Kids will be kids — and the Flyers love it

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Kids will be kids — and the Flyers love it

VOORHEES, N.J. — Dave Hakstol has devised a lot of successful combinations this season.

Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier. Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere.

But the Flyers' coach is not about to take credit for the unique and rather quirky pairing of Nolan Patrick and Travis Konecny.

Oh, they have chemistry alright, even though it has nothing to do with the head coach’s line combinations.

Konecny and Patrick’s bond started to become apparent once they began sharing a hotel room on road trips. 

“I started with Provorov and then a few guys got called up and then we switched off and we started rooming together,” Patrick said Wednesday. “It just kind of happened. We have a really good relationship and it’s been lots of fun.”

Patrick can’t put his finger on it precisely, but a rough estimate for when it happened would be sometime around the holidays when the Flyers were laboring through a 1-2-1 stretch not long after their six-game winning streak.

Conveniently, their “buddy system” has spilled over into the locker room whether it’s a routine day of practice, a morning skate or a thrilling overtime win. If they’re at the Skate Zone in Voorhees, New Jersey, or in the visitor’s locker room of the opposition’s arena, the nameplates of Konecny and Patrick are always right next to each other. The two bang into each other while also expressing this juvenile sense of humor that only they seem to understand.

Watching their behavior is reminiscent of the days of spit wads, wet willies and flicking your best friend in the ear lobe — at least in my generation.

“He probably brings out the immaturity in me a little bit,” Patrick said. “He’s a really funny guy and I don’t know if he ever runs out of energy. He’s always talking 24/7. He’s just a pretty funny guy.”

These kind of relationships are commonly formed in college dormitories, but Patrick and Konecny are forging that bond now at hockey’s highest level. Patrick always knew about Konecny and vice versa, but considering Patrick played in the Western Hockey League and Konecny was honing his skills in the Ontario Hockey League, their paths never crossed until the Flyers drafted Patrick this past summer.

“It developed right when I got here,” Patrick said. “He was a super nice guy to me when I got here. He made me feel welcomed here.”

They’re now the odd couple with a lot in common. Obviously passionate about hockey, they also share a love of the outdoors whether it’s hunting or fishing, and they apparently possess a sense of humor that Beavis and Butt-Head would seem to appreciate, especially with their movie selections.

“They’re just stupid, funny movies,” Patrick said. “A lot of guys give it to us that they’re the dumbest movies ever. We just cry laughing watching them.”

“I feel like I’m quoting their movies as much as they are,” Jordan Weal said. “It’s pretty funny when you see those two getting together. It’s fun to join in and get the banter going. It’s a 19 and a 20-year-old kid. They’re having a lot of fun, they’re playing really well. They’re getting to room together on the road all over the country. They’re having fun right now and it’s good to see.”

It should come as little surprise that both Patrick and Konecny have elevated their play since they became road trip roommates. Konecny has torn it up on a line with Giroux and Couturier, and Patrick has become much more assertive offensively over the past few weeks and is now centering Jakub Voracek and Wayne Simmonds. Following Tuesday’s 2-1 win over Carolina, Patrick was awarded the Rick Flair “Nature Boy” robe as the game’s top player for the first time this season, and when Patrick scored the game-tying goal with 2.6 seconds remaining against the Senators, Konecny rushed over to celebrate. 

The Patrick-Konecny dynamic is a reminder throughout this intensity-filled season with the tension and stress that comes in the constant battle for playoff positioning, they’re still just kids enjoying a kid’s game.

Wednesday morning was another optional skate that many veterans sat out in an effort to rest their bodies, but Patrick and Konecny were right there along with the healthy scratches from the previous night. 

“Sometimes when you get in late and you've got to come to the rink the next day and have a practice, it’s always nice to have guys who keep it loose and keep it light to lift the spirits up a bit,” Weal said.

“That’s a hard thing to do. There are expectations among everybody individually,” Hakstol said. “There are a lot of things that go into being positive and productive when you come to the rink. Those two guys continue to grow together and the fact that they can help each other in doing that a little bit, I think that’s a positive. If those two young guys can draw off one another, that’s good for our team.”

Why Nolan Patrick is such a power-play fit

Why Nolan Patrick is such a power-play fit

Replacing Wayne Simmonds on the power play may be one of the toughest assignments in the NHL.

After all, the guy is second to only Alex Ovechkin with 85 man-advantage goals since the 2011-12 season.

So when the predicament actually faced Dave Hakstol this week, the Flyers' head coach turned to … a 19-year-old rookie.

Why Nolan Patrick?

