Nolan Patrick practices, nears return to Flyers

Nolan Patrick practices, nears return to Flyers

VOORHEES, N.J. — Rookie Nolan Patrick practiced with Flyers teammates Monday for the first time since late October and will accompany the team on its two-game road trip to Minnesota and Winnipeg.

“It was good,” Patrick said Monday after practice. “It was fun to get back out there and be a part of the team again. It was a pretty short skate but it was good."

Patrick, who was injured when his head slammed against the glass Oct. 24 vs. Anaheim, last skated with the team during the Flyers’ trip to Toronto in late October, and after he was scratched prior to the game against the Maple Leafs, the organization backed off Patrick's practice regimen. It remains to be seen how much practice time the prized rookie will require to get ready for the pace of a regular-season game.

“It’s early in the process,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “He’s on the front end of conditioning, timing and there’s a lot of things that have to come back to game level. That’s no different for any player, but certainly for a young player, he’s at the front end of that and he’ll continue to work hard at that.”   

By every indication, Patrick, along with Matt Read, will be the extra skaters when the Flyers head to Minnesota to face the Wild on Tuesday in the second leg of their home-and-home series. However, if given the opportunity, Patrick would love to play in front of friends and family in his hometown of Winnipeg, where the Flyers will square off with the Jets on Thursday.

“It would be pretty cool to play in my hometown,” said Patrick, who grew up about 15 minutes from the MTS Centre in Winnipeg and still remembers the exact day the NHL announced the Jets were coming back to Winnipeg on May 31, 2011.

“Yeah, I was in grade eight (8th grade) when they got the team. It was obviously pretty exciting. I was in home-ec class sewing when I found out that the team was coming back. I was making some brutal sweater I think. Obviously it was pretty cool for Winnipeg and everyone around the city was pretty fired up for that.”  

Without Patrick in the lineup, the Flyers were shut out a league-leading fourth time Saturday when the Wild escaped Philadelphia with a 1-0 win. Hakstol elected to rearrange the furniture, so to speak, during Monday’s practice. While the top line of Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier and Jakub Voracek has consistently excelled this season and the “Honey Bees” line of Taylor Leier, Scott Laughton and Michael Raffl has generated some buzz in the offensive end of the ice, the middle lines have been stagnant during even-strength play.

Jordan Weal moved to center from left wing Monday on a line with Wayne Simmonds and Dale Weise, suggesting Hakstol is looking for more speed down the middle of the ice. Weal scored in the season opener in San Jose, but has just one goal in his last 14 games since.

“I don’t think the numbers not being there are indicative of how the play has been,” Weal said. “I’ve played a lot of games at center ice. I’ve probably played 200 games professionally as a centerman and 400 junior games as a centerman. I’ve played a lot of center. It’s not something that’s foreign to me.”

“It’s a different mix,” Hakstol said. “Sometimes just a little bit of a change has a way of breaking things loose. It’s a little different look for Weal, as well as his linemates, and something that could add a little bit of a spark.”

“We've got to do a better job getting to the net, mucking it up and getting greasy," Simmonds said. "I haven’t been very good myself for probably the last 10 games. It’s up to me and the rest of the guys to get our nose dirty. We’ve been shut out four times in 17 games, so it’s unacceptable.”

After a strong defensive performance in St. Louis against his former team, Jori Lehtera and his offensive play have lagged recently and the offense has been nonexistent as Lehtera has generated just four shots on goal over his last seven games with no points to show. Hakstol chose to move Lehtera back to left wing on a line with center Valtteri Filppula and right winger Travis Konecny, the latter of whom certainly seems out of place on that line.

“It’s a new look,” Konecny said. “We’ll see how it pans out. Lehts (Lehtera) and Fil (Filppula) have a little bit of a connection there. They feed off each other so it could definitely work, so we’ll see how it plays out.” 

General manager Ron Hextall said Saturday he was hopeful that Andrew MacDonald could rejoin the team for the first time in over three weeks after taking a puck to the side of his leg in a game against the Edmonton Oilers on Oct. 21. However, MacDonald did not skate and the team chose to recall Mark Alt from Lehigh Valley. Alt will serve as the Flyers' seventh defenseman on their two-game road trip.

Projected lines vs. Wild

Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
Dale Weise-Jordan Weal-Wayne Simmonds
Jori Lehtera-Valtteri Filppula-Travis Konecny
Taylor Leier-Scott Lauhgton-Michael Raffl

Ivan Provorov-Robert Hagg
Brandon Manning-Shayne Gostisbehere
Travis Sanheim-Radko Gudas

Brian Elliott
Michal Neuvirth

Capitals regain top spot in Metro as Ovechkin scores NHL-best 35th goal

USA Today Images

Capitals regain top spot in Metro as Ovechkin scores NHL-best 35th goal

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Alex Ovechkin can stop fretting about what the Washington Capitals captain described as the worst game of his career.

He and the Capitals were much better in a 3-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Monday, two days after a 7-1 meltdown at Chicago.

