Flyers

2016-17 Flyers evaluation: Defensemen

2016-17 Flyers evaluation: Defensemen

We continue our series reviewing the Flyers' 2016-17 roster with a look at the defensemen. This is the second part of a four-part series. For our goaltending review, click here.

Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said during his end-of-the-season news conference that he blamed himself for keeping eight defensemen on the roster.
 
Hextall acknowledged keeping eight D-men caused problems on the back end and limited coach Dave Hakstol in terms of juggling his forward group, as they were often short one reserve.

When the Flyers report to training camp this fall, they will return five starters on defense. That leaves room for two more blueliners.

Right now, the incumbents to those spots are Sam Morin and Robert Hagg, both of whom made their NHL debuts during the final week of the regular season.

Then again that could change in camp given the presence of Travis Sanheim and Philippe Myers. Nothing is certain except that there will be seven -- not eight -- defensemen next season.

"Just looking at it on paper right now," Hextall said, "I don't know the two kids or the one kid that's going to be in our lineup next year, but they're going to dictate that. But I like the pieces we have surrounding them.

"Robert's progression has been really, really impressive. He came over as a 19-year-old, played up in Glen Falls there and was OK. The American League is a tough league to play in at that age and he held his own. As a 20-year-old, he was not bad. And this year, he's taken it to another level.

"Sam understands more than ever what his game is. I remember seeing Sam back in junior, and Sam was on the power play. Sam knows what he is as a player and he's done a really good job of working hard, getting better every day. They've both done a real good job.

"Well see where it leads to in September. They have to fight for a spot."

Here is our take on the defense (alphabetically) this past season, minus Hagg and Morin who weren't here long enough.
 
Michael Del Zotto
Age: Turns 27 on June 25
Stats: 51 GP; 6G, 12A, 18 Pts.; minus-5; 19:30
Cap hit: UFA who earned $3.875 million

When Del Zotto signed here in free agency in 2014, he was a reclamation project. When he met with Hextall two weeks ago, he thanked him for rejuvenating his career and said he understood the club had even younger players than himself waiting in line. The irony is, Del Zotto's best overall season was his first one in 2014-15 when he scored 10 goals and 32 points with far fewer turnovers with the Rangers. He averaged 23 minutes last year, but because of rookie Ivan Provorov, every other D-man's ice time dipped this season. In Del Zotto's case, that was a four-minute hit. While he can move the puck, he is simply not as strong defensively as he needs to be, which is why he's gone through benchings the last two seasons. Del Zotto did finish third on the team in hits with 173. He will go to free agency.
  
Shayne Gostisbehere
Age: Turned 24 on April 20
Stats: 76 GP; 7G, 32A, 39 Pts.; minus-21; 19:35
Cap hit: RFA who earned $925,000

Though he finished just seven points shy of what he totaled in his rookie season (46 points), Gostisbehere's sophomore year was nothing like his first. He'd be the first to tell you it was a nightmarish season, though he finished on an upbeat note. For starters, last year's offseason surgery on his hip and abdomen caused havoc on him right into the second half of this season, much as it did for Claude Giroux, who had identical surgery. "Ghost" was a ghost of himself in terms of his ability to pivot quickly on the ice, recover off the wall or in transition while his once deadly-accurate shot sprayed all over from the point. His inability to cover one-on-one was compromised, as well. He was a turnover machine at times. Much of it had to do with his lengthy recovery from surgery. Hakstol benched him three separate times. It wasn't until early March -- just like Giroux -- when he started to resemble his former self. He finished second among the Flyers' defensemen in ice time. "Ghost" remains the first piece of the blue-line rebuild that began under Hextall and should be re-signed in weeks ahead.

Radko Gudas
Age: Turns 27 on June 5
Stats: 67 GP; 6G, 17A, 23 Pts.; plus-8; 19:18
Cap hit: $3.35 million

There is a reason why teammates voted Gudas the Pelle Lindberg Memorial Award winner as the club's most improved defenseman. Gudas was able to transform his game into legitimate, tough blue-line hockey minus all the cheap shots, reckless hits and dumb plays that ruined his 2015-16 season. His 93 penalty minutes were down from 116 a year ago. Gudas finally realized you can play hard without playing as a liability on defense and he turned in a career season (six goals and 23 points). He was the only defensive regular who was a plus player on a roster in which virtually everyone was a minus. Gudas led the Flyers with 280 hits -- third most in the NHL -- and was third on the club with 124 blocked shots. He had the fourth-highest ice time on the blue line, but missed the final four games concussed. Coincidentally, that injury came off a blind hit -- the kind he used to dish himself.

Andrew MacDonald
Age: Turns 31 on Sept. 7
Stats: 73 GP; 2G, 16A, 18 Pts.; minus-5; 20:06
Cap hit: $5 million

MacDonald has become the whipping boy among Flyers fans because of his salary, which has prevented the club in the past from making certain improvements. If he were an offensive juggernaut, no one would complain about his contract every time he turned a puck over. And therein lies a falsehood. He was fourth on the team in giveaways (50), not first as fans would suspect. He was also the one veteran the Flyers felt confident could play with Ivan Provorov and play effectively, while allowing the rookie to develop. MacDonald's 151 blocked shots were second on the team. Again, given others' plus/minus and the fact he again averaged 20 minutes, it's not as bad as it looks on paper. He could remain with Provorov or be split to assist either Morin or Hagg next season in their transition.
 
