Alain Vigneault

Lightning winning streak at 10 Vasilevskiy shutout
Getty Images

Lightning ground Flyers to push winning streak to 10

The Tampa Bay Lightning keep making it clear: they’re back. During much of what is now a 10-game winning streak, the Lightning blared that message with lopsided beatdowns. In Saturday’s case, it was more of a suffocating affair, as the Lightning clogged things up to shut out the Philadelphia Flyers 1-0.

Lightning show versatility in pushing winning streak to 10 games

Remember when Andrei Vasilevskiy wasn’t exactly looking like a goalie worthy of an eight-year, $76 million extension? Well, Vasi is looking like 9.5 million bucks (per year) lately, as he’s now authored consecutive shutouts for a streak of 145:55. The Bolts are showing that they can win in different ways, with recent victories revolving around strong goaltending and stingy defense.

The Lightning also tied their franchise record with this 10-game winning streak.

And, hey, when you win this many games, you probably get a few bounces here or there. Patrick Maroon took advantage of such a bounce for Saturday’s only goal:

Unfortunately, Maroon’s other big bounce involved a scary bump into the boards:

The Flyers deserve credit for carving out such a close game against the Lightning, particularly with injury losses mounting. After all, Tampa Bay trounced its last three opponents by an intimidating combined score of 16-3.

Upcoming threats to Lightning streak

So, what are the most likely end points for the Lightning’s run?

“Any night” ranks as the fairest response in the parity-packed NHL, but let’s put that aside for a moment. Looking at the Lightning’s schedule, they play seven of their next eight games on the road. That stretch includes Sunday’s game in New Jersey where both the Bolts and the Devils close off back-to-back sets. Pondering it on-paper, some of the toughest matchups include a Jan. 16 date at the Wild, and a Jan. 27 road game against the almost-as-hot Stars.

(Again, though, the Devils could easily end it on Sunday … because hockey.)

Lindblom receives a warm welcome

Flyers fans gave Oskar Lindblom a standing ovation in one of the best moments of the night:

Lindblom brought some “sunshine” to a recent Flyers practice, too. Alain Vigneault beamed about the visit, which you can learn more about at NBC Sports Philadelphia.

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.

Flyers’ playoff hopes take a hit with Gostisbehere injury

Flyers Gostisbehere out three weeks
Getty Images

If the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs began before Thursday’s games, the Philadelphia Flyers would make it. The Flyers face a challenge in maintaining their grip, and that hill got steeper with Shayne Gostisbehere sidelined.

The team announced that Gostisbehere is expected to miss about three weeks thanks to arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. (The actual procedure is set to take place on Tuesday.)

The Flyers defense already started 2020 on a down note, as Justin Braun could be out through the All-Star break as he deals with a groin injury. Combine those defense injuries to Oskar Lindblom‘s battle with cancer and Nolan Patrick‘s continued migraine issues and the losses start to pile up.

Philly nonetheless stands as the East’s final wild card team thanks to a 23-15-6 record (52 points in 44 games played). The Flyers hold at least a two-point edge over teams underneath them, which isn’t a huge buffer, but it certainly could be worse.

What Flyers lose in Gostisbehere

Look, there’s no denying that Gostisbehere’s seen a significant drop in production.

Clearly, Gostisbehere played a little over his head when he reached 65 points in 2017-18. Otherwise, “Ghost Bear” fell in the 37-46 point range during recent seasons.

Unfortunately, his defensive lapses become tougher to stomach when that offense dries up. And, boy, did it ever dry up this season.

Gostisbehere managed just 12 points in 40 games so far in 2019-20. You can’t really blame puck luck, either; five of his points are goals, and his on-ice shooting percentage actually increased from 2018-19. Gostisbehere’s ice time follows similar patterns. He set an average he may never match in 2017-18 (21:27 TOI per game), settled down last season (19:40) and hit a new low as a full-timer this season (18:21).

Those stats are troubling, and honestly, a little bewildering … but the Flyers will miss even a struggling Ghost.

Without Gostisbehere, Flyers may need to lean on inexperienced players

Gostisbehere averaged 2:36 of his 18:21 TOI on the power play, so that stands out as the first riddle Alain Vigneault must solve.

Judging by Left Wing Lock’s combos, Ghost’s loss could be Travis Sanheim‘s gain. Sanheim only averaged 27 seconds of his 19:52 minutes on the power play, so it will be interesting to see if he plays a bit less in other situations, or merely carries a heavier burden.

