Flyers

Nolan Patrick's start reminder of rookie life adjusting to NHL

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Nolan Patrick's start reminder of rookie life adjusting to NHL

VOORHEES, N.J. — If Nolan Patrick is to have a long and storied career in the National Hockey League, then perhaps we shouldn’t get caught up in the prologue — that section of a book you likely skim over before you begin chapter one.

This season is Patrick’s prologue — a short blurb that will likely be passed over when the final chapter is eventually written.  

In fact, Flyers GM Ron Hextall reminded us recently that, as an 18-year-old, Joe Thornton scored three goals and seven points in 55 games during his rookie season with the Boston Bruins in 1997-98. Does anyone remember or discuss Year 1 of the Thornton era?

“People forget this stuff,” Hextall said. “These guys are young kids. It’s why some players need time in the minors. It’s a process. It’s hard to go out 82 times against 25, 30-year-old men and play. It’s demanding as hell. People don’t realize that.”

Starting the season on the Flyers' second line with Jordan Weal and Wayne Simmonds, Patrick, the No. 2 overall pick in this past June's entry draft, was consistently logging 13 and a half minutes a game and contributing offensively despite inconsistencies while acclimating and adjusting to playing at a much higher pace. Then came the hit against the Anaheim Ducks on Oct. 24 and the prolonged post-concussion period that lasted for nearly a month.

Recently, the mistakes have piled up with turnovers and poor positional play, and head coach Dave Hakstol has cut Patrick’s ice time. The rookie averaged a little below nine minutes during the recent three-game Western Canada sweep.

“Patrick’s 19 years old. He’s a kid,” Hextall said. “I know people want more out of him. We want more out of him, but he’s a 19-year-old. People think because a kid’s got a big name, he’s drafted high, he’s going to come into the league and bang, he’s going to make an instant impact.

“He’s shown enough of signs that he can compete at this level and be a factor, and that’s what you want with a young kid. I don’t like putting young kids on a team that aren’t a factor. Why would he even be on your team? Nolan has shown at times he can be a factor and he needs to get better as the year goes on.”

Patrick’s season is more than anything a by-product of last year in juniors with the WHL's Brandon Wheat Kings when he suffered a muscle tear in the midsection area that went misdiagnosed. Admittedly, he was never performing at 100 percent while fighting through pain and discomfort. 

While the majority of non-playoff NHLers begin their offseason regimen sometime in May, Patrick barely did anything. He worked out prior to combine testing in June leading up to the draft, and only after meeting with renowned core muscle surgeon Dr. William Meyers in Philadelphia did Patrick realize his injuries were career-threatening. 

Had Patrick gone through an injury-free season with the Wheat Kings and a full offseason to recover from normal nagging injuries all players go through, he would have been back in the gym before the first round of the NHL playoffs had commenced.  

“I think [Brandon] lost out in April, so obviously I would have liked to have that whole time to train and work on my game, but my body had other ideas for me,” Patrick said. “The big thing for me was I was hoping I was in good enough shape to do well with fitness testing and all of that. I only had a month to train. That was kind of the main thing I was worried about.”

A second surgery followed with a four-to-six week recovery and then came a bizarre abscess/boil that prevented him from skating in late July. By the time Patrick started working out in August, he was a good two months behind even the most experienced veterans. 

“He didn’t have a regular offseason, didn’t play a lot last year," Hextall said. "It’s not an excuse, but those are things you got to look at. This is where he’s at right now, and Nolan has done some goods things for us. Does he need to do better? Yeah, he does.”

Just about every player would like to rewrite their rookie season, especially those who came into the league as a teenager. Prior to Patrick, Sean Couturier was the last Flyer to play in the NHL the same year he was drafted. In Couturier’s case, he had the luxury of playing on a talented in 2011-12 team while focusing on his role as a fourth-line defensive center.

“It’s all about getting adapted to a new lifestyle,” Couturier said of transitioning to the NHL as a teenager. “Everything’s new. You’re going from juniors, being with a bunch of 17 and 18-year-olds, and all of a sudden, you’re with men. It’s definitely a big change in your life. Offseason training, nutrition — a lot of little details matter.

“I think Nolan’s figuring it out, but you can see he’s got all the potential to succeed. I’m not too worried about him to be honest."

Eventually Patrick will turn the page on his career. It just might not come this season.

What are Flyers made of? We're about to find out

What are Flyers made of? We're about to find out

VOORHEES, N.J. — The Penguins have the Flyers on the canvas in a headlock.

The faces of the guys who wear orange and black are turning purple, and unless they put up a courageous fight as they did in Game 2, they will tap out of this best-of-seven series after just five games (see story).

General manager Ron Hextall spoke to the media for the first time since the series started and believes the Flyers have displayed a lack of mental fortitude through the first four games.

