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Teams (Gonzaga, S.Carolina) making their first appearances in the Final Four

Jakub Voracek is performing like an elite player, leading the NHL in assists. In addition to examining Voracek’s performance, Eric Fisher highlights Michael Raffl’s success on the top line, Steve Mason’s winless streak and Shayne Gostisbehere’s brief initial stint in the NHL.

There will be several wrestling events, including shows by Ring of Honor and CHIKARA at 2300 Arena, prior to the Royal Rumble next weekend in Philadelphia. In addition to previewing the busy wrestling weekend, the Greek God of Wrestling tells you where you can see Seth Rollins the morning of the Rumble, praises the choice of Randy Savage for the WWE Hall of Fame and tells you which former WWE star will participate in Wing Bowl.

Backup quarterback Mark Sanchez helps the Eagles defeat the Texans, 31-21, to move into first place in the NFC East, but the victory comes with a price. Quarterback Nick Foles, linebacker DeMeco Ryans and guard Todd Herremans leave the game with injuries. Ryans’ injury is reportedly a season-ending Achilles tendon injury.

Archive for the ‘Flyers’ Category

Flyers Notebook: Couturier raises his game

Posted by Eric Fisher On March - 26 - 2017 ADD COMMENTS

Sean Couturier has clearly been the Flyers’ best center during March, which demonstrates how valuable he is and why the Flyers shouldn’t trade him. But the Flyers need Couturier to maintain that level next season.

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Although he has faced a steady stream of criticism for most of the season, Sean Couturier has been the Flyers’ best center in even-strength situations.

That minority opinion might be damning with faint praise. Couturier certainly hasn’t had a great season. It’s simply that it’s less likely that something bad will happen when Couturier is on the ice than it is when Claude Giroux or Brayden Schenn is on the ice. Couturier isn’t nearly as effective on the power play as Schenn or Giroux, but he’s been the best center at even strength.

Although there is plenty of room for debate regarding which Flyers center has been the best this season, there is little room for debate regarding which center has been the Flyers’ best during March. It’s Couturier.

Giroux put together his first extended points streak of the season during March, but Couturier has clearly been the team’s best center. During the past 11 games (through Saturday’s 1-0 loss to the Blue Jackets), Couturier registered three goals and seven assists. His plus/minus rating was a plus-10.

On most nights, Couturier’s line has been the team’s best. Whether it was Matt Read and Travis Konecny alongside him or Dale Weise and Brayden Schenn, Couturier’s line has excelled. At times, Couturier has been a dominant center at both ends of the ice.

Couturier’s effectiveness isn’t an aberration. He was doing the same thing late last season, which helped push the Flyers into the playoffs. That is why the season-ending injury he suffered on a hit by Alexander Ovechkin during Game 1 of the first-round series with the Capitals last year was a major blow to the Flyers.

After a quick start this year, including two goals in the season opener, Couturier’s production began to drop off. He was injured in late November and missed a month of action. When he returned in late December, Couturier scored a few goals, but then he endured a 19-game stretch during which he scored just one goal and registered four assists.

During March, however, Couturier has been a force all over the ice. Numbers never tell the whole story with Couturier. He has created goals by producing turnovers that stop the opposition and send the Flyers toward the offensive zone. He has created traffic in front of the goalie. He has checked defensemen off the puck. None of those things result in an assist, but they do result in goals. That’s why his plus/minus rating for March equals his points.

Couturier also has continued to play excellent defense. The Flyers don’t have another center who matches up well against big centers. The Flyers’ penalty killing hasn’t been up to par lately, but, although I don’t have numbers to back this up, it seems that most of the opposition’s power play goals have been scored when Couturier isn’t on the ice.

When the Flyers acquired Valtteri Filppula at the trade deadline, many interpreted that as a sign that the Flyers had given up on Couturier becoming anything more than a third-line center. Filppula scored in his first game as a Flyer, but hasn’t scored during the following 11 games. While Couturier was scoring three goals, registering 10 assists and registering a plus/minus rating of plus-10 during those 11 games, Filppula was assisting on two goals and posting a minus-8 rating.

The constant chatter about trading Couturier is misguided. The Flyers need Sean Couturier. And they need him to be the player he’s been during March for the entire season next year.

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SLIM CHANCE: The Flyers’ playoff hopes are nearly gone. Saturday’s 1-0 loss to the Blue Jackets left the Flyers eight points behind the Bruins, who occupy the final wild card position in the Eastern Conference, with eight games to play. Even worse, the Flyers must leapfrog the Islanders, Lightning, Panthers and Hurricanes just to get to the Bruins.

The Flyers’ put up a good effort against the Blue Jackets, but former Flyer Sergei Bobrovsky was terrific, making 36 saves. Sometimes you will run into a hot goalie. That’s why it was imperative that the Flyers win games they should win.

