times and things like that, but he did a good job.”

It was actually Bibeau’s second start of the season. He stopped 26 of 28 shots on Dec. 11 against Colorado, but that was the game Semyon Varlamov made 51 saves and the Leafs lost, 3-1.

Bibeau could get his next start fairly soon. The Leafs play back-to-back on Jan. 6 and 7, in New Jersey Friday and home to Montreal Saturday. The Devils assignment will probably be his, with Andersen — who’s bounced back in a big way after a tough start with his new team — getting the Hockey Night in Canada game against Carey Price and the Habs.

Related: Anton Khudobin hasn’t solved the Bruins’ backup goalie problem

More frustration in Florida: Barkov to miss 2-3 weeks


The Florida Panthers’ fight to make the playoffs just got harder. The club announced today that center Aleksander Barkov has been placed on injured reserve and is expected to miss 2-3 weeks with an undisclosed injury.

Barkov was hurt in Wednesday’s shootout loss to Toronto. He did not play in Thursday’s overtime loss to Montreal.

The 21-year-old is the Panthers’ leading scorer with 27 points (9G, 18A).

“It’s tough. He’s a great player,” coach Tom Rowe told reporters after the injury. “He’s one of the best, if not the best two-way centermen in the league for his age group, so it’s a hard one to replace.”

The Panthers’ next game is Saturday in Dallas. After that, they return home for three games against Winnipeg, Nashville, and Boston.

Florida (15-14-8) is currently four points back of Boston for third place in the Atlantic Division.