Flyers

Ron Hextall talks Claude Giroux's move to LW, Oskar Lindblom's disappointing start

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NBC Sports Philadelphia

Ron Hextall talks Claude Giroux's move to LW, Oskar Lindblom's disappointing start

VOORHEES, N.J. — With the Flyers off to a hot 4-2 start, there’s a lot to like about the team. There's been the resurgence of Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek and the immediate impact of rookies like Nolan Patrick and Robert Hagg.

It’s all part of general manager Ron Hextall’s plan, and through six games, it seems to be working.

After Thursday’s morning skate, Hextall spoke at length about the team’s success, the development of the rookies and what to make of Sam Morin and Oskar Lindblom — two young players penciled into the lineup at the start of camp who failed to make the final cut.

Here’s what Hextall had to say about the state of the team:

Giroux's success at left wing
Having an abundance of quality centers forced the Flyers to move one to the wing. And Giroux seemed to be the top option because of his playmaking ability. So far, so good as Giroux is tied for third on the team with nine points (four goals, five assists). 

“It’s pretty obvious that we’d be happy (with Giroux’s success),” Hextall said. “When you’re a smart player, you can play all three forward positions. But G’s a smart player. He has skill, he sees the ice well, he’s gritty, he’s smart with the puck. He’s got all the attributes that he can play all three positions and obviously, that’s a valuable guy because we’re a little loaded up in the middle this year. And then you go, ‘OK, who do we want to move? Who can move? Who’s the best fit?’ There’s a lot of things that go into a decision like that and quite frankly, G had never played left wing in all his life and all of a sudden he’s playing left wing and he’s made a real quick transition. So it’s a credit to him first of all for his buy-in. There was no ‘I want to play the middle’ stuff. Second of all, he’s worked at it and set his mind to it so credit to G.”

Sean Couturier’s hot start
Couturier has long been maligned for his offensive abilities, but the scoring has always been there somewhere. He was the eighth-overall pick in 2011 and scored 96 points in each of his final two seasons in junior. Now that he is finally playing with talent, like Giroux and Voracek — what an upgrade over Dale Weise and Matt Read — Couturier is starting to reach his potential with four goals and three assists this season.

“You never know until you try it, whether it’s going to work, but just the vision and the thought of it, you say, ‘Hey, you’ve got a real stable guy in the middle with two guys on the wings that love to make plays,” Hextall said of the top line. “It’s not like Coots is a poor offensive player. He’s a good offensive player. He’s been in different roles over the years and some of his role hasn’t changed. He’s going to match up against top players, which he’s very good at. Now he’s got two dynamic players on his wings and again, he’s a stabilizer in the middle. So far, so good.”

Balanced lines
Perhaps the biggest upgrade over last year’s club is the depth. The Flyers can now roll four potent, speedy lines to compete with almost any team. Give credit to Hextall for addressing the team’s biggest need by getting rid of guys like Read and Chris Vandevelde and allowing the young guns to come up.

“It helps a lot,” Hextall said of the balanced lines. “There were points last year where — in terms of matchups — we had to be very fine in terms of who you’re going to matchup against another team’s top line or even their second line. Now, I think we all feel comfortable whoever’s out there is not going to get buried by whatever line and that’s a good feeling for obviously the coaches and us, but the players as well. We can put anybody out there on the road and we don’t choose the matchups and feel some comfort.”

Nolan Patrick
One of the reasons Giroux had to make the move to wing was the Flyers’ drafting of Nolan Patrick No. 2 overall. Playing on the third line with Dale Weise and Travis Konecny, Patrick has shown his two-way prowess and oh yeah, he can make plays like this.

“I think he’s been good. I think he’s been real solid, all three zones. I think some people, you expect too much — second overall and all this hype and everything else,” Hextall said. “This is the NHL. And it’s a huge step so I think he’s done a good job for us. He plays a very poised game, he’s not an erratic player, very methodical in his thinking and predictable in a good way. He makes the right reads, the right plays, he’s typically in the right part of the ice. It comes down to maturity, but it also comes down to hockey sense.”

Benching Travis Sanheim
Sick of seeing Sanheim in the press box? You’ll get your chance to see him against the Predators on Thursday, as he rejoins the lineup after watching the past two games. Sanheim has played in three of the Flyers’ six games, but don’t worry, he’s going to play this year, but how short is his leash? Are Hextall and head coach Dave Hakstol on the same page with benching young players?

“I think it’s not going to continue, he’s not going to sit on the bench and continue here for long-term, things are going to change so that’s something that I said at the start of the year,” Hextall said. “I don’t believe in young players sitting, nor having a really small role. … But Travis has played well for us and we’ll see where it goes and we’ll evaluate on a day-to-day basis."

Last season, defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere and rookie winger Travis Konecny each served multiple stints in the press box for poor defensive play. Hextall didn’t seem to mind.

