NHL on NBCSN: Special teams, coaching a big part of Flyers’ big mess

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2020-21 NHL season continues with Tuesday’s matchup between the Philadelphia Flyers and New Jersey Devils. Flyers-Devils stream coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Honestly, it was hard not to chuckle a little when the Philadelphia Flyers lined their bench with Alain Vigneault as head coach alongside two coaches with multiple head coaching stops (Michel Therrien and Mike Yeo) as his assistants.

Alongside Chuck Fletcher, a GM who received a long run to get things right with the Wild, it felt like the Flyers turned into the Retreads. You could almost picture a worn-out tire as the Flyers’ new logo. Being that promising youth was the main reason to be excited about the Flyers’ future, it felt like the front office wasn’t particularly interested in new ideas.

Yet, with a strong regular season, those snickers were stifled. Really, they knocked it out of the park to the point that the Flyers might have set expectations too high.

Heading into Tuesday’s game against the Devils, it feels like the once-high-flying Flyers ran out of fuel, and crashed into a wall.

Flyers grasp for answers heading into game against Devils on Tuesday

Despite firing 37 shots on goal, the Flyers could only beat Ilya Sorokin once, falling to the Islanders 2-1 in OT on Monday.

“It was a really good game from a lot of aspects from our team,” Brian Elliott said, via NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Jordan Hall. “We don’t like the result, but it’s a good building block and I think that shows us how we need to play on a nightly basis.”

Unfortunately for the Flyers’ playoff hopes, it’s getting a little late to lay down building blocks. Moral victories only go so far.

Sure, it’s better that the Flyers avoided allowing three goals or more for the first time during this pretty-late moment in the month of March. But this has still been a pretty disastrous run.

Catching the up-and-down Bruins might be the Flyers’ best bet, but how strong are those odds? The 15-11-4 Flyers sit two points behind the 16-8-4 Bruins, and Boston has two games in hand (36 points in 28 games played to 34 points in 30 GP for the Flyers).

That might not sound like a too-tall mountain to climb, but that can grow faster than a teenager with an NBA future if the Flyers don’t take care of business in games like tonight against the Devils.

Special teams a major issue for the Flyers

As of this writing, the Flyers rank in the bottom 10 of the NHL in power-play proficiency (18.6) and penalty-killing percentage (74.4).

Jordan C. Hall put together an interesting side-by-side comparison for the Flyers’ first 30 games last season, vs. this season’s first 30. Ultimately, the offense remains remarkably comparable, while the defense and penalty kill have bottomed out:

It’s difficult not to circle back to chuckling at those coaching staff decisions from before.

Now, don’t get this twisted; it’s not just a coaching issue. The Flyers have suffered from poor work from Carter Hart and their goaltenders, and the lack of defensive execution isn’t merely X’s and O’s.

[COVERAGE OF FLYERS-DEVILS BEGINS AT 6:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

If fixing up that penalty kill is mostly a matter of time (and maybe some extra video study?), then Vigneault & Co. should also consider ways to possibly pump up that power play.

One frustrating area for the Flyers is seeing talented players getting healthy scratched. Yes, Shayne Gostisbehere makes mistakes, and last night’s OT-winner might not do him favors.

But sometimes you need to take the good with the bad. Over the long haul, Gostisbehere and Travis Konecny are players you want out there, especially on the power play. As much as Vigneault wants to “send a message” by benching players, it’s possible that he’s instilling an atmosphere of fear that stifles creativity.

There’s a balance between being conscientious to avoid mistakes, and being so conservative that you start preventing your own chances. And things might seem to feel unfair if skilled players seem to get benched more than limited veterans do, as Broad Street Hockey interestingly discussed.

Vigneault and his coaching staff have plenty of experience. In particular with Vigneault, he’s also enjoyed a lot of success.

Sometimes coaches wear out their welcome, or fall into bad habits. As much as Vigneault wants Flyers players to clean up their games, he might want to make some tweaks himself. If not, the Flyers could miss the playoffs, and he might feel the familiar, uncomfortable tingle of the “hot seat” once again.

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.

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

Ilya Mikheyev
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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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Nick Turchiaro/USA TODAY Sports
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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.