Flyers

Is this the spark Nolan Patrick needs?

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USA Today Images

Is this the spark Nolan Patrick needs?

SUNRISE, Fla. — Jake Voracek prefers to drive the bus no matter who’s riding on his line. 

He was the driving force on that top unit with Sean Couturier and Claude Giroux through the first 26 games of the season before Dave Hakstol elected to move Voracek in an attempt to balance out his lines.

Now, rookie Nolan Patrick is learning how to structure his game by adapting to Voracek’s puck possession tendencies.

“Jake has done a good job of driving his line,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “Basically, there’s been three different combinations for him so far this year. For a young guy like Patrick, you got to read a little bit off of Jake. Jake’s a creative player, but I think Patty is a guy that can read that play and can get pucks to Jake at the right time and at the right areas.”

Hakstol elected to move Patrick onto a line with Voracek and Michael Raffl prior to last Saturday’s game at Columbus, following a stretch of games when Patrick showed more urgency to create plays in the offensive zone.  

While the combination of Valtteri Filppula, Raffl and Voracek exploded right away in their first game in Calgary, Voracek believes it will take time to develop with Patrick.

“One practice doesn’t make much,” Voracek said. “You have to play games. Practice is good to stay in shape, but you can’t practice the game situations. It’s hard to do. We had a couple of opportunities in Columbus. Could we do better? Sure, but it’s a process and hopefully, we’ll generate some chances and score some goals today.”

With an average size of 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds, one area the line can dominate is down in the trenches with their ability to win puck battles 

“It’s always different playing with different guys,” Raffl said. “Sometimes you need a little time to adjust, but I think he (Patrick) is one of our best centermen. He’s intelligent, he’s really good with the stick and he sees the ice well. I don’t see any reason why it shouldn’t work.” 

Much of that depends on how long Hakstol is willing to keep that window of opportunity open.

The Ghostly confines
Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere says he occasionally gets the “stink eye” when he’s asked where he’s from and the response isn’t your typical hockey-hotbed related answer.

The South Florida native, who was born in nearby Pembroke Pines, is proud of how he’s developed into an NHL professional beginning with his days with the Florida Panthers junior hockey program. But he also understands it’s not easy in a non-traditional hockey market and a fan base that doesn’t have the commitment of sports fans like Philadelphia. 

“Florida has been bandwagon state for sports for a while, especially down south,” Gostisbehere said. “I’m pretty sure if you go to any Miami Heat games, they’re not gonna be packed. But a couple of years ago they were. Obviously, when the Panthers were making the playoffs, the rats were coming back. It goes with the even flows of the team. If they’re winning, there’s obviously going to be more fans.”

The Panthers are one of four organizations averaging under 13,000 fans through the first three months of the regular season with a building capacity of 75 percent, and perhaps even below that, as the number is based on ticket sales.  

“It bothers me a little bit,” said Gostisbehere. “I grew up with it. I’ve seen the empty seats. Obviously, I hold them close to my heart and they’re a big part of my hockey career.”

"Ghost" will do his part to fill the seats tonight with his typical ticket requests for friends and family.

Projected lines and pairings

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

Defense
Ivan Provorov-Shayne Gostisbehere
Robert Hagg-Andrew MacDonald
Travis Sanheim-Radko Gudas

Goaltending
Brian Elliott
Michal Neuvirth

Panthers upset West-best Golden Knights in OT

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USA Today Images

Panthers upset West-best Golden Knights in OT

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Aaron Ekblad scored 40 seconds into overtime to lift the Panthers to a 4-3 victory over the Vegas Golden Knights on Friday night, spoiling former coach Gerard Gallant's return to Florida.

Ekblad grabbed a rebound in the high slot and fired it past Malcolm Subban to give Florida its second win in six games this month.

Aleksander Barkov scored his league-leading fifth short-handed goal of the season and had two assists, and Evgenii Dadonov and Jamie McGinn also scored for the Panthers. James Reimer stopped 33 shots.

William Karlsson had a goal and an assist, and David Perron and James Neal also scored for Vegas. Subban finished with 22 saves (see full recap).

Pacioretty, Canadiens snap 3-game skid
WASHINGTON -- Max Pacioretty had two goals and an assist to help the Montreal Canadiens break a three-game losing streak with a 3-2 win over the Washington Capitals on Friday night.

