Flyers

Buried by Flyers' depth, Jori Lehtera may soon finally crack lineup

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Buried by Flyers' depth, Jori Lehtera may soon finally crack lineup

On the first day he was officially a member of the Flyers, Jori Lehtera was literally pumped. So much so, the weight room warrior hit the gym that morning and slapped on a few extra plates on each side of the barbell.

“My wife woke me up and said, ‘Do you know we’re going to Philadelphia?’” Lehtera said Sept. 11, after the first day he skated with his new teammates in Voorhees, New Jersey.

"I said, 'That's good.' I went to the gym and had a little bit bigger weights than normal. It was good. I needed some change because my game wasn't that good there."

Lehtera was acquired by the Flyers from the Blues at the 2017 NHL draft in the Brayden Schenn trade. In the span of one year, Lehtera’s status has plunged from a top-line center on a playoff team to the 13th forward on a non-playoff team.

That’s not to say the Flyers have failed to recognize Lehtera’s skill set and utilize him effectively, he just didn’t show enough in the preseason to warrant playing time.

The fourth-highest paid forward on the Flyers’ roster has started the first six games of the season as a healthy scratch. Dave Hakstol has opted for the speedier Dale Weise, who’s earning roughly half of Lehtera, who has a $4.7 million cap hit for the next two seasons.

Lehtera's opportunity could come as early as Thursday against the Predators. Wayne Simmonds left Tuesday's game for precautionary reasons with a lower-body injury.

If Simmonds can't go — the Flyers will have an update on Simmonds Thursday — Lehtera is the next guy up as Hakstol would have to shuffle his lines.

“I’m still excited,” Lehtera said recently. “Camp wasn’t good. I wouldn’t say terrible, it was OK. I’m kind of still looking to find my spot. When I get my opportunity, I’m going to take my spot. Where it is, I don’t know.”

Lehtera bolted St. Louis, the city he spent his first NHL seasons, in a cloud of dust. His "Spirit of St. Louis" was completely sucked dry during his time there, as he finished the 2016-17 season with just seven goals and 22 points in 64 games.

“The whole season was a struggle,” Lehtera said. “I just couldn’t get everything out of myself. It wasn’t just a couple of things. It was a lot of big things, and a lot of small things together.”

Playing for Ken Hitchcock, who just passed Al Arbour for third on the NHL’s all-time wins list, has a way of wearing down a player’s psyche.

According to Hitchcock, who rejoined the Dallas Stars this summer after he was fired by the Blues back in February, Lehtera’s struggles were partly a result of centering the team’s top line with superstar winger Vladimir Tarasenko.

“First couple of years there was no attention being paid [to Lehtera]," Hitchcock said in the summer, "and last year, there was a lot of attention of being paid. He lost his confidence because he was in and out of the lineup, so the line wasn’t that effective. The line got special attention for the first time. Because of the way our lineup was built, we were really able to take advantage of matchups.”

Lehtera and Tarasenko developed a lethal chemistry as teammates for Novosibirsk in the KHL, but it didn’t translate to the smaller NHL rink, where time and space to operate with the puck are at a premium. Tarasenko’s reputation quickly earned the attention of the NHL opposition and its top defensive players.

“You saw that chemistry right away,” said Brian Elliott, a teammate of Lehtera’s for two seasons in St. Louis. “They were a dynamic duo and then they were split up, and I think he was looking for that guy to pass to and things like that.”

Compounding Lehtera’s struggles was a concussion he suffered that knocked him out of the lineup for several weeks in February. Once Lehtera returned, he was never quite the same, as he struggled with the speed of the game.

“We played him at wing after he came back from being injured, but his natural position is at center, and that’s where he played his best hockey,” Hitchcock said. “He’s a guy strong on the puck, good down-low player, he protects the puck well.” 

Interestingly for a guy listed at 6-foot-2, 210 pounds and lacking quickness, Lehtera would appear to be more suited at the wing position.

And the potential opportunity Thursday alone may have Lehtera pounding out a few more extra reps in the gym.

Best of NHL: Nick Bjugstad stars in Panthers' shootout win over Maple Leafs

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Best of NHL: Nick Bjugstad stars in Panthers' shootout win over Maple Leafs

SUNRISE, Fla. — Nick Bjugstad scored Florida's only goal in regulation and the game-winning goal in a shootout as the Panthers beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 2-1 on Wednesday night.

Bjugstad skated in and held the puck until Toronto goalie Frederick Andersen was sprawled out, then moved to his right and flipped in his goal during the fourth round of the shootout.

The Panthers won the tiebreaker 2-1 after Aleksander Barkov scored for Florida, and Patrick Marleau was successful for Toronto.

Vincent Trocheck and Henrik Haapala had assists for the Panthers (8-11-2).

Nazem Kadri netted a goal for Toronto (14-8-1), assisted by Connor Brown and Marleau (see full recap).

Forsberg, Turris lead Predators past Habs in SO
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Filip Forsberg scored a pair of power-play goals and Kyle Turris had the only goal in a shootout to lead the Nashville Predators to a 3-2 victory over the struggling Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday night.

Pekka Rinne made 27 saves in regulation and overtime, then denied all three Montreal shootout attempts as Nashville won for the eighth time in nine games.

