Flyers

Breaking down why Sam Morin is Flyers' odd man out on defense

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Breaking down why Sam Morin is Flyers' odd man out on defense

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Through the first three games of the season, 21 of the 23 players on the Flyers' roster have seen action in at least one game so far.
 
Sam Morin and Jori Lehtera spent the West Coast portion of this four-game road trip either watching from the press box or working out in the bowels of the arena.
 
While few people may be questioning the Lehtera decision, Morin is the 6-foot-6 elephant in the Flyers' dressing room right now with a stick that measures nearly that same size. 
 
Morin clearly believes he earned his roster spot and was confident in his overall performance during the preseason to warrant a spot on one of the three defense pairings. A week ago, when his bags were packed for San Jose, Morin spoke of achieving a dream by making the opening night roster, but that he needed to keep going.
 
However, the latter part of that grand plan isn’t going well at all.
 
If Morin doesn’t crack the Flyers' lineup Tuesday in Nashville, management will have to seriously consider reassigning the 22-year-old defenseman to Lehigh Valley so he can continue his development, because sitting idle isn’t beneficial for the player or the organization (see weekly observations).
 
“I don’t have the answer,” general manager Ron Hextall said Thursday. “If you want a definite answer, I don’t have it. We’re not going to carry eight defensemen. It could be tomorrow, a week from now or two weeks from now, but we’re not going to carry eight for long."
 
The decision to carry eight defensemen from the outset was the result of an upper-body injury to Shayne Gostisbehere and the uncertainty of his status, but now, that’s no longer an issue.
 
While Hextall has stated how pleased he’s been with the effort of all three rookie defensemen following the preseason, it’s not a matter of which rookie deserves to be in the lineup, but the manner in which Hextall and coach Dave Hakstol prefer to construct their pairings.
 
Ivan Provorov and Andrew MacDonald — Whether you like it or not, this pair isn’t going to change, at least, not anytime soon.
 
Shayne Gostisbehere and Robert Hagg — A stay-at-home defenseman combined with a mobile, offensive-minded defenseman. It’s a good blend and with Hagg’s comfort level playing the right side, that’s another key attribute to why he’s been a mainstay in the lineup. 
 
Radko Gudas and Brandon Manning/Travis Sanheim/Morin — Since Gudas is more of a physical force who doesn’t venture too far from the opponent’s blue line, Hakstol has shown a preference to pair him with Sanheim’s mobility and offensive upside.
 
Credit Sanheim, who has improved from his first game in Los Angeles to his second game in Anaheim. Moreover, Sanheim earned Hakstol’s trust, playing 4:53 in the third period of a tied game — the most ice time Sanheim has seen in his six periods of action.
 
“I thought he picked up where he left off in the third period in L.A.,” Hakstol said Saturday, “which was back to playing his game … moving his feet well. I thought he played a pretty confident game.”
 
Right now, it’s all about fit, and Sanheim appears to be the better choice playing alongside Gudas. I’d be surprised if Hakstol deviated from that against a very quick Predators team that prefers to get in hard and fast on their forecheck, and if he did, he very likely would revert back to Manning.
 
All of which has left Morin in an uncomfortable position, no matter how comfortable the press box seating is.

Best of NHL: Jaden Schwartz hat trick lifts Blues over Blackhawks

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Best of NHL: Jaden Schwartz hat trick lifts Blues over Blackhawks

ST. LOUIS -- Jaden Schwartz had his third career hat trick to help the St. Louis Blues beat the Chicago Blackhawks 5-2 on Wednesday night.

Schwartz has four goals and six assists this season and has at least one point in six of the Blues' first seven games. It was his 51st career multi-point game and fourth this season.

Vladimir Tarasenko had a goal and an assist, Kyle Brodziak also scored, and Jake Allen made 22 saves. The Blues snapped a two-game losing streak

Duncan Keith and Ryan Hartman had late goals for Blackhawks, and Corey Crawford made 28 saves (see full recap).

Maple Leafs ride big 1st period to win
TORONTO -- Curtis McElhinney made 29 saves in his season debut and the Toronto Maple Leafs scored four times in the first period in a 6-3 victory over the Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday night.

Starting in place of Frederik Andersen, McElhinney stopped 14 shots in the third period to hold off the Red Wings.

Nazem Kadri, Zach Hyman, Auston Matthews, Connor Brown, Morgan Rielly and William Nylander scored to help Toronto improve to an NHL-best 6-1-0. The Maple Leafs were coming off a 2-0 victory at Washington on Tuesday night.

Henrik Zetterberg, Tomas Tatar, Jonathan Ericsson scored for the Red Wings, and Nick Jensen had three assists.

Jimmy Howard gave up three goals on four shots before getting yanked in favor of Petr Mrazek late in the first period (see full recap).

How Michal Neuvirth found fresh inspiration in being a dad

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How Michal Neuvirth found fresh inspiration in being a dad

For the first time in his nine-year career, Michal Neuvirth knows when he gets home at night after a game, there will be someone waiting for him with a smile.

Win or lose, it doesn’t matter to Neuvirth, or especially to his one-month-old daughter, Emily Gudasová Carolina.

“When you come home, there’s a baby waiting and it's such an amazing feeling that someone is waiting for you at home,” Neuvirth said after Tuesday's 5-1 win over Florida. “Last year, I was mostly here by myself, so I definitely like it better having a family with me now.”

Family now consists of his newborn daughter, his fiancee Karolína Gudasová and uncle Radko Gudas, Gudasová’s older brother and Neuvirth’s Flyers teammate.

To those of us on the outside, the responsibility of fatherhood seemingly has altered Neuvirth’s disposition. He smiles more, cracks a few jokes and elaborates just a little more with his answers to the media. Perhaps, he can tolerate us because there’s a deeper purpose and a sense of providing that comes with fatherhood.  

“It’s an amazing feeling being a dad,” Neuvirth said. “For me, I just have another motivation to play for my family now.”

Of course, it also helps I’ve yet to see Neuvirth yawn or show up to practice with bags under his eyes. He has escaped any late-night drama with an eight-day road trip to start the season, and for now, he apparently has a rare lifetime pass for any early morning feedings.  

“I have an amazing fiancee. She takes care of her (Emily) as much as she needs to,” Neuvirth said. “I usually put her to bed at 10-10:30. During the night, Karolina goes and feeds her in the living room, and I’m a deep sleeper, so she doesn’t wake me up.”

As Gudasová has kept an eye on the cradle, Neuvirth has secured the crease. He’s allowed three goals in his two starts this season with a .956 save percentage, which has initiated the debate for more playing time.

Interestingly, adapting to a new addition is something Neuvirth has also discussed with teammate and fellow netminder, Brian Elliott, who went through a similar set of circumstances with his son, Owen, last season in Calgary. Elliott called that first month with the Flames “a huge adjustment” and his October numbers reflected that.

Six games into the season, Neuvirth apparently has it all figured out. 

Of course, a good night’s sleep has a way of bringing clarity to the situation.