Paul Byron also scored for the Canadiens. Antii Niemi, playing in place of Carey Price, who had been in goal for eight consecutive games, stopped 24 shots.

John Carlson and Lars Eller scored for the Capitals, and Philipp Grubauer finished with 22 saves.

Pacioretty, who has six goals in the last six games, scored Montreal's first goal at 7:08 in the second period and added an empty-netter with 1:18 remaining in the game (see full recap).

Ducks get upper hand on rival Kings again
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Ryan Kesler deflected home Francois Beauchemin's shot for the tiebreaking goal with 7:39 to play and the Anaheim Ducks won their second Freeway Faceoff in seven days, beating the struggling Los Angeles Kings 2-1 Friday night.

Adam Henrique scored early in the third period and John Gibson made 23 saves for the Ducks, who have won six of nine overall.

Rookie Alex Iafallo evened it for Los Angeles moments after Henrique's goal, but Kesler's long deflection sent the puck bouncing past Jonathan Quick. Anaheim then hung on in a frantic final minute to even the archrivals' season series at two games apiece.

Quick stopped 29 shots in the Kings' sixth consecutive loss, extending their longest skid of the season (see full recap).

Flyers have clear path to postseason but ...

Flyers have clear path to postseason but ...

It’s about to get real for the Philadelphia Flyers.

Real serious and potentially really hard. The Flyers have played the fewest divisional games of any team in the NHL.

That might be beneficial if the team located about 40 minutes off the shores of the Atlantic Ocean actually played in the Atlantic Division. The Flyers have hammered Atlantic teams this season: an 8-4-0 record including a win in Tampa and their most recent three-game series sweep of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Whereas the Atlantic houses a collection of domesticated poodles and Pomeranians, the Metropolitan Division is more a breeding ground for vicious Dobermans and pit bulls.

And the Flyers are about to enter the teeth of that beast.

Dave Hakstol’s club plays 19 of their remaining 37 games against the rock-solid Metropolitan, the only 8-team division in hockey without a legitimate doormat or two. 

“It’s good or bad depending on whether you’re winning or not,” general manager Ron Hextall said.“It’s great taking points from other teams and adding to your total. It does put a higher importance on those games for sure. Every game is important, but certain games are just a little more important. Your lows can’t be too low. That’s the bottom line.

“They’re divisional games. They’re huge games for us, especially with how tight it is with that wild card spot,” center Sean Couturier said. “We’ve got to step up and be ready for the challenge.”

Unfortunately for the Flyers, their sore spot over their past two-plus seasons has been their play against the Metropolitan elites — the teams they’re typically chasing in the standings.

4-4-1 vs. Capitals
3-5-2 vs. Rangers
3-6-1 vs. Penguins
2-3-4 vs. Blue Jackets

Collectively, that’s a 12-18-8 record in the Dave Hakstol era with just a 4-9-6 mark on the road. Interestingly, defenseman Brandon Manning believes roster formation has been part of the reason behind the success of the Flyers' opponents.  

“Credit to them, I think they’ve done a good job of getting better every year,” Manning said. “You look at what Pittsburgh does with their turnover and still finding a way to win. Columbus is so much better and you look at Jersey, which hasn’t been the greatest team the past couple of years, but this year they have a really good hockey team. I think credit to those teams for finding a way to get better.” 

And if there’s a direct path to the postseason, then winning these crucial divisional games has to be the way to get there. Since the formation of the NHL’s current four-division alignment in 2013-14, the Metropolitan has sent 17 teams to the playoffs and only once has a team reached the postseason without a winning record within the division — the Pittsburgh Penguins finished 9-17-4 in the Metro in 2014-15. 

The Capitals, Rangers and Blue Jackets also have the luxury of rostering a Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender in crucial divisional games, whereas, Hakstol will rely more on a platoon based on Elliott’s first-half workload and Neuvirth attempting to regain his early season form.  

“I haven’t studied the schedule that much in depth, but considering Moose started a stretch of 25 out of 30 games, that’s a real heavy workload,” Hakstol said. “I would expect the workload to be more spread out than that. We’ll find the best rhythm to be able and have both of them help our team.

“You need two goalies. I don’t care who you are,” Hextall said. “Look around the league. I said it before, there’s no Marty Brodeurs.”

Maybe not, but Saturday it all starts with Brodeur’s former team and with a back-to-back against the Devils and the Capitals this weekend. The Flyers' position within the division can change very drastically one direction or the other.