With 4-game trip to begin season, Flyers more suited for road success in 2017-18

With 4-game trip to begin season, Flyers more suited for road success in 2017-18

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Dave Hakstol displayed a rare moment of humor Tuesday when he jokingly said, “I haven’t sent the thank-you card yet to NHL scheduling.” 

More like thanks, but no thanks.

Whoever’s responsible for the unenviable task of compiling the 82-game schedule for each of the 31 teams has the Flyers as the home opening opponent for three different clubs: the Sharks, Kings and Predators. Essentially, the Flyers will have to endure an extended pregame ceremony in each of the three cities, which will also include a banner-raising night for the Western Conference champions in Nashville on Oct. 10.

“It can be a little frustrating,” defenseman Brandon Manning said. “You have to be professional about it. There’s no other way to deal with it. Find a way to get yourself ready and it’s no different than guys playing in their first NHL game. It’s just part of the game. I don’t think that will be a real issue for us. Once you play in one (home opener), you’ll be ready for the next one.”

But how prepared will the Flyers be for the entire 41-game road slate? Last season, the Flyers were 22 points better at the Wells Fargo Center, and following their 10-game winning streak, they proceeded to win just six of their final 27 games on the road. General manager Ron Hextall suggested perhaps the Flyers just didn’t have the mental fortitude required of a playoff team.

“I think there’s a certain mentality of playing on the road. It’s hard,” Hextall said. “It’s not cushy like home. You don’t have all your fans there. You don’t go to your house for a pregame meal, you don’t go to the rink for a pregame skate. You’re traveling. You’re not playing the day before typically. It’s something we have to get better at. We’ve talked about and we have to have a better road record. Our home record we have to maintain and we have to be better on the road. No question about it.”

It will ultimately become the difference between the Flyers qualifying for the postseason or staying at home for the fourth time in a six-year span. Of the 16 teams that qualified for the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, 15 had a winning record or a point differential above .500 on the road. Had the Flyers finished with just four more road victories and a record of 18-18-5, that would have been enough to overtake the Toronto Maple Leafs for the second wild-card spot last season.

“I think the last few years, we haven’t been as good on the road as we were at home, and that’s just a fact, for any team in the league,” Claude Giroux said. “You need to find a way to get those wins, get those extra points on the road. It’s not easy to go into another building, but we need to find a way, whatever that is, to find a way to get those points.”

Hextall believes he’s done his part by constructing a team that will allow the Flyers to be a tougher matchup for their opponents, who have the last change on faceoffs. With Sean Couturier, Nolan Patrick, Valtteri Filppula and Scott Laughton comprising your four centers to start the season, the Flyers appear to be better defensively to play the type of game required in a visitor’s arena. 

“I think our depth right now is better than what we’ve had in the past,” Hextall said. “So in terms of matchups, I definitely think we’re better off. You don’t dictate many of the matchups on the road as you do at home. We’re certainly better off with the depth we have. I think we’re strong in the middle. I feel good about our team right now, but in the end, we have to make it happen.”

First-round knockouts
For an organization that has subscribed to a win-now mentality in the past, and has often mortgaged its future to make that happen, you may be genuinely surprised to see that the Flyers' opening night roster has more first-round picks drafted by the organization than any other team in the league. 

Within the Flyers' 23-man roster, the organization can claim eight first-round picks (Giroux, Couturier, Patrick, Travis Konecny, Laughton, Ivan Provorov, Sam Morin and Travis Sanheim). The Islanders, Capitals and Kings currently have seven of their own first-rounders on their rosters.

Bring their 'A' game
On Tuesday night, the Flyers voted in a pair of new alternate captains who will replace Pierre Edouard-Bellemare and Mark Streit, who both served as alternates depending on where the Flyers were playing.

Beginning tonight and for the next three games, Andrew MacDonald will wear the 'A' along with Wayne Simmonds, who will be an alternate all season, on the road. Filppula will take over MacDonald's duties for the Flyers' 41 home games, beginning with the home opener Oct. 14 against the Capitals.

