Flyers

2017 Flyers training camp: 5 questions that must be answered

2017 Flyers training camp: 5 questions that must be answered

VOORHEES, N.J. — On Friday, the Flyers and the other 30 teams across the NHL opened training camp in their pursuit of dethroning the Pittsburgh Penguins, the first back-to-back Stanley Cup champions since 1998.

Every season comes with an entirely new set of questions that need to be answered. For the Flyers, some are obvious ones: Will Claude Giroux regain his form, which rookies will make the opening night roster and who will be the No. 1 in net? Ultimately, how will the pieces come together for the season opener in San Jose come Oct. 4?

Assuming everyone starts the season healthy, here are five more questions worth exploring:

1. Does Valtteri Filppula start the season at center?  
If the answer to this question is yes, then Jori Lehtera would be forced to make the unfamiliar move to wing. And where would that leave Nolan Patrick with Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier and Filppula as your three primary centers?

As you recall, the line of Filppula along with Jordan Weal at left wing and Wayne Simmonds at right wing provided some spark at the end of last season with Weal scoring a goal in four straight games and a point in six of his last seven. Does that late chemistry keep that line together to start this season? Probably not. Center is Filppula’s natural position and he’s reliable taking draws, where he’s been above 50 percent almost every season throughout his 12-year career.

He’s also defensively responsible, and during his brief time in Philadelphia last season, he rarely looked out of position. The 33-year-old Filppula is also versatile enough to play left wing as he’s proven during his time in Detroit and Tampa Bay. I think Dave Hakstol ultimately will utilize Filppula at both positions throughout the preseason to see what combinations work best. While I don’t see him reaching the 20-goal mark, which he hasn’t done since 2013-14, he’s more of an ideal third-line player since he plays a smart, responsible game. 

2. Who are your top two left wings?
Piggybacking off the previous question surrounding Filppula and Lehtera, left wing appears to be the one position that is wide open to competition. I see Travis Konecny, Weal and Oskar Lindblom as three talented, skilled left wingers who will battle it out to play in the Flyers' top six. Weal’s emergence at the end of last season coupled with Lindblom’s potential scoring ability make this scenario rather interesting.

While Weal is certainly capable of playing on a fourth line, that would seem to undermine what type of contributor he could be and why the Flyers elected to re-sign him.

It’s believed Konecny will have a shot at starting the season with Giroux on the team’s top line with Jakub Voracek flanked on the right side. However, Konecny found himself in Hakstol’s doghouse toward the end of last season, when he averaged around 10 minutes over his final 10 games. He knows he needs to sharpen his two-way game.

Lindblom, who was paired with Giroux on Day 1 of camp, is a special player and the coaches have raved about him leading up to training camp, but he’s an unproven commodity. Essentially, you have three players (Weal, Konecny and Lindblom) battling for prime minutes on the Flyers' top two lines.

3. Can you trust the rookies together as the third defensive pairing?
This is the question that needs to be answered with certainty by the time the puck drops in San Jose.

How nice would it have been to ease into the season with a string of home games to acclimate the young guys on defense regardless of if it’s Sam Morin, Robert Hagg or Travis Sanheim? Unfortunately, the Flyers don’t have that luxury. Instead, they begin the season with four straight on the road, which obviously gives their opponent last change. While expectations run high with this group of prospects, it’s natural to think there will be a few bumps in the road.

Considering Shayne Gostisbehere started 68 percent of his faceoff shifts on the offensive side of center ice (league high for defensemen), rarely is "Ghost" called upon to begin a shift in the defensive zone. When the Flyers face bigger teams like the Sharks, Kings and Ducks, Hakstol will have to be wise when and where he employs his defensive pairings. One mark of a quality playoff team is one that has reliable defensemen capable of protecting a one-goal lead in the final minutes of a game, especially on the road. Ivan Provorov is only one guy, which is why the Flyers need a second pairing that Hakstol can trust as much as his first one. Perhaps the head coach finds a way to split up the two rookies to maintain some balance of skill, size and experience. I wouldn’t be surprised if one rookie is a healthy scratch to start the season in favor of the more experienced Brandon Manning.

