Flyers-Kings thoughts: A look at the ties, possible lineup decisions

Flyers-Kings thoughts: A look at the ties, possible lineup decisions

Flyers (1-0-0) at Kings (0-0-0)
10 p.m. on NBCSP, and the NBC Sports App; Pregame Live at 9:30

The Flyers crashed one home opener already. They'll try to do it again Thursday night when they continue their season-opening four-game road trip with a matchup against the Los Angeles Kings at the STAPLES Center.

A Wayne Simmonds hat trick led the Flyers to a 5-3 victory over the San Jose Sharks Wednesday night, giving San Jose its first loss in a season opener since 2009-10 (see story).

Like last season, the Kings host the Flyers to open their home slate.

Let's get you set for puck drop with some thoughts on Game 2 of the season.

• The Flyers face an old friend here. John Stevens enters his first year as head coach of the Kings. The last time he served as a full-time NHL bench boss was with the Flyers for parts of four seasons from 2006-10 (see story). He went 120-109-34 over that span, leading the Flyers to two playoff appearances before being fired in December 2009, during the season in which Peter Laviolette took over and rallied the club to the Stanley Cup Final.

• The Flyers, of course, have plenty of other ties with the Kings. General manager Ron Hextall served Los Angeles as assistant GM the year it won the Stanley Cup in 2012. Dean Lombardi, now with the Flyers in a role not yet announced, was the GM of that club. Lombardi, who was a scout for the Flyers from 2003 to 2006, was fired by the Kings back in April.

And, of course, we all know how Jeff Carter relates to the Flyers. After leading the team with 36 goals in 2010-11, Carter was traded to the Blue Jackets for Jakub Voracek, a 2011 first-round pick the Flyers used on Sean Couturier and a 2011 third-round selection on Nick Cousins. In February 2012, Carter was shipped to Los Angeles, where he's won two Stanley Cups. Last season, he put up his best numbers (32 goals, 66 points) since that 2010-11 campaign in Philadelphia.

Also, Kings assistant coach Don Nachbaur was on the Phantoms' staff under Stevens in the early 2000s. He played for the Flyers, as well, from 1985 to 1990.

• Now to the game. How fun is it to watch Simmonds? He is so proficient at playing in front of the net, and doing so requires serious skill. The hand-eye coordination on his deflection goal — the second marker of his hat-trick performance Wednesday — is a strength he's developed, becoming one of the NHL's best at parking in front of the goalie and doing damage.

No surprise he's off to a hot start again. If you recall, Simmonds began last season with four markers in five games. Tonight, he's in an area he knows well, facing his old team and playing where he won the 2017 NHL All-Star Game MVP.

• Playing the second game of a back-to-back set, the Flyers did not hold a morning skate, so line combinations, defensive pairings and the starting goalie are all uncertain. But one thing we've learned with head coach Dave Hakstol is that he likes to roll with what's working. Given the Flyers are coming off a positive and productive season opener, changes seem unlikely — so if you want defensemen Brandon Manning and Andrew MacDonald out of the lineup, don't expect it.

So, the probable scratches again: Jori Lehtera, Sam Morin, Travis Sanheim.

An interesting decision comes in net. Brian Elliott received the nod Wednesday and wasn't lights out, but stood strong late and saved 32 of 35 shots faced for his first win in a Flyers jersey. However, Elliott was not great against the Kings last season, going 2-2-0 with a 2.98 goals-against average and .902 save percentage. Neuvirth, on the other hand, was excellent against Los Angeles last season, winning the season opener while putting up a 1.47 GAA and .943 save percentage in two matchups.

• The Flyers' power play had great life Wednesday, needing just 1:09 man-advantage time to score three goals and eventually finish 3 for 5. Things won't be easy tonight as the Kings delivered an 84.5 penalty-kill percentage in 2016-17, fifth best in the league.

• There's a stud defenseman in this one and another up-and-coming on the other side. For Los Angeles, Drew Doughty, 27, is one of the best at his position, while Ivan Provorov is a burgeoning blueliner that is already eating up ice time for the Flyers at only 20 years old. Oh, and Shayne Gostisbehere isn't too shabby. He collected three assists in the season opener.

• The Flyers have won nine of their last 12 road games against the Kings. They have not won their first two games of a regular season since 2011-12. Meanwhile, Los Angeles hasn't won a season opener since 2013-14.

Pekka Rinne notches milestone in Predators' rout

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Pekka Rinne notches milestone in Predators' rout

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Pekka Rinne made 33 saves in his 300th career win and the Nashville Predators routed the San Jose Sharks 7-1 on Thursday night.

Nick Bonino, Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson each had a goal and an assist, and Scott Hartnell, Kevin Fiala and Mattias Ekholm also scored for Nashville, which has won three straight. The Predators moved within one point of expansion Vegas for the Western Conference lead.

