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NHL on NBCSN Rivalry Night: Red Wings visit Flyers

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 NHL season continues with Wednesday Night Rivalry as the Detroit Red Wings visit the Philadelphia Flyers at 8 p.m. ET. To watch the game online, click here.

For the ups and downs both the Philadelphia Flyers and Detroit Red Wings have had this season, they’re not too far outside of the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

The Flyers’ down point came during a 10-game losing streak last month that had fans calling for head coach Dave Hakstol to be fired. They followed that up by winning six in a row and now look to find some consistency in order to stay in the playoff chase.

Via the Courier Post:

“Yeah the results would say streaky but we have played good hockey over the whole stretch,” Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said [after Monday’s loss to LA]. “Now it’s about getting results and tonight we got to look at ourselves and put our finger on a couple things we have to do better and that we are capable of doing better. Turn the page and have a good day of practice tomorrow and we go right back at it and we continue with this busy stretch. Tonight those are the areas we have to be better in.”

Meanwhile, Red Wings head coach Jeff Blashill continues to try and jumpstart some of the team’s young guns like Andreas Athanasiou, Martin Frk and Anthony Mantha. Athanasiou is goalless in his last 11 games, while Frk and Mantha finally lit the lamp for the first time this month during a Tuesday night win over the New York Islanders.

Detroit started off their four-game east coast swing on a good note with that 5-3 win last night. Considering their struggles at Little Caesars Arena this season (6-6-6), gobbling up points away from home will be vital.

“It’ll be a good time (to be on the road) if we win,” Blashill said via the Detroit News. “If you had your druthers, as a team, as you’d like to spend a week at home and week on the road and mix it up, not go on really long stretches of either. But I do think, especially when you get to the Christmas holiday, it can be an advantage to get on the road and have that bunker mentality and away from some of the commitments you have when you’re at home.”

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After the game, be sure to stay on NBCSN for the second episode of Sabres-Rangers “Road to the Winter Classic” at 11:30 p.m. ET or stream it here.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

The Buzzer: Henrique back in Jersey, McAvoy channels Howe

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Players of the Night:

Adam Henrique, Anaheim Ducks: Henrique had a goal — a beauty of a goal — and an assist in his return to New Jersey, just three weeks after being dealt there. His Ducks didn’t get the last laugh though. The Devils had a solid third-period comeback to win 5-3.

Charlie McAvoy, Boston Bruins: Who doesn’t like a Gordie Howe hat trick? McAvoy certainly liked his tonight. He scored the game-winner, assisted on two goals and fought Pierre-Luc Dubois to cap off the feat.

Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings: Quick stopped 36-of-37 to end the Philadelphia Flyers six-game winning streak and ended the Kings’ three-game losing streak. The Kings have been very good this season and Quick has been front and center in that.

Highlights of the Night:

For this one, we start by going back to New Jersey and we go back to Henrique’s sensational goal against his former club.

Jesper Bratt scored this cheeky yet wicked wrist shot for the Devils tonight:

Brian Elliott didn’t have much luck against the Kings tonight, but he produced quite the glove save:

Factoid of the Night:

MISC: 

Scores:

Kings 4, Flyers 1

Devils 5, Ducks 3

Bruins 7, Blue Jackets 2

Avalanche 4, Penguins 2

Oilers 5, Sharks 3


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

Hextall’s patience, Elliott’s goaltending playing big roles in Flyers’ turnaround

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PHILADELPHIA — Step inside the Philadelphia Flyers dressing room, look to your right and you’ll notice above a clock on the wall is a sign that reads, “The Star Of The Team Is The Team Itself.” That message has been the thread through an interesting month for the team as they experienced the dregs of a 10-game losing streak before flipping the script and winning six straight.

That sixth win came Saturday night during a 2-1 overtime victory against the Dallas Stars making the Flyers the third team in NHL history (1967 Toronto Maple Leafs, 2005 San Jose Sharks) to reel off six victories in a row after a 10-game winless streak.

It wasn’t that long ago that fans were chanting for general manager Ron Hextall to fire the head coach and there was talk of shipping bodies out of town to shake things up. Those requests, however, were not in Hextall’s plans. The GM defended his team, defended his coach and was not going to make moves for the sake of change. That show of belief was well-received by his players.

“It means a lot. Obviously, Hexy has faith in us. He’s a very patient man, the coaching staff as well,” said forward Wayne Simmonds.

The front office wasn’t going to tear things apart and the players weren’t going to come unglued, even with the pressure of the losing streak growing with each defeat. They can look back now and see that as a takeaway from that experience.

“The most positive thing [was] we didn’t separate, we stuck together as a team and that’s why we’re winning games right now,” defenseman Ivan Provorov said.

The play of the five skaters on the ice has meshed well with the play of goaltender Brian Elliott, who’s been spectacular during this stretch. During this winning streak, he’s been named the NHL’s Third Star of the Week and has posted a .952 even strength save percentage.

“Our team has confidence in him. That’s a real position of strength for our bench, for the guys that are out on the ice,” Hakstol said. “It’s not just the things that you see on a nightly basis on game nights. He does such a real good job on a daily basis of approaching his day of work and that’s something that guys can feed off. They know he does the work. He’s prepared and I think that gives everyone a level of confidence coming into the game.”

It’s been a two-way effort for the Flyers during the streak. They haven’t allowed more than two goals a game and just grinded out a pair of 2-1 victories.. After averaging only two goals scored per game during that 10-game slide, which included being shutout three times, the offense has pumped in 3.5 goals per night. The power play is also cooking at 27.3 percent and their team shooting percentage is moving in the right direction going from 6.45 percent during their November slide to 9.23.