“A lot of it is mentality,” Hextall said. “We need to be stronger if a bump goes the other way. We need to be stronger and bounce back and create energy going back our way. The playoffs are a series of momentum [swings] — within a period and within a game. We need to do a better job of bringing the momentum back our way."

So where exactly does that start? The return of Sean Couturier would help considerably.

After sitting out Game 4’s 5-0 loss, the Selke Trophy finalist hasn’t ruled out playing in Game 5 after skating Wednesday and Thursday on his own. Hextall said Couturier would travel to Pittsburgh and nothing more than that.

“I’m feeling better every day, and we’ll see how I feel tomorrow,” Couturier said. “It’s really on me to see how I feel every day and hopefully, it keeps getting better. It’s really up to my body to see how it keeps progressing.”

Dave Hakstol switched up his lines once again Thursday, most notably installing Valtteri Filppula onto the top line with Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek and breaking up the top defense pairing of Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere.

Robert Hagg is also expected to make his series debut, playing alongside Andrew MacDonald as fellow rookie Travis Sanheim will serve as the healthy scratch.

“About time,” Hagg said. “I’m looking forward to it tomorrow. Hopefully, I can bring something to the team, some energy. I think it’s perfect and I can’t wait to go in and show what I can bring to the team.”

“He brings a different element than a couple of guys in the lineup if we’re so inclined to make that change,” Hakstol said. “We haven’t generated very much over the last five periods, but at the same time, we’ve given up quite a bit in some of the harder areas.”

Toward the end of Thursday’s 45-minute practice, Giroux gathered his teammates around and delivered a speech he hopes can galvanize the Flyers for Game 5 and bring the series back to Philadelphia for Game 6.

“I think it’s believing in ourselves," Giroux said. "All year we’ve done that, and we’ve talked about it before. You lose 10 in a row and find a way to make the playoffs. Tomorrow’s a big game for us, and if we’re going to go down, we’re going to go down swinging.”

Quick hits
• Speaking on the collision with Radko Gudas, Couturier said, "We've done this drill all year. It was bad timing and a fluke accident. There's no one to really blame, and I should have maybe had my head up there."

• Hextall believes Couturier should be the Selke Trophy front-runner based on his outstanding 2017-18 season.

"I think he should win it," Hextall said. "I know those other players fairly well, and yes, I watch Coots on a daily basis, but the two-way game that he brings to our team is in my mind, the best in the league this year."

• Penguins forward Patric Hornqvist will miss his second straight game.

Ding dong, the Flyers-Penguins rivalry is gone

Ding dong, the Flyers-Penguins rivalry is gone

Michal Neuvirth stood by his locker Wednesday night dejected, like the rest of his teammates, after the Flyers’ latest blunder, an embarrassing 5-0 loss on home ice to the Penguins in Game 4.

The Flyers are on the brink of elimination to the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions, and Wednesday's defeat was the latest reminder of their current state of affairs.

"Definitely good to get in the mix," said Neuvirth, who replaced Brian Elliott in the second period for his first game action since March 28. "But tough outcome tonight. We lost it to a better team tonight."

With that, Neuvirth perfectly encapsulated exactly where the Flyers stand in this first-round playoff series with Pittsburgh. It's definitely good to be in the mix, and they lost to the better team.

We've heard that before and we'll hear it again, but it doesn't make it any easier to swallow. This Flyers team isn't quite there yet, to compete with the Penguins or in the playoffs.

There are encouraging signs. The postseason experience will pay off in the long run — it's better than not being there. Nolan Patrick, 19, has perhaps been the Flyers' most consistent forward in the series. He was the only player who competed Wednesday.

But goaltending remains an eyesore and rookie mistakes are consistently being made by veterans, and some appear immune to accountability. Game 4 was as ugly as it gets (see story), and that's counting a series that included a 7-0 loss in Game 1.

The Flyers were never really in Wednesday's game outside of about a two-minute stretch in the first period, when they were buzzing in the Pittsburgh zone until a Scott Laughton centering pass turned into a Penguins odd-man rush.

Bang, 2-0 Pittsburgh. Ballgame.

"From our standpoint," Dave Hakstol said, "we have to look from within. There's going to be momentum swings, there are going to be pushes, but we haven't been able to reestablish our game quick enough to give ourselves an opportunity."

Wednesday served as another grim reminder. This Flyers-Penguins rivalry, well, isn't much of a rivalry and hasn't been one in quite some time now.

Coming into this series, we heard the old storylines, about how much these two teams hate each other, how close games are, but the hate hasn't been there for a while and the games, they haven't been close, either.

The Penguins have dominated the Flyers, this season especially. With the 5-0 win Wednesday, the Pens have outscored the Flyers, 38-17, in eight total games and 20-4 in games played at the Wells Fargo Center.

The hype machine was on full blast and we all bought into it. It's the playoffs, different animal, but some things never change no matter the environment.

At some point, it's time to bury the hatchet.

It was fun while it lasted, but for now, the Flyers-Penguins rivalry is no more.