Coach sends message by benching stars in Flyers’ loss

Kevin Hayes

PHILADELPHIA – If you’re going to send a message that your team’s play is unacceptable, you might as well bench your two biggest stars to set an example.

Such was the case on Sunday night as the Flyers sleepwalked their way through two periods against the visiting San Jose Sharks.

By then, coach John Tortorella had seen enough.

He parked first liners Kevin Hayes and Travis Konecny on the pine and they didn’t see a second of action in the third period.

Both got a good view as the Flyers suffered a 3-0 loss to the Sharks, who entered the game with the worst record (1-6-0) in the National Hockey League.

After the game, Hayes and Konecny said all the right things about why the benchings were somewhat justified.

Tortorella? He said whatever words were exchanged between coach and player(s) would be left “in house.’’

No matter the case, the coach wasn’t going to let a fine recently completed 2-1 road trip serve as an excuse for lackadaisical play.

Also, he wasn’t giving anyone a free pass because the Flyers were playing on the second half of a back-to-back, with the team not getting to bed until 3:30 Sunday morning after a flight home from Nashville.

“I haven’t talked to him (the coach) yet,’’ Hayes said minutes after the game ended at the Wells Fargo Center. “I don’t think he was too happy with my game if I had to guess.’’

Konecny had a somewhat similar explanation.

“I was on the ice for those (first two) goals, I’m sure that had something to do with it,’’ Konecny said.

Without Hayes and Konecny on the ice (plus James van Riemsdyk was injured earlier in the game) in the third period, the Flyers were outshot by a whopping 17-6 margin.

As for personal accountability, Konecny had no problem with the action Tortorella took.

“He’s been honest with that since day one,’’ Konecny said. “It doesn’t matter who you are, you have to play the right way. If we don’t do the right things, and I was on for two goals, I had some mistakes tonight, it’s his decision.’’

Konecny said one bad performance by the 4-2 Flyers shouldn’t negate a lot of good things which have happened so far.

“I mean I don’t think it changes anything,’’ he said. “We’re still a good hockey team. We’re still going to bounce back, we’re still going to play hard every night. That was definitely not a reflection of how we play our game.’’

Tortorella was willing to show he’s not going to tolerate sloppy play, even if the first couple weeks of the season have trended the right way.

He emphasized the Flyers have to do better in the second half of back-to-backs. So far they are 0-2 and there are more than a dozen such situations remaining on the schedule.

“We have to learn how to play back-to-back games,’’ he said. “We’ve played two sets of back-to-backs and in the second ones we haven’t given ourselves a chance because of turnovers. I don’t think it’s a physical tiredness, I think sometimes it might mean they are a little groggy mentally. But if you’re a pro, you have to learn to simplify your game.’’

The Flyers might have realized it wasn’t going to be their night when an apparent goal by Joel Farabee almost midway through the second period was waved off due to an offside violation by Scott Laughton.

That goal would have broken a scoreless tie. Instead, the Sharks got the opening goal just moments later and added another against backup goaltender Felix Sandstrom before the period ended.

The Flyers, who won their first three games of the season, have dropped two of their last three.

Erik Karlsson’s blast from the outer edge of the right circle beat Sandstrom far side at 9:34 to get the Sharks on the board. Then Steven Lorentz scored at 18:29 for the two-goal edge.

The Sharks scored an empty-net goal with 3:54 to play.

>Jackson Cates back to Phantoms

The Flyers loaned Jackson Cates back to the Phantoms on Sunday. Tortorella said Cates wasn’t getting much ice time so it was better to be playing more in Lehigh Valley. “He’ll get a ton of minutes down there,’’ the coach said. “Rather than playing four or five minutes (here) and then sitting out a game.’’

>Team defense evaluation

Even though the Flyers began the night with goal differential of plus-6, Tortorella says there’s room for improvement. “This group here is still trying to figure out now to defend,’’ Tortorella said before the game. “I think it’s improving.’’

The Flyers have been outshot in five of their first six games. Tortorella doesn’t sound too concerned.

“Coaches are concerned about everything but I don’t live on numbers,’’ he said. “I use my eyes, my stomach. Having said that, I still think we’re playing in our end too much.’’

>Short shots

Van Riemsdyk left the game with an injury in the second period and did not return to action. After the game, Tortorella said he did not have an update on the player’s condition. . .The Flyers are off until Thursday when they play host to the Florida Panthers.

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About Wayne Fish 1873 Articles
Wayne Fish has been covering the Flyers since 1976, a stint which includes 18 Stanley Cup Finals, four Winter Olympics and numerous other international events.