“People made a big deal when a couple young players last year were sat out and those young players have shown an awful lot of growth this year. With the little things that they help along the way, to realize that you know what, ‘I don’t have a secure spot in the lineup, necessarily for 82 games. I gotta be on the edge, I gotta work out, I gotta play well every night.’ There’s little messages that come out of things like that, which is why a young player — I’m not opposed to a young player sitting, especially for development reasons. Sometimes it just needs to happen an that’s not the case with Travis, but along the way, it is so a young player sits out the odd game. There’s things they learn, they realize that, ‘You know what, I can’t be complacent, I can’t do this, I can’t do that.’ You learn lessons in life and again, I don’t want you players sitting out a lot and certainly not for the wrong reasons. I mean, if they’re making that many mistakes they’re not going to be here.”

Is Lindblom sulking in the minors?
Lindblom, a fifth-round pick in 2014, had such an impressive 2016-17 playing in Sweden’s top league that many penciled him in as a lock to make the team this year. But after an uninspiring training camp, Lindblom was sent to the Phantoms, where he is off to a slow start this season. Hextall doesn’t seem worried, though. 

“Big Sam (Morin) was real good, Philippe (Myers) was real good, Oskar did some good things, probably not quite at the level that we want him to get to or that he’s hoping to get to, but he was fine. Those kids are doing well.

“Training camp, it was pretty obvious that, not early but as we got along, that he wasn’t quite ready for this level. That’s OK. He didn’t fail. Oskar is going to be a good player. We like Oskar as much as we did a month ago, two months ago, three months ago. Yeah, he comes in, you say, 'OK, well he’s gonna be one of the guys we look at here’ and he’s just not ready for it. And that’s OK. It’s not a setback. It’s nothing. It’s like, ‘OK, Oskar, go down, play hard’ — and he’s playing hard. … Is he to the level that he can play? No, he’s not but that’s going to come. He’s a young kid, he’s a young player, he’s adjusting to life, the pressure. Everybody’s talking about him, he comes here, there’s all this hype on him. It’s unfair, quite frankly what the expectations that some of these kids come in with.”

Best of NHL: Johnny Gaudreau extends point streak to 10 games

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Best of NHL: Johnny Gaudreau extends point streak to 10 games

WASHINGTON -- Johnny Gaudreau had a goal and an assist to extend his career-best point streak to 10 games and the Calgary Flames beat the Washington Capitals 4-1 on Monday night.

Gaudreau scored and assisted on Sean Monahan's goal, one of two on the power play for Calgary, which has won four of its past five. Mikael Backlund and captain Mark Giordano also scored for the Flames, who got 29 saves from Mike Smith.

Gaudreau, nicknamed "Johnny Hockey," has eight goals and 11 assists during his point streak. Led by the Carneys Point, New Jersey, native, the Flames are 7-3-0 in that time.

Lars Eller scored the only goal for the Capitals, who took five minor penalties and lost for the third time in four games. Braden Holtby allowed four goals on 39 shots.

The Flames came in feeling good after a comeback victory in Philadelphia and a 1950s-themed train ride to Washington. But the Capitals took a 1-0 lead just 62 seconds in when Jakub Vrana found Eller for his fourth goal of the season.

Calgary controlled much of the play from that point on, tying it on Gaudreau's goal 4:49 in and taking a lead on Monahan's power-play goal 5:22 into the second. Monahan had a goal and an assist after a power-play hat trick Saturday against the Flyers.

Washington's parade to the penalty box gave the Flames momentum and then their third goal at 4:38 of the second when Backlund buried a loose puck. Giordano's goal to make it 4-1 was effectively a third power-play goal as it came 1 second after ex-Flames forward Alex Chiasson's penalty expired (see full recap).

Blue Jackets edge Sabres for 4th straight win
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Sergei Bobrovsky made three of his 30 saves on a power play in the final two minutes, and the Columbus Blue Jackets beat the Buffalo Sabres 3-2 on Monday night for their fourth straight victory.

Rookie Pierre-Luc Dubois, Artemi Panarin and Boone Jenner scored for the Blue Jackets. Markus Nutivaara had two assists.

Buffalo dropped its sixth straight game. Evander Kane and Sam Reinhart scored for the Sabres, and Robin Lehner stopped 25 shots.

Bobrovsky made his biggest save when he slid across the crease to kick away a Ryan O'Reilly one-timer with 1:49 remaining. Bobrovsky got a piece of Kyle Okposo's shot off the rebound and the puck trickled across the goal line while Okposo fell into the net. Officials determined on replay that the goal did not count.

The Blue Jackets scored first for the fifth straight game when Dubois collected a loose puck in the slot and lifted a wrist shot over Lehner four minutes into the second period. Oliver Bjorkstrand set up Dubois' third goal of the season with a pass from behind the net.

Panarin scored his fifth on a high wrist shot from the right circle 5:47 into the third. Jenner added his third goal of the year on a play in front of the net midway through the period (see full recap).

