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: Islanders shut down Capitals to snap 5-game skid

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Best of NHL: Islanders shut down Capitals to snap 5-game skid

NEW YORK -- Jaroslav Halak made 31 saves after getting a vote of confidence from his coach, and the New York Islanders beat the Washington Capitals 3-1 on Monday night to snap a five-game winless streak.

Brock Nelson, Andrew Ladd and John Tavares scored goals for the Islanders, who built a 3-0 lead early in the second period and ended Washington's four-game winning streak.

It was the second time this season that Halak held an opponent to a single goal and the third time New York has allowed one goal as a team. Halak's strong performance came after coach Doug Weight sternly defended his goaltenders following the team's skate Monday morning. New York was 0-3-2 over its last five games.

Braden Holtby made nine saves for the Capitals before being pulled after the Islanders scored their third goal 1:34 into the second period. Philipp Grubauer made 17 saves in relief, and Dmitry Orlov scored Washington's only goal (see full recap).

Bernier makes 39 saves as Avalanche top Penguins
PITTSBURGH -- Jonathan Bernier stopped 39 shots and Mark Barberio scored in the third period, helping the Colorado Avalanche top the Pittsburgh Penguins 2-1 on Monday night.

Blake Comeau added an empty netter against his former team as Colorado won its second straight after a string of six losses in seven games. It was Comeau's seventh of the season.

Barberio put the Avalanche ahead to stay 6:17 into the third. His slap shot off the rush hit Pittsburgh forward Riley Sheahan in front and got past goaltender Tristan Jarry.

Bernier was on track for his second shutout of the season before Phil Kessel scored his 15th goal for Pittsburgh at 19:48. Bernier beat the Penguins for just the second time in 10 career games (see full recap).

Perreault, Jets beat Canucks to snap skid
WINNIPEG, Manitoba -- Mathieu Perreault scored two goals and added an assist to help the Winnipeg Jets halt a three-game losing streak with a 5-1 victory over the Vancouver Canucks on Monday night.

The win was the Jets' seventh straight victory at home and they have points in their last 11 games (10-0-1) at Bell MTS Place.

The Canucks have lost three straight in regulation for the first time this season.

Dmitry Kulikov, Josh Morrissey and Nikolaj Ehlers also scored for Winnipeg (18-8-5). Ehlers' 14th of the season was on the power play and gave him goals in three straight games.

Brock Boeser scored his team-leading 16th goal for the Canucks. He also extended his goal-scoring streak to three games.

Connor Hellebuyck made 25 saves for Winnipeg (see full recap).

Flyers notes, quotes and tidbits: Reversing home fortunes

Flyers notes, quotes and tidbits: Reversing home fortunes

VOORHEES, N.J. — Home is where the _____.

For the Flyers, filling in this blank hasn’t solicited positive responses this season.

Of course, the Flyers haven’t provided positive results.

After trouncing the Capitals and Panthers in their first two home games of the season, the Flyers have dropped 10 of their last 12 in South Philly. They gifted the Arizona Coyotes their first win of the season back in late October and have turned in lethargic efforts against the Vancouver Canucks, San Jose Sharks and Boston Bruins in recent weeks.

More alarmingly, the Flyers have just a 1-2-5 record in one-goal games, a situation in which home ice should come into play as one of the deciding factors. The losing and frustration culminated with a barrage of boos and a “Fire Hakstol” chant during that 3-1 loss to the Sharks on Nov. 28.

“It doesn’t help, but we’re not doing anything to help ourselves,” goaltender Brian Elliott said Monday. “You’re trying not to listen to any crowd. You’re just trying to block it all out and stay in that moment, just playing with your team out there, and that’s probably how I approach it. It’s taking that road style hockey game and bringing it here.” 

“I think the atmosphere will be better,” Sean Couturier said. “When you’re losing, it’s tough. We were trying so hard to get a win. It didn’t seem to come, and then finally to get one, two and then three. We’re kind of on a roll, but at the same time, it’s only three games. We’re pretty excited to be back home and keep winning.”  

Tuesday, the team will be looking to change its Wells Fargo Center fortunes when it opens up another five-game homestand, its longest of the season, beginning with a visit from the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Flyers are hopeful they can carry over their success from a three-game sweep in Western Canada when the Leafs hit town. 

“We keep it simple on the road. We went on the road and made a pact to keep it simple and play the right way,” Wayne Simmonds said. “We’ve had one of the best home records over the past three years. I think we do alright at home. Obviously, we’ve had a slow start at home, but we’ll pick it up.”

Not that the previous 14 home games have been irrelevant, but the final 27 games on home ice will have a much greater emphasis as 23 of their final 28 games come against Eastern Conference opponents, with 12 of those directly within the Metropolitan Division.

“From now on, games are going to get more and more important,” Couturier said. “Every point is pretty much necessary for us, especially when you lose 10 games in a row. You get behind in the standings and you’re chasing. We've got to stick together and get some more wins.”

'Ghost' feels for Wentz
Shayne Gostisbehere knows what it's like to wake up the way Carson Wentz did on Monday morning.

Wentz tore the ACL in his left knee during Sunday’s 43-35 victory over the Los Angeles Rams. 

In November 2014, Gostisbehere tore the same ACL in his knee during his rookie season with the Phantoms just five games in and never returned to action. Faced with months of rehab, there were moments when "Ghost" didn’t feel as if the injury was improving.   

“I saw the game yesterday,” Gostisbehere said. “I hope for the best for him. The rehab is really grueling. It's ups and downs. Some days you’re going to feel great, feel like you’re getting ahead of the game, and other days you feel you’re never going to get better. I think overall he’s going to have the best care in the world. I think obviously you hope for the best and hope it’s not that bad.”

Elliott named third star
Flyers goaltender Brian Elliott was named the NHL’s third star of the week after posting three road wins with a 1.67 goals-against average and .954 save percentage.

“It’s great when you get recognized,” Elliott said. “Whenever you get those recognitions as a goalie, it really shows how the group has been playing, especially this last week here. It’s probably my name up there, but definitely the whole team deserves that.”