When the kids play as well as they did Saturday, it’s easy to understand why there is some optimism in Flyerland.
Travis Konecny was a whirl, Ivan Provorov was Gibraltar-steady, and Shayne Gostisbehere continued his sparkling season as the Flyers dispatched the Devils, 3-1, in an afternoon game at the Wells Fargo Center.
“They don’t [seem] young to me,” winning goaltender Michal Neuvirth said.
Provorov, 21, was the game’s third star. Konecny, 20, was the second star; Gostisbehere, 24, the first star.
The Flyers scored three goals in the first period for just the second time all season and Konecny was the key. He buried a feathery feed from Gostisbehere for the first goal of the game and assisted on Provorov’s goal nearly nine minutes later.
Konecny has nine points in his last 10 games after what had been a miserable start to the season. The rush that resulted in his goal was ignited when Provorov stood up Devils star Taylor Hall at the red line which forced a turnover.
The Flyers held the lead after the first period for just the second time in 17 games.
“We came out really hot and that’s what we need to keep doing,” Konecny said. “A lot of times we’ve had some bad starts but still find ways to win, but it makes it a lot easier when you’re playing ahead.”
Konecny is playing alongside Sean Couturier, who is in the middle of a career year with 26 goals, and Claude Giroux, who is the team’s captain and an all-star for the fifth time in his career.
“Confidence,” Gostisbehere said when asked about Konecny, “is the biggest thing for TK right now. Obviously, he’s playing with two of the hottest guys in the NHL, but he’s fitting in and he’s making plays himself and that’s great to see.”
Nolan Patrick, the team’s 19-year-old rookie, was held off the score sheet on Saturday. But he and linemates Jordan Weal and Wayne Simmonds continue to grind down opponents.
Provorov and Gostisbehere were matched up against New Jersey’s top line, which managed a power-play goal from Jesper Bratt. Otherwise, Bratt, Hall and Nico Hischier were a minus-6 for the afternoon.
Keeping proper angles, Provorov said, is key. “Don’t give them time to pick up their head,” he said. “Just be on them hard.”
A Flyers power play had just come to an end in the middle of the second period when Jersey’s Kyle Palmieri jumped out of the box and was fed the puck with just Gostisbehere back on defense. As Palmieri swung to the center of the ice to try for a shot, the Flyers defenseman hit him in the chest with a check that knocked him to the ice as the puck slid harmlessly away. Just a nice, solid play by Gostisbehere.
“Every time we play a Metropolitan team, we look at it as a four-point game,” Gostisbehere said. “The biggest thing for us is to be ready for these games. We can’t, you know, lay an egg, we just have to play with confidence.”
The Flyers continue to distance themselves from that ugly 10-game winless streak that ended in early December. With 52 points in 46 games, the Flyers stayed in the thick of the wild-card race and inched closer to a coveted top-three spot in the Metropolitan Division. Columbus was in that spot with 55 points to lead entering Saturday’s games.
Neuvirth started for the second consecutive game and stopped 28 shots to even his record at 5-5-1. It’s the first time he has made back-to-back starts in more than two months.
Valtteri Filppula scored the Flyers’ other goal after Michael Raffl bunted a puck out of midair to him. Devils goalie Keith Kinkaid suffered what appeared to be a leg injury on the play and was removed after giving up three goals on seven shots.
Kinkaid, who came into the game 4-0 with a 1.25 goals-against average in four previous starts against the Flyers, was replaced by Ken Appleby, who made his NHL debut. Regular Devils starter Cory Schneider was out with an illness for the third straight game. New Jersey is second in the Metro with 56 points.
Things would have gotten interesting if something happened to Appleby, but he played pretty well and stopped all 24 shots he faced.
The Flyers are 14-5-1 since that 0-5-5 skid ended Dec. 2.
“It’s a challenging scenario for us,” coach Dave Hakstol said. “We’ve known that all the way along here over the past couple of months, but our guys have been up to the task and I know they’re going to keep pushing.”
Caps on tap
The Flyers will play at Washington at 12:30 p.m. Sunday in the first of their four weekend afternoon games on NBC. The Capitals sit atop the Metropolitan Division with 60 points and, at 18-7-0, lead the Eastern Conference in home wins.
Gostisbehere and Provorov can expect to see plenty of Alex Ovechkin, who entered Saturday’s games leading the NHL with 28 goals.
“Back-to-back against one of the better teams in the NHL, keeping it simple is going to be the key,” Gostisbehere said. “He’s one of the more [skilled] offensive guys in the league and it will be a good test.”
The Flyers hammered the visiting Caps, 8-2, in the home opener on Oct. 14. Washington has lost two in a row and three of four.
Michael Raffl got into a first-period fight with John Moore after Raffl ran into goaltender Kinkaid. It was mostly a nondescript bout except for when Raffl was able to push away the linesmen who wanted to break things up after Raffl had lost his balance. When the refs backed away, the Flyer continued to throw punches, but none that connected. … Sunday will be the third time the Flyers have played on the same day as an Eagles NFC championship game. They lost to the Islanders in 1981 when the Eagles beat the Cowboys and beat the Rangers in 2003 when the Birds (groan) lost to the Buccaneers. … Eric Lindros sent a video to the Flyers thanking the team and the fans for Thursday’s ceremony in which his No. 88 was retired.