Flyers

10 observations from Flyers' 1st week of training camp

10 observations from Flyers' 1st week of training camp

Four games down, four more to go.

One big round of cuts and a much earned day off.

Friday marked the midway point of the Flyers' preseason schedule (1-1-2), and as we wrap up the first week of training camp, here are my 10 observations so far.

1. The front-runners
With a rookie game and three preseason games in the books, Sam Morin and Robert Hagg have displayed the poise and calmness required of rookies ready to make the jump from the AHL to the NHL. Morin doesn't overreact to situations, which is a credit to his maturation process, and Hagg has displayed a steady presence playing on the right side, which is key considering the number of left-handed shots on the Flyers' blue line.

Travis Sanheim continues to make strong gains, showing improvement from his rookie game to the most recent preseason game against the Bruins. While you can't help but admire Sanheim's offensive skill set — he scored the Flyers' only goal Thursday — I still see some holes in his game defensively that would be a concern once the season starts.

For the most part, Morin and Hagg have been solid in that department. With all that said, I already feel better about this defense than I did last season with veterans Michael Del Zotto, Mark Streit and Nick Schultz.

2. Top-line ready
This may sound odd, but with all of the attributes that winger Oskar Lindblom brings to the Flyers, I can't help but be impressed with his commitment to defense and a strong two-way game coming straight out of the SHL. In Thursday's game against the Bruins, midway through the second period, Lindblom hustled back in the Flyers' zone to break up a potential 2-on-1 and then drew a penalty in the process. Defensively, Lindblom is considerably better than where Travis Konecny was at this point a year ago, and that dedication to his defensive play is why you can trust him on the team's top two lines. Offensively, he's been active and he'll start producing points eventually.

3. Power play will be just fine
Instead of getting frustrated that the Flyers' power play finished a whopping 0 for 9 Thursday in Boston, including 6½ minutes without a single shot, I view it a little differently. Coming into this season, Dave Hakstol's emphasis centered around being a tougher, battle-tested team for its opponents. The first few days of training camp reflected that. I view the Bruins game as a Flyers team that outworked the opposition and that resulted in the power-play opportunities. A big part of evaluating the preseason process is establishing good work habits and the Flyers are doing that. From what I've seen in practice, Hakstol and Co. have spent zero time working on power-play setups and puck movement.

There's still plenty of time to cover that aspect as we're still two and a half weeks away from the season opener in San Jose, California. Besides, power plays go through peaks and valleys throughout the course of the season. I'd rather it stink now than in November.

4. If Giroux looks quicker, you're right 
Thursday marked Claude Giroux's first preseason action for fans to see how the captain looks after a strong summer of training camp and what he termed "getting back to the basics." If you followed him around the ice during practice, he certainly doesn't look like a player who has lost a step. In fact, the Flyers' conditioning staff ran a series of pre-camp tests that determined speed, conditioning and VO2 (body's ability to consume oxygen).

One of the evaluations was the "repeated shift" test, where skaters start at the goal line, skate to the blue line, stop, return to the goalie crease, skate to the other end around the two circles and finish at center ice. Giroux was one of the team's fastest in this particular drill, and as I clocked him, he was a good half second faster than his teammates who were out there with him.

5. Has Patrick earned his place?
If you believed it was a foregone conclusion that No. 2 overall pick Nolan Patrick was a bona-fide NHLer and his roster spot was secure, general manager Ron Hextall has provided a reality check on more than one occasion. For beginners, I think Patrick has handled himself tremendously with everything a 19-year-old rookie has to deal with in the transition from junior hockey to the NHL, not to mention overcoming major surgery during the offseason. As we’ve seen, Patrick knows the game, he knows where to be on the ice and I’ve yet to see him make a high-risk, low-percentage play in a game. I’m still left wondering, as I’m sure Hextall is, does he have another gear? Preseason is played at one speed, the regular season is another notch and the playoffs are 60 minutes at the highest intensity. Is Patrick the difference between the Flyers making the playoffs? No, but I think his addition gives the team more talent and balance within the lineup. This next week will be a crucial one for the rookie.

6. Fourth-line competition heats up
Taylor Leier made a profound statement Wednesday and entered the conversation with his two-goal game in Lehigh Valley. I’ve admired Scott Laughton’s dedication throughout camp and even prior as one of the few guys who was skating nearly every day with teammates in the week leading up to camp. I had heard about the refinements Laughton had made last season in Lehigh Valley and now we’ve seen it so far in the preseason. Right now, this horse race is on the backstretch at Belmont Park and with three games over the next four days starting Monday, it’s time to see some of these guys go to the whip and pick up the pace. Does Matt Read have some giddyap? If I had to assemble my fourth line right now, I’d have Michael Raffl on the left side, Laughton in the middle and Leier on the right side, but give it a week; it can certainly change.

