Flyers

Flyers-Sharks observations: Wayne Simmonds sparks opening win

Flyers-Sharks observations: Wayne Simmonds sparks opening win

BOX SCORE

SAN JOSE, Calif. — The "Wayne Train" was a freight train of goals on opening night Wednesday as Wayne Simmonds notched his second career hat trick in the Flyers' 5-3 season-opening win over the San Jose Sharks.

The Flyers blew a 2-0 lead and a 3-2 lead, but their power play bailed them out as they were able to pull out a win at the Shark Tank for just the third time in their last 22 matchups in San Jose dating back to 2002.

Simmonds scored the Flyers' final three goals of the game, the last of which was an empty-netter with 36 seconds remaining in regulation. The hat trick marked the Flyers' first on opening night in franchise history, according to NHL public relations.

• Brian Elliott got the start in net and appeared to struggle tracking the puck throughout the first period. However, he settled down and closed the door over the final half of the third period to collect his first win with the Flyers. Elliott stopped 32 of 35 shots. 

• One of my preseason keys was how the Flyers had to develop a potent second power-play unit. On its first rush following a change, it worked a perfect give-and-go as Travis Konecny flipped a pass to Jordan Weal, who beat Martin Jones with a cross-ice shot. Weal’s shot was perfectly placed, but it’s still a shot Jones should stop from that angle.

“It was a good breakout and we executed what we wanted to do,” Weal said. “I just put it in a spot where I thought I could either put it in, or if it didn’t go in, it would create a rebound for a guy going to the net. But it found a way in.”

• All of that preseason concern and panic over the Flyers’ power play was a worthless exercise. The Flyers’ two PP units needed just 1:09 to convert its first three power-play opportunities.

• Sharks goaltender Jones essentially put the Flyers on the board first when he hesitated behind his net and then sent a perfect tape-to-tape pass right to Jakub Voracek, who quickly tapped it over to Claude Giroux for a one-time goal in the opening period. Interestingly, Elliott nearly handed the Sharks a goal in the first few minutes of the game when he misjudged a puck, which resulted in an awkward lunge. However, San Jose couldn’t convert on Elliott’s turnover.

• Who in the world is Kevin Labanc and what was he doing on the Sharks’ top line? Well, Labanc proved just what type of player he is with a pair of first-period goals. San Jose’s sixth-round selection (171st overall) in 2014 brought some speed and energy alongside veterans Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski. That’s what the Flyers were hoping for from their 2014 fifth-round pick Oskar Lindblom. One knock on Labanc: he committed the Sharks’ first three minors, two of which resulted in goals for the Flyers.

• On Labanc’s first goal, defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere was caught deep in the offensive zone and the Sharks broke out with what was shaping up to be a 3-on-1. However, the Flyers recovered nicely in their end, and if Elliott would have controlled the rebound, the team would have avoided that early goal. 

• If the Flyers’ top line is to have any sustained success, Sean Couturier has to develop some sort a finishing touch working with Voracek and Giroux. Couturier had a breakaway and after putting a nice move on Jones, the Sharks’ netminder got a piece of the shot with his right pad. Couturier would have scored a goal had he elevated the puck. Still, one benefit with Couturier on that line is the players will have more possession time in the offensive zone. Overall, he was very assertive and he makes that top line tougher to defend.      

• In his NHL debut, Nolan Patrick, the Flyers’ second overall pick, played 13:30 with three shots on net. He also won 5 of 9 faceoffs. Patrick played a responsible game and rarely seemed out of place. For Patrick, I’m sure it’s good to get that first one out of the way. 

• The Flyers are 23-19-8 all-time in season openers, and they’ve now won back-to-back season openers on the West Coast.

Lines, pairings and scratches

Forwards                        
Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek        
Jordan Weal-Nolan Patrick-Wayne Simmonds
Dale Weise-Valtteri Filppula-Travis Konecny
Taylor Leier-Scott Laughton-Michael Raffl

Defensemen
Ivan Provorov-Andrew MacDonald
Shayne Gostisbehere-Robert Hagg
Brandon Manning-Radko Gudas

Goalies
Brian Elliott
Michal Neuvirth

Scratches: Jori Lehtera, Sam Morin, Travis Sanheim.

Flyers' focus shifts toward another busy NHL draft

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USA Today Images

Flyers' focus shifts toward another busy NHL draft

With the Flyers' elimination from the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the team's third-round pick in the 2018 NHL draft was officially transferred over to the Red Wings.

What was originally a fourth-round selection in the acquisition of goaltender Petr Mrazek was upgraded to a third-rounder once Mrazek won five regular-season games and the Flyers qualified for the postseason.

