Flyers make ugly plunge from contenders to a mess in March

PHILADELPHIA — Shayne Gostisbehere came out swinging on the state of the Flyers, and the maligned defenseman sprinkled profanities in his R-rated critique of the team.

Seems appropriate these days in Philly. The Flyers are certainly NSFW: in this case, Not Suitable For Watching.

A crowd of about 2,800 inside a dreary Wells Fargo Center might be all that would turn out in a normal year given the record as the Flyers make the ugly plunge from preseason East Division favorite to a mess in March.

The trade deadline is April 12, but the Flyers might want to try and swing a deal for a tarp to cover the goal before Saturday’s home game against the New York Rangers. Rangers center Mika Zibanejad plays like Sidney Crosby against the Flyers and New York scores with the success rate of an empty-net drill when the rivals meet.

Consider, counting New York’s 9-0 win last week over the Flyers and its 8-3 win on Thursday, the Rangers scored 15 straight goals — 15! — against Philadelphia. Zibanejad had three goals and three assists in each of those games and became the first NHL player ever with six or more points in consecutive games against one opponent in the same regular season. He has only four goals and 20 points in his other 30 games.

Gritty, avert your googly eyes!

The Flyers have lost four straight games, are 4-9-1 in March (allowing 4.64 goals per game) and goalie Carter Hart is 2-6. Hart has allowed 16 goals over a three-game losing streak and the Flyers are tied for fifth place with the Rangers in the East at 15-13-4 — the top four teams qualify for the playoffs — with 24 games left in a shortened season.

Thoughts, Shayne?

“It’s just straight not good enough right now,” Gostisbehere said Thursday night. “We’re letting guys just (expletive) absolutely beat us up in front of the net. It makes our goaltenders look like absolute (expletive). It’s not fair.”

The Flyers have about two weeks to set the course for the franchise, for the rest of this season and beyond. Should the losses keep piling up, general manager Chuck Fletcher might consider trying to deal his veterans (minus captain Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek) to contenders. Should the Flyers straighten out, Fletcher might consider trying to shore up an ineffective defense that has played a crucial role in Hart’s struggles.

“We’re certainly not looking at selling right now,” Fletcher said this week. “If we can fill a box for the long term right now, we can potentially explore that. Certainly, if we can upgrade our team, we’ll do that.”

The Flyers were a trendy pick to come out of the East after last season’s strong finish in the NHL restart bubble. The Flyers had a nine-game winning streak before the pause, earned the No. 1 seed in the restart after round-robin play, won their first playoff series since 2012, then lost in the second round to the New York Islanders.

Hart led the way. He became the youngest goalie in Flyers history with a postseason shutout in Game 3 at 22 years, 3 days, and his second one made it the fifth time in NHL history a goalie had back-to-back postseason shutouts before age 23.

This season, he’s 8-9-3 with a staggering 77 goals allowed and a 4.04 goals-against-average in 20 starts. He allowed just 81 goals in 30 starts in 2018-19 and seemed poised to play up to the billing as the Flyers’ franchise goalie.

“I believe in Carter,” Fletcher said. “I believe in his talent and I believe he will be a very good goalie for this franchise for a very long time. Clearly, right now he’s not on top of his game.”

Brian Elliott (7-4-1, 2.97 GAA in a backup role) starts Saturday against the Rangers. The Flyers have allowed at least six goals in a game a whopping six times this season. Their 3.66 goals allowed per game is second-worst in the NHL.

Hart is just one player in a promising young core that has regressed this season, and coach Alain Vigneault has tried about all he can — from line switches to benchings — to squeeze production out of the roster. Defenseman Ivan Provorov and forward Travis Konecny are among the under-25 Flyers who failed to build on promising seasons last year and have the Flyers out of the playoff picture.

“Certainly, some of our young players haven’t played to the same level that they played last year,” Fletcher said. “I think long term, a lot of these players are going to be good players in this league for a long time. There’s been a lot of challenges this year. Certainly, we haven’t played as well as we wanted. I think it’s a year that you have to be a little bit careful though in overanalyzing the results.”

The Flyers, whose only Stanley Cup championships came in consecutive years (1974-75), have alternated making the playoffs every year since 2012. If the pattern holds, this would be a miss year — and they’re playing like it.