Three components of the decision stand out:

Intelligence factor
Leading up the NHL draft, the overwhelming strength of Patrick's scouting report was his hockey sense.

Those close to him, as well as draft experts, lauded Patrick for comprehending plays before they even happen and being above the ice in understanding spacing.

Those characteristics are crucial when having an extra man.

Patrick has two goals over two games filling in for the injured Simmonds on the Flyers' top power-play unit. Patrick exhibited his IQ with Thursday's game-winner, where he quickly planted himself right in front of the net, had the presence of mind to find the puck and then bury it past Sergei Bobrovsky.

"We told him, just stand in front, if you see a puck, bring it home," Shayne Gostisbehere said. "We tried to simplify it for him and he's going to take care of it himself, he's a great hockey player. It's paying off for him."

All about the touch
Patrick has excellent hands.

Put him around the net, and he'll know how to deflect pucks and find holes in a goalie. His vision, skill and finesse are why he's regarded as such an all-around playmaker.

In Tuesday's win, Patrick found immediate success with the first power-play group. Making his way to the middle, Patrick took a Claude Giroux pass and showed off that touch, adeptly going top shelf as Carey Price went low.

Studying Simmonds' net-front proficiency hasn't hurt, either.

"I watch him every game, he's unbelievable there and good at tipping pucks and making plays," Patrick said. "You learn from just watching every day."

Building up the kid
With time, Hakstol and the Flyers have allowed for Patrick to become comfortable instead of putting the world on his shoulders from the get-go.

That's part of Patrick's makeup.

"He almost always wants to be comfortable and then he really starts to exert himself," Patrick's uncle, James, said to NBC Sports Philadelphia last June

We're starting to see Patrick let loose.

As the Flyers have gradually upped his opportunity and responsibility, Patrick has eight points (five goals, three assists) in his last 12 games after putting up six (two goals, four assists) over his previous 34.

Placing Patrick among the team's best talent on the man advantage will only help with his confidence moving forward, in all situations.

The Flyers' power play entered Friday with the NHL's sixth-best percentage at 21.6.

It'll need more of Patrick — but the Flyers couldn't have asked for a much better start to life without Simmonds over the next two to three weeks.

Streaking Penguins move atop Metro Division

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Streaking Penguins move atop Metro Division

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Phil Kessel and Evgeni Malkin each had two goals and an assist and the Pittsburgh Penguins routed the Carolina Hurricanes 6-1 on Friday night for their season-best sixth straight victory.

Jake Guentzel had a goal and two assists, Sidney Crosby scored a late goal and Olli Maatta also scored. The Penguins took control with three goals -- two by Kessel -- in a 7:39 span in the second period.

Matt Murray made 27 saves for Pittsburgh, which has won 11 of 13 to overtake idle Washington for first place in the Metropolitan Division. Since the Penguins were shut out by Carolina on Jan. 4, they are 16-3-1.

They were just as busy off the ice, completing a mid-game trade in which they picked up center Derick Brassard from the Ottawa Senators. As part of the complicated three-team deal, they sent defenseman Ian Cole to Ottawa and forward Ryan Reaves to the Vegas Golden Knights.

Teuvo Teravainen scored and Cam Ward stopped 33 shots for the short-handed Hurricanes, who have gone 0-3-1 during a four-game slide that's keeping them outside the Eastern Conference playoff race (see full recap).

Wild dominate skidding Rangers for New York sweep
NEW YORK -- Mikael Granlund and Eric Staal each scored twice and Devan Dubnyk made 22 saves in the Minnesota Wild's 4-1 victory over the free-falling New York Rangers on Friday night.

The Wild completed a three-game sweep of New York-area teams after beating the Monday night and New Jersey on Thursday night.

The Rangers lost for the sixth straight time in regulation. New York is 6-17-0 since beating Buffalo in the Winter Classic on Jan. 1 (see full recap).

Blackhawks’ Berube dominant in 1st Chicago start
CHICAGO -- Jean-Francois Berube made 42 saves in his first start for Chicago to help the Blackhawks beat the San Jose Sharks 3-1 on Friday night.

Defenseman Jan Rutta, activated from injured reserve Friday, and Nick Schmaltz scored, and Artem Anisimov added an empty-netter with 30.5 seconds left.

Anthony Duclair had two assists for the Blackhawks. They won their second straight and third in four games following an eight-game losing streak that dropped them to last place in the Central Division.

Berube lost a bid for this first NHL shutout when Timo Meier scored his 15th goal on a screened shot with 7:51 left in the third period.

Martin Jones stopped 33 shots for the Sharks, coming off a 7-1 loss at Nashville on Thursday night (see full recap).