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.

3 reasons why Flyers shut down 'best player in the world' Connor McDavid

3 reasons why Flyers shut down 'best player in the world' Connor McDavid

BOX SCORE

A stat line of 0 goals, 0 assists and 0 points has never looked so good.

That's how Connor McDavid will remember his 22:03 of ice time Saturday afternoon at the Wells Fargo Center.

In another tight-checking defensive battle, it was Wayne Simmonds who scored the game-winner with 2:15 remaining in the third period to give the Flyers a 2-1 victory over the Oilers (see observations).

"Pretty big emphasis," Simmonds said of McDavid. "He's probably the best player in the world right now, so you know, we just didn't want him getting the puck in full flight.

"We just wanted to keep him on the outside and kind of limit the touches he was getting."

Aside from the broken collarbone game during his rookie season, when he was forced to leave in the second period, this marked the first time the Flyers held the 20-year-old superstar without a single point.

Prior to Saturday, McDavid had registered six points against the Flyers with at least one point in three straight games.

So, how did the orange and black bottle up the Art Ross Trophy winner — the only NHL player to top 100 points last season?

1. Deploy a multitude of forward lines and defensive pairings
Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol started the game matching McDavid's line with Scott Laughton's line. In the final two periods, the task of slowing down McDavid — for the most part — was left to Sean Couturier and the Flyers' top line.

McDavid had five extended shifts of 1:30 or longer, requiring the Flyers to use a combination of lines and bodies against McDavid. Last year, McDavid may have capitalized against a slower Flyers team but this season, there is more balance across the four lines.

"It's real important," Hakstol said. "And it's not just the extended shifts. He's got an ability to finish a long shift, take one off and come right back, and that can be challenging."

2. Ensure Ivan Provorov was on the ice
After the Shayne Gostisbehere-Robert Hagg pairing handled some of the first-period shifts against McDavid, it was Provorov who primarily handled those duties in the final 40 minutes. Paired mostly with Andrew MacDonald, Provorov also saw ice time with Hagg, Radko Gudas and even Gostisbehere in the third period.

Fronted by Provorov, McDavid failed to register a single shot on Brian Elliott in the third period. Not surprisingly, Provorov played a season-high 25:54.

"His skating ability and his positioning on the ice is so good he's able to slow guys down to kind of put him on his back, just kind of angle them into parts of the ice they don't want to go into," MacDonald said. "It makes it a lot easier when you're playing with a guy who's capable of doing that so well and covering so much ground. It's great to see and he just keeps getting better."

3. Flyers took away his world-class speed
McDavid may be the fastest player in the world with the puck on his stick in the open ice. In fact, McDavid's glide has more speed to it than most players' stride. If you didn't know that prior to the Flyers-Oilers game, you certainly didn't walk away with the belief that McDavid possesses the acceleration of an Italian-engineered sports car. There wasn't one time Saturday you could recall McDavid flying into the offensive zone with the puck on his stick.

"You can't let him get speed because if he does, he's gone," Laughton said. "I think that's the biggest thing. Take away his speed early, so he can't get that puck and take it away down low too. I thought we did a good job."

For Hakstol and Co., bottle up this game plan for the future. It will come in handy when the Flyers take on the Oilers on Dec. 6 in Edmonton.

The Guy
Guy Lanzi has been the Flyers' oral surgeon since 1993. In that time, Lanzi has pulled, repaired or replaced hundreds of chiclets and Friday afternoon was no different.

Simmonds sat in Lanzi's dentist chair for nearly four hours to have some extensive dental work after taking a puck to the mouth while sitting on the bench Thursday against the Predators.

"No surgery — just a lot of work," Simmonds said Saturday. "I was in the doctor's office for a while there. Couple of root canals, couple of pulled teeth replaced, couple teeth bridged. Work is not done yet. I got to go back soon."

Because of that, Simmonds was forced to wear the protective face guard to ensure a puck or stick doesn't do any more damage.

“I can't be getting hit in the mouth again or the rest of my teeth are going to fall out,” Simmonds said.

