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.

Capitals’ Hathaway suspended three games for spitting on Gudbranson

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The NHL announced that Washington Capitals forward Garnet Hathaway has been suspended for three games thanks to his “spitting incident” involving Anaheim Ducks defenseman Erik Gudbranson.

It happened during the end of a pretty wild brawl between the Capitals and Ducks, leading to Hathaway being ejected. For what it’s worth, Hathaway said that he regretted spitting at Gudbranson after the game.

“Unfortunately, spit came out of my mouth after I got sucker punched and it went onto him,” Hathaway said. “It has no place. It was an emotional play by me. You don’t plan any of that stuff in your head, and it was a quick reaction and unfortunately the wrong one for me to a sucker punch.”

The Capitals face the Rangers on Wednesday, the Canucks on Saturday, and then the Panthers next Wednesday (Nov. 27) so Hathaway will not be eligible to return until a Nov. 29 home game against the Lightning. Here’s video of the incident:

Gudbranson might feel like the punishment is just.

“That’s about as low as you dig a pit, really,” Gudbranson said. “It’s a bad thing to do. It’s something you just don’t do in a game, and he did it.”

Do you agree with the three-game suspension? If not, what would be an appropriate punishment? It’s certainly tough to shake the notion that Milan Lucic‘s “sucker-punch” drew less of a suspension (two games) than spitting, especially when other after-the-whistle stuff like licking often goes virtually unpunished … but three games it is for Hathaway.

Being that it’s a shorter suspension, it doesn’t sound like Hathaway has a ton of recourse here, although maybe he can try to get some of the $24,193.53 back if he appealed?

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.

Surging Vrana might be capable of even bigger things for Capitals

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

From Alex Ovechkin for Washington to Artemi Panarin for New York, you’ll see plenty of firepower during Wednesday Night Hockey’s bout between the Capitals and Rangers. Even with Nicklas Backstrom sidelined for the game, I’m here to argue that you still might not see enough of one potential rising star: Jakub Vrana.

When you give Vrana’s 2019-20 stats a quick glance, they’re already impressive.

Not only does Vrana already have 10 goals scored in 23 games, but all 10 of them have come at even-strength, tying him for third in the NHL in that category alongside players like Auston Matthews, Jonathan Huberdeau, and Vrana’s former Capitals teammate Andre Burakovsky. His eight assists rounds out his numbers to 18 points in 23 games; over an 82-game pace, Vrana would author 37-goal, 66-point season.

While he’s been riding some hot puck luck since 2018-19 with a 15.1 shooting percentage, the overwhelming message one gets from diving deeper into Vrana’s stats is that the Capitals should strongly consider finding more ways to get him on the ice.

[COVERAGE OF RANGERS-CAPITALS BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

Despite Vrana’s 18 points in 23 games, he’s only averaging 14:15 TOI per game, which is a career-high and slight uptick from last season’s average of 14:02. Beyond getting some bounces, Vrana’s breakthrough in simple counting stats can probably be chalked up to an increasingly itchy trigger finger. After peaking with 1.96 shots on goal per game last season, Vrana’s getting almost one extra puck on net per evening, averaging 2.78 SOG per game (64 SOG in 23 GP).

It’s unclear if you can derive that from playing a more confident game, getting decent reps with a tremendous playmaker like Evgeny Kuznetsov, or if perhaps someone in the Capitals organization gave Vrana a directive to shoot more. Either way, it’s working out quite nicely, as he’s a significant part of the Capitals’ early work as the NHL’s most dangerous offense at even-strength.

Again, though, I must ask for more.

Just about every number seems to point a neon flashing arrow at “More Vrana.” His heat map at Micah Blake McCurdy’s Hockey Viz is, well, almost off the charts:

Wow.

Admittedly, it would be tough for Vrana to crack the Capitals’ top power play unit, and he’s getting some reps on the second unit (1:35 per game), but his all-around game makes me wonder if more PK work would be warranted.

It’s not as though Vrana is getting totally buried in the Capitals’ lineup, yet with Washington in a strong position (few teams enjoy the luxury of “Can we win the division again?” being one of their burning questions in November), I’d be tempted to see if Vrana would thrive in an even larger role.

