Flyers

10 observations from Flyers' season-opening 4-game road trip

10 observations from Flyers' season-opening 4-game road trip

As the Flyers unwind from an eight-day road trip that stretched over three time zones, let’s unpack what transpired over their first four games.

1. Flyers deserved better
The end result of the four-game road trip is a .500 record, with the Flyers earning four of a possible eight points. They built a two-goal lead Tuesday night with 13:12 remaining in the game. At that point, the Flyers should have at least earned a point and possibly two. To the Predators' credit, they seized back some of that momentum just 50 seconds later when Filip Forsberg scored, sniping a shot over Brian Elliott’s glove hand. The sting of this loss would have been slightly eased if the Flyers could have found a way to force overtime in Nashville. When you evaluate the entire road trip, the Flyers never had that “dud” of a game, where they played without energy and flat-footed.  

2. Challenging the penalty
At the time it happened, my initial feeling toward Dave Hakstol’s decision to challenge the offsides play was this had the makings of a Music City meltdown. Personally, I would have just conceded the game-tying goal with the knowledge that had I lost the challenge I would have been penalized (yet again) and looking at another monumental 5-on-3 penalty kill of a tied game. Last season, only one-third of every challenge plays involving an offsides call were overturned, so the odds already were working against Hakstol. The momentum swing alone is a key factor that has be under consideration when those decisions are made. To the Flyers' credit, they killed the 5-on-3, to only give up the game-winning goal moments after Dale Weise stepped out of the box. With this new rule now in play, coaches need conclusive, indisputable evidence the attacking team went offsides, and that’s almost impossible considering the turnaround time before they have to notify the referees of their desire to challenge.    

3. Patrick's 1st goal
It was nice to see rookie Nolan Patrick score his first NHL goal in just his fourth game. However, Patrick was in no mood to talk about it afterward and understandably so. For a 19-year-old still working his way through the infancy stages of his career, Patrick had a relatively solid road trip, picking up two points and playing better over the final two games. Containing Jeff Carter and his line in L.A. was a tough assignment, and he’ll ultimately benefit playing on a third line with Travis Konecny and Dale Weise. Patrick said he’s traditionally been a slow starter when it comes to scoring goals.

4. More firepower
Four games into the season and already nine different Flyers have scored goals and 14 players have registered at least a point. When you examine the roster, the Flyers have depth at the forward position, where seven and potentially eight players can realistically score at least 20 goals this season. Even the fourth line of Scott Laughton, Taylor Leier and Michael Raffl generates pressure, quality scoring chances and each player has the skill set to do damage offensively. Overall, the Flyers have the firepower to finish top 10 in goals scored this season.

5. The Money Train
Wayne Simmonds was absolutely steamed following the Flyers' 6-5 loss Tuesday to the Predators. No player appeared to be more riled up than Simmonds was, which is precisely why Flyers fans love the emotion and raw passion he brings on the ice and in times of frustration as well. Simmonds is unquestionably one of the leaders and lifelines of this Flyers squad, and it’s hard to imagine this franchise without him. For years, Simmonds had set 30 goals as a benchmark, but with a red-hot start to this season, it’s not unrealistic to think he’s capable of reaching 40 goals for the first time in his career. If that happens, Simmonds will certainly cash in with a lucrative contract extension next summer.  

6. Ivan the Great
There’s no other way to describe it, but defenseman Ivan Provorov is simply a machine. His stick work in the corners and along the boards is a work of art. He has an underrated shot for a player that doesn’t uncork wicked Shayne Gostisbehere-like slap shots. In the second period of Tuesday’s game, Provorov took the puck from behind his net and created a rush on his own. On the four-game trip, the Flyers' shutdown defender was on the ice for just one even-strength goal against — Hartnell’s shot from the wing that Elliott should have stopped. If I’m taking a one-goal lead into the final period, I want Provorov on the ice every other shift. There’s a calmness he brings to the situation, and it’s refreshing to see the Flyers finally have the all-around defenseman that’s been missing since the days of Eric Desjardins.

