By DAN GELSTON
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Check out all those consecutive Ws of late on the Philadelphia schedule, and the Flyers should seem like a team headed to the playoffs.
But check out all those recent Ls.
With a 4-1 loss to the Los Angeles Kings on Monday, the Flyers’ six-game winning streak came to an end. Not since the 1966-67 Toronto Maple Leafs has a team followed a 10-game winless skid with seven straight victories but the Flyers were close.
“You can’t win every single game right now,” Flyers forward Jake Voracek said.
Headed into Wednesday’s game against Detroit, Philadelphia is not in the postseason mix, just two points out of the final wild-card spot in the East. The Flyers like to say they aren’t as bad as the team that dropped 10 straight. But they haven’t shown many flashes of becoming a team that can reel off one or two more six-game winning streaks, either.
“If you’re losing, everything comes like a snowball,” said Voracek, who’s third in the NHL with 41 points. “You don’t feel comfortable to go to the third period with a two-goal lead. It’s really tough to do. And then you get scored on and you’re just like, ‘Here we go again.’”
Last season, the Flyers finished 11th in the Eastern Conference and became the first team in NHL history to miss the playoffs despite a 10-game winning streak.
“The results would say streaky, but we have played good hockey over the whole stretch,” coach Dave Hakstol said. “Now it’s about getting results and we got to look at ourselves and put our finger on a couple things we have to do better and that we are capable of doing better.”
Good enough to sneak into the playoffs?
Hakstol, in his third season, was considered on the hot seat during the 10-game skid until general manager Ron Hextall came out with a vote of confidence. Hextall was the one who made the bold decision to hire Hakstol out of college, in part because of his reputation for molding young talent. Hakstol has tried to balance a youthful mix of Shayne Gostisbehere, Travis Konecny and Nolan Patrick with a veteran core of Voracek, Wayne Simmonds and Claude Giroux.
Progress has been incremental. Veteran center Valtteri Filppula said changes to Philadelphia’s neutral-zone system have helped. And the Flyers have been more careful with the puck.
“Make sure they have to come 200 feet to try to get in our zone, which in the long run, it’s a good way to play,” Filppula said.
Brian Elliott, the NHL’s No. 2 star of the week after posting a 1.31 goals-against average in three victories, has been solid in his first season with Philadelphia.
“That’s a real position of strength for our bench and for the guys that are out on the ice,” Hakstol said. “It’s not just the things that you see on a nightly basis on game nights. Brian does such a good job on a daily basis of approaching his day of work. I think that is something guys can feed off of.”
The Flyers are trying to make their way in the toughest division in the NHL, the Metropolitan. Only eight points separate the last-place Flyers, with 14 wins, from the first-place New Jersey Devils. The Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins have 17 wins and 37 points, six points behind the Devils.
The Flyers hope the six-game streak was simply the start of better days ahead.
“I think it’s confidence, swagger, whatever you want to attach to it, is a big part of this game,” Hakstol said. “You can ask anybody, that’s a big part. You can be playing really well, but when you’re going good you just have that as a group you have that mentality that you’re not going to take less than finding a way to win a game.”
The return of goaltender Matt Murray from injury has not helped Pittsburgh, which has lost four of five and five of seven. General manager Jim Rutherford already acquired bottom-six center Riley Sheahan to fill a need but could soon be looking for bigger trades to shake things up.
GAME OF THE WEEK
The surprising Devils host the Blackhawks on Saturday in one of the final games before the Christmas break. Chicago took a five-game winning streak into Thursday’s game at Dallas.
LEADERS (through Monday)
Goals: Alex Ovechkin (Washington) and Nikita Kucherov (Tampa Bay), 23; Assists: Voracek, 33; Points: Kucherov, 46; Wins: Andrei Vasilevskiy (Tampa Bay), 21; Goals-against average: Corey Crawford (Chicago), 2.11; Save percentage: Crawford, .935.
Ereck Flowers to compete for right tackle job with NY Giants
New York Giants are making big calls and it’s all starting with Ereck Flowers.
According to John Healy of the New York Daily News, General Manager Dave Gentleman said in a statement that the team had informed Flowers that he will have a chance to compete for the starting right tackle job. Head Coach Pat Shurmur said he spoke with Erek on the phone, and Ereck was fine with the decision on the phone.
The question that all have is, will Flowers struggle on the new side if he can win the position? Why? Because making a change from one side to the other side isn’t always a seamless proposition. Hopefully, this new switch will give Flowers a chance to remain a starter as he enters his fourth season with the team.
Larry Nance Jr. to wear his dad’s retired No. 22 with Cavs
CLEVELAND (AP) — The Cavaliers will again have a No. 22, and he looks eerily familiar.
Larry Nance Jr. is getting to honor his father by wearing his dad’s retired No. 22 jersey with the Cavs, who worked with the NBA to make the unique tribute possible.
“My dad’s jersey will get to stay retired in the rafters, so, I couldn’t be happier with it,” Nance Jr. said Thursday night before making his home debut with the Cavs, who recently acquired him in a trade with the Los Angeles Lakers. “I’m thrilled. I’ve been wearing 22 my whole life and to get to wear it for the Cleveland Cavaliers is beyond a dream come true.”
