What Went Wrong: Philadelphia Flyers

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It’s not the finish to the season the Flyers were aiming for after surprisingly making the Stanley Cup final last year. Finishing as the second seed in the Eastern Conference this year meant that the Flyers had high hopes of returning to the Cup final and winning their first Cup since 1975. Instead, they met the business end of a broom thanks to the Bruins and they’re left to wonder what exactly went wrong.

Don’t worry guys, we’ll take care of that.

1. Yes, the goaltending stunk
Let’s just point and laugh at the elephant in the room right now. Goaltending was terrible. Take a look at Brian Boucher’s numbers in this series.

5.26 goals against average, .846 save percentage, 12 goals allowed on 78 shots.

Those numbers are indefensible when breaking things down. Starting Sergei Bobrovsky in Game 4 was a move Peter Laviolette had to try to turn things around. Unfortunately for him, the series was already over with because the Flyers had a lot of other problems elsewhere on the ice on top of being terrible in goal. With no one having any confidence in anyone out there, it’s tough to come up with great performances in goal. Game 2 was the Flyers only real shot at a win and they still came up short in overtime. The other three losses weren’t even close.

2. But so did the defense
Philly’s defense was also to fault for their problems. We’ve yelled about how the Bruins plan of attack flustered the Flyers and made them run around wildly in their own end chasing after pucks and players all at once. Not having a healthy Chris Pronger to lead them did make a difference, but with the margin of defeat the Flyers were losing by it didn’t much matter. The Flyers defense being in the shape it was in caused a domino effect. All season long the Flyers goalies, regardless of who was in net, all put up similar numbers and relied on the guys in front of them to help make life easier. The Bruins figured out that by pressing the play and pressuring the Flyers in all zones that they’d get them to break down and leave openings all over the ice. They did that and it happened a lot to the tune of 20 goals in four games. Giving up an average of five goals per game isn’t winning anyone anything.

3. And the offense was brutal too
For as many goals as the Flyers were giving up to Boston, they had a problem of their own in that they couldn’t score either. Tim Thomas was outstanding through the series as the Flyers threw an average of just over 37 shots per game at him. 149 shots in all in the series and Thomas allowed just seven goals. That’t tough to keep up with but the Flyers needed their top players to flat out be better. Daniel Briere disappeared against Boston as did Mike Richards and Claude Giroux. James van Riemsdyk was the lone Flyer player to do anything in this series as he scored three of the team’s seven goals. You need the full team to put it together to beat the Bruins and the Flyers, instead, had one guy consistently bringing it. The Flyers had more than a few glaring issues in this series, but the lack of goals flew under the radar thanks how bad everything else went.

4. No character either
We’re not really big fans of putting a stake on intangible things like “heart” and “pride” but this Flyers team seemed to truly lack any of that against Boston. After getting pushed to the brink by Buffalo in the first round and showing some of that classic Flyers swagger, they had none of that against the Bruins. Instead, you had players taking dumb penalties (like Dan Carcillo did in Game 4), Chris Pronger lashing out in Game 1 while ending up a -3, and Scott Hartnell going after Zdeno Chara only to turtle after getting Chara’s ire showed that the Flyers just lacked something to unite them against a very motivated Bruins team. It’s not the brand of Flyers hockey we’ve gotten used to and perhaps next time around they’ll get a bit more out of Mike Richards as the captain.

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Philadelphia is clearly a very talented team. There’s a lot of offensive firepower here that’s young and itching to break out in the future. From Ville Leino, James van Riemsdyk, and Claude Giroux that’s a fantastic array of young talent. A healthy Jeff Carter may have helped out more against Boston and with Mike Richards there’s no reason to be concerned about those parts of the Flyers lineup. All eyes will be on GM Paul Holmgren in the offseason to see if he addresses the team’s goaltending situation. The Flyers have skated by with average to poor goalies for far too long and those issues came home to roost in this series.

Thompson nets 4 in 1st, 5 overall, as Buffalo tops Columbus

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Russell LaBounty/USA TODAY Sports
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COLUMBUS, Ohio — Tage Thompson matched an NHL record by scoring four times in the first period and finished with five goals and an assist as the Buffalo Sabres won their third straight road game, 9-4 over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Wednesday night.

Thompson is the second U.S.-born player to score five goals in a game. He is the fourth player in NHL history to record four goals in the first period of a regular-season game, joining Peter Bondra (1994), Grant Mulvey (1982) and Joe Malone (1921). He is also the fourth active player to score five goals in a game, joining Timo Meier (Jan. 17, 2022), Mika Zibanejad (March 5, 2020) and Patrik Laine (Nov. 24, 2018).

“It’s definitely a rewarding feeling,” Thompson said. “You’ve spent a lot of years working to get to this point and to be rewarded for it is a pretty good feeling and it just leaves you hungrier.”

Thompson’s outburst helped Buffalo score six times in the first 16:40.

“That was an amazing performance by Tage, and really, the whole group set the table,” Sabres coach Don Granato said. “I thought the energy, the collective effort, the focus to start was really good and enabled that to happen.”

Alex Tuch had a goal and three assists, Dylan Cozens added a power-play goal and two assists and Rasmus Dahlin finished with a goal and two assists. Peyton Krebs also scored. Jeff Skinner picked up four assists and Jacob Bryson had two. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen stopped 20 shots.

Patrik Laine and Gustav Nyquist each scored twice for Columbus.

Joonas Korpisalo stopped two shots before being pulled in the first in favor of Elvis Merzlikins, who stopped 15 shots through the second period. Korpisalo returned in the third and finished with six saves.

Columbus has lost six straight home games and five of its last six overall.

“We didn’t have an answer for that one line,” Blue Jackets coach Brad Larsen said. “Tage Thompson just tore us up tonight.”