7. When will we see Morin?
After watching the Flyers play on numerous occasions in the preseason, one NHL scout undoubtedly feels the Flyers have three NHL-ready rookie defensemen, saying, “It’s a good problem to have.” Right now, the problem is the Flyers can’t squeeze Samuel Morin into the lineup and on Wednesday, he was assigned to the Phantoms (see story).

Speaking to Morin Tuesday morning, he was definitely down on the situation but is handling it with grace and dignity.

“It’s the first time in my career that I’ve been a healthy scratch and it’s pretty hard,” Morin said. “What else can I do? I think it’s normal that I’m pretty upset. I just need to keep working hard and see what’s going to happen. There’s not much I can do right now. It’s out of my control.”

8. Stronger in the middle
I wasn’t quite sold on the idea of Sean Couturier filling the role as the team’s No. 1 center, and while he doesn’t have the skill set of a Tyler Seguin or a Mark Scheifele, Couturier plays the necessary 200-foot game necessary in today’s NHL. If Hakstol continues to keep that Claude Giroux-Couturier-Jakub Voracek line intact, "Coots" should hit the 40-point mark for the first time in his career with ease. Furthermore, when you see how the Flyers are stacked down the middle with Couturier-Valtteri Filppula-Patrick-Scott Laughton, there’s no weak link the opposition can exploit defensively. Ron Hextall wants to construct a team that cuts down on those quality scoring chances in the danger areas between the circles and those four centers have shown to play a very responsible game. 

9. Down with Hartnell
Predators head coach Peter Laviolette had his list of players that did not jive with his coaching style (see James van Riemsdyk). However, Lavy always had an admiration for Scott Hartnell and spoke highly of the Nashville winger following Tuesday’s 6-5 win over the Flyers. Signing Hartnell on a one-year, $1 million deal was a very low-risk, high-reward investment on Laviolette and general manager David Poile’s part. Hartnell still possesses a high-caliber shot and has a knack for finding the soft zones in and around the net. Who knows how well he would have fit in the confines of Hakstol’s system, but for that term and price, I could see Hartnell working well with Nolan Patrick and Travis Konecny, as well as providing that net-front presence on one of the team’s power-play units.

10. Who starts the home opener?
The Flyers received steady goaltending until Tuesday night’s game in Nashville, which was not Elliott’s best effort. It’s obvious Hakstol has been looking to establish Elliott as his early season starter, but in saying that, Michal Neuvirth was excellent in his only start in Los Angeles. It’s early but Neuvirth resembles the goaltender who came to Philadelphia in 2015-16 and turned in a gem of a season with a 2.27 goals-against average and a .924 save percentage. Hakstol won’t hesitate to play the guy with a hot hand and with Saturday’s home opener against Neuvirth’s former team, the Washington Capitals, it seems like an opportune time to give the backup another shot in net.

Former Flyers defenseman Zarley Zalapski dies at 49

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Former Flyers defenseman Zarley Zalapski dies at 49

CALGARY, Alberta — Former NHL defenseman Zarley Zalapski has died at age 49, according to the Calgary Flames. No cause of death was given.

Zalapski, a native of Edmonton, played 637 NHL games for Calgary, Pittsburgh, Hartford, Montreal and the Flyers from 1987 to 2000.

He was with the Flames from 1993 to 1998.

"We are proud that Zarley wore the Flames jersey, made Calgary his home following his playing career, represented our alumni executive and we will always remember him as a member of the Flames family," Flames president and chief executive officer Ken King said Tuesday in a statement.

"This is a terrible loss of a man with great character who truly loved the game of hockey. We express our sincere condolences to the Zalapski family."

Zalapski was a member of the Canadian team that finished fourth in the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary.