The Flyers could potentially still owe the Red Wings a third-round pick in the 2019 NHL draft if Mrazek is re-signed. However, that seems unlikely with Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth already under contract for next season and Mrazek’s poor play over the final five weeks of the regular season.

In all likelihood, the Flyers will have the 19th overall pick in the June draft, which is scheduled for June 22-23 at American Airlines Center in Dallas. If the Blue Jackets are eliminated before the Eastern Conference Finals, then they will select 18th with the Flyers slotted in at the 19th selection.

Once again, Flyers general manager Ron Hextall will be watching intently during Saturday’s NHL draft lottery, where the Flyers could also acquire the St. Louis Blues' first-round selection.

The Flyers have a 95 percent chance of obtaining the Blues' first pick as compensation in the Brayden Schenn trade that was completed at last year’s draft in Chicago. 

The Blues' pick is top-10 protected, but they have only a five percent chance of moving into the top three — 1.5 percent for No. 1 overall, 1.7 for No. 2, 1.8 for No. 3, 91.8 for No. 14 and 3.2 for No. 15. So, either the Blues draft in the top three, they remain at 14 or fall back to 15.

However, as Hextall discovered just a year ago, anything is possible.

Last year, the Flyers made the monumental leap from the 13th-worst record in the league to obtaining the second overall pick — a lottery move that had just a 2.4 percent chance of falling in their favor. With that selection, the Flyers chose Nolan Patrick.

Swedish defenseman Rasmus Dahlin is the consensus No. 1 pick in this year’s draft and a future cornerstone blueliner. 

The NHL draft lottery is held in Toronto.

Now the pressure really picks up for Dave Hakstol, Flyers

Now the pressure really picks up for Dave Hakstol, Flyers

Dave Hakstol lifted his arm effortlessly with his hand steadily inclining toward the ceiling, almost portraying the takeoff of an airplane.

He was discussing the timeline for young hockey players, which his Flyers have a lot of and will gain only more as the blocks are stacked one by one.

And as the head coach digested a topsy-turvy, season-ending loss, his demonstration depicted what he knew wasn't the case.

"You always want development to be this smooth path and this smooth climb; it doesn't work that way," Hakstol said. "It's kind of a jagged climb, and as long as you're seeing a steady push to improve, then you stick with it and keep pushing in that direction."

The Flyers have been allowed to hit those jagged edges on their climb, like Sunday's 8-5 Game 6 defeat to the Penguins (see story). It was the final swing (and miss) in a best-of-seven first-round playoff matchup with the two-time defending champs, another cut along the grand hike for the Flyers.

But with it came a signal.

This is no longer the bottom of the mountain. The trek has been underway for three seasons and the long view should, expectedly, be coming into focus. In 2018-19, Hakstol will enter the fourth year of a five-year contract, according to CapFriendly.com. The Flyers' core, looking at its peak, will be a year older, as will the foundation pieces, already here and being counted on to drive things forward. 

The Flyers played four rookies in the playoffs, while five of their top eight regular-season goal scorers were 25 years old or younger. 

"For the most part, I liked the growth of our young guys," Hakstol said. "I think they had an opportunity to really see some tough points during the year and figure out how to be a part of battling out of them. They had the opportunity to play through and be part of a playoff push that other teams weren't going away, and we knew that with eight to 10 games to go, we knew that we would have to win our way in. So they had the opportunity to be a part of that and gain that experience of understanding and knowing how hard that is. And they were successful in that."

It resulted in 42 wins and 98 points during the regular season, both highs under Hakstol, surpassing the 41 and 96 set in Year 1. It also led to another first-round exit, the second under Hakstol against a topflight opponent. In those series, the Flyers went 1-5 at home, where they were outscored 26-9.

Harsh yet clear reminders the Flyers aren't where they want to be.

The Penguins, no duh, are. 

"We're working to build toward something like that," Wayne Simmonds said. "I thought we took a step in the right direction this year."

Claude Giroux, the 102-point, 30-year-old captain, sees it, too.

"I know for a fact that we got better as the season went on," Giroux said. "Look at our team last year and look at our team this year. We improved a lot."

While patience is always of the essence with general manager Ron Hextall, Year 4 will demand much more, unlike seasons past. This is Hakstol's team — the blocks are in place, both old and now not so new.

"There's going to be a lot of good and a lot of things that we'll say, 'Hey, these are good steps for our team,'" Hakstol said of this season. "End of the day, we didn't come into this playoff series to make steps, though."

That undoubtedly won't be the objective in 2018-19. It can't be, and the Flyers should know it.