MacDonald, who will wear it Wednesday and for the next week, also served as an alternate with the Islanders.

"Obviously, it's a big honor and a big responsibility to have your peers and teammates choose you for that situation," MacDonald said Wednesday. "It's pretty special. I'm familiar with leadership roles and what it's all about. Being an older guy now, I've picked up a lot of things along the way."

Filppula wore the 'A' during the preseason in his time with the Red Wings, but never during the regular season.

“It means a lot and hopefully I can do a good job,” Filppula said. “It’s always an honor to be part of the captain’s group, especially coming from the other teammates. It’s a big thing personally.” 

Future Flyers Report: Is it time for Samuel Morin, Mike Vecchione call-ups?

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Future Flyers Report: Is it time for Samuel Morin, Mike Vecchione call-ups?

Before this week begins, it’s time for our weekly check-in on the Flyers’ prospects playing in the AHL, overseas and at the junior and college levels.

Samuel Morin, D, 21, 6-7/202, Lehigh Valley (AHL)
After Radko Gudas was slapped with a 10-game suspension Sunday, many pointed to Morin as a call-up option to replace Gudas. Here's why that won't happen.

Morin returned just last week after missing a few weeks with an injury. That's one reason. Another is, Andrew MacDonald is nearing a return from his lower-body injury. He could return as early as Tuesday. Mark Alt has played adequately, and if MacDonald is ready to return, the Flyers would need an extra body, not a regular on the blue line.

The Flyers are not going to have Morin sit in the press box. That much is clear. When MacDonald suffered his injury, the Flyers wanted to call Morin up. They announced it but later found Morin was injured himself. Hence the Alt call-up. Tough luck for Morin.

Many believed Morin showed enough to make the Flyers in the preseason. I was among them. I still would like to see the Flyers have Morin with Robert Hagg and Travis Sanheim here. But the Flyers were and are not comfortable with three rookies on defense, and the blue line hasn't been the team's wart.

So Morin will have to stay patient for his opportunity. It will come. Unfortunately, Morin's best route to the NHL this season is a long-term injury to a defenseman already here.

As for what Morin did last week. Morin returned Wednesday and had a rough showing in the Phantoms' 6-2 loss to Belleville. But it wasn't a strong game for any Phantom. On Friday night, Morin had an assist and a fight in Lehigh Valley's 5-2 win over Laval.

Mike Vecchione, C, 24, 5-10/194, Lehigh Valley (AHL)
As the Flyers’ scoring woes outside of their top line continue, the noise for shaking up the roster will continue to get louder and louder, and rightfully so. Many are calling for Danick Martel, who is scoring at a ridiculous clip with the Phantoms. But the more realistic call-up is Vecchione, who had yet another big week as he's banging on the NHL's doorstep.

Vecchione had a pair of two-goal games, including a three-point night, in two games. He accounted for both goals Wednesday in the Phantoms’ 6-2 loss to Belleville and then three points in Friday’s 5-2 win over Laval. After collecting five points in two games last week, Vecchione now leads AHL rookies with 18 points. He ranks second on the Phantoms in goals (6), assists (12), points (18) and points-per-game (1.06).

Now comes the question: Could we see Vecchione in a Flyers uniform soon? It’s a fair question to ask, especially considering the Flyers’ scoring imbalance. I’d like to see Vecchione come up because I think he would be an instant upgrade over Dale Weise, a Ron Hextall signing and a player the Flyers continue to put in a top-nine role.

Vecchione is producing at the AHL level, and he appears physically ready for the NHL too. At some point, the Flyers have to try something. It's still early in the season, but there are enough warning signs that this scoring imbalance could be a problem all year long. Vecchione is an in-house option that could provide an offensive spark to this team.

I doubt we'll see Vecchione get a call-up anytime soon, though. The Flyers are committed to Weise. They have Jori Lehtera and Matt Read in the press box. It doesn't seem like they're open to bringing Vecchione, or anyone else, up yet. That could change soon.

