Brian Elliott

Getty Images

Free falling: Flyers lose sixth straight as growing pains emerge

9 Comments

The Philadelphia Flyers feel they are right there, which is an interesting statement from a team that’s lost six straight and eight of their past 10.

Ah, the lies we tell ourselves in times of trouble.

The Flyers did fair better on Wednesday night in a 4-3 shootout loss against the New York Islanders, which prompted goaltender Brian Elliott to make the declaration that his team just needs to turn the corner.

It’s tough to turn when you’re falling backwards, however.

Indeed, finding positives when few appear to be in sight in a skid like the Flyers are in is a tough ask in the City of Brotherly Love. Flyers fans have had to come to terms with a few things this season.

It must pain fans to see Brayden Schenn lighting the lamp over and over again in St. Louis. Schenn was traded to the Blues in the offseason. The return looked half decent for a team looking to rebuild with a youth movement.

The Blues gave up two first-round picks for Schenn along with Jori Lehtera. And while it remains to be seen what the Flyers gain from the trade in future drafts, Lehtera has been an utter disappointment, one magnified many times more by Schenn’s incredible start.

Lehtera was a healthy scratch for Wednesday’s game, the second time in his past four games he’s watched rather than played. He’s sitting on two assists this season in 14 games. Schenn, by comparison, 10 goals and 30 points, including 19 in his past eight games.

It hasn’t been all Lehtera’s fault. Oh, no.

The Flyers penalty kill has been atrocious. They rank 28th in the league at 75 percent and have allowed seven goals in their past 13 kills over the past three games.

Andrew MacDonald can’t return soon enough, especially after one of their better penalty killers tried to behead a man last week.

Scoring could be better as well.

Claude Giroux has gone six games without a goal, this after scoring nine times in his first 16 games. Jordan Weal has just one goal in his past 18 games and was bumped to the fourth line on Wednesday. And ever since he 17 times in 64 games two years ago, Shayne Gostisbehere has only eight goals in his past 95 games and none in his past 13.

Ivan Provorov has been a godsend for the Flyers on defence (and Travis Sanheim is starting to blossom), but Gostisbehere’s offensive prowess from the backend would be a welcomed addition again.

But the real reason for the Flyers struggles this season might just be something they can’t control: youth.

The Flyers iced 11 players under 25 years of age on Wednesday night. Their top defenseman, Provorov, is 20 years old. Their second line centre, Nolan Patrick, is 19.

These are the growing pains of a team getting younger, and it could get worse yet before it gets better.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Poll: Allen or Elliott or neither?

24 Comments

Ah, the age-old debate in St. Louis.

To refresh your memory, the Blues’ goaltending soap opera was alive and well in 2014-15. Veteran Brian Elliott went into the season as the No. 1. Yada, yada, yada, by late March, less than a month to go until the postseason, he still was.

And then Blues coach Ken Hitchcock changed his mind and gave the starting job to young Jake Allen.

It did not go well for Allen in the playoffs. The youngster finished the six-game loss to the Wild with a .904 save percentage, leaving Hitchcock to defend his decision during yet another lengthy offseason for the club.

“I get the fact there were three goals that went in that were ugly,” the coach said. “That’s the growth of a young player.”

Hitchcock continued, “We got two guys who are more than capable of carrying the load here. I think goaltending is going to be our strength moving forward. We’ve got a young guy emerging and a veteran guy who’s on top of his game right now and playing the best of his career.”

Both Elliott, 30, and Allen, 25, are signed for two more seasons.

Which begs our poll question:

P.S. — We considered giving the option of “Just ride the hot hand — whoever’s playing the best at the time,” but that’s too easy.

Related: After Miller (and many others) failed, Blues turn to Elliott and Allen

It’s St. Louis Blues day at PHT

25 Comments

Throughout the month of August, PHT will be dedicating a day to all 30 NHL clubs. Today’s team? The St. Louis Blues day.

Another strong regular season followed by an early playoff exit. Business as usual for the St. Louis Blues, right?

Well, maybe. You get the sense that the 2015-16 season is an ultimatum, with the T.J. Oshie trade being a warning: this might be the last shot for many, perhaps including head coach Ken Hitchcock.

On paper, there’s still a lot of promise in St. Louis.

Vladimir Tarasenko tore onto the scene as a true elite sniper in 2015-16, and he was paid handsomely for it. Jaden Schwartz lacks some of the sizzle, but he’s a blue chip of his own. There’s some uncertainty for the likes of David Backes, but let’s not forget that St. Louis scored 248 goals last season, more than any other Western Conference playoff squad.

Of course, a Hitch-helmed team is expected to be stout defensively, and the Blues boast two fantastic blueliners in Kevin Shattenkirk and Alex Pietrangelo.

The two-headed dragon setup remains in net with Brian Elliott and Jake Allen, but hey, at least they like each other.

Off-season recap

As mentioned above, the Blues re-upped with expected cornerstones Allen and Tarasenko. They also parted ways with Oshie and Barret Jackman.

St. Louis actually looks pretty similar heading into 2015-16, but young players could up the ante quite a bit. Could someone like Robby Fabbri and/or Ty Rattie become difference-makers for the Blues? Training camp might help decide that, but their development is one of the more important aspects of this off-season.

If fear isn’t enough of a motivator, there’s also avoiding sights like these in the future:

Blues re-sign Allen for two years

3 Comments

Jake Allen has signed a two-year contract extension with the St. Louis Blues, the club announced today.

The deal is reportedly worth $4.7 million, with a salary of $2.2 million next season and $2.5 million in 2016-17.

Allen was a restricted free agent. The 24-year-old goalie went 22-7-4 during the regular season, with a .913 save percentage. He then had his struggles in the playoffs (.904 in six starts) as the Blues were eliminated in the first round.

Next season, Allen and Brian Elliott, also under contract for two more years, will once again compete for the starting role.

“We believe that we have two good goaltenders and training camp is going to decide who plays opening night,” GM Doug Armstrong said recently. “That’s how I see it from my perspective.”

Coach Ken Hitchcock believes that what Allen experienced in the playoffs will help him going forward.

“I get the fact there were three goals that went in that were ugly,” Hitchcock said in May. “That’s the growth of a young player.”

Allen will still be an RFA when his contract expires.

Video: NFL star J.J. Watt unleashes wicked shot

6 Comments

Without knowing about skating ability, if someone asked you which NFL player’s style would make the most sense as a hockey player, Houston Texas defensive dynamo (OK, lineman) J.J. Watt might just be the first name that comes to mind.

Watt made a surprise appearance at the second annual Blake Geoffrion Hockey Classic at Wisconsin, letting this shot rip (as Brian Elliott got out of the way):

Not bad, really. It sounds like a good time, too:

For more on his appearance and the event (which raised funds for the University of Wisconsin’s Health Burn Unit), click here.

(H/T to Puck Daddy)