7. Stickin' it to the guys
One week into the preseason and I’ve already seen more slashing than Jason Voorhees in the "Friday the 13th" movie franchise (there were 12 in the series and I think I stopped after the third one). In Wednesday’s game in Allentown, the Flyers were whistled for two slashes on their first two shifts. Thursday in Boston, there was a total of seven slashing penalties. The referees are sending a strong message, but let’s slash the number of calls. I’ll get more into this at a later time, but right now, between the slashing penalty and the faceoff violations, it’s really … really slowing down the pace of play in the preseason.

8. Goaltending appears solid
Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth, two completely different goalies with two contrasting styles, should give the Flyers stability and less drama in net. Elliott’s positioning is reminiscent of the manner in which Henrik Lundqvist (no, it’s not a direct comparison) likes to play, which is deep in the crease. Elliott doesn’t challenge shooters in the way Steve Mason would come out of the net and take away the angle, but Elliott was very calm in net with no wasted movement against the Bruins. I don’t think the drills the Flyers have run early in camp have been “goaltender-friendly,” but they’ve adapted. Elliott was very sound in his preseason debut as was Neuvirth on Wednesday in Lehigh Valley. Both netminders already have a good working relationship as they’ve been accustomed to a goaltending platoon throughout their careers.

9. Myers not quite ready just yet
It was a real long shot to think defenseman Phil Myers would make the Flyers' roster out of camp, but there were strong vibes regarding Myers, especially after TSN hockey analyst Bob McKenzie tweeted back in January, “Based on what I saw at WJC, Myers looks NHL ready or close to it.” Well, the only way you can gauge that level of readiness is against NHL competition. Myers didn’t look out of place at all, but he’s still young — he won’t turn 21 until January — and there’s still room for growth in his game. He had the glaring turnover against the Islanders, which led to John Tavares' overtime winner, but Tavares has a way of making even the best players in the league look foolish. One of the more interesting pairings during camp was when Hakstol had Myers together with Ivan Provorov, a lefty-righty combination. Don’t be surprised if that combo is a mainstay for years to come.

10. Kosorenkov deserves a contract
As one of 18 cuts Thursday morning, right winger Ivan Kosorenkov proved he’s worthy of an entry-level contract. Whether he receives that from the Flyers or another team in the league remains to be seen. Kosorenkov is the latest argument of how the Flyers could benefit from a two-round entry draft expansion. There’s a lot of quality talent that goes unselected and Kosorenkov is proof of that. He had a strong development camp and followed that up with a solid rookie game paired with Mikhail Vorobyev. Kosorenkov has that low center of gravity in which scouts and coaches like to say “he’s good on his skates.” I compared his lower trunk to that of Blues forward Vladimir Tarasenko. Kosorenkov scored 34 goals last season for Victoriaville in the QJMHL, and I’ll be very eager to see what kind of numbers he can post this season. 

Best of NHL: Penguins blow lead, rally to top Rangers in overtime

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Best of NHL: Penguins blow lead, rally to top Rangers in overtime

NEW YORK -- Sidney Crosby scored the tying goal with less than a minute remaining in regulation, Evgeni Malkin put in the winner 58 seconds into overtime and the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the struggling New York Rangers 5-4 on Tuesday night.

Patric Hornqvist, Phil Kessel and ex-Ranger Carl Hagelin also scored for the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions, who handed New York (1-5-1) its fourth straight loss.

Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh turned the puck over in overtime and Kessel set up Malkin for the game-winning goal. Just before that, the Rangers iced the puck, leading to a faceoff in their zone.

Michael Grabner put New York ahead 4-3 when he and David Desharnais completed a nifty give-and-go at the 8-minute mark of the third period.

Desharnais, Pavel Buchnevich and J.T. Miller scored in a span of 2:30 as the Rangers got three straight goals early in the second to take a 3-2 lead.

Penguins goalie Matt Murray and counterpart Henrik Lundqvist each made 28 saves in the first of four meetings this season between the division rivals (see full recap).

Devils top Lightning in shootout
NEWARK, N.J. -- Kyle Palmieri scored the lone goal in a shootout, lifting the New Jersey Devils to a 5-4 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday night.

Drew Stafford scored twice in regulation as New Jersey improved to 5-1-0. Palmieri and Brian Gibbons each had a goal in the first period, and Cory Schneider made 33 saves.

Vladimir Namestnikov, Ondrej Palat, Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos scored for Tampa Bay, which had its four-game winning streak snapped and fell to 5-1-1.

Kucherov's goal was his eighth in seven games. He has scored at least once in every game this season, and the 24-year-old right wing became the sixth player in modern NHL history to score at least one goal in the first seven games of a season.

Mario Lemieux, Mike Bossy, Wayne Gretzky, Ken Hodge and Tony Tanti are the others. Lemieux holds the record with at least one goal in the first 12 games of the 1992-93 season.

Peter Budaj made his first start of the season for the Lightning and had 30 saves (see full recap).

Anderson helps Maple Leafs blank Capitals
WASHINGTON -- Connor Brown scored the game-winning goal in the third period and Frederik Andersen stopped all 30 shots he faced for the shutout as the Toronto Maple Leafs continued their tremendous start by beating the Washington Capitals 2-0 on Tuesday night.

Toronto has won five of its first six games. Washington has now lost two in a row since top defenseman Matt Niskanen went out with a long-term upper-body injury.

After getting a promotion to the third line, Brown picked up his second goal of the season and broke a 0-0 tie with 14:07 left in the third. Brown corralled a rebound of Morgan Rielly's point shot and poked the puck between Braden Holtby's legs.

Holtby made 28 saves but couldn't help as the Capitals' offense couldn't cash in on limited high-quality chances. Nazem Kadri scored an empty-net goal in the final minute (see full recap).

Michal Neuvirth earns his Ric Flair robe as Flyers roll again at home

Michal Neuvirth earns his Ric Flair robe as Flyers roll again at home

BOX SCORE

Every season the Flyers come up with a unique prop handed down from one player of the game to the next following each home victory.

Tuesday night, it was goaltender Michal Neuvirth who was rewarded with the Ric Flair black and silver feathered robe, made popular by the WWE superstar. Neuvirth’s 40-save performance helped pave the way for the Flyers' 5-1 victory over the Panthers (see observations).

“I think Neuvy gave us some confidence,” Claude Giroux said. “He made some big saves for us. He was solid. We’re happy for him that he played a great game. We were hoping to give him a shutout in the end there. He stood on his head tonight.”   

The robe, hand-tailored by the daughter of Flyers head equipment manager Derek Settlemyre, seems rather appropriate in the manner in which the Flyers have body-slammed their opponents in their first two games at the Wells Fargo Center, outscoring Washington and Florida by a combined score of 13-3.

“I think we have a lot of depth. We can roll all four lines,” said Sean Couturier, one of 10 Flyers to register a point. “Our depth has been really good and we've got to keep it that way.”

“It’s fun when you’re winning and making plays. That’s the biggest thing,” said Shayne Gostisbehere, who scored his first goal of the season on a give-and-go with Wayne Simmonds. “As a team, we’re making a lot of plays and Coach is giving us the leeway to do that, and like you said, it’s fun hockey out there.”

The Panthers could have seized some of the Flyers' early momentum. With roughly 6:45 remaining in the second period, Gostisbehere broke up a potential 2-on-1, which led to Valtteri Filppula’s long stretch pass to Giroux, who was all alone at the Panthers' blue line. Giroux skated in and snapped a shot through Roberto Luongo’s five-hole to give the Flyers a 3-0 lead, when just seconds earlier the Panthers had a chance to cut the Flyers' lead to a single goal.

“It was up-and-down hockey,” Giroux said. “It was fun hockey to play and after we got that first goal, we kind of relaxed and started playing.”

Playing for the first time in 12 days, Neuvirth certainly needed a goal to relax. Not only was he fighting the puck early on, but also a few butterflies.

“When you don’t start for awhile, you start questioning yourself,” Neuvirth said. “I was a little bit more nervous than what I was used to before the game, but I handled it well.” 

Tuesday’s game may not have been predetermined WWE style, but the Flyers certainly followed Dave Hakstol’s script, as they had the Panthers pinned to the ice leading, 4-0, after two periods — scoring three of those goals off the rush (see highlights). Coming into Tuesday’s game, Florida led the NHL averaging 42 shots on net.

“I said it this morning, they’re a dangerous team,” Hakstol said. “They make a lot of plays. They put a lot of pucks to the net. Sometimes a shot chart isn’t everything. If you can defend and get a save when you need it, and then turn around in transition and get after them at the other end of the rink, you can generate some chances and we did that tonight.” 

As Neuvirth walked away for the night, he left the gimmicky robe hanging from his locker room stall.

It’s not exactly a look that would inspire confidence, especially with the words “Nature Boy” written across the back shoulder.

Simmonds update
Simmonds left Tuesday’s game for precautionary reasons with approximately eight minutes remaining in the third period because of a lower-body injury. He’ll be evaluated further over the next day or two.

Simmonds has missed just one game since the beginning of the 2015-16 season.

A point is a point
Defenseman Robert Hagg collected his first NHL point by simply getting in the way. Hagg collected the secondary assist after he blocked Mark Pysyk’s shot that led to a Flyers rush and Gostisbehere’s eventual goal.

“I mean, yeah, I’ll take it,” Hagg said. “It’s not going to say in the newspaper how I made it, so I’ll take it.”

With Hagg's assist, 16 of the Flyers' 19 skaters have recorded at least a point this season. Only Michael Raffl, Radko Gudas and Travis Sanheim have yet to crack the scoresheet.