He had 99 goals, 285 assists and 684 penalty minutes in the NHL. Zalapski was named to the all-rookie team in 1989 and participated in the NHL All-Star Game in 1993.

Zalapski played stints in Austria and Switzerland after his NHL career and appeared in 11 games for the United Hockey League's Kalamazoo Wings in 2004-05.

He was the fourth overall pick by the Penguins in the 1986 entry draft.

'Special play' by Sean Couturier, Claude Giroux highlights Flyers' 4th straight win

'Special play' by Sean Couturier, Claude Giroux highlights Flyers' 4th straight win

BOX SCORE

The entire play was a thing of beauty.  

The only debate was which part was prettier: Claude Giroux’s pass or Sean Couturier’s shot?

“I don’t know," Couturier said. "Ask him and see what he thinks."

“It’s a pretty special play to be able to get that puck into open ice to let Coots skate onto it,” head coach Dave Hakstol said.

After Couturier won a faceoff in the defensive zone, the puck eventually swung towards the far boards in the neutral zone. Giroux delivered a backhand pass between his legs and the legs of Leafs defenseman Nikita Zaitsev before Couturier chased it down and uncorked a perfectly placed shot that found the top-right portion of the net (see highlights).

“The puck was rolling so I just shot as hard as I could,” Couturier said. 

"I saw Coots had a foot race and usually he doesn’t beat the other guy, but he was able to beat him there,” Giroux said half-jokingly. “He’s been playing great hockey and it’s fun to be on his line.

“It’s that kind of play that you can’t really describe. I’ll put it somewhere where he might be able to get it."

Couturier’s game-winner with 2:55 remaining in regulation Tuesday was part of the Flyers' three-goal third-period outburst on the way to a 4-2 win (see observations). It was the team's fourth consecutive victory, making it the first time since February 2014 the Flyers have strung together four straight wins in regulation, improving their record to 12-11-7.

The Flyers also snapped a six-game winless streak at the Wells Fargo Center dating back to Nov. 9.

“The last three games before this one, we had the lead and everybody bought in on how we wanted to play to keep the lead, and now we had a different test,” Giroux said. “We’re down a goal and guys just have a feeling in the room that we’re going to come back. It’s a good feeling right now.”

The Couturier-Giroux combination got the Flyers on the board in the opening period when Couturier won the draw in the offensive zone after sliding the puck behind him and Giroux finished with a one-time blast that beat Frederik Andersen.

“We switch around and try different things offensively,” Couturier said. “Having him on the right side there, G is ready for a one-timer if I win it and lucky enough the puck ended up right on his tape.”

Not only did the Flyers have a pair of first-rounders on their top line, Hakstol also elected to pair fellow first-round picks Scott Laughton and Travis Konecny on the team’s fourth line. Together with Taylor Leier they brought an element of speed and energy that led to the Flyers' game-tying tally in the third period when Konecny’s shot grazed off two Maple Leafs for just his second goal in his last 20 games.

“It was definitely part of our game plan to outskate their D and get in there,” Konecny said. “As a unit of three, we know we can cheat a little bit and get in on the forecheck because we know we can get back and defend in the right spots, so yeah, we were on top of them.”

“You guys can label them whatever you want,” Hakstol said. “They’re just one of our lines. We thought that line combination made sense with the speed and pace that all three of those guys play at. It’s one small tweak to our lineup that we made coming off the road trip out west.”

The Maple Leafs came into the game a little short on star power with top center Auston Matthews day to day with an upper-body injury. However, it hadn’t affected the Leafs in previous games as Toronto had a 5-0 record in contests Matthews had missed. Head coach Mike Babcock believed Tuesday night’s game was more of a missed opportunity.

“To me, we gifted two goals,” Babcock said. “The one tough play the goalie touched the goal and then the play where they come in, we are above those. To me, you can’t do that.”

The Flyers took down the Maple Leafs for the second time this season. They’ll meet one more time on Jan. 18 at the Wells Fargo Center.