Flyers

Felix Sandstrom, Carter Hart, Flyers' tandem of the future? Count on it

Felix Sandstrom, Carter Hart, Flyers' tandem of the future? Count on it

VOORHEES, N.J. — When Flyers general manager Ron Hextall played, the former goaltender always viewed his partner and himself as a part of a tandem. Or so he says 18 years later.

By studying Hextall’s goaltending decisions during his time in his current post, his philosophy has become indisputable: draft a ton of goalies and tandems are imperative.

Hextall has drafted five goalies in the four drafts he’s been in charge, signed a college free agent (Alex Lyon) and the Flyers currently have nine netminders in their organization.

The effectiveness of platoons played a factor in the Flyers’ biggest free-agent move of the summer and immediate future in net. Brian Elliott welcomes tandems. Steve Mason didn’t.

Elliott will partner with Michal Neuvirth for the next two seasons in Philadelphia, but then what? We all expect one of the Flyers’ highly-touted prospects to be here in three years.

Whether that’s either Carter Hart or Felix Sandstrom, two goalies drafted by Hextall with bright futures, or either Lyon or Anthony Stolarz will be determined in the next two years.

Hart and Sandstrom are the two prospects everyone expects to compete for the No. 1 job when they’re seasoned enough to be in the NHL, but the question turns to their role.

Does Hextall envision either Hart or Sandstrom taking a stranglehold of the No. 1 job, while the other either serves as the backup or gets squeezed out of the equation?

You can bet on that being the case.

“The goalie dictates that,” Hextall said last Friday during development camp at Flyers Skate Zone. “You still need two goalies. I never want to have a backup that you say, ‘OK, he’s a 10- or 15-game guy.’ What if your guy gets hurt, where do you go? It’s always a tandem.

“You need someone capable of playing 30 games. Fifty-thirty, that’s a tandem. Fifty-five-twenty-five, that’s a tandem. The goaltender will dictate the games to some degree.”
 
On Day 1 of development camp last Friday, Hart and Sandstrom were paired together during the first goalie session at 8 a.m. and the second in the afternoon.
 
If the vision going forward includes them splitting time between the pipes, it doesn’t hurt that the goalies were positioned two stalls from each other at camp.
 
It also doesn’t hurt that they were at development camp last summer and they’ll likely be together again next summer. Building a rapport now should pay off in the long run.
 
“I was here last year with [Sandstrom],” Hart said, “so I got to know him pretty well. We were on the same volleyball team for the Trial on the Isle. We didn’t have great partners.

“I don’t know who they were. I don’t want to say any names. I think we finished last.”

Hart, who turns 19 next month, received a taste of pro life at the end of last season, when he joined the Lehigh Valley Phantoms largely as a spectator in the AHL playoffs, though he did back up once.
 
The 2016 second-round pick will spend the 2017-18 season in the WHL with Everett before making the jump full-time professionally in 2018-19 when he’s 20 (see story).
 
As for Sandstrom, the 20-year-old had the option to jump overseas this season to play at Lehigh Valley with his contract with Brynäs IF expiring after last season.
 
Instead, the Swede decided to re-up for one more year with Brynäs, while his teammate, winger Oskar Lindblom, opted to come to North America full-time. Lindblom is expected to make the Flyers’ roster in training camp, but beginning the year in the AHL is an option too.

“I’m in a good position at home in Sweden,” Sandstrom said. “I get to play a lot. Really like my goalie coach there, too. I’m in a good position at home. No reason to rush. I think I need one more year to develop more and be even more ready to come over here.”

Leaving Sweden didn’t really compute much for Sandstrom, a 2015 third-round pick who in 2016-17 posted respectable numbers for Brynäs in his second full season in the SHL.

There is a numbers game in Lehigh Valley with Lyon and Stolarz, both restricted free agents. There wasn’t much playing time available with the Phantoms.

In 46 regular-season games last season, Sandstrom compiled a 14-7 record, 2.25 goals-against average and .908 save percentage with two shutouts. During the postseason, he had a 2.83 GAA and .901 save percentage in 13 games as Brynäs lost in the finals.

Sandstrom reiterated his desire to play in the NHL and “be a reason why the Flyers win games” at development camp. With the logistics, it just didn’t make sense this year.

When he does come over — as it is with all European players — the rink will be his biggest adjustment. The smaller rink creates for different angles for goalies. It takes time to adjust.

“It’s a different type of game with the rinks,” Sandstrom said. “More shots, more straight to the net. I like that. I think I can handle that. It’s pretty good. I’m a pretty good skater, too.

“It’s more often that they shoot from places [here], where, in Sweden, they often don’t shoot. Because when you go on the boards here, it’s a scoring chance. If you shoot from there in Sweden, it’s not as dangerous.”

Best of NHL: Blue Jackets shut out Rangers

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AP Images

Best of NHL: Blue Jackets shut out Rangers

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Sergei Bobrovsky made 36 saves for his 21st career shutout and Zach Werenski and Artemi Panarin scored in the Columbus Blue Jackets' 2-0 victory over the New York Rangers on Friday night.

New York ran into a hot goalie in Bobrovsky, the reigning Vezina Trophy winner who notched his second shutout of the season in powering Columbus to its third straight victory.

Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist was nearly as good against the increasingly aggressive Blue Jackets, stopping 40 shots on the night. The Rangers (11-8-1) lost their second straight following a six-game win streak.

After a scoreless first period in which both goalies made some slick, sprawling saves, Werenski found the back of the net with his sixth goal of the season 13:34 into the second.

Brandon Dubinsky lost the handle of the puck in the slot, and Werenski picked it up just inside the right circle and beat Lundqvist with a one-timer.