“This team has really lost its identity from where we were at the beginning of the year to where we are now,” Gostisbehere said. “It just sucks right now. We’ve gotta find something here because we’re too good of a team to … just squander it away.”

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    Hughes has first NHL hat trick, Devils beat Capitals 5-1

    Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports
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    NEWARK, N.J. – Jack Hughes had his first career NHL hat trick, Vitek Vanecek made 38 saves against his former team and the New Jersey Devils beat the Washington Capitals 5-1 on Saturday for coach Lindy Ruff’s 800th victory.

    “It’s exciting,” Hughes said. “Couple of two-goal games in my career, so nice to cap it off with the third one tonight.”

    Ruff became the fifth NHL coach to reach the 800-victory mark. The former Buffalo player won 571 games with the Sabres from 1997-2011. He had 165 wins in five seasons with Dallas and has 64 in two-plus seasons with New Jersey.

    “It means I’ve been around a long time,” Ruff cracked. “Great to win the game. Again, you got to do a lot of right things, have good teams, and the way our team is playing I have to give them a lot of credit for getting me there.”

    The Atlantic Division-leading Devils have won two in a row after seeing their franchise-record 13-game winning streak snapped by Toronto.

    Devils captain Nico Hischier and Fabian Zetterlund also scored.

    John Carlson scored for Washington and Charlie Lindgren made 24 saves.

    “Not scoring goals, not capitalizing on our chances,” Carlson said. “We’ve had our chances, especially today, but we only walked away with one goal. We could have had five or six. It’s just not going in right now.”

    Vanecek, meanwhile, was hoping for the shutout against a familiar foe.

    “That would have been nice, but that’s hockey,” Vanecek said, “For sure you’re trying, but not every time; the win is more important.”

    Hischier opened up the scoring with his 10th goal of the season midway through the first period on a power play after Alexander Ovechkin was called for slashing.

    Hughes wrapped the puck around goalie Lindgren’s right leg and the goal post to put the Devils up 2-0 5:59 into the second period. Hughes appeared to have lost his angle on the goal when he ripped a shot off Lindgren’s face mask and into the net midway through the period for his 10th goal of the season to give New Jersey a 3-0 lead.

    The 2019 No. 1 overall draft pick added his third midway through the third period as hats rained down on the ice with New Jersey up 4-0.

    “You want to continue to play the right way, but if an opportunity comes you want to definitely put it in the back of the net with authority,” Hughes said. “So tonight, I was able to cap it off and it was nice.”

    Fabian Zetterlund capped the scoring for New Jersey late in the third period.

    NOTES: The Devils improved to 16-0-0 this season when Hischier has a point. New Jersey’s Nathan Bastain (upper body) did not return after the first period. . Ovechkin is still nine goals away from 800 and 11 from passing Gordie Howe for second place on the NHL goals list.

    UP NEXT

    Capitals: At Vancouver on Tuesday night.

    Devils: At the New York Rangers on Monday night.

    Bruins set NHL record with 12 straight home wins to start season

    Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
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    BOSTON — The Boston Bruins set the NHL record for most home victories to start a season with their 12th straight, topping the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2 in overtime with a power-play goal from David Pastrnak.

    The Bruins broke the mark of 11 that was set by the 1963-64 Chicago Blackhawks and equaled by the Florida Panthers last season.

    “That felt awesome,” Bruins first-year coach Jim Montgomery said. “We talked about it after the second (period) going into the third. There’s been a lot of great teams in this league and you’re able to set a precedent, break a record. It’s pretty special and it doesn’t happen if those guys don’t believe in themselves like they do.”

    Boston, which trailed 2-0 late in the second period, tied it with 9:33 left in regulation when David Krejci scored his second of the game on a shot from the right point.

    “It’s never fun being down going into the third, you’re sitting in here (in the locker room) trying to figure it out,” Krejci said. “You want to come out and do the job, something special on the line. It’s hard to win in this league. To get 12 in a row at home is pretty special.”

    In overtime, Carolina was playing shorthanded after being called for too many men on the ice when Pastrnak one-timed a pass from Brad Marchand inside the far post from above the left circle.