Raanta, Coyotes end Maple Leafs' win streak
TORONTO -- Antti Raanta made 26 saves and the Arizona Coyotes ended the Toronto Maple Leafs' winning streak at six games with a 4-1 victory Monday night.

Brendan Perlini, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Max Domi and Tobias Rieder scored for the Coyotes (5-15-3), who have won three in a row for the first time this season.

Arizona rookie Clayton Keller had two assists to give him 20 points in 23 games.

James van Riemsdyk scored for the Maple Leafs (14-8-0).

Frederik Andersen had his shutout streak snapped at 1:41:28 when the Coyotes scored in the first period. Andersen, who made 28 saves, had blanked the opponent in back-to-back games.

Toronto star Auston Matthews, playing in his 100th career game, appeared to tie it 2-all with 3:50 to play but the goal was overturned after a replay review because of goalie interference by Zach Hyman (see full recap).

Wayne Simmonds issues timely reminder about Flyers

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Wayne Simmonds issues timely reminder about Flyers

VOORHEES, N.J. — Wayne Simmonds would make a pretty good salesman.

He speaks with conviction and knows how to convey a point.

On Monday, he was selling the 2017-18 Flyers.

None of it was fluff. In fact, the sales pitch was completely valid.

Many clamored for the Flyers to become younger, and they did. Nolan Patrick, 19, is just getting healthy again after missing nine straight games. The fourth line features two 23-year-olds (Scott Laughton, Taylor Leier) that developed last season in the AHL. And half of the current defense is made up of rookies.

That's not to mention Travis Konecny and Ivan Provorov are only 20 years old, while Jordan Weal is in his first full NHL season.

After losing four straight games, the Flyers are 8-8-4 and still only five points out of first place despite sitting in last in the Metropolitan Division.

Things could be worse. Really, they're not all that bad.

"The season's not even close to being over," Simmonds said after practice at Flyers Skate Zone. "That's the way I'm thinking about it, guys. There's no need to be worried, we're a .500 hockey team right now, we've played 20 games, we have 62 games left, we've got a really young team and we're growing every single day. Yeah, we're going to have our struggles, but we're also going to have points in the season where we make huge strides. We've got to stick with it and we've got to keep going and going."

The Flyers were 9-8-3 after 20 games last season. Two games later, they were starting a 10-game winning streak. The run didn't accomplish much by season's end, but it's an example of how quickly trends can turn in the NHL.

Simmonds is experiencing his own negative trend of 12 straight games without a goal after scoring six in eight games to start the season.

"Sometimes you score 10 goals, then you don't score again for 20 games or something like that," Simmonds said. "Like I said, it's a long year, you keep going, you keep grinding, you guys want to jump to conclusions, that's your job. You guys have got to make decisions on a game-to-game basis, but for us, we just have to make sure we're coming to the rink and doing our job every single day and continuing to try and get better."

Throughout much of his drought, Simmonds has not looked himself, likely banged up from the style in which he plays and excels.

With time and patience, Simmonds is building himself up again physically.

"You think you can do some things and sometimes your body just tells you no," Simmonds said.

"I've been feeling better the last little bit. I feel like I've started to play better, things aren't coming offensively for me. I think as an individual, I've just got to keep working hard. The only way to break yourself out of a bad streak is to continue to work hard and hopefully things eventually go your way."

When does he know his game is coming to him?

"When I'm aggressive," Simmonds said. "When I'm battling in the corners, I'm hitting — I think earlier this year, I wasn't fully engaging in battles and stuff like that, and that's not me, that's not my game. I think the last little bit here, I've felt a lot better, I've been doing a lot more battling, a lot more hitting, a lot more physical things. It's nice and we've got to continue that. As a team, we've got to continue to do the same thing, to get to the front of the net and continue to put pucks in."

Aside from the first line of Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier and Jakub Voracek, scoring struggles have permeated the middle six and secondary options. Konecny and Weal, two players the Flyers expected jumps from in production, have combined for four goals and nine assists. Konecny is without a goal over his previous 10 games, while Weal has scored one in his last 12.

"It's been a lot of hard work and not much to show for it," Weal said. "No matter what line we've been on, it seems like we've been getting three or four chances every game to put something in and nothing right now seems to be going in. It's one of those things that happens during a season.

"When it breaks open, hopefully it'll break wide open.

"When we have all four lines scoring, we're a really dangerous team."

Both Konecny and Weal are frequently the last two players off the practice ice.

Monday was no different.

"I just need to make sure I'm battling and creating more offense," Konecny said. "I feel like the opportunities are there, I'm not worried about that."

Nor is Simmonds worried about the Flyers with 62 games to go, the next coming Tuesday night at home against the Canucks.

Similar to building up strength and good health, patience is important to a season, especially with the makeup of this Flyers team.

Simmonds believes you'll buy in … just give it some time.

"You can look at the standings, you can do whatever you want, but we've played 20 games," Simmonds said. "There's still a long time to go in the season. We've got work to do.

"I'm definitely feeling better. It's up to me to get going."

When he does, the Flyers hope the rest follow.