And, hey, if all of that is boring … the skill is pretty obvious, too. Not everyone can pull off a Datsyukian shootout move, right?

Just saying.

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.

My Favorite Goal: Malik’s stunning shootout winner vs. Capitals

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Welcome to “My Favorite Goal,” a regular feature from NBC Sports where our writers and personalities remember the goals that have meant the most to them. These goals have left a lasting impression and there’s a story behind each one.

Today, Scott Charles remembers Marek Malik’s wild shootout-winning deke against the Capitals in 2005.

14 years ago, the shootout was still a new phenomenon in its first year of existence.

The NHL implemented the game-deciding method after a lockout to add a unique level of excitement and create a stand-alone moment within the game for players to showcase their individual skills. Fans have seen plenty of breakaway attempts and penalty shots throughout the years, but the concept of a singular moment with the game on the line created a buzz.

Many NHL stars struggled to adapt to the one-on-one event while several unknown players became heroes overnight.

Marek Malik of the New York Rangers used his opportunity to cement his legacy in the organization’s history.

Rangers coach Tom Renney elected to send Malik over the boards in the 15th round on November 26, 2005 when New York squared off against the Washington Capitals.

Renney had few options at the time because shooters are not allowed to shoot twice unlike international competitions. But when the six-foot six-inch offensively challenged defenseman took the ice, a moment about to be etched into NHL history.

The big fellow skated to the right, majestically slid the puck between his legs and released a wrist shot that sent Madison Square Garden into a frenzy for the second time that day!

“I was expecting to see a shot,” Renney remembered. “I certainly was not expecting, as was no one else in the building expecting to see what he did. It was completely out there and maybe that was the right approach. Maybe Malik was having just enough fun watching all of this as I think we all did. It kind of didn’t matter so go try something. He did and it worked.”

The Rangers and the NBA’s Knicks often play the same day at MSG, but on this Saturday both teams left the venue with thrilling victories. Nate Robinson drilled a three-pointer at the buzzer to propel the Knicks to an overtime win against the Philadelphia 76ers prior to Malik’s beauty.

Malik had the chance to become a fan favorite because Jason Strudwick answered the bell in the round prior.

Bryan Muir of the Capitals scored and Renney had to make a very difficult decision; he needed to find someone to respond. The three remaining players who hadn’t shot yet were Strudwick, Darius Kasparaitis and Malik.

“He (Kasparaitis) kept looking at me every time I looked toward that end of the bench,” Renney said. “I was doing everything I could to not make eye contact with him. Kasparaitis was doing everything he could to make eye contact with me and Strudwick was doing everything he could to not make eye contact with me. There was a certain irony in all of that.”

Even though Strudwick lacked confidence Renney selected him anyway.

“I was thinking there was no way I was going to score,” Strudwick said while chuckling. “I remember Tom calling my name I pretended I did not hear him. He looked over and I was like ‘Oh God.’ Over my career I wasn’t really an offensive type guy. Part of me was praying someone would have scored earlier to just end it, but part of me was thinking I actually want a chance at this.”

Malik’s shootout goal encapsulates the spirit of the unlikely hero. A reminder of the underdog moments of triumph hockey can create.

Depth defensemen and bottom-six forwards are often overlooked and viewed as replaceable players, but the ‘Malik Deke’ was another reminder how talented each NHL player is despite their role on any team.

PREVIOUSLY ON MY FAVORITE GOAL
McCarty shows off goal-scoring hands during 1997 Cup Final
Ovechkin scores ‘The Goal’ as a rookie

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

Senators’ Bobby Ryan to enter NHL/NHLPA player assistance program

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The NHL and the NHL Players’ Association announced Wednesday morning that Ottawa Senators forward Bobby Ryan will be stepping away from the team indefinitely while he enters the NHL/NHLPA player assistance program.

The league and union said in a release there “will be no further comment at this time.” The Senators are in Montreal to face the Canadiens Wednesday night.

Ryan did not play Tuesday night in Detroit, one day after he left practice early. Senators head coach D.J. Smith said the forward wasn’t feeling well, according to the Ottawa Citizen.

“Bobby is an important member of the Ottawa Senators family and he has our full support as he tends to this matter,” said Senators GM Pierre Dorion.

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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.