Adding to Provorov’s positive note about what came from the losing streak was also their standing in the Metropolitan Division. You’d think a team that did as poor as they did in November would see themselves with a major hole to dig out of by Christmas, but picking up five loser points helped keep the Flyers a bit above water. And now after picking up 12 out of a possible 12 points, they currently reside four points out of a wild card spot and six points behind the Columbus Blue Jackets for third in the division.

Hakstol doesn’t care if you want to call it confidence or swagger, but the Flyers are carrying themselves in that manor. Winning cures all, right? A 10-game streak could have really done damage to the team’s psyche and affected them going forward, but as Hextall said last month, they believed — despite the losses piling up — they weren’t playing bad hockey. It was just a matter of time before they started digging up again.

“You can be playing really well, but when you’re going good you just have that mentality that you’re not going to take less than finding a way to win a game. I can tell you, when you’re on the other end of close losses, tight losses, it starts to wear at you,” said Hakstol.

“But you have a couple of good things happen, along with working hard, paying attention to detail and really sticking together, you get that little injection of adrenaline that helps push you in the right direction.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Ron Hextall: Flyers ‘not playing poorly’ during 9-game losing streak

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A nine-game losing streak.

A players-only closed-door meeting.

Fans calling for your head coach’s firing.

So how are things, Philadelphia Flyers general manager Ron Hextall?

“Actually, from the start of the year I’m pretty good with the way our team’s played, pretty good with the way our team’s played the last nine games,” he said after Tuesday’s 3-1 loss to San Jose. “I think tonight we ran out of a little bit of energy. Obviously, results lately are not very good. We deserved better but we haven’t gotten better. Obviously, we’ve got to find a way.”

[Flyers drop ninth in a row with heat on Hakstol]

Maybe Hextall is looking at the fact that his team has lost five of these nine games in overtime or the shootout, where a single bounce could have earned them the extra point. Or maybe he’s looking at those back-to-back shutouts at the hands of the Minnesota Wild, where nothing was going to get by Devan Dubnyk, who stopped all 62 shots he faced in the two games. Or hey, those possession numbers are OK (51 percent), per Corsica, and some of the top guys like Jakub Voracek (9 points), Claude Giroux (8), Sean Couturier (7) and Ivan Provorov (5) are contributing offensively as Wayne Simmonds (3) struggles.

What Hextall might not be looking at are the blown leads. During this nine-game skid, the Flyers have scored to take or extend leads 15 times. There’s also a penalty kill stumbling along at 70.3 percent and a team that’s been shorthanded 37 times, which is the most in the NHL since Nov. 11. You also have had a very young defense that’s allowed the fourth-most even strength shots (227, via Corsica) over that span. That’s why he was very happy to see the recent returns of Radko Gudas and Andrew MacDonald to the lineup.

But Hextall didn’t meet with the media after a ninth-straight loss to back the fans’ calls to fire Dave Hakstol or rip his players and threaten major changes. He believes the Flyers have been playing better than what the standings show and in his mind that’s a realistic view of the situation at the moment.

“If we were playing poorly, I would be the first to say we were playing poorly. I would be,” Hextall said. “We are not playing poorly. To look at objectively at our team right now, and to say we’re playing poorly, no. Are we shooting ourselves in the foot at times? Yes, we are. Critical mistakes at critical times, yes. It’s kind of what happens when the snowball starts to go the wrong way and you start doing things that are a little bit unpredictable. But you look at our effort and at times our execution, if you took the score away the last nine games that I’ve seen and tell me we’re 0-9, I’d be like, ‘come on.’

“So the point is we have to find ways to win. Nobody is looking for excuses around here We are going to battle through this. We are going to get through it.”

There’s only so much time left to start digging yourself out of self-created holes. The Flyers are six points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins for a wild card spot in the Eastern Conference as of Wednesday. How much longer will Hextall allow his head coach and players to “battle through this” before a hammer needs to drop?

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Jets’ Byfuglien still looking for No. 1

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Dustin Byfuglien looks to be pissed off in more ways than one these days.

After a slow start to the season in the physical department (and in his game overall), the Winnipeg Jets heavyweight defenseman regained his train-wreck-causing self over the past week, putting his signature beating on some unfortunate souls that drifted into his path of destruction.

Exhibit A: Philadelphia Flyers forward Michael Raffl:

Exhibit B: Philadelphia Flyers forward Jordan Weal:

Even his own teammates aren’t safe from the carnage.

In his obliteration of Weal in the above clip, you can see Jets forward Kyle Connor becoming an innocent victim of the collateral damage.

Jets captain Blake Wheeler made mention of Big Buff’s angered demeanour during their homestand last week, and as they say in Winnipeg: angry Buff is the best Buff.

Indeed, but since Byfuglien arrived in Winnipeg with the rest of the former Atlanta Thrashers in 2011, fans have also seen the other side of his game – a productive one.

At the moment, however, all fans want for Christmas is Byfuglien to find the back of the net.

This season, goal-scoring has been non-existent from the 6-foot-5, 260-pound Minnesota native, who has chipped in for 10 assists in 20 games.

It took Brent Burns 21 games to score his first goal of the season for the San Jose Sharks, a marker that came — mercifully for the man who has scored 56 goals over the past two seasons — on Friday night.

Byfuglien plays in his 21st game of the season on Saturday night, ironically against Burns’ Sharks in San Jose. Perhaps Santa will come a month early.

Byfuglien has had no shortage of chances recent with 16 shots in this past four games and nearly scored twice in a 4-1 win against the Anaheim Ducks on Friday.

Fair warning to Santa: you don’t want to piss off Dustin Byfuglien.


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