4. Is the loss of Pierre-Edouard Bellemare a big deal?
Bellemare was left unprotected this summer on the Flyers' expansion list that included Weal, Matt Read and Michael Raffl, to name a few. While Bellemare was not a contributor on the scoresheet in terms of points, he knew exactly what his role was with the Flyers and accepted it. He earned his way onto the Flyers coming out of training camp in 2014 and proceeded to play 237 out of a possible 246 games, mostly as a fourth-line center.  

Bellemare can be credited for doing a little bit of everything. He delivered hits, blocked shots, killed penalties effectively and won key faceoffs, even if his overall numbers were below 50 percent. He was not your typical fourth-liner, averaging over 13 minutes in his three seasons in Philadelphia, and would you believe Bellemare actually finished last season in the top 50 in voting for the Selke trophy as the NHL’s top defensive forward?

The Vegas Golden Knights saw the value in Bellemare and snatched him up at a cap value of just less than $1.5 million for the next two seasons. While in the Flyers' grand scheme losing Bellemare won’t prove to be much of a setback, it does create a void for the upcoming season. There are several contenders the Flyers will be considering to plug the gap, and right now I would lean toward Scott Laughton, who the coaching staff raved about for adopting more of a two-way game last season with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. Interestingly, general manager Ron Hextall elected to protect the 23-year-old Laughton over the 32-year-old Bellemare during the expansion draft because of the youth factor.  

5. Can the Flyers create balance within their power play?
As the longest-tenured assistant coach on the Flyers' staff, Joe Mullen was replaced this past offseason with Kris Knoblauch. Knoblach's primary duties will be handling the power-play responsibilities. It was the Flyers' power play that propelled them to the top of the standings during their 10-game winning streak. Following the stretch, they struggled mightily, falling from No. 1 in the league to middle of the pack by season’s end as the Flyers' top unit was relied upon to perform most of the heavy lifting. It accounted for a whopping 83 percent of the team’s power-play goals.

Only nine of the 54 goals tallied on the man advantage were scored by someone other than Giroux, Simmonds, Brayden Schenn, Voracek or Gostisbehere. There has to be a little more balance here if the Flyers want to finish in the top 10 again. Who will provide that element of skill on the second unit? Lindblom instantly comes to mind as the coaching staff has raved about his quick release and impressive skill set. Patrick could be a good fit if he indeed makes the team, as well as Lehtera with his vision and hockey sense. It’s a two-fold process: How will Knoblauch’s setup and design incorporate the strengths of the Flyers' roster, and how will the two units be assembled so they’re both power-play threats?  

Dadonov's hat trick helps Panthers beat Penguins

usa-evgenii-dadonov-panthers-penguins-celebration.jpg
USA Today Images

Dadonov's hat trick helps Panthers beat Penguins

SUNRISE, Fla. — Evgenii Dadonov scored with 1:53 to play to complete a hat trick and give the Florida Panthers a 6-5 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night.

Dadonov beat goalie Matt Murray on a one-timer off Aleksander Barkov's pass for the winner. Dadonov has 18 goals this season.

Vincent Trocheck, Jamie McGinn and Derek MacKenzie also scored. Barkov had three assists, Keith Yandle added two, and Roberto Luongo made 24 saves.

Evgeni Malkin had two goals and an assist for the Penguins, and Carl Hagelin, Patric Hornqvist and Bryan Rust added goals. Tristan Jarry made 13 saves for Pittsburgh before he was replaced in the second period. Murray had 11 saves in relief.

Trocheck finished a 2-on-1 cross-ice pass from Malgin after a breakout pass from Yandle early in the first period. Trocheck tapped in the pass at 3:44 for his team-leading 24th goal (see full recap.)

Maple Leafs win ninth straight at home
TORONTO — Ron Hainsey broke a tie with 1:23 left to give the Toronto Maple Leafs their franchise record-tying ninth straight home victory, 4-3 over the Boston Bruins on Saturday night.

Hainsey's one-timed William Nylander's pass past goalie Tuuka Rask for his fourth goal of the season.

Toronto moved a point ahead of Boston for the second seed in the Atlantic Division.

Nazem Kadri scored twice, Mitch Marner had a goal and three assists, and Nylander had two assists. Frederik Andersen made 23 saves to improve to 10-1-0 against the Bruins.

Brad Marchand scored twice, and Jake DeBrusk also connected for Boston. Rask made 32 saves (see full recap.)

