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. 

Amid WJCs snub, Flyers prospect Morgan Frost still dominating OHL

aaron-bell-morgan-frost-future-flyers-report.jpg
Photo: Aaron Bell/CHL Images

Amid WJCs snub, Flyers prospect Morgan Frost still dominating OHL

Before this week begins, it’s time for our weekly check-in on the Flyers’ prospects playing in the AHL, overseas and at the junior and college levels.

Morgan Frost, C, 18, 5-11/172, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)
The Greyhounds won their 20th straight game Saturday afternoon and now haven’t lost a game since Oct. 27, and Frost has been at the forefront of Sault Ste. Marie’s winning stream. Frost is averaging two points per game, collecting 40 points during the Greyhounds’ 20-game winning streak. Last week, Frost had eight points in three games.

Frost capped off the week with a two goal, two assist effort in Sault Ste. Marie’s 7-1 blowout win over Guelph. He also had a two-goal game Wednesday in the Greyhounds’ 4-1 win over the Flint Firebirds. Frost is now second in the OHL in scoring, with 55 points, second in assists with 36 and leads the OHL with a plus-42 rating. He’s averaging 1.67 points, third in the OHL and winning 50.1 percent of his faceoffs.

As The Athletic’s Charlie O’Connor pointed out, Frost is scoring comparable to what Travis Konecny was during his after-drafted season. Konecny spent one more season in the OHL after the Flyers drafted him in 2015 and then made the team in 2016-17. While it’s easy to look at Carter Hart in awe, Frost is the one prospect who’s breaking out.

We knew what Hart was — and what he’s doing in Everett is astonishing. We’ll see Hart plenty next week in the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championships. Frost wasn’t invited to Team Canada’s selection camp this year, but it’s a safe bet he’ll be there next year. We continue to see panic over the Brayden Schenn trade, but that’s misguided. Frost is turning out to be an intriguing prospect, and remember, the Flyers have another first-rounder from St. Louis. Frost is most certainly trending upward. Sound familiar?

Pascal Laberge, C, 19, 6-1/162, Victoriaville (QMJHL)
Laberge has played his final game for Victoriaville, as the forward will be traded Monday to the Quebec Remparts, according to La Nouvelle’s Matthew Vachon. After a brief period to start the season, Laberge cooled off considerably and has since been inconsistent. In his final week as a Tigre, Laberge had a three-assist game last Friday night in Victoriaville’s 7-2 win over Shawinigan but was pointless in his two other games.

When evaluating Laberge, it’s hard to root against the versatile forward because of his backstory. The 19-year-old faced adversity throughout his draft year and then dealt with concussions during his first season as Flyers property. He’s a kid you want to succeed, and so far, he hasn’t been able to get back to his draft-year production. He has just six goals and 20 points in 31 games this year. He will get a fresh start with the Remparts.

Oskar Lindblom, LW, 21, 6-1/192, Lehigh Valley (AHL)
We’re starting to see Lindblom come into his own with the Phantoms. The Swedish forward continues to adjust to the North American game, and we’re seeing more consistency from him in the AHL. Last week was no different. Lindblom saw his point streak hit four games before coming to an end Sunday against Bridgeport. Lindblom scored his seventh goal of the season last Wednesday, which capped off a three-goal in a four-game stretch. Then he picked up an assist on Friday against Charlotte and another Saturday against Syracuse. When we look at the advanced metrics, with many thanks to Broad Street Hockey’s Brad Keffer, you can see Lindblom’s Corsi numbers consistently improving, which is an indicator that he’s becoming more comfortable here.

Carsen Twarynski, LW, 19, 6-2/201, Kelowna (WHL)
We don’t talk a lot about Twarynski, the Flyers’ 2016 third-round pick, but let’s check in on the defenseman-turned-left-winger. Twarynski, who the Rockets acquired last season from the Calgary Hitmen, is producing above a point-per-game in Kelowna. Twarynski had six points in four games last week. He has 24 goals — seven on the power play — and 39 points in 31 games. What exactly kind of future does Twarynski have? It’s tough to get a read on him because he’s a streaky player. Twarynski projects to be a serviceable AHL player, but whether he’ll be an NHLer is up in the air. His WHL numbers are respectable, but he doesn’t seem to have the consistency to excite.

Quick Hits
• As expected, German Rubtsov made Team Russia for the World Junior Championships. Last week, Rubtsov had a goal in two games for Acadie-Bathurst.

• Sarnia’s Anthony Salinitri has a three-game point streak after picking up two goals and an assist in three games last week. Salinitri has 33 points in 35 games this season.

Matthew Strome, of the Hamilton Bulldogs, extended his point streak to five games. Strome has three goals and six points during his streak. He has 17 goals in 32 games.

• Kitchener’s Connor Bunnaman’s point streak reached five games with a goal Friday and an assist Sunday. Bunnaman has seven points during his current point streak.

Samuel Morin returned to action last Tuesday for the Phantoms but sat out Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. He’s been dealing with lower-body injuries.

• Without any official declarations, it appears Mike Vecchione is dealing with some sort of injury with the Phantoms. Vecchione hasn’t played since Dec. 9.

• The offense has picked up for Nicolas Aube-Kubel in his second pro season. He had two goals and two assists in four games last week. He now has 21 points in 30 games.

Like it or not, boring is working for Flyers

usa-shayne-gostisbehere-flyers-leafs.jpg
USA Today Images

Like it or not, boring is working for Flyers

We are deep into the season of giving and the Flyers just keep giving fans exactly what they want: wins.

OK, sorry for that seasonal yet corny intro, but the fact remains the Flyers are on a tear right now, and it continued this past week with three more sound wins to push their winning streak past a handful to six games.

This week got off to the right skate with a come-from-behind 4-2 victory Tuesday over the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs. The good vibes kept coming Thursday with a grind-it-out 2-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres. And the week ended on the highest of notes Saturday night with a 2-1 OT win at home over the Dallas Stars.

Well, well, well … they’re back, aren’t they?

And before the Flyers push for seven straight Monday night against the Los Angeles Kings, let’s look back at the successful week that was, shall we?

• The Flyers' three wins this week were good, solid wins over the Leafs, Sabres, and Stars. When you’re still trying to claw out of the hole a 10-game losing streak put you in, all wins are good, solid wins right now. But these three Flyers wins this past week weren’t of the most exciting variety. Let’s be blunt, all three wins were mostly boring.

Tuesday’s triumph over the Leafs was sleepy until Travis Konecny’s tying seeing-eye shot in the third and then Claude Giroux’s fantastic through-the-legs pass that led to Sean Couturier’s wicked wrister of a winner. Thursday’s win over Buffalo was a snoozer for the better part of 50 minutes. And Saturday’s victory over Dallas, while chippy, didn’t have much action to it outside of Shayne Gostisbehere’s heroics.

But the Flyers aren’t caring about being exciting and neither should you right now because it’s working for them. Jake Voracek’s quote after the Buffalo game says it all.

“I thought this was a boring game,” Voracek said. “Honestly, I don’t think we played good today, but we got the win, which is really important. You’re not going to play great every night. We played well when we needed to, but we can play a lot better, which is positive.”

Yes, they can play better. But two points are two points right now, no matter how boring. Simply put, boring is working.

• So why the sudden turnaround for the Flyers? There’s a multitude of reasons — timely scoring, better defensive efforts and Brian Elliott playing like a rock in net, just to name a few.

But one major reason: discipline. In the three games this past week, the Flyers took three penalties total, on in each game. Dating back to Dec. 4 when this six-game win streak began in Calgary, the Flyers have faced just nine power plays against. Compare that to the 22 power plays the Flyers have had in the same span.

That’s a gigantic boost for a team that, as of Sunday morning, is still 29th in the league with a 76.7 percent success rate on the PK.

How do you cure something that ails you? Don’t put yourself in the situation.

• When Gostisbehere is at his very best, he can just dominate a game with his elusiveness, booming shot and dynamic offensive ability. And that’s just what we saw Saturday night against the Stars as Gostisbehere was a dangerous entity all over the ice and controlled the game when the puck was on his stick.

He brought the Wells Fargo Center to life with his second-period power-play goal that saw him dive a lift a rebound past Dallas goalie Ben Bishop. And then he unglued the place with his game-winner in OT on the 4-on-3 man advantage.

“Ghost” is such a key piece for the Flyers as so much of the offense tends to be filtered through him when he’s on the ice, and especially so on the power play. We saw what happened when he wasn’t playing up to his abilities during the 10-game skid. But the Gostisbehere we saw against the Stars is just what the doctor ordered for the Flyers. And it shows just why.

• Good for Travis Sanheim getting the monkey off his back and potting the first goal of his NHL career during Thursday’s victory over Buffalo.     

During the first period, Sanheim took a feed from Dale Weise and deposited home a one-timer from the circle to knot the game at 1-1. Sure, he got a little help from Buffalo goalie Robin Lehner, who lounged wildly at the shot. But still, Sanheim made no mistake as he went top shelf with it. And he got the puck and the Ric Flair robe after the game to boot.

It’s just a slight taste of what the 21-year-old offensive-minded blueliner can do. In three junior seasons with the Calgary Hitmen of the WHL, Sanheim scored 35 goals. He potted 10 in 76 games with the Phantoms last season.

He can score, and as he gets more and more comfortable at the NHL level, don’t be surprised to see him light the lamp more often.

• Here’s your obvious observation of the week: What a difference two weeks makes.

When the Flyers were shut out by the Bruins 15 days ago, morale was as low as it had been in a long time. Nothing was going right. No breaks went their way. No bounces even came close. The list of misfortunes could go on and on and on. On the morning of Dec. 3, the Flyers had just 22 points, fifth-fewest in the league. They were nine points behind the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins for the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.

Here we are two weeks and change (and six wins in a row) later and the Flyers have 35 points and are just four points behind the New York Islanders for the final wild-card spot in the East.

Hope you guys like roller coasters.

Coming up this week: Monday vs. Los Angeles (7 p.m. on NBCSP), Wednesday vs. Detroit (8 p.m. on NBCSN), Friday at. Buffalo (7 p.m. on NBCSP), Saturday at Columbus (7 p.m. on NBCSP).