Nashville defensemen Roman Josi and P.K. Subban each had two assists.

All of Rinne's wins have come with Nashville. He tied former Predators goalie Tomas Vokoun for 33rd place in NHL history.

Logan Couture had the San Jose goal. The loss snapped the Sharks' three-game winning streak (see full recap).

Wild use big 2nd period to top Devils
NEWARK, N.J. -- Joel Eriksson Ek and Chris Stewart scored in a 39-second span during Minnesota's three-goal second period, and the Wild rallied from two down to beat the New Jersey Devils 4-2 on Thursday night.

Wild defenseman Mike Reilly also scored in the second period and Eric Staal iced the game with an empty-net goal, his 900th NHL point. Backup goalie Alex Stalock made 38 saves as the Wild moved into third place in the Central Division after winning for the 11th time in 17 games (11-3-3).

Taylor Hall and Stefan Noesen scored for the Devils, who have lost two in a row after a four-game winning streak. Eddie Lack made 21 saves.

Hall's 13-game point streak is the longest in NHL this season, one more than David Pastrnak of Boston.

Minnesota coach Bruce Boudreau made the right moves in this one, inserting Reilly and Stewart into the lineup and electing to give No. 1 goaltender Devan Dubnyk a night off (see full recap).

Matthews exits Maple Leafs’ SO victory with injury
TORONTO -- Tyler Bozak scored the shootout winner and the Toronto Maple Leafs edged the New York Islanders 4-3 on Thursday night.

Auston Matthews tipped in Jake Gardiner's shot to tie it 3-all with 3:29 remaining in the third period, but later left the game favoring his right side after taking a hit from Cal Clutterbuck and did not return. The 20-year-old Toronto star missed six games in December with a concussion and another four games with an undisclosed upper-body injury.

Mitch Marner and Morgan Rielly had the other Maple Leafs goals, and Frederik Andersen made 32 saves. Toronto (38-20-5) has won eight straight at home.

Ryan Pulock, Mathew Barzal and Jordan Eberle scored for the Islanders (29-26-7), and Jaroslav Halak turned aside 28 shots. New York, one point out of a wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference, dropped to 4-6-2 since the All-Star break and 13-15-3 on the road this season.

With his three points, Barzal has a team-leading 65 and a 14-point lead over Brock Boeser of the Vancouver Canucks in the NHL's rookie scoring race (see full recap).

Here comes Nolan Patrick, just in time for Flyers

Here comes Nolan Patrick, just in time for Flyers


When Dave Hakstol was hired on May 18, 2015, to become the 19th head coach of the Flyers, there was an underlying belief that given his collegiate pedigree, Hakstol was the perfect bench boss to handle the team's homegrown prospects.

However, as we’ve seen over the course of three seasons, the progression of a young player doesn’t always continue on an upward trajectory from the moment they start their NHL career.

As he juggles a roster that is now the youngest in the Eastern Conference following injuries to Brian Elliott and Wayne Simmonds, Hakstol appears to be pushing all of the right buttons, including those connected with the organization’s most prized prospect, Nolan Patrick.

Thursday night’s 2-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets further exemplified that as Patrick scored a power-play goal in his second straight game (see observations). With the injury to Simmonds, Hakstol believed Patrick could slide seamlessly into Simmonds' net-front role on the top unit, and the rookie has yet to disappoint his coach or teammates.

“I think there’s a little less pressure,” Patrick said. “You don’t have the puck on your stick as much. I think my shots are something I need to improve on. It’s kind of nice for me to be there and not try and beat goalies with my shots. I like it there.”

Hakstol recognized early in the opening month of the season that Patrick wasn’t quite ready to handle the role of being a top-six forward, but over the course of an 82-game season, he has gradually given the 19-year-old center more responsibility and Patrick has proved he’s deserving of the coach’s trust.

“His approach, his hockey sense and his intelligence is what gives him an opportunity to be successful in any situation,” Hakstol said. “Each time we’ve been able to give him more of an opportunity, he’s taken advantage of that. Nolan is doing a lot of those little things on a nightly basis — up and down the middle of the rink, playing a good 200-foot game, and the fact he’s taken pride in that is the foundation of his game.”

“He’s been great,” Patrick said of Hakstol. “When I first got here, they made me work for everything. They didn’t put me in situations I wasn’t ready for. Even now, when I’m not playing great, he does what’s best for the team. He’ll hold me back or not put me out there when I’m struggling on faceoffs. He notices that and he’s been huge for me.”

And Patrick has been huge for the Flyers. He’s now scored a goal in three straight games. 

You’re never quite sure when the future will eventually catch up to the present, but with the help of his head coach, it’s coming at just the right time for Nolan Patrick.