After being held without a shot against Chicago, Ovechkin responded by scoring his NHL-leading 35th goal, and Washington reclaimed the top spot in the Metropolitan Division

"Yeah, I think the last game I didn't play my game. I think it was the worst play of my career by myself. I take the blame on it," Ovechkin said. "I think we understand the game in Chicago was just forget about it, you know. We moved forward. We got two points."

Capitals coach Barry Trotz noticed how much more involved Ovechkin was against Buffalo, particularly after a few early exchanges with Sabres defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen (see full recap.)

Marchand's OT goal gives Bruins win over Flames 
CALGARY, Alberta — Brad Marchand scored his 22nd goal 3:36 into overtime to give the Boston Bruins a 2-1 victory over the Calgary Flames on Monday.

After a turnover deep in the Flames end, Riley Nash sprung the Bruins' leading scorer on a breakaway and Marchand made no mistake, slipping the puck through the pads of David Rittich.

David Pastrnak also scored for Boston (36-13-8), which moved within one point of Tampa Bay for first place in the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference. Boston has two games in hand.

Matthew Tkachuk scored for the Flames (30-21-9), who fell to 1-3-4 in their last eight home games.

With the teams meeting for the second time in six days, Calgary was territorially outplayed by a wide margin in the first period but Rittich kept the Flames in it (see full recap.)

Cullen, Ennis star in Wild win against Islanders 
NEW YORK — Minnesota knows it needs to play better on the road to strengthen its push for a playoff spot. The Wild also want to do a better job of holding third-period leads than they have lately.

They accomplished both Monday against the New York Islanders.

Matt Cullen and Tyler Ennis scored in Minnesota's three-goal second period, and the Wild beat the Islanders 5-3. Jason Zucker added two goals, Joel Eriksson Ek also scored, and Devan Dubnyk stopped 32 shots as Minnesota improved to 4-1-2 in its past seven games.

The Wild just lost three of five on their homestand, including twice when they gave up the tying goal in the third period before falling after regulation.

"Having the lead in the second and keeping it is really good for us," Zucker said (see full recap.)

Arvidsson scores twice in Predators' win vs. Senators 
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Viktor Arvidsson scored twice to reach 20 goals this season, and the Nashville Predators beat the Ottawa Senators 5-2 on Monday night.

Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis and Craig Smith also scored for Nashville, which ended a two-game skid and tied Winnipeg for first place in the Central Division.

The Predators recorded two power-play goals and scored on the man advantage in their second straight game after going six games without converting on the power play.

Pekka Rinne made 36 saves to earn his 30th win of the season.

Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Max McCormick scored for the Senators, who played catch-up most of the game. Craig Anderson stopped 36 shots (see full recap.)

Goaltending help is on the way for the Flyers

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Goaltending help is on the way for the Flyers

With injuries to Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth, the Flyers wasted no time in finding a competent goaltender.

General manager Ron Hextall acquired Petr Mrazek from the Detroit Red Wings late Monday night in exchange for a conditional fourth-round pick in 2018 and a conditional third-round pick in 2019. According to sources, the Flyers were also in discussions with Toronto regarding Calvin Pickard but ultimately settled for Mrazek.

“We’re excited to have obtained Petr Mrazek. Petr is a proven NHL goaltender and given the situation we’re in, we needed a proven goaltender and we got one,” said Hextall. 

Hextall confirmed if the Flyers make the playoffs and Mrazek wins five regular season games, the 2018 fourth-round pick becomes a third rounder. If the Flyers advance to the Eastern Conference Finals and Mrazek wins six playoff games, the third-round pick then becomes a second rounder.

If the Flyers re-sign Mrazek for next season, then the Red Wings would also get the Flyers' third-round selection in 2019.

“Quite frankly when I look at this deal, I think it’s a fair and reasonable deal for both sides,” Hextall said. “If Petr performs, we pay more and Detroit gets more. I like the makeup of this deal. I think it’s a fair deal and I think both teams got what they wanted.”

Hextall had reportedly turned down Mrazek for a third-round pick last week, according to Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press, but that was prior to Neuvirth’s injury Sunday against the Rangers. Hextall also announced that Neuvirth is out “long-term” meaning weeks and not days, and quite possibly the remainder of the regular season.

As a backup to Jimmy Howard, Mrazek has appeared in 18 games this season with an 8-7-3 record, a 2.89 GAA and a .910 save percentage. In January, Mrazek posted back-to-back shutouts against the Blackhawks and the Devils before the Flyers snapped Mrazek’s shutout streak at 145 minutes and five seconds in a 3-2 overtime loss. 

The Red Wings will retain half of Mrazek’s $4 million salary in the deal, leaving the Flyers with a reasonable $2 million cap hit. He’s a restricted free agent at the end of this season.

Since Dec. 4, the Flyers are 21-8-3 and have climbed up the Metropolitan Division standings where they’re currently tied with the New Jersey Devils for third place with 70 points.

“This is a sign that our players have done a really good job,” Hextall said. “They’ve worked extremely hard. We’re in a tough situation. You lose your two goalies when you’re fighting for a playoff spot and our players have worked hard for a long time now. I didn’t feel like it was fair to not have a proven NHL goaltender for this team.” 

Mrazek is expected to join the Flyers for Tuesday's morning skate.