Point leads Lightning to shootout win over Canadiens
MONTREAL — Brayden Point scored in regulation and added the shootout winner and the Tampa Bay Lightning regained the top spot in the NHL with a 4-3 victory over the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night.

Nikita Kucherov and Ryan Callahan also scored in regulation to help the Lightning (42-17-3) win their third straight and move a point ahead of idle Vegas for the overall NHL lead.

Andrei Vasilevskiy made 29 saves for his league-leading 36th victory of the season.

Byron Froese, Joe Morrow and Max Pacioretty scored for Montreal. Antti Niemi, making his second straight start in relief of the injured Carey Price, stopped 36 shots. Price is sidelined indefinitely with a concussion (see full recap.)

Ovechkin scores twice in Capitals victory 
WASHINGTON — Alex Ovechkin added to his NHL lead with two goals on the night he tied the Washington record for most games played, and the Capitals beat the Buffalo Sabres 5-1 on Saturday.

Evgeny Kuznetsov scored 50 seconds into the game and had two assists. Andre Burakovsky and Lars Eller also had goals for Washington, which leapfrogged Pittsburgh and moved back into first place in the Metropolitan Division. The Capitals had lost two in a row and five of seven.

Ovechkin's 37th goal came on the power play with 9:47 remaining after Buffalo closed to 2-1 on Sam Reinhart's goal 14 seconds into the third period. Ovechkin redirected a shot past Sabres goaltender Robin Lehner with 1:24 left for his 38th goal.

The 32-year-old Ovechkin played in his 983rd NHL game, tying Calle Johansson for most in Capitals history. Ovechkin holds franchise records for goals (596) and points (1,105) (see full recap.)

Even the bounces are going Flyers' way

Even the bounces are going Flyers' way

BOX SCORE 

OTTAWA, Ontario — An early goal, a beautiful goal, a lucky goal and a disallowed goal. That’s all you need to know about the Flyers' 5-3 win over the Ottawa Senators Saturday afternoon (see observations). Just for fun though, here’s a little more detail.

Ivan Provorov scored 28 seconds into the game to get the Flyers going in what eventually turned out to be their fifth consecutive win and 11th consecutive game with a point.

With the score 2-1 in favor of the Flyers late in the second period, Zack Smith looked like he had tied the game for the Senators, but coach Dave Hakstol issued a challenge and the goal was overturned on an offside that wasn’t originally called.

Well done.

In the third period, Claude Giroux scored a beautiful breakaway goal when he contorted his body to his backhand than back to his forehand before depositing the puck behind Craig Anderson in the Ottawa goal, who was left in a twisted heap in the corner of the crease.

That goal made it 3-1 four minutes into the third and after Nolan Patrick made it 4-1, Brandon Manning dumped a shot in just passed the red line, but the puck hit a stanchion in the glass and redirected into the net. Anderson had a great view of the goal from behind the net where he was standing after he went out to play the puck.

“We’re getting the bounces,” Giroux said.

“Brandon Manning’s goal, you can’t draw that up, but we’re definitely going to take it.”

Ivan Provorov and Robert Hagg also scored for the Flyers, who have now slipped into a first-place tie with the Pittsburgh Penguins atop the Metropolitan Division, pending the outcome of the Penguins' game Saturday night.

Considering they were last in the division about two months ago, that’s a pretty nice turnaround.

“I think it was always in the room and that we just had to believe in ourselves and know that we were capable of doing good things,” said forward Travis Konecny.

“We just had to stick with it and eventually things were going to pay off for us.”

That they have, and although Saturday might not have been their best effort, it was good enough. The Senators got two late goals from Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel to make the final count a little more respectable. Mike Hoffman also scored.

“We’re playing some good hockey right now and everyone has bought into what we want to do here,” Giroux said, adding the overturned goal was big.

“Anytime you get a goal like that turned (over), it’s a relief and a walk-up call at the same time,”

Nolan Patrick scored just his ninth goal in his rookie season, but he has six in his last 13, including goals in four straight.

“I think I’ve been playing good in the last 15 to 20 games and not just because of the goals; I think I’ve improved on both ends of the puck,” Patrick said.

He was standing at the top of the crease when Manning’s pass/shot hit his stick and redirected in past Anderson.

On a final note and not to be lost in all the offense, Petr Mrazek made 25 saves and has won both starts with the Flyers since being acquired last week from the Detroit Red Wings.

All is good on Broad Street.