It should.

Connor Bunnaman, C, 19, 6-1/207, Kitchener (OHL)
Bunnaman’s four-game goal streak ended last Tuesday, but it was still a productive week for the Rangers’ captain. Bunnaman recorded three goals and three assists in a four-game week. He had a tally in Kitchener’s 7-5 win Friday over Guelph, scored the game-winner and added an assist in Saturday’s 3-1 win over Barrie and then a goal and an assist Sunday in a 4-1 win over Peterborough.

Bunnaman, in his fourth OHL season, leads the Rangers with 14 goals and ranks second with 20 points. During his current 10-game point binge, Bunnaman has nine goals and 12 points, failing to register a point in just one game.

Anthony Salinitri, C, 19, 5-11/170, Sarnia (OHL)
Salinitri continued to ride an offensive wave last week for the Sting, collecting his first hat trick of the season while his point streak reached four games before ending Sunday.

On Friday night, Salinitri led Sarnia to a 6-3 win over Windsor with his first hat trick of the season and his third of his OHL career. He scored the game’s first goal, broke a 2-2 tie and then scored the game-winner. All three of his goals had an impact. Salinitri had an assist Thursday in Sarnia’s 5-3 loss to Flint. During his four-game point streak, Salinitri had six goals and eight points. He has 23 points in 23 games this season.

Quick Hits
Cooper Marody had two more multi-point games for Michigan. Marody now has eight straight multi-point games, compiling 19 points over that span.

• A big week for Carter Hart, who recorded his 21st career WHL shutout last Wednesday, tying him with Leland Irving for Everett’s franchise record.

Hart’s shutout last week was also his second straight. He then turned in a 31-save performance in a win over Seattle. Then on Sunday, Hart stopped 48 shots in a 2-1 loss to Regina.

Wade Allison had an assist Friday and a two-goals Saturday as No. 15 Western Michigan swept UNO. He has 12 goals and 29 points so far in his sophomore season.

Philippe Myers returned last week after missing four games with a groin injury. Myers had an assist Saturday in the Phantoms’ 5-2 win over Laval.

• Hamilton’s Matthew Strome is heating up. Strome had three goals, including a two-goal game, and four points in three games. He currently has a seven-game point streak, recording six goals and 13 points during that span. 

Wyatt Kalynuk had a four-assist weekend, including a three-assist game for No. 6 Wisconsin, who beat No. 17 Michigan, 7-3, Friday and tied Michigan, 4-4, Saturday.

• Clarkson defenseman Terrance Amorosa had an assist Friday and a goal Saturday. Amorosa has four goals and 13 points 14 games into his senior season.

Radko Gudas suspended 10 games for slash to Mathieu Perreault

Radko Gudas suspended 10 games for slash to Mathieu Perreault

Flyers defenseman Radko Gudas was suspended 10 games Sunday night by the NHL's department of player safety for his slashing penalty to the back of the neck of Jets forward Mathieu Perreault.​

The incident occurred 9:50 in the first period of the Winnipeg game that saw Gudas receive a five-minute major and a 10-game misconduct as a result of the play.

Gudas has already served one game of that suspension, as he sat out Saturday’s home game against the Calgary Flames awaiting Sunday morning’s phone hearing.

Gudas will forfeit just over $408,000 as a result of his actions. The Flyers defenseman won’t be eligible to return to the lineup until Dec. 12 when the Flyers host the Toronto Maple Leafs.

This marks the longest suspension of Gudas’ career. He was slapped with a six-game suspension for his blow to Bruins forward Austin Czarnik in a 2016 preseason game. His first suspension in a Flyers sweater came back on Dec. 2, 2015, when he received three games for an illegal check to the head of Senators center Mika Zibanejad.

The suspension may ultimately help Gudas, who has appeared to be favoring his shoulder in recent games, limiting his ability to deliver his typical bone-jarring hits.