Flyers

Flyers GM Ron Hextall: 'We have a tough roster to crack right now, which is good'

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Flyers GM Ron Hextall: 'We have a tough roster to crack right now, which is good'

VOORHEES, N.J. — With 26 players still competing to make the Flyers' 23-man opening day roster, the competition over the final few spots is heating up.

"We have a tough roster to crack right now, which is good for us," Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said Saturday after practice.

The Flyers already trimmed 18 players from their roster Thursday, but the most difficult decisions lie ahead. The tightest battle appears to be developing at defenseman, where Brandon Manning and rookies Samuel Morin and Robert Hagg are all vying for two spots. Travis Sanheim is still in the mix, but will likely start the season at Lehigh Valley.

So far, there is no clear winner in sight.

"We're going to monitor the situation as we go along here," Hextall said. "We'll see what we have with injuries and whatnot, and we'll make decisions at the appropriate time."

"They've all played well. They're all here for a reason still. We could've sent one of them down if they didn't deserve to be here, but at this point, they all deserve to be here."

Both Morin and Hagg have impressed this training camp and preseason. Manning has experience but is also working his way back from offseason back surgery — though Hextall does not sound concerned.

"There's nothing that tells me or certain information that I have from our staff that he's not ready to go," Hextall said, "so as far I'm concerned, he's 100 percent ready to go."

Some cuts will be easier than others. As expected, Alex Lyon was demoted to Lehigh Valley on Saturday.

Between Lyon and one of the blueliners, the roster will eventually get down to 25. That means two forwards will eventually wind up out of the equation, and the three players on the fringe fighting over that one spot are running out of time.

"We have four (preseason games) left," Hextall said. "Our big guys have to play, so we're getting ready for the season now. There's still players in the mix, but you get down as quick as you can and go from there."

Hextall acknowledged spots are "hard to come by" for prospects such Mike Vecchione, who has appeared in only two preseason games thus far. However, the Flyers are not viewing a demotion as a disappointment for any of their young talent.

"We'll see what Vechs, what he does," Hextall said, "and if he has to start out down below, or a couple other guys have to start out down below, that's the way it is."

In addition to the 18 cuts the Flyers made, two players will wind up on injured reserve to begin the season. Winger Colin McDonald and center Cole Bardreau are finished for the remainder of camp and preseason.

Bardreau is out for three-to-four weeks with an upper-body injury. McDonald is down for an undisclosed number of weeks with a lower-body injury.

Barring any additional major injuries, the Flyers intend to carry a full 23-man roster in the regular season, which is set to open Oct. 4 at San Jose.

"You plan certain things in injuries and performance," Hextall said. "You have to adjust on the fly."

"Right now, I'd say we plan 23, but see who gets injured — if a guy is injured, how long is he gonna be — all that kind of stuff. We'll adjust as we go along here, but right now, I'd say we plan on 23."

Roster cuts
The Flyers on Saturday continued to trim their roster. Forwards Greg Carey, Corban Knight and Phil Varone and defensemen Mark Alt, T.J. Brennan and Will O'Neill were assigned to Lehigh Valley after clearing waivers as well as Lyon.

Alex Lyon unfazed by the moment in massive relief effort

Alex Lyon unfazed by the moment in massive relief effort

BOX SCORE 

Entering a game cold to start the second period following a wild six-goal first period while staring down at future Hall of Famer Henrik Lundqvist at the other end of the rink may have intimidated most rookies, but Alex Lyon simply wasn’t phased. Not this time. 

Perhaps Lyon didn’t have a moment to absorb the magnitude of the moment, and even better, playing on the grand stage of Madison Square Garden didn’t overwhelm him at all. After all, for Lyon, the best way to earn that first NHL victory was in a building where he had never lost. Lyon is now a perfect 4-0 in games at the Garden, dating back to his days with Yale and their battles with Ivy League rival Harvard.

“I actually did take a comfort in that,” Lyon said. “I’ve been here, I’ve won here. You know the surroundings here a bit, so it’s good. When you’re in college and you look at the building and say, ‘Oh my God, it’s huge’, but now that I’ve seen a lot of NHL and AHL rinks it calms things down a little bit.” 

Sunday, Lyon came off the bench in relief of Michal Neuvirth to stop 25 of 26 Rangers shots in leading the Flyers to a 7-4 win over their Metropolitan Division rivals (see observations)

“It really does make a difference when you get that first win, especially after my first start against New Jersey where I felt like I could have uplifted the team there and we lost late. I’m just happy I could contribute,” Lyon said. 

The Flyers announced after the first period that Neuvirth would not return to the game after suffering a lower-body injury. Neuvirth was slow getting to his skates on a Rangers 2-on-1 goal where he was forced to fully extend himself moving post-to-post. 

“You never want to see injuries happen and you never want to see them in key areas, but it is part of the game,” said head coach Dave Hakstol. “With Neuvy and (Brian Elliott) being down, it’s a challenge. Alex stepped in today and did the job. And that’s what our guys will rally behind going forward.”

On the 50th anniversary of the very first game at the current Madison Square Garden, which coincidentally was played between the Flyers and Rangers, the two bitter rivals had no problem turning back the clock to a time when fighting went hand-in-hand with scoring goals. Shayne Gostisbehere dropped the gloves for the first time in his NHL career with Rangers forward Pavel Buchnevich, who laid out Travis Konecny with a hard hit on the opening shift of the game.

“I’d never done that before, but the boys were happy I did it,” Gostisbehere said. “I just heard the loud noise and I saw him on the ground. I thought he got smoked and I passed it to him so, I don’t know, I dropped the gloves.”

“It was cool. It was a fun game. It’s not how we drew it up. 3-3 after the first. As a team, our coach said we didn’t really have it tonight, but we found ways. I think the boys stood up for one another and we went out there and got the job done.”

Most impressively after a dismal defensive effort in the opening 25 minutes and facing the adversity of losing another goaltender, the Flyers still found a way to earn a victory during a time of the season when earning points are vitally important. The Flyers have now collected at least a point in their last eight games with a 6-0-2 record dating back to Feb. 3.

“Sometimes you have those nights,” Hakstol said. “Guys were ready to go. There were three scraps in the early parts of the game. It was one of those nights playing against a good offensive team. We weren’t sharp enough and we weren’t quite hard enough with or without the puck, but we recovered enough to get the two points.”

Fortunately, the Flyers were still able to dismantle a fragile Rangers team that has plummeted to last place in the Metropolitan Division by racking up seven goals against Lundqvist for the first time in 56 career games against the Orange and Black.

“Obviously, there were a lot of mistakes,” Lundqvist said. “They’re getting deflections in our net, odd-man rushes. I just have to start with myself, somehow find energy and confidence to play your game, but it’s hard when you give up so many goals to stay confident.” 

“You got to get to the net. There were some flash screens and just a good job of getting pucks to the net and winning net-front battles and it kinda went both ways,” said MacDonald.

Notable stats
• The Flyers are digging the day games, now 7-1-3 in afternoon starts.

• The top line dominated once again with seven points and a plus-five rating. Konecny registered his first career three-point game and Claude Giroux scored his 200th career goal.

• The Flyers scored seven goals on the Rangers for the first time since November 11, 1992, at the Spectrum.

• The Flyers have not allowed a power play in back-to-back games, which has not happened since the NHL began tracking those number through box scores dating back to 1977.

Alex Lyon saves Flyers' day at MSG

Alex Lyon saves Flyers' day at MSG

BOX SCORE

Sunday’s game at Madison Square Garden turned into the off-Broadway performance of “Lyon King.” 

While it may not qualify for a Tony award, the Flyers' 7-4 victory over the New York Rangers had plenty of entertainment value.

Rookie Alex Lyon replaced Michal Neuvirth to begin the second period and stopped 25 shots to earn his first-career NHL victory, beating Henrik Lundqvist at MSG. Neuvirth appeared to have sustained an injury on Mats Zuccarello’s goal late in the first period that tied the game at 3-3. The Flyers later announced Neuvirth did indeed suffer a lower-body injury and would not return to the contest. Enter Lyon, who performed brilliantly in the spotlight.

The seven goals are the most the Flyers have scored against the Rangers since Nov. 11, 1992. The seven goals are also a season-high for the Flyers and the most Lundqvist has allowed in 56 career games against the Orange and Black.

Claude Giroux scored his 200th career goal while his linemate Travis Konecny produced his first career three-point game with a goal and two assists.

The Flyers also received goals from defensemen Andrew MacDonald and Brandon Manning, Nolan Patrick, Scott Laughton and Jori Lehtera.

Observations from the big win at MSG:

• Fifteen seconds into the game, Shayne Gostisbehere engaged in his first career fight when he took exception to Pavel Buchenevich’s check on Konecny that sent Konecny hard into the boards. Ghost held his own and was able to connect with a few right hands.

• Want proof that the Flyers' defense is out of whack when one of their key blueliners is not available? They were a complete mess with Gostisbehere in the box as they gave up a handful of high-quality scoring chances to the Rangers. Defenseman John Gilmour had a terrific look from the left circle, Michael Grabner had a point-blank look from the slot and Jimmy Vesey drove right around Ivan Provorov at one point. The Flyers were fortunate they weren’t down 2-0 early on after the Rangers opened the scoring.

• Just 75 seconds after Gostisbehere’s fight, the Rangers capitalized as Kevin Hayes pulled off a near impossible redirect off Ryan Sproul’s point shot. Not much blame to assign, just an unfortunate and near-impossible shot to defend. Perhaps Neuvirth could have initially played the puck better from behind his own net as opposed to just rimming the puck around the boards.

• Flyers scored a picture-perfect goal that was set up by a face-off win in the defensive zone when they took a 3-2 lead late in the first period. Giroux took off with the puck and the key to the goal was his drop pass to Konecny that pushed the Rangers’ defenseman back near the crease. That opened up a big lane for Brandon Manning, who beat Lundqvist blocker side for the goal. A textbook goal off the rush that gave them their first lead.

• In a wild first period that produced six goals and three fights, the Flyers did a fantastic job of beating Lundqvist on redirected shots. MacDonald received credit for the first goal as Lehtera whiffed on a deflection attempt, but Rangers