In pondering the impact of Gostisbehere’s loss, NBC Sports Philly’s Jordan Hall noted the defense’s inexperience:

Including Wednesday night’s contest, [Matt] Niskanen has played 924 career games, while the other five healthy blueliners have combined to play 692 games — Ivan Provorov at 290, Hagg 178, Travis Sanheim 175, Philippe Myers 47 and [Mark] Friedman two.

It could have been worse

Honestly, when I hear “knee surgery” of any kind, I expect an absence of more than three weeks (or so). Tip your cap to modern medicine, in this case.

The damage seems less severe when you consider mitigating factors like off time, too.

Of course, things are tight for the Flyers. They can’t merely shrug their shoulders at six games. All things considered, it could have been worse, though.

Also, if Gostisbehere has been slowed by a nagging knee issue, maybe he’ll bounce back? Expecting too big of a rebound in 2019-20 might be foolish, but … hey, modern medicine has come a long way.

This absence will test how far Sanheim, Vigneault, and other Flyers have come, too.

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.

Flyers win first game wearing #OskarStrong shirts underneath jerseys

Philadelphia Flyers celebrate
Getty Images

The Philadelphia Flyers want to make sure Oskar Lindblom is aware that he will not be alone in his fight with Ewing’s sarcoma, a form of bone cancer.

Flyers players wore black and purple T-shirts underneath their jerseys with the phrase #OskarStrong Thursday against the Buffalo Sabres and will continue to wear them for the rest of the season. The shirts are sold by Biscuit Tees, a company owned by Kim Parent, daughter of Hall of Fame goalie Bernie Parent.

All proceeds from the T-shirt sale will go toward the Hockey Fights Cancer program.

The Flyers played their first home game since the announcement earlier this week and gave the fans a chance to express their support for the 23-year-old. Prior to puck drop, the arena staff placed “I fight for Oskar” signs on every seat.

“Hockey is a real strong and good community, and Oskar is a real good person,” Flyers coach Alain Vigneault said Tuesday. “He’s going to be around and he”s going to be back as soon as he possibly can.”

The Flyers went on to shellac the Jack Eichel-less Buffalo Sabres Thursday with a 6-1 dominating win. James van Riemsdyk had two goals, Travis Konecny added three assists and Carter Hart picked up his 12th victory of the season.

The Sabres announced they would be without their captain shortly before the opening faceoff and the Flyers recorded three first-period goals as they cruised to their second consecutive win and improved to 10-1-4 in the previous 15 games at home.

Rantanen’s goals help Avalanche defeat Flyers, extend point streak

Getty Images

Mikko Rantanen scored twice and the Colorado Avalanche extended their point streak to eight games with a 3-1 win against the Philadelphia Flyers.

Matt Calvert also scored, and Pavel Francouz made 32 saves in Colorado’s seventh win over the past eight games.

Claude Giroux scored the lone Flyers goal late in the third period and Carter Hart made 25 saves, but the Flyers fell in regulation for only the second time in the previous 10 outings (7-2-1).

Francouz provides boost between the pipes

With Avalanche starting goaltender Philipp Grubauer sidelined with a lower-body injury, Francouz made his fourth straight appearance and collected his eighth win of the season with a strong performance against the Flyers.

After a rocky showing against the Flames earlier this week which resulted in a 5-4 overtime loss, Francouz bounced back and was a steadying force in the crease. Claude Giroux ended Francouz’s shutout bid late in the third period, but the Czech goalie held off a late push from Philadelphia.

After a second-round defeat in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Avalanche have eyes on home-ice advantage in the 2020 postseason. If Francouz can provide consistent goaltending when called upon, they certainly have the star power up front to be a legitimate contender in the Western Conference.

Kadri acquisition paying early dividends

Colorado general manager Joe Sakic acquired Nazem Kadri this past summer to help the Avalanche become a deeper team with improved secondary scoring. With 21 points in 28 games this season, Kadri has added another element to Colorado’s dynamic offensive attack.

Early in the third period Wednesday, Kadri patiently waited behind the Flyers’ net until Rantanen skated into position to convert a one-timer to give Colorado a three-goal third-period lead.

The Avalanche’s top line is one of the most lethal trios in the NHL, but Colorado is that much more dangerous if Kadri continues to provide an extra boost.

Looking ahead for Flyers

The Flyers began a three-game road trip against Central Division opponents with a loss against the Avalanche, but cannot let one game ruin the momentum they have generated with strong play in recent weeks. The Flyers will travel to Minnesota and Winnipeg over the weekend and need to continue to secure points to keep pace in the Metropolitan Division.