Tuesday’s 3-2 loss to the Jets was abysmal. The Jets had several regular defensemen out of the lineup and were using a backup goalie. But they played with more urgency than the Flyers, who scored late to make the game seem close. When paired with the  6-2 loss to the Devils on March 16, the Jets game marked the Flyers’ second awful effort in three games. That simply can’t happen this time of the year.

The Flyers gave themselves a chance to get back into the playoff race, but five losses in seven games in mid-March left the Flyers with no margin for error.

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NOTHING SPECIAL: The penalty killing has slumped during March, but the power play has been worse. Entering Sunday’s game with the Penguins, the Flyers have scored three goals in their last 44 power plays. Considering that Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn are tied for second in the NHL with 15 power play goals, that type of futility is difficult to believe.

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SCHENN’S STRUGGLES: I don’t mean to pick on Brayden Schenn for the second straight Flyers Notebook, but it’s not easy to be second in the league in power play goals and not in the top 50 in goals scored.

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NOT SO HIP: Claude Giroux, who doesn’t make excuses, finally admitted his hip bothered him at times this season. Giroux, who had offseason surgery, hasn’t appeared to have the same burst and acceleration this season. That has hurt him at the defensive end, as well as at the offensive end.

Giroux has a paltry 14 goals this season. That’s only two more than Couturier, who has played in 16 fewer games. With Giroux on the first power play unit, having 14 goals is simply unacceptable.

The Flyers must hope that the hip is what caused Giroux’s decline this season. With a contract that makes him extremely difficult to trade, the Flyers need their 29-year-old captain to rebound with a better performance next season.

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MASON MAKES HIS CASE: Steve Mason’s terrific play during March might alter the Flyers’ offseason plans. Although Mason is inconsistent, his recent performance and his excellence during the Flyers’ 10-game winning streak earlier this season might cause the Flyers to decide to keep him around.

The Flyers might wait to see if Michael Neuvirth is selected in the June 21 expansion draft, and then try to re-sign Mason. With Anthony Stolarz expected to join the Flyers, they would like to keep a veteran goalie around. If the plan is for Stolarz to start, then Neuvirth is probably the better choice to be the backup. Mason, of course, might not want to return if he’s going to be a backup or a one-year placeholder until the younger goalie is ready.

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HEAT ON HAKSTOL: Abysmal efforts in losses to the Devils and Jets have made head coach Dave Hakstol a target. How could the team play so badly in important games against mediocre-to-bad teams? The Devils had lost 10 straight games before beating the Flyers. Why didn’t the Flyers play with a sense of urgency in these games?

The criticism, when combined with the Flyers’ poor first periods throughout the season, is legitimate. But that doesn’t mean, as some have suggested, that Hakstol should be fired. It’s his second season as an NHL head coach. He is on a learning curve.

If the same problems persist next season, Hakstol’s seat should be hot. But he deserves the opportunity to learn from his mistakes and make adjustments.

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LOOKING AHEAD: In order to qualify for the playoffs, the Fyers have win practically every game – and even that might not be enough. After wrapping up a four-game road trip Sunday with the Penguins, the Flyers return home for games against the Senators (Tuesday), Islanders (Thursday) and Devils (Saturday) before going to Madison Square Garden next Sunday to take on the Rangers. For the optimists, two games against the Devils and a potential four-point game with the Islanders present the Flyers with better-than-average opportunities to gain ground in the wild card race.

Flyers Notebook: Missed opportunity

Posted by Eric Fisher On March - 12 - 2017 ADD COMMENTS

The Flyers had a unique opportunity this past week. Because they were playing other teams in the wild card chase, they had a chance for four-point swings in each game. A win would gain two points for the Flyers and deny two points for the opposition.

Unfortunately, an opportunity for a four-point swing in a positive manner is accompanied by the chance of a four-point swing in a negative fashion. And that’s what happened in two of the Flyers’ three games last week.

After a 6-3 victory over the Sabres, who were trailing the Flyers entering the week, the Flyers dropped 4-2 decisions to the Maple Leafs and a heartbreaking 2-1 decision to the Bruins. Instead of gaining ground on the Maple Leafs and Bruins, the Flyers find themselves trailing by those teams by more points than they were when last week began.

After Saturday’s games, the Flyers trailed the Bruins by eight points. More importantly, they trail the Leafs, who occupy the final wild card position in the Eastern Conference, by six points with 15 games remaining in the regular season. Before they get to the Maple Leafs, the Flyers have to get past the Islanders and Lightning, whom they trail by five and three points, respectively.

The Flyers are rapidly running out of time to move up in the standings. To make matters worse, they only have one game remaining – March 30 against the Islanders – against teams in the wild card chase. That’s why it was imperative that the Flyers take advantage of this past week’s opportunity against the Sabres, Maple Leafs and Bruins.

It’s no longer enough for the Flyers to win games. Now they will need help from other teams.

That’s not the only bad news regarding the schedule. During the next two weeks, the Flyers play both the Blue Jackets and Penguins twice. There is one stretch later this month during which the Flyers play consecutive road games against the Wild, who have the best record in the Western Conference, the Blue Jackets and the Penguins. The road games in Columbus and Pittsburgh are on back-to-back days.

It will be extremely difficult for the Flyers to overcome those obstacles and make the playoffs. But they have no one to play except themselves for being in this position.

The Flyers had an opportunity to gain ground last week. Unfortunately, they squandered that opportunity.

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IMPROVING GHOST: One positive development for the Flyers has been the improved play of Shayne Gostisbehere. He has been more effective at both ends of the ice. His shots are getting through from the point and, more often than not, they’ve been on target.

The second-year defenseman has also been better in the defensive zone. During the six games since the Flyers’ loss to the Penguins at Heinz Field, Gostisbehere hasn’t had a negative game in the plus-minus ratings. His plus-minus rating is still an ugly minus-23, but that makes the plus-1 rating during the past six games stand out even more.

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MOVING ON UP: In last week’s Flyers Notebook, we welcomed rookie forward Travis Konecny back from injury and I noted that, although he returned against the Capitals on the fourth line, we shouldn’t expect him to remain there very long. He wasn’t.

During the loss to the Maple Leafs, Konecny moved up to the third line with Sean Couturier and Matt Read. By Saturday’s game against the Bruins, Konecny was on a line with Valtteri Filppula and Jakub Voracek.

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SCHENN’S STRUGGLES: When you’re a minus-1 during a game in which the Flyers score a season-high six even-strength goals, you know you’re struggling. That was the situation for Brayden Schenn last Tuesday during a 6-3 victory over the Sabres.

Schenn, who was supposed to be a prime beneficiary of the acquisition of gifted passer Valtteri Filppula, hasn’t scored a goal during his past seven games, including five since Filppula was acquired from the Lightning. Schenn has a minus-1 rating in five of his past seven games, and his failure to score has contributed to a decline in the Flyers’ power play.

Head coach Dave Hakstol replaced Schenn with Travis Konecny on the Filppula line, trying Schenn with Sean Couturier and Matt Read. Schenn, who has a team-worst minus-24 plus-minus rating, hasn’t fit in well for any length of time on any line this season. At some point, Schenn and the Flyers have to realize that, rather than the line he’s on, the problem might be Schenn.

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WEAL MAKES HIS MARK: Jordan Weal, who registered a goal and an assist during Tuesday’s 6-3 victory over the Sabres, has three goals in 10 games and a plus-minus rating of plus-4. Despite being relatively small (5foot-10, 179 pounds), Weal gets a lot of his goal in the “dirty” areas in and around the net. His speed also has been effective in bringing the puck into the offensive zone.

Weal has been playing on a line with captain Claude Giroux and Wayne Simmonds. Here is a remarkable statistic: Weal has as many goals in 10 games with the Flyers as Giroux has scored since Christmas.

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OH, WHAT A NIGHT: Defenseman Radko Gudas had quite a night Tuesday during the Flyers’ 6-3 victory over the Sabres. He scored a goal, assisted on two goals and registered a plus-5 in plus-minus rating. Defensive partner Michael Del Zotto was also plus-5 against the Sabres.

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HEARTBREAKER: The game that may have broken the Flyers’ backs in terms of the playoff chase was Saturday’s 2-1 loss to the Bruins. The teams seemed head for overtime until Drew Stafford’s shot from the right boards deflected off defenseman Brandon Manning’s stick and past goalie Steve Mason, who almost certainly would have stopped the shot if Manning hadn’t made an ill-advised attempt to block it with his stick, with 5.6 seconds remaining. Instead of picking up a point or two, the Flyers left without a point while falling further behind the Bruins.

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FLAMES ARE SMOKIN’ HOT: What do the Flyers need to make the playoffs? They need a streak like the Flames are on right now. Entering Sunday, the Flames are on a nine-game winning streak. The streak has elevated them into second place in the Pacific Division and, at the very least, comfortably in wild card position.

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TOUGH WEEK: The Flyers’ week could get off to a rough start, with home games Monday (7 p.m.) against the Blue Jackets and Wednesday (7:30 p.m.) against the Penguins. If the Flyers are able to emerge from those two games with two or three points, they could find an opportunity to gain ground Thursday (7 p.m.) at New Jersey and Sunday (7:30 p.m.) at home against the Hurricanes.

 
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Jenkins' 3-pointer wins national title