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After tough start, JVR is showing why Flyers brought him back

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For a while there, JVR felt a little … well, JV for the Philadelphia Flyers.

Two main factors seemed to complicate things for James van Riemsdyk as he tried to justify that five-year, $35 million contract to return to Philly. The first was a freak injury, right in the beginning of the 2018-19 season.

The other was even more out of JVR’s hands than the bad luck of getting hurt: the Flyers were transitioning from Wayne Simmonds to JVR, particularly on the power play, and it wasn’t exactly a seamless passing of the torch.

[JVR came into this season under pressure.]

Bumpy start

Flyers coach Scott Gordon saw JVR’s season firsthand, as he went from hurt and a bit lost to his current red-hot streak, where van Riemsdyk now has 10 goals in his last 11 games.

“I think being out that time and not really …he almost didn’t have a role with the team for a while there,” Gordon said, via Dave Isaac of the Courier-Post. “He wasn’t playing as much power-play time, not playing as much top-six ice time and so now I find he’s skating more consistent, getting involved in the play up and down the ice and just has the puck more often. Getting to the front of the net more often obviously, whether it’s a tip or a rebound, that’s critical for anybody but to do that you’ve got to be around the net and he’s been around the net more.”

The turnaround truly has been remarkable, as JVR now has 25 goals and 42 points despite being limited to 56 games played.

2019 has been kind to JVR, so far

JVR is tied for the second-most goals since 2019 began with 20, and no player has more goals than his nine since the Feb. 26 trade deadline.

As with any sniper who’s scoring at an even higher level than usual, a hot streak will eventually be iced, and that’s true with JVR. His 18.8 shooting percentage overall this season is a little high – even for a player who has a knack for getting to the areas of the ice where you can get quality shots, and one who is among the best at finishing such chances – and his luck has been even better lately.

But, to me, it’s the renewed clarity of it all that bodes well for JVR’s short-term future, and the Flyers’ chances of getting the most out of him in 2019-20.

Yes, scoring nine times on 35 shots on goal (25.7 shooting percentage) is unsustainable, but it’s a great sign that van Riemsdyk is firing the puck that often.

It sure seems like JVR isn’t just getting the green light, but that he knows it. Not only does he have eight goals in as many March games, but after averaging 16:26 TOI or less in previous months this season, he’s averaged 18:18 per game during March. That’s an exciting development for a player who went from heavy usage during Toronto’s awkward years, to being shuttled into more of a specialist role during his final two seasons with the Maple Leafs. The thought was that JVR scored incredibly well considering a bit under 16 minutes of ice time in 2016-17 and a bit under 15 in 2017-18, so imagine what he could do with fuller minutes … but he was sort of relegated to that same, more supporting duty through most of this first season.

If the Flyers carry over this finish to giving JVR a heightened role in 2019-20, they might just enjoy the sort of rewards that would get people to look at his $7M as a bargain.

… At least for a while.

Will it all line up?

Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher faces an interesting question, with an invisible deadline from Father Time: can he put a few more pieces together to take advantage of what this team has, before a decline happens?

JVR is already 29, and will turn 30 in May. Jakub Voracek is 29 as well, while Claude Giroux is 31.

For every Sidney Crosby, Patrice Bergeron, and other player who continues to play at a high level past age 30, there are scary examples of other steep declines. The stories are especially frightening for power forward-types like JVR. Wayne Simmonds himself has already been showing signs of decay, while Milan Lucic and James Neal rank as some of the starkest examples of how steep the falls can be.

Will the Flyers be able to best take advantage of the remaining high-level years of productivity, however many there might be? As much as Philly can look at many positive developments heading into 2019-20 (and beyond), it remains to be seen if they can make all the pieces fall into place at the perfect time to contend – for real – for at least a few years.

If nothing else, JVR looks far more capable of being a big part of that solution as of today, compared to earlier this season.

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.

Hart, Flyers steal two points with late surge against Penguins

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The Philadelphia Flyers looked like they were less than 20 seconds away from having what was left of their playoff chances completely erased. Somehow, though, there remains some small amount of hope thanks to their stunning 2-1 overtime win against the Pittsburgh Penguins that looked to be a carbon copy of their Stadium Series win over their cross-state rivals just a few weeks earlier.

