Flyers

In comfortable spot, Taylor Leier puts game on display to Flyers during preseason win

In comfortable spot, Taylor Leier puts game on display to Flyers during preseason win

BOX SCORE FROM ALLENTOWN | BOX SCORE FROM BROOKLYN

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — It’s a short bus ride to Allentown, but on Wednesday night, the Flyers preferred to ride a Leier jet.

Taylor Leier, 23, made a strong case to make the opening night roster by scoring a pair of power-play goals in a 3-2 preseason overtime win against the Islanders, to go along with his typical tenacious, aggressive play (see observations).

“These games mean a lot for a lot of guys. It felt good to be back in Allentown,” Leier said of the split-squad game at the PPL Center. “It’s a lot of familiar territory and familiar faces around the rink. I felt good coming into the game. You’re not going to feel good every night, but when you get those games when you feel good, and you know you feel good, you try to run with it.”

Leier brought elements of skill and touch with his two goals and a two-line lob pass over the defense that led to a quality scoring chance, to go along with a relentless, physical forecheck that has been a staple of his success.

“That’s what you love about Taylor. You know what you’re going to get from him,” coach Dave Hakstol said. “He’s the guy who knows and understands the detail of the game. He’s a pretty consistent performer in the role that you give him.”  

Leier’s comfort level in Lehigh Valley is a result of starting his season with the Phantoms over the past three years, where he has put up respectable AHL numbers, scoring 33 goals in his first two seasons. Leier would have likely increased that total much more last year in his third season if it weren't for a painful neck injury that limited him to 48 AHL games, and a brief 10-game stint with the Flyers. 

“Growing up, I was always a scorer,” said Leier, who registered 64 goals in his last two seasons with the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL. “It was an eye opener for me coming from junior to pro, that everyone was a superstar in junior. Everyone that’s here is good. You get put in certain situations, and when you get a break and you get to play in a more skilled position, you try to show what you can do. I’ve always been confident in my offensive abilities, but sometimes it’s a matter of when you get those opportunities.” 

Leier would seem to be an ideal candidate in a fourth-line role with the energy he brings and the potential to chip in with some occasional offense. Phantoms captain Colin McDonald feels as if it’s just a matter of time.

“The easy thing to say is it’s a numbers game,” McDonald said referring to why Leier has spent little time in the NHL. “It takes time and I’ve been telling him that. I didn’t get all of my NHL games until I was 28. Sometimes you lose sight of that because you’re drafted at 18, and it’s a young league. So you get frustrated after a couple of years and you haven’t gotten your chance, but you've just got to stick with it. He’s going to be in the NHL, there’s no doubt.” 

A hack job
Familiarize yourself with NHL rule 71.1 that states, “Any forceful or powerful chop with the stick on an opponent’s body, the opponent’s stick, or on or near the opponent’s hands that, in the judgement of the referee, is not an attempt to play the puck, shall be slashing.”

In 10 preseason games on Monday, there were 49 slashing penalties called. As the Flyers discovered Wednesday, it apparently doesn’t have to be forceful or even powerful to be considered a penalty. The Flyers were whistled for two slashing minors within the first two minutes of the game, which led to an easy Islanders tap-in 5-on-3 goal.

“You want to get pace of the game, and I was talking with some guys after the second (period), and I think we had played just five minutes of even strength,” defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere said. “It’s hard to get into the games. It’s just going to put more emphasis on special teams. When they blow the whistle and everyone’s like, ‘What just happened?' That’s not a penalty.” 

Slashing the roster
General manager Ron Hextall said there are "lots" of decisions that still have to be made before the season starts. He’ll make his biggest round of roster cuts Thursday morning following these split-squad games against the Islanders.

“These [games] are huge,” Hextall said. “I remember doing these myself, we all do. Whenever there’s something at stake playing for a team, you hope guys rise up, and that’s certainly what we’re looking for.”

Patrick's progress
Prior to Wednesday’s game, Hextall said he liked what he had seen so far from No. 2 overall pick Nolan Patrick, but was looking for a little bit more.

“He’s shown the type of player he is,” Hextall said. “He’s a smart player. He’s got good poise. He typically makes the right plays, typically is in the right position, so he’s done a lot of the things we expected, but he’s got to do some things here."

Following his first preseason point — the assist on Gostisbehere’s overtime winner (see video) — Patrick concurred with the GM’s assessment.

“I think there’s a lot more I’m capable of," he said. "I think I’m just getting back into it here. I think I’ve played three games after not playing for a while, so I’m just getting back into it. If I play Thursday, I’m going to try and take another step.”

Monday's trade deadline no sweat for Flyers

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AP Images

Monday's trade deadline no sweat for Flyers

MONTREAL -- They’re watching it. They’re following it. But the Flyers don’t appear to be sweating it too much as NHL’s 3 p.m. Monday trade deadline fast approaches.

As they wrapped up an abbreviated practice Sunday afternoon at the Bell Centre in Montreal, the team had just learned that Canadiens center Tomas Plekanec had been dealt to the Maple Leafs, and the rumors are swirling regarding Montreal captain Max Pacioretty. 

“I know what’s going on,” said Jake Voracek. “It’s different. I haven’t been in this situation since my first year here (2011-12). Obviously it feels pretty good, but you never know what’s going to happen no matter what position you are in.”

It’s the first time the Flyers, sitting pretty in second in the Metropolitan Division as of Sunday morning and owners of a five-game win streak and points in their last 10 games, have been a potential buyer since Ron Hextall took over as general manager in 2014, and consequently, there’s no real threat of trading players to Cup-contending teams like we’ve seen in previous seasons. 

Still, Hextall elected to stay behind in Voorhees fielding phone calls and performing his due diligence as the Flyers prepare to face the Canadiens Monday night. He’s already given up conditional draft pick(s) to acquire goaltender Petr Mrazek from Detroit, and he may consider adding depth to a team with a solid nucleus.

And, keep in mind, they have reserves on the way when goalies Michal Nuevirth and Brian Elliott get healthy and Wayne Simmonds returns from his injury in the coming weeks.

“We have good chemistry inside that locker room,” said head coach Dave Hakstol. “From my standpoint our whole focus has been finding ways to get better from within — from within our dressing room and from within our own organization. If there’s a move or a decision that has to be made that Hex feels will make us better, I’m sure he’ll look at that in every way, but our job is to take care of our own business.”

Right now, that’s the perplexity of a playoff team that could benefit from adding experience. At the same time, there’s a risk tinkering with the chemistry that has developed over the past three months — a team that has endured and bonded following a ten-game winless streak to become one of the top six teams in the Eastern Conference with a 25-8-3 record and 53 points since Dec 4. 

“We’ve done a good job of playing as a team and sticking together, especially when you lose ten in a row,” said captain Claude Giroux. “I think you see the true colors of players and we didn’t have any negative things with this group. It’s definitely a positive. We like where this team is headed. Whatever Hexy decides at the deadline, that’s his decision, but we like who we have in this room.”

Hextall has stated previously that he believes major deadline deals don’t usually yield the desired playoff results, and he’s definitely not looking to mortgage the future by giving up prized prospects.

So don’t hold your breath that Hextall joins the likes of the Penguins, who dealt for Derrick Brassard, and Bruins, who acquired Rick Nash on Sunday morning, who are taking an “all-in” approach with the postseason nearing. 

As for the Flyers, they’re breathing a little easier as well. 

Dadonov's hat trick helps Panthers beat Penguins

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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.)