Buffalo dominated from the puck drop, scoring four goals on its first six shots.

Cozens put the Sabres on the board at 3:21 of the first, 53 seconds into a Blue Jackets penalty, and Thompson made it 2-0 just 2:09 later. Dahlin scored Buffalo’s third goal at 7:28 of the first, driving Korpisalo from the net in favor of Merzlikins, who gave up Buffalo goal No. 4 to Thompson 32 seconds later.

Thompson’s third career hat trick and second of the season came on a power-play goal at 12:22 of the first. He followed with his fourth goal, also on the power play, at 16:40.

Columbus scored two goals in just over a minute, with Laine at 10:49 and Nyquist at 12:04, before Buffalo reeled off three straight in just over three minutes to end the period, including Thompson’s fifth, and goals by Krebs and Tuch.

Laine and Nyquist scored in the third period for Columbus.

STREAKING

Cozens has 12 points in his last five games and is riding a career-best, five-game point streak. Thompson has eight goals and five assists in his last five games and 10 multi-point games. Dahlin has a five-game point and assist streak, and Gaudreau stretched his points streak to six games.

NOTES: The Sabres joined the Kraken as the second team this season to score nine goals in a game. … Thompson is the second player in Buffalo history to have five goals in a game, joining Dave Andreychuk, who had five goals and an assist on Feb. 6, 1986.

UP NEXT

Buffalo: Hosts Pittsburgh on Friday.

Columbus: Hosts Calgary on Friday.

Ovechkin, Strome lead Capitals past struggling Flyers 4-1

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Eric Hartline/USA TODAY Sports
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PHILADELPHIA — Alex Ovechkin scored two empty-net goals, Dylan Strome had a goal and an assist and the Washington Capitals defeated the Philadelphia Flyers 4-1 on Wednesday night.

T.J. Oshie also scored for the Capitals, who finished 3-3 on a six-game trip. Charlie Lindgren made 29 saves.

Kevin Hayes scored for Philadelphia, which has lost 13 of 15 games. Carter Hart made 23 stops.

Strome broke a 1-all tie with 10:41 remaining when he deflected John Carlson‘s shot from long range past Hart.

Hayes had a golden opportunity to tie it on a Philadelphia power play, but Lindgren made a great right pad save on a try from close range with 8:20 remaining.

Ovechkin iced it, scoring into an empty net with 1:35 left and adding another empty-netter with 8.2 seconds left for his 15th of the season. Ovechkin has 795 career goals, good for third all-time. He is six goals away from tying Gordie Howe for second place. Wayne Gretzky, with 894 goals, tops the list.

Hayes scored his ninth goal of the season for his team-leading 28th point with 4:14 left in the first period to give the Flyers a 1-0 lead. Hayes rushed to the bench after breaking his stick on a slap shot attempt, and scored on a wrist shot from the high slot with his new stick.

The Flyers had a power-play goal for the third straight game and have four overall in that stretch. Philadelphia, which began play ranked 30th in the NHL in scoring on the man advantage, now has converted 16.7% (14 of 84) of its chances.

Oshie tied it 3:51 into the second on the Capitals’ fourth power play as the Flyers continued to take sloppy penalties. This time, James van Riemsdyk committed Philadelphia’s third tripping minor of the game. Oshie made them pay with his fifth goal of the season when he finished a nifty passing sequence with Strome and Evgeny Kuznetsov with a perfectly placed one-timer over Hart’s left shoulder.

NOTES: Van Riemsdyk returned after missing the last 20 games due to a broken right index finger. . Flyers forward Tanner Laczynski was placed on injured reserve after departing midway through the third period of Monday’s 5-3 win over Colorado with what looked like an injury to his left leg. . Washington was without several injured players, including starting goalie Darcy Kuemper (upper body). Kuemper was with the team, but missed his second in a row. . Carlson had two assists. . Philadelphia’s Cam Atkinson, out all season with an upper body injury, has been practicing and is close to returning.

UP NEXT

Capitals: Host Seattle on Friday night.

Flyers: Open four-game trip at Vegas on Friday night.

Penguins prospect Sam Poulin taking leave of absence

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Jeanine Leech/Getty Images
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PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Penguins forward prospect Sam Poulin is taking a leave of absence from the club’s American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

Penguins general manager Ron Hextall announced on Wednesday that the 21-year-old Poulin, Pittsburgh’s first-round pick in the 2019 draft, is stepping away due to “personal reasons.”

“The Penguins support Sam’s decision to take time away from hockey to focus on himself,” Hextall said in a release. “As with all of our players, our priority is them as individuals first. We look forward to having him back with the team when he is ready.”

Hextall said Poulin will return home to Quebec and continue to work out on his own.

Poulin made his NHL debut in October and had one assist in three games before heading back to the AHL. Poulin had four goals in 13 games for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton at the time of his decision.

Nathan MacKinnon sidelined about a month with upper-body injury

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DENVER — The injury-riddled Colorado Avalanche will be without leading scorer Nathan MacKinnon for about a month after he suffered an upper-body injury in a loss to Philadelphia.

The team announced the news on social media.

MacKinnon has eight goals and 26 assists for a team-best 34 points this season for the defending Stanley Cup champions. He joins a long list of banged-up players, including Valeri Nichushkin, Evan Rodrigues, Bowen Byram, Kurtis MacDermid, Josh Manson, Darren Helm and captain Gabriel Landeskog. Forward Artturi Lehkonen also missed the game in Philadelphia.

The 27-year-old MacKinnon signed an eight-year extension in August. He was coming off a postseason in which he tied for the league lead with 13 goals, helping the Avalanche raise their third Stanley Cup in franchise history.