James van Riemsdyk scored the game-tying goal with just 19 seconds remaining in regulation to send the game to overtime, where Sean Couturier would tally the game-winner with just three seconds to play after he skated around Penguins captain Sidney Crosby in the neutral zone.

The Flyers are still six points out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, so the odds are still overwhelmingly stacked against them, but coming away with zero points on Sunday would have probably been enough to completely end their chances.

When these two teams met in late February in the Stadium Series game at Lincoln Financial Field the Flyers trailed by two goals with less than four minutes to play and needed a last-minute game-tying goal to force overtime, only to win it early in the extra period.

They did nearly the same thing on Sunday.

The other big development that stood out in this game for the Flyers was the sensational play of goalie Carter Hart.

Appearing in just his second game since returning from injury, Hart played one of the best games of his young career by turning around 41 of the 42 shots he faced, including several dangerous scoring chances in the second period to help keep the game scoreless.

This is the type of performance that has to give Flyers fans — and the Flyers themselves — hope for the immediate future.

Nothing can change the direction of a team more than a franchise goalie, and after decades of searching the Flyers may have finally found somebody that can actually claim that title. Yes, it has only been 24 games at this point, but the early returns have been everything the Flyers could have hoped for from their top prospect. His arrival has been one of the biggest factors in their second half turnaround that has allowed them to at least get somewhat closer to a playoff spot.

Teddy Blueger was the only Penguin to beat him on Sunday night, pouncing on a rebound in front of the net early in the third period.

Blueger was skating on the Penguins’ second line on Sunday night in place of Evgeni Malkin who missed the game due to an upper-body injury suffered on Saturday.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

NHL on NBCSN: Flyers in desperation mode vs. Penguins

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Sunday night’s matchup between the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins. 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.

Philadelphia’s odds of making the Stanley Cup Playoffs hang by the thinnest of threads. Back-to-back regulation losses will do that to a team.

After beating Ottawa 3-2 on Monday, the Flyers put up a dud in a 5-2 loss against the Washington Capitals on Thursday and then choked — hard — the following night in a 7-6 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs, a game where they led 5-2 in the second period before five unanswered goals unraveled them and perhaps their season.

“We’re going to have to move on and be ready to go for Sunday,” Flyers forward James van Riemsdyk, who had a hat trick in the Toronto game, said. “It gets to the point where you only have so many bullets left in the chamber. We have to have a pretty good run the rest of the way to put ourselves in a position.”

The Flyers made things interesting when they scored with the net empty and just over a minute left.

“We weren’t mature enough to keep our game where it needed to be and play better with the puck to not give them opportunities to come back,” Gudas said following the game. “That’s what came back to bite us.”

Claude Giroux will be featured on Star Sunday for the Flyers.

The Flyers captain had a hat trick of assists in Friday’s loss and has 76 points in 71 games this season. Giroux is having another fine year, and has six multi-point games in his past 10. He’s doing his job for the Flyers

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

The Penguins had their three-game winning streak halted by the impressive St. Louis Blues on Saturday as Jordan Binnington made 40 saves in a 5-1 win for the latter.

These things happen when your top line puts up a goose egg. The trio of Jared McCann, Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel combined for no points and a minus-nine rating in the game after having 14 points combined during their three-game heater. Their power-play was 0-for-4 after clipping along at 46 percent during the streak and Matt Murray was yanked after giving up four goals on 13 shots. The team allowed five goals total in their previous three games.

It wasn’t for lack of trying from the Pens. They put up 41 shots in an effort to solve ‘Winnington’. The Pens are 7-2-1 in their past 10 games and sit two points up on the Carolina Hurricanes for third place in the Metropolitan Division.

Crosby will be the Pens’ featured player for Star Sunday.

Despite being held off the scoresheet on Saturday, he has 35 points in 24 games since the All-Star Break.