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.

Help not available: NHL staffs brimming with ex-head coaches

When Kevin Hayes got off to a slow start with the Philadelphia Flyers, coach Alain Vigneault didn’t need to talk to him.

Assistants Mike Yeo and Michel Therrien took care of that. Because each had been an NHL head coach before, Vigneault encourages that direct communication.

“There’s a confidence factor with AV knowing that if we’re going to talk to a player, what we’re saying would be the same message that he would be delivering to that player,” Yeo said. “He wanted people that were comfortable and confident to go up to players, whether it’s correcting, whether it’s reinforcing, whether it’s patting somebody on the back. He wants us to be proactive about that.”

It’s not just Yeo and Therrien. Anyone interested in firing a coach this season is in trouble without a successor lined up because almost every potential candidate already has a job.

Of 31 teams, 20 have a former NHL head coach as an assistant and six have more than one. Concerns about having too many cooks in the kitchen are no match for the benefit of having experience dealing with players, handling game situations and scouting opponents.

“There’s nothing but positives,” Vigneault said. “I’ve got guys that understand exactly what I’m going through and understand exactly what I mean as far as feedback. Nobody understands a head coach better than a former head coach.”

Philadelphia’s three-headed monster is bested only by the Dallas Stars having ex-head coaches John Stevens, Rick Bowness and Todd Nelson on Jim Montgomery’s staff. Unlike Vigneault, who carries with him the gravitas of taking two different teams to the Stanley Cup Final, Montgomery is a first-time head coach and isn’t at all bothered by having guys directly reporting to him who have done his job before.

“I’m a guy that wants information from other people,” said Montgomery, who’s in his second season as Stars coach. “As much information they can give me before I talk to the team, the better knowledge I’m imparting to the team so that we can have quicker points and get right to what we think’s going to help us win hockey games.”

Four of the NHL-tested assistants – Detroit’s Dan Bylsma, Chicago’s Marc Crawford, Anaheim adviser Darryl Sutter and St. Louis part-timer Larry Robinson – have won the Stanley Cup as a head coach, and Sutter did it twice. Many more have connections to championship teams or won in the minors.

“There’s a lot of little fires that coaches have to go through – head coaches – and I think when you have a staff with experience, they can put those fires out before they get to you,” said Arizona Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet, who has Phil Housley and John MacLean on his staff.

Often, a personal connection is enough to create instant chemistry on a staff. Montgomery and Stevens played together in the American Hockey League and won the Calder Cup in 1998, while Vigneault and Therrien have known each other for two decades.

Washington’s Todd Reirden in his first head NHL job wanted an assistant with similar experience and hired Scott Arniel without knowing him. After being on a Pittsburgh Penguins staff under Bylsma with former head coaches Tony Granato and Jacques Martin as fellow assistants, Reirden understands the importance of leaning on someone who’s been there before.

“I think I had had 10 or 11 years of assistant or associate coach (experience),” said Reirden, who was Barry Trotz’s top assistant when the Capitals won the Cup in 2018. “But not being a full-time head coach in this league, and I thought it was important to have someone like Scott that had gone through the same type of thing: Good things that worked for him, in the same breath things that he wished he could do over and positives and negatives we could work on together.”

Settling in to life as a lieutenant isn’t always easy for former head coaches.

Therrien hadn’t been an assistant since his first job in junior in the early 1990s, while Stevens is coming off being fired by the Los Angeles Kings less than a year ago.

“When you’re the head coach, you’re used to speaking all the time,” said Stevens, who has coached the Flyers and Kings and won the Cup twice as an assistant with Los Angeles. “As an assistant coach, you’ve got to listen and speak at the right time. … A coaching staff functions like a team. I think you put egos aside.”

Fired almost exactly a year ago as Blues coach – St. Louis went on to win the Cup with replacement Craig Berube – Yeo still sees the game as a head coach but changes his messaging from talking directly to players to whispering down the line to Therrien so Vigneault gets the gist.

It could be disconcerting for a young coach to look over his shoulder at one or more potential replacements. But some, like Montgomery, New York Rangers coach David Quinn with Lindy Ruff and new Toronto Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe with Dave Hakstol could do their jobs even better with some extra experience.

Vigneault felt that way during his first job in Montreal in the mid-1990s when he hired Dave King as an assistant. As the CEO behind the bench, he thinks it’s smart for coaches of all ages to take whatever experience they can get.

“As a young coach, it was real beneficial to me,” Vigneault said. “With my experience now, I can probably use them even better than I did when I started.”