December 24, 2017
Something had to be done.
The Flyers looked disjointed against the lowly Buffalo Sabres Friday night, losing 4-2 to a team with the second-worst record in the NHL and had won only four previous times at home.
Nothing seemed to work.
There were back passes where there was no trailer. There were unforced turnovers with passes where there was no one there. Jake Voracek even openly admitted the Flyers didn’t show up.
“We didn’t deserve to be part of that game and we all knew it," he said.
So on Saturday, before facing the Columbus Blue Jackets, Dave Hakstol juggled his lines once again, moving speedy Travis Konecny from the fourth line to the first, teamed with Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier. the Flyers coach then moved Wayne Simmonds from the first line to the third, switching Nolan Patrick from the third line to centering the second line between Michael Raffl and Voracek.
Defensively, Hakstol switched Shayne Gostisbehere with Andrew MacDonald, moving "Ghost” to the first unit paired with Ivan Provorov, and teaming MacDonald with Robert Hagg.
The results didn’t bring a victory, but they did bring productivity.
The Flyers looked drastically better against the Blue Jackets than they did against Buffalo. That may have had something to do with the Flyers getting up emotionally for a better a team. Who knows? Though they dropped a 2-1 decision in a shootout to former Flyer goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, who still takes great delight in beating the team that traded him, the Flyers moved the puck well and looked like a better team that they did against Buffalo.
Columbus was a nice test – the Blue Jackets are third in the Metropolitan Division and one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference. The Flyers actually needed a boost, considering the lethargic game they had against the Sabres.
“It was a hard-working game for us, we competed for 65 minutes, and we had scoring chances, we just couldn’t put the puck in the net in the third,” said Provorov, whose second-period goal tied the game at 1-1. “I feel good about our team. We’re playing hard and getting better. That 10-game losing streak set us back a little bit, but we stuck with it and kept battling.”
They came within inches of winning, when Couturier’s shot chinked off the inside of the post with 17 seconds left in regulation.
Losers of three of their last four, the Flyers are now 15-13-8 (38 points), which leaves still them sitting in last place in the Metropolitan Division, four points behind the New York Rangers and New York Islanders for the last playoff berth in the Eastern Conference.
The Giroux-Couturier-Konecny line had instant chemistry. The trio was on the ice when the Flyers scored their only goal against Columbus, Provorov’s fifth, from Giroux and Couturier.
“I felt good,” Konecny said. “I was moving my feet and honestly trying to play the exact same game I’ve been playing the past 10 games, just getting pucks in, using my speed my speed to get them the puck back. ‘G’ [Giroux] and ‘Coots’ [Couturier] make a lot of nice plays that I don’t even see happening and I just have to go to the net.
“We pushed a lot harder tonight. We wanted to show [the Buffalo] game wasn’t our best effort. We gave a really good effort after a back-to-back [games]. A couple of bounces go our way and Cootsy’s chance there at the end goes off the inside post, so I think was a good effort.”
Hakstol was, well, Hakstol afterwards.
“I thought we got a real good effort from our lineup,” he said. “Obviously, we weren’t happy with the result. But overall, how things went for us [against Buffalo], tonight you saw that flip that around the exact opposite. We got real good efforts from everyone in the lineup. We’ve battled our way into [the playoff picture].
“It’s been a good stretch for our team. We wanted a little better results in a short, two-game road trip, but that being said, we kind of put the ball in our court. There’s a lot of work to do coming back after Christmas. But I think we all feel like we have the ability to control our own destiny.”
This team still has issues, however.
They are 1-for-8 over their last two games in the powerplay. They are 0-3 in shootouts. They are tied with the Anaheim Ducks and Ottawa Senators with the highest number of overtime losses in the NHL with eight.
And they have half of their remaining schedule against their own division, where they are 1-0-4 this season. They are 2-8 after regulation.
“It’s been a tough stretch, we have to get some rest,” Voracek said. “We’ve been pretty solid over the last 10 games [7-2-1]. That’s pretty good. We can build on that.”
Maybe Hakstol's most recent line changes are a start.
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