Jordie Benn and Joe Morrow scored for the Canadiens, who have lost their last five. Morrow's goal evened the score with less than a minute left in the third period.

In the tiebreaker, Turris beat Antti Niemi with a wrist shot between the pads (see full recap)

Anderson's goal in OT gives Blue Jackets win
COLUMBUS, Ohio — After missing training camp because of a contract dispute, Josh Anderson has performed at a consistently high level for the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Anderson scored two minutes into overtime to give Columbus its fifth straight win, 1-0 over the Calgary Flames on Wednesday night.

Sergei Bobrovsky had 22 saves for Columbus in his third shutout this season and 22nd of his career. Mike Smith turned away 40 shots for Calgary.

It was the first time this season that either team ended regulation scoreless (see full recap)

Point scores in overtime as Lightning beat Blackhawks
TAMPA, Fla. — Falling behind Chicago and staging a comeback has become the norm for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Brayden Point scored a power-play goal 3:25 into overtime, and the Lightning rallied again to beat the Blackhawks 3-2 on Wednesday night.

Point took a pass from Steven Stamkos while positioned near the post and put the winner past Corey Crawford and complete a three-goal rally.

"To be down 2-0 to a team as good as Chicago, it was a great bounce-back performance," Stamkos said.

Chicago was short-handed after Nick Schmaltz was sent off for slashing at 3:10 (see full recap)

Flyers suffer heartbreaking overtime loss to extend skid to 6

Flyers suffer heartbreaking overtime loss to extend skid to 6

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK -- The book entitled “Finding Different Ways to Lose” is growing thicker by the game.

Josh Bailey scored on his own rebound just 32 seconds into overtime to give the Islanders the extra point and a 4-3 overtime win over the Flyers on Wednesday night at the Barclays Center (see observations). The Flyers appeared to have the play covered until defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere lost track of Bailey, who missed on his first attempt but converted on his second effort to hand the visitors a sixths straight defeat.

“Everyone goes through different struggles,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “There’s a growing rule for everybody. Right now, Ghost is one of the elder statesmen on the back end there and sometimes that has a way of putting extra weight on your shoulders. I just think it’s a stretch that he’s going to get through. He’s doing a lot of really good things. He’s just got to get back to where he was before he was out a few games with that injury.”

In the eight games since returning from an injury where he was slammed hard into the boards in Toronto, Gostisbehere has struggled mightily in the defensive end. However, the Flyers’ problems over the course of their current six-game losing streak extend well beyond just one player. The penalty kill has completely fallen apart as the team has allowed seven power-play goals in the last three games. The units have also killed off just four of the last 11 power-play chances.

It’s a two-fold problem. The Flyers are creating self-inflicting wounds and the penalty kill isn’t outworking the opponents’ power play unit. Of course, it didn’t help when Sam Morin, who making his season debut, gave the Islanders a two-man advantage when he flipped the puck into the stands for a delay of game penalty.

“We’re right there. We kind of put ourselves in another bad position when we took a 5-on-3,” goaltender Brian Elliott said. “It’s still biting us in the butt a little bit. I thought we played a really good game. I think we’re right there. We just need to turn that corner.”

“Can’t pinpoint one thing. It’s just got be better,” Wayne Simmonds said. “Yeah, they’re going to score. You take a ton of penalties, teams are good enough in this league. Individual skill in this league is through the roof. Guys are going to make plays, especially when they’re up a man. Best form of penalty kill is not to be in the box at all.”

Hakstol even elected to switch up his shorthanded personnel in an effort to create a different look and hopefully provide some beneficial change. The Flyers even attempted to light a fuse be calling up Morin and Danick Martel from Lehigh Valley. Martel had six attempted shots (three on net) in just 12 minutes of action in his NHL debut.

“You’ve got to be ready every game,” Martel said. “I got my chance today and I had a really good game and I’m proud of it. I think my stick was a bit tight today, so that’s why I missed the net a couple of times.”

The Flyers did finally receive some secondary scoring to complement their top line of Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier and Jakub Voracek. Coming into this game, that group had accounted for 46 percent of the team’s goal production. Taylor Leier opened the scoring with his first goal of the season and Michael Raffl scored his first point in 43 games with a breakaway goal that gave the Flyers a 2-1 lead.

“It’s a little bit different role playing with T.K. (Travis Konecny) and Fil (Valtteri Filppula) out there,” Raffl said. “You get a little more offensive looks and a little more ice time out there. You’ve got to take advantage of that. I feel pretty good out there. I’m fit. I have nothing bothering me right now, so that helps for sure. I told myself, scoring or not, you’ve got to play confident. You can’t get down on yourself.”

After consecutive shutouts to start the losing streak, the Flyers have scored the first goal in each of their last four games with an inability to play with a lead: 2-0 at Winnipeg, 3-1 vs. Calgary 1-0 vs. Winnipeg and 2-1 at New York Islanders.

Four games, four leads and just two points to show for it. 

“It stinks to work real hard to earn that point, and then we gave it away too easily,” Hakstol said. “That’s the part that hurts a little bit. I’m looking for growth in all the areas. Really, tonight, I was looking for the true test of the character of our team, and our team answered and played a helluva character game.”

Friday, it’s Chapter 2 against this same Islanders team. The Flyers are hoping it doesn’t continue to read like the rest.