Nance Jr. will begin wearing No. 22 next week. For now, he’ll be in No. 24, the number he chose after he was obtained from the Lakers.
When he was traded, Nance Jr. considered how special it would be to wear his dad’s number, which was retired by the Cavs in 1995 and hangs above Quicken Loans Arena. Larry Nance Sr. spent eight seasons with Cleveland and was a fan favorite because of his shot blocking and dunking skills.
The kid is just like his dad.
The younger Nance said his dad didn’t have a big reaction when he got the news.
“I called him and told him yesterday that we were kind of talking about it and got it passed,” he said. “My dad is a man of few words so he kind of just let me know with a smile that he was excited.”
Last weekend in Los Angeles, Nance Jr. wore his father’s No. 22 Phoenix jersey while participating in the dunk contest at the All-Star Game. Nance Jr. took his look a step further by dressing like his dad when he played in the 1980s.
Will he bring back the retro look?
“This means short shorts and high white socks,” Nance joked. “Absolutely.”
Nance Jr. was bracing himself for an emotional homecoming in his first home game with the Cavs. He cracked that one of the only problems he had since his return to Ohio was that his mom was trying to convince him to live at home again.
She’s relaxed on that request.
“They’re actually looking at a house right now,” he said. “So I think I’ve got her once she kind of got some national attention she was like, ‘Oh, gosh. All right. I guess.’”
Noren, Simpson lead at Honda; Woods has solid 70
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — Tiger Woods had what he called “easily” his best round hitting the ball, and he didn’t even break par at the Honda Classic.
Alex Noren and Webb Simpson shared the lead at 4-under 66 in steady wind on a penal PGA National golf course, and felt as though they had to work hard for it. Both dropped only one shot Thursday, which might have been as great an accomplishment as any of their birdies.
“When you stand on certain tee boxes or certain approach shots, you remember that, ‘Man, this is one of the hardest courses we play all year, including majors,’” said Simpson, who is playing the Honda Classic for the first time in seven years.
Only 20 players broke par, and just as many were at 76 or worse.
Woods had only one big blunder — a double bogey on the par-5 third hole when he missed the green and missed a 3-foot putt — in an otherwise stress-free round. He had one other bogey against three birdies, and was rarely out of position. Even one of his two wild drives, when his ball landed behind two carts that were selling frozen lemonade and soft pretzels, he still had a good angle to the green.
“It was very positive today,” Woods said. “It was a tough day out there for all of us, and even par is a good score.”
It was plenty tough for Adam Scott, who again stumbled his way through the closing stretch of holes that feature water, water and more water. Scott went into the water on the par-3 15th and made double bogey, and then hit into the water on the par-3 17th and made triple bogey. He shot 73.
Rory McIlroy was at even par deep into the back nine when he figured his last chance at birdie would be the par-5 18th. Once he got there, he figured his best chance at birdie was to hit 3-wood on or near the green. Instead, he came up a yard short and into the water, made double bogey and shot 72.
Noren, who lost in a playoff at Torrey Pines last month, shot 31 on the front nine and finished with a 6-foot birdie on the ninth hole into a strong wind for his 66.
The Swede is a nine-time winner on the European Tour who is No. 16 in the world, though he has yet to make a connection among American golf fans — outside of Stillwater, Oklahoma, from his college days at Oklahoma State — from not having fared well at big events. Noren spends time in South Florida during the winter, so he’s getting used to this variety of putting surfaces.
“I came over here to try to play some more American-style courses, get firmer greens, more rough, and to improve my driving and improve my long game,” Noren said. “So it’s been great.”
PGA champion Justin Thomas, Daniel Berger and Morgan Hoffmann — who all live up the road in Jupiter — opened with a 67. There’s not much of an advantage because hardly anyone plays PGA National the other 51 weeks of the year. It’s a resort that gets plenty of traffic, and conditions aren’t quite the same.
Louis Oosthuizen, the South African who now lives primarily in West Palm Beach, also came out to PGA National a few weeks ago to get a feel for the course. He was just like everyone else that day — carts on paths only. Not everyone can hole a bunker shot on the final hole at No. 9 for a 67. Mackenzie Hughes of Canada shot his 67 with a bogey from a bunker on No. 9.
Woods, in his third PGA Tour event since returning from a fourth back surgery, appears to be making progress.
“One bad hole,” he said. “That’s the way it goes.”
It came on the easiest hole on the course. Woods drove into a fairway bunker on the par-5 third, laid up and put his third shot in a bunker. He barely got it out to the collar, used the edge of his sand wedge to putt it down toward the hole and missed the 3-foot par putt.
He answered with a birdie and made pars the rest of the way.
“I’m trying to get better, more efficient at what I’m doing,” Woods said. “And also I’m actually doing it under the gun, under the pressure of having to hit golf shots, and this golf course is not forgiving whatsoever. I was very happy with the way I hit it today.”
Woods played with Patton Kizzire, who already has won twice on the PGA Tour season this year. Kizzire had never met Woods until Thursday, and he yanked his opening tee shot into a palmetto bush. No one could find it, so he had to return to the tee to play his third shot. Kizzire covered the 505 yards in three shots, an outstanding bogey considering the two-shot penalty.
Later, he laughed about the moment.
“I was so nervous,” Kizzire said. “I said to Tiger, ‘Why did you have to make me so nervous?’”