Columbus (12-7-1) was the aggressor in the second frame, outshooting the Rangers 19-9, and kept up the pressure in the third.

Panarin scored his fourth goal of the season on a power play 7:14 into the third period, rocketing a slap shot from the high slot that ricocheted off the bar and in.

The Blue Jackets are 9-1-0 this season when allowing two goals or fewer (see full recap).

Red Wings’ 3rd-period goals enough to top Sabres
DETROIT -- Tomas Tatar scored a go-ahead goal midway through third period and the Detroit Red Wings went on to beat the Buffalo Sabres 3-1 on Friday night.

Detroit's Luke Glendening broke a scoreless tie late in the second period. Ryan O'Reilly pulled Buffalo into a 1-all tie 5:50 into the third.

Dylan Larkin scored late in the game and Jimmy Howard had 19 saves for the Red Wings. They have won consecutive games at home for the first time this season.

Buffalo's Robin Lehner stopped the first 20 shots he faced and finished with 30 saves.

The Sabres have lost four straight, one away from their longest losing streak of the season, but were thankful they didn't lose more than a game in Detroit.

Jack Eichel went to the dressing room late in the second period after coming off the ice slowly, keeping weight off his right skate following a collision with Glendening, and making a brief stop on the bench. Buffalo's standout center was cleared to return at the start of the third period.

After a scoreless first period with a combined 14 shots, Detroit outshot Buffalo 13-4 in the second and took control without that translating to a big lead (see full recap).

End to End: How to solve the Flyers' scoring woes

End to End: How to solve the Flyers' scoring woes

Throughout the season, we'll ask questions about the Flyers to our resident hockey analysts and see what they have to say.

Going End to End today are NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com producers/reporters Tom Dougherty and Jordan Hall.

The topic: How to solve the Flyers' scoring woes.

Dougherty
If Thursday night's 3-2 shootout loss in Winnipeg confirmed anything, it's the Flyers cannot break up their top line. They might not be able to score much, but their only scoring is coming from Sean Couturier, Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek.

The Couturier line accounts for 48 percent of the Flyers' offense, or 25 goals. Factor the defense and top line together, and that's 59 percent, as the blue line has produced six tallies this season.

Of the 21 goals the Flyers have scored that do not come from the top line or blue line, 12 have come from two players, Wayne Simmonds and Valtteri Filppula. Simmonds hasn't scored in 11 games, and Filppula has one goal in his past nine games.

Two lines have stayed intact since Day 1 — the Couturier line and the fourth line of Scott Laughton, Taylor Leier and Michael Raffl. Head coach Dave Hakstol has been hesitant about breaking up his fourth line, and rightfully so. Laughton, Leier and Raffl have chemistry, and they're almost always cycling in the offensive zone.

Nolan Patrick just returned after missing three weeks because of a "suspected" concussion and played sparingly against the Jets. He should help the Flyers' scoring woes, but he won't solve them. I think it's time to break up the fourth line, and based on the Winnipeg game, it looks like a possibility Hakstol is considering.

Here's why. Raffl played on the second power-play unit against the Jets, which was a first this season. Perhaps Hakstol didn't want to throw Patrick back into the fire and watched the rookie's minutes.

Breaking up lines Nos. 2, 3 and 4 is the best course of action. Travis Konecny is struggling with confidence, Jordan Weal hasn't been great, and those are two players the Flyers need to get going. It's time to end the Dale Weise in the top-nine experiment.

With what the Flyers have, here is what I would do:

Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
Travis Konecny-Nolan Patrick-Wayne Simmonds
Jordan Weal-Valtteri Filppula-Michael Raffl
Taylor Leier-Scott Laughton-Dale Weise

Hall
There's no need to panic if you're the Flyers.

First, you finally have a no-doubt-about-it top line. Voracek, Couturier and Giroux have blended beautifully and are doing damage, as the Flyers entered Friday one of only three teams in the NHL with a trio of players over 20 points each. Don't break that up just because there's an imbalance below it. 

And second, it's a long season. Ups and downs are common and things can change quickly. Just look at last season. The Flyers ripped off 10 straight wins and scored the NHL's second-most goals through the first two months of 2016-17. As we all know, they didn't make the postseason and finished as a bottom-third goal-scoring club.

The Flyers simply need to continue experimenting with their middle six and see what eventually works best. A little patience was going to be required when you're relying on a 19-year-old rookie in Patrick, a 20-year-old still finding himself at this level in Konecny and a 25-year-old facing his first full NHL season in Weal.

And let's not forget, the defense is exceptionally young with two rookies (Robert Hagg and Travis Sanheim), a 20-year-old leader (Ivan Provorov) and a third-year player coming off a sophomore slump (Shayne Gostisbehere).

But back to the forwards. 

If you recall, a stretch from Oct. 10-17 featured Filppula centering Weal and Simmonds on the second line, with Patrick centering Konecny and Weise on the third unit. It resulted in a pretty productive three-game span in which the Flyers picked up two wins and outscored the opposition 18-9.

I really liked the dynamic of that middle six. And the Flyers can now return to it with Patrick suiting up. He will be eased back into heavier minutes, but he can make a difference when healthy and comfortable. Patrick and Konecny can still play plenty of minutes on the third line with less pressure and potentially more favorable matchups.

We've seen Weal and Simmonds work well together, and Filppula adds smarts and steadiness down the middle.

But the important thing to remember is the Flyers are only 19 games into an 82-game grind. Scoring can come and go at times, and there's no reason it can't come down the line.

So, here's what I like best for the Flyers right now:

Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
Jordan Weal-Valtteri Filppula-Wayne Simmonds
Travis Konecny-Nolan Patrick-Dale Weise
Taylor Leier-Scott Laughton-Michael Raffl