The reward for Simmonds' mouth-numbing procedure was his fist-pumping, crowd-roaring game-winner and his team-leading sixth goal and fourth game-winner of the season.

“I don’t know how many people would want to go through that and then come back and play a hockey game," Hakstol said, "but he did it, and he scored the game-winner.”

“I think just getting two points satisfies me," Simmonds said. "I’m in a lot better spirits today.”

Flyers-Oilers observations: Red-hot Wayne Simmonds plays hero in win

Flyers-Oilers observations: Red-hot Wayne Simmonds plays hero in win

BOX SCORE

For the second straight game, the Flyers were forced to get defensive, and this time, they found a way to come out on top Saturday afternoon with a 2-1 win over the Edmonton Oilers at the Wells Fargo Center.

Wayne Simmonds produced the game-winner after taking a pass from Valtteri Filppula and snapping it past Cam Talbot with 2:15 remaining in the third period.

It was a tight-checking game that played out similar to what we saw Thursday against the Predators, as the Flyers held the Oilers to 24 shots on net. Connor McDavid registered four shots on net but wasn’t much of a factor offensively.

• The Flyers jumped on the board first with the help of their first power play when Shayne Gostisbehere’s blast from the point was deflected out front by Wayne Simmonds right to Claude Giroux, who corralled the loose puck and punched it into a wide-open net for his fifth goal of the season. 

Following an 0 for 5 effort against Nashville, the Flyers needed to capitalize on the man advantage chances.  

“We just have a lot of different looks this year,” Gostisbehere said to NBC Sports Philadelphia's Chris Therien during the first intermission. “We have so many plays out there. It’s harder for other teams to prepare for us. We’re getting pucks to the net and our guys are doing what they're supposed to do.”

• Former Phantom Patrick Maroon finally got the Oilers on the board with 4:23 remaining in the second period when he outmuscled rookie Nolan Patrick along the corner boards, coming away with the puck and making a move past Ivan Provorov, before putting a shot between Brian Elliott’s pads. 

Patrick appeared to have been distracted by a broken stick along the boards that made him hesitate with the puck. The Flyers' rookie center could have elevated the puck with his backhand, but by holding onto to it for a split second too long, he allowed Maroon to come up with the takeaway.

• The Flyers got careless defensively in the opening 10 minutes of the second period as defensive breakdowns led to some quality scoring chances for the Oilers.

• The Flyers did a solid job of containing last year’s Art Ross Trophy winner McDavid, primarily deploying Scott Laughton’s line along with the Sean Couturier line sometimes during the same shift. McDavid had some extended shifts — three even-strength shifts over 1:30 — requiring the Flyers to use a multitude of forwards and defense pairs.

• McDavid left the game briefly in the first period and returned midway through.

• Jori Lehtera produced his best scoring chance of the season when he took Radko Gudas’ outlet pass and attempted to squeeze through a pair of defenders. The plodding Lehtera was unable to gain enough speed for an uncontested shot, but with his strong forearms and hands, he was able to draw a slashing penalty and still put a shot on net. 

• Last season, Giroux didn’t score his fifth goal until Nov. 29th. 

• Both Taylor Leier and Jordan Weal missed Saturday’s game with upper-body injuries. According to general manager Ron Hextall, both forwards are day-to-day. 

• Referee Ian Walsh was honored prior to the game for officiating his 1,000th career game. Flyers captain Claude Giroux presented Walsh with a framed autographed jersey signed by the team with the No. 1,000 on the back.

Lines, pairings and scratches
Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
Jori Lehtera-Valterri Filppula-Wayne Simmonds
Dale Weise-Nolan Patrick-Travis Konecny
Matt Read-Scott Laughton-Michael Raffl

Ivan Provorov-Andrew MacDonald
Shayne Gostisbehere-Robert Hägg
Travis Sanheim-Radko Gudas

Brian Elliott
Michal Neuvirth

Scratched: Jordan Weal, Taylor Leier and Brandon Manning