Mike ‘Doc’ Emrick (play-by-play) and Pierre McGuire (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, Pa. Pre-game coverage starts at 6:30 p.m. ET with NHL Live, hosted by Liam McHugh alongside Mike Milbury and Keith Jones.


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

The Buzzer: Bob posts huge shutout; Tkachuk owns Rangers

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Three stars

1. Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus Blue Jackets

When the elite, Vezina-caliber Sergei Bobrovsky shows up on any given night, the Columbus Blue Jackets are nearly unbeatable. Such was the case on Friday.

‘Bob’ stopped a whopping 46 shots from the Corsi Kings (Carolina Hurricanes), who pelted Columbus’ No. 1 at every juncture, including 22 shots in the second period.

Bobrovsky was up to the task on each and every one of them, including multiple 10-bell saves to keep the clean sheet — the 30th of his career. Columbus, meanwhile, scored three times on 20 shots, including a shorthanded goal in the third period to win their second straight game.

They’re now on 83 points, tied with the Hurricanes and two points ahead of the idle Montreal Canadiens.

2. Matthew Tkachuk, Calgary Flames

Five goals for the Calgary Flames and Tkachuk was in on each of them, following up on Johnny Gaudreau‘s six-point game three nights ago.

Keith’s son scored twice and assisted on the other three in a 5-1 win for the Flames over the New York Rangers.

Tkachuk has 10 points now in his past three games, which is insane. He’s got 32 goals and 73 points now in 71 games.

3. Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs

Toronto has a litany of weapons at its disposal, but the one they have in Matthews is by far the most clutch.

And Matthews came through in that clutch scenario on Friday, scoring twice in 2:11 in the third period to give the Maple Leafs a 6-5 and 7-5 lead. His second (which may have been a hat-trick goal if not for this) stood as the game-winner after James van Riemsdyk completed his own hat trick late (honorable mention to JvR, who was a force for the Flyers).

Toronto is two points back of the struggling Boston Bruins now for second in the Atlantic. Given that these teams are likely to play each other in the first round, there’s a mini-battle here now for who gets home-ice advantage.

Highlights of the night

We’ve seen several of this flip passes lately, and this one is just as nice as the others:

Pettersson’s shot is so smooth:

Pettersson has filthy hands, too:

Factoids

Scores

Maple Leafs 7, Flyers 6
Blue Jackets 3, Hurricanes 0
Golden Knights 2, Stars 1
Flames 5, Rangers 1
Ducks 5, Avalanche 3
Devils 3, Canucks 2 (SO)


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

Flyers’ season on life-support after collapse against Leafs

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It appears that Philadelphia’s plan to tank the first half the of the season only to rise up for an attempted epic comeback into a playoff spot has all but failed.

Mathematically, the Flyers aren’t dead in the water, but soul-sucking losses like the one they endured on Friday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs sting so much more at this time of the year.

The Flyers held a 5-2 lead midway through the second period in Toronto when the wheels began to fall off, followed by the transmission right before the engine blew to pieces. The Maple Leafs scored five unanswered to take a 7-5 lead and then held on as James van Riemsdyk‘s hat-trick goal gave the Flyers some time to find an equalizer late. It would never come.

That’s a tough pill to swallow, evidenced by how hard the Flyers choked in this game. Scoring six goals should be an automatic win. Of course, allowing seven should be an automatic loss.

The Flyers sit seven points back of the Carolina Hurricanes (who lost to the Columbus Blue Jackets. They began the night there, but with 11 games remaining instead of 12 now, the chances to make up seven points in the span are incredibly slim (like two percent slim). And their schedule isn’t a walk in the park, with dates with the Penguins, Capitals, Islanders and Maple Leafs coming up in the near future.

Toronto, meanwhile, pulled themselves to within two points of the Boston Bruins for second place in the Atlantic. The teams are destined to play each other in the first round at this point, but the battle for home-ice advantage is heating up down the stretch here.

Toronto nearly came back from a 5-0 deficit to the Chicago Blackhawks on Wednesday, so they had some practice before they went down in this one. Goaltending continues to be an issue for the Leafs, but on some nights, they can outscore all their problems.


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