    “It was a big win for us, obviously, coming from behind,” Pastrnak said.

    Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Stefan Noesen each scored a power-play goal for Carolina, and Pyotr Kochetkov made 38 saves. The Hurricanes lost their fifth straight.

    In a rematch of last spring’s opening-round playoff series that the Hurricanes won in seven games, Carolina shutout the NHL’s highest scoring team for nearly two periods and jumped ahead a pair of power-play goals in the opening period.

    “We took too many penalties. That’s hurting us right now,” Kotaniemi said. “I think 5-on-5 we’re doing a really good job. We started good tonight and couldn’t keep that up.”

    Boston’s tying goal was originally disallowed because of goaltender interference on Nick Foligno but overturned on a coach’s challenge after it was ruled that he was nudged into the crease by Carolina defenseman Brett Pesce.

    Boston starting goaltender Linus Ullmark made 28 saves but had to leave with 13:03 left in the third period with an undisclosed upper-body injury. Teammate Connor Clifton had jumped on him to block a shot during a scramble. Jeremy Swayman made six stops in relief.

    Carolina’s Noesen scored at 6:34 in to make it 1-0. And with five minutes left in the period, Kotkaniemi collected the puck near the side of the net after Seth Jarvis‘ shot bounced off the back glass and slipped it inside the post at 15:05.

    Krejci scored for Boston with 31 seconds left in the second.

    Boston came in with a league-high 82 goals in 20 games (4.10 per game), but it was held to relatively few chances despite getting a 5-on-3 power-play advantage early on.

    TAKE NOTE

    The Bruins honored captain Patrice Bergeron, who recorded his 1,000th career point when the team was on the road against Tampa Bay, with a message on the Jumbotron. The crowd gave him a standing ovation.

    Bergeron became just the fourth Bruin to reach the mark, joining Hall of Famers Ray Bourque (1,506), Johnny Bucyk (1,339) and Phil Esposito (1,012).

    UP NEXT

    Hurricanes: Host the Calgary Flames.

    Bruins: Host the Tampa Bay Lightning.

    Predators postpone 2 games due to Nashville water main break

    Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
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    NASHVILLE, Tenn. —  The Nashville Predators postponed two home games because of a water main break that soaked their downtown arena.

    Hours after the Predators decided they couldn’t play against the Colorado Avalanche, the team announced it also postponed the game against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Makeup dates for the two games will be announced later.

    The NHL said the water main break that occurred “significantly impacted the event level” of Bridgestone Arena. Team locker rooms and the ice surface are on the event level.

    Predators President and CEO Sean Henry told reporters that the water in the event level ranged from 3 inches to 3 feet.

    “We’re assessing it right now. We’re remediating it,” Henry said. “The good thing is, the water got shut off, the city responded in a pretty fast manner. I don’t think anyone is ready for things like this the Friday after Thanksgiving.”

    Video posted by a WTVF-TV reporter shows the water puddled up on the main floor’s concourse area and the team store. The team was forced to close the store until further notice, pointing shoppers online for Black Friday specials.

    The Predators’ next home game is now scheduled for Tuesday against the Anaheim Ducks.

    The water issue also resulted in a switch to a different venue for a college hockey game between Northeastern and Western Michigan. They also had been scheduled to play at Bridgestone Arena, a game that was moved to Ford Ice Center Bellevue.

    Rangers trade Ryan Reaves to Wild for 5th-round pick in 2025

    Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
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    ST. PAUL, Minn. — The New York Rangers traded enforcer Ryan Reaves to the Minnesota Wild for a 2025 fifth-round pick.

    Reaves had been a healthy scratch for eight of the past 12 games for the Rangers. He gives struggling Minnesota some extra muscle and a veteran presence.

    The 35-year-old is signed through only the rest of this season at a $1.75 million salary cap hit. He has no points and 12 penalty minutes in 12 games of his second season with New York.

    Reaves has played in 869 NHL regular-season and playoff games for the St. Louis Blues, Pittsburgh Penguins, Vegas Golden Knights and Rangers. He was with the Golden Knights during their inaugural season in 2017-18 when the reached the Stanley Cup Final.