Brandon Manning
Age: Turns 27 on June 4
Stats: 65 GP; 3G, 9A, 12 Pts.; minus-12; 18:03
Cap hit: $975,000

Some people wondered why Manning didn't receive the Flyers Fan Club's Gene Hart Memorial Award given to the player with the most heart because it was an award that Manning richly deserved. No Flyer has stood up for others on this club like Manning, who had to work his tail off just to become an NHL player and then hold onto his job. Manning isn't expected to fight and yet he did nine times this season. True, he's not very good at it -- one win -- but he is always willing and that's why teammates lauded him. Over the past three seasons, Manning has worked his way up the ladder from an AHL call-up to a seventh or eighth defenseman to an every-night regular on the roster, while his ice time has risen accordingly. Manning's 121 hits were sixth most and third among Flyers defensemen. He will have to work even harder to retain his starting position if Morin and Hagg make the roster.

Ivan Provorov
Age: Turns 21 on Jan. 13
Stats: 82 GP; 6G, 24A, 30 Pts.; minus-7; 21:58
Cap hit: $894,167

For the second consecutive season, the Flyers had a dynamic rookie defenseman. Provorov plays the game -- as Hextall has noted -- like he's a 30-year-old veteran, not someone who began the season as just a 19-year-old. He led the team in ice time and established a rookie record for such by a Flyer. His 27:17 single-game record against Pittsburgh will be tough to break. He was second in the NHL among all rookies in ice time, too. Provorov has the physical strength and advanced skills you simply don't see very often at this age. He is a franchise defenseman and the only player on the Flyers' roster you can pinpoint as untouchable. It's been a long time coming for this franchise, but Provorov will be on this blue line for at least 10 more years. He led the team with 166 blocked shots. He also led the team with 81 giveaways. Yet given his ice time, the fact he plays in all situations and that he was a rookie, that was entirely expected. The only question is whether he remains with MacDonald next fall.
 
Nick Schultz
Age: Turns 35 on Aug. 25
Stats: 28 GP; 0G, 4A, 4 Pts.; plus-1; 15:15
Cap hit: UFA who salary was $2.25 million

Schultz closed out his three-year career as a Flyer in which he was expected to be a seventh or eighth defenseman who was a gap filler to buy time for younger players. But he actually became a starter for two seasons because of injury and trades. While he wants to lace them up for his 16th season, Schultz said he also doesn't want to move his family cross-country for one year. If that's the case, he said he would simply retire and move back to Western Canada with his family. Hextall thanked him for doing more than what was expected of him. Despite limited ice time and game action in 2016-17, Schultz had 61 blocked shots -- eighth most on the roster -- and every player above him was a full-time starter.
 
Up next: A look back at Part I of the forwards.

Just shoot! Jakub Voracek quiets many with his heroics

Just shoot! Jakub Voracek quiets many with his heroics

BOX SCORE

Jakub Voracek had dead aim, at least that’s what the score sheet confirmed Tuesday following the Flyers' 3-2 overtime win over the Montreal Canadiens (see observations).

Two shots on net. Two shots that found a way past Carey Price.

Even though the NHL’s assist leader has more shots on net than Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby and Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos, Voracek hears the voices that say he passes up on quality scoring opportunities. 

One prime example came with 30 seconds remaining in the second period. Claude Giroux forced a takeaway and fed Voracek on a 2-on-0 prime scoring chance, but it resulted in Voracek sending a pass back to Giroux when perhaps he should have shot.

“It’s always easier to say we’re over-passing things,” Voracek said. “If you’re on the ice, the actual situation looks completely different. I hear ‘shoot the puck’ every single time I touch it. If I listened to all the people who say shoot the puck, I’d have 500 shots at the end of the season.”

However, Voracek shot the puck when it mattered most. With the Flyers trailing, 2-1, Dave Hakstol pulled goaltender Alex Lyon for the extra attacker Voracek, who took a shot from the top of the right circle that deflected off the stick of Max Pacioretty and past Price for the game-tying goal, and then buried the game-winner 1:26 into overtime (see highlights).

When asked if he caught Price by surprise on the equalizer, Voracek responded: “Me shooting? 100 percent. I just tried to hide behind the D and I got lucky and it went in.”

“It’s one of those nights when you had a lot of really good scoring opportunities and we weren’t able to cash in on them,” Hakstol said. “It’s nice to get a bounce like that with a minute and a half to go to tie it up.”

For the game, the Flyers had 79 shot attempts to Montreal’s 55. Thankfully for the Flyers, No. 79 was Voracek’s game-winner, which came at the end of his 56-second shift. Had he missed the net and been forced to play defense at the other end of the ice, there may not have been much left in the tank.     

“I was pretty tired,” Voracek said. “I’d rather have it like that. If I had missed the net, I’d have to stay on the ice and try to backcheck after, so I got lucky.”

Voracek became the second player in franchise history to score a game-tying goal in the final two minutes of regulation, and then follow it up with an overtime game-winner. Moving forward, the Flyers may need Voracek to shoot and score more with the recent injury to Wayne Simmonds, who will miss the next two to three weeks with an upper-body injury (see story).

To make matters worse, Flyers top-line winger Travis Konecny may have suffered a foot injury after taking a shot off his skate in the opening period (see video). Konecny never left the game but labored playing short, limited shifts, and wasn’t on the ice with Sean Couturier and Ivan Provorov to begin the overtime session.

“He obviously got hit with the puck there, but he finished the game and that’s part of the game,” Hakstol said. “He was obviously sore through the rest of the game, but I give him credit, he continued to battle through to do everything that he could.”

Less than 24 hours after the Flyers acquired Petr Mrazek from the Detroit Red Wings to solidify the goaltending position, Alex Lyon turned in another solid effort with 25 saves on 27 shots, beating perennial All-Stars Henrik Lundqvist and Carey Price in back-to-back victories.

“Yeah, it’s cool obviously to play against those guys,” Lyon said. “You watch them and you try to model your game after them. Obviously, they’re fantastic. In the same breath, you've got to go out there and say, ‘I’m coming out here to be better than you today.’”  

“It’s always nice to have some clarity,” Hakstol said. “I think Alex said it best after the game in New York the other day — it’s an ever-changing business. You just have to be ready and prepared for what the next day brings. He pretty much lived by his words.”

Notables
• Simmonds' streak of 223 consecutive games played ended Tuesday night. It marked the first game Simmonds has missed dating back to April 11, 2015.

• For the third straight game, the Flyers weren’t forced to utilize their penalty kill at any point, becoming the second team in NHL history to go three games without allowing a power-play opportunity.

• Forward Oskar Lindblom made his NHL debut Tuesday night, replacing the injured Simmonds in the Flyers' lineup. Lindblom finished the game with 15:11 of ice time and one shot on net.  

Blue Jackets snap skid on rare Harrington goal

uspresswire-bluejackets-team-celebrate.jpg
USA Today Images

Blue Jackets snap skid on rare Harrington goal

NEWARK, N.J. -- Defenseman Scott Harrington broke a second-period tie with his second goal of the season, and the slumping Columbus Blue Jackets snapped a three-game losing streak and ended the New Jersey Devils' four-game winning streak with a 2-1 decision on Tuesday night.

Boone Jenner also scored as the Blue Jackets moved into the second wild-card position in the Eastern Conference with 65 points, one ahead of Carolina and the Islanders. Sergei Bobrovsky made 30 saves in helping the Blue Jackets win for the fifth time in 15 games (5-9-2).

Taylor Hall scored for the Devils to extend his point-scoring streak to 12 games, tying David Pastrnak of the Bruins for the league-high this season. He also pushed his personal point-scoring streak to 19 games. He missed three games with a thumb injury, so the league does not consider that to be part of his current streak.

Keith Kinkaid had 17 saves for New Jersey, which holds the first wild-card spot in the conference (see full recap).

Point helps Lightning beat Capitals in showdown
WASHINGTON -- Brayden Point scored two first-period goals, Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 35 shots to earn his NHL-leading 35th victory and the Tampa Bay Lightning beat the Washington Capitals 4-2 Tuesday night in a matchup between division leaders.

Chris Kunitz also scored in the opening period, which ended with Tampa Bay up 3-0. That was enough of a cushion for Vasilevskiy, an All-Star who came in with a 2.34 goals-against average.

After Alex Ovechkin notched his NHL-high 36th goal for Washington to make it 3-2 at 11:02 of the third period, Nikita Kucherov clinched it with a breakaway goal with 7:02 remaining.

The victory improved Tampa Bay's NHL-best record to 40-17-3 and kept the Lightning ahead of surging Boston in the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference.

Lars Eller scored a power-play goal for the Capitals, who lead Pittsburgh by one point in the Metropolitan Division (see full recap).

Andersen makes 40 saves in Maple Leafs’ shutout
TORONTO -- Frederik Andersen made 40 saves and James van Riemsdyk scored the only goal as the surging Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Florida Panthers 1-0 on Tuesday night.

The shutout was Andersen's career-best fifth of the season. The 28-year-old goalie has reached 30 wins for the third time.

Toronto (37-20-5) has won 11 of 12 and improved to 14-4-2 since Jan. 4.

The Panthers (26-25-6) have dropped back-to-back games after opening their five-game road trip with three straight wins. Florida entered the night six points out of a wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.

Florida threatened in the third with goaltender Roberto Luongo pulled for an extra attacker, but Andersen managed to thwart the Panthers' best chance -- a point shot from Keith Yandle with 23 seconds remaining.

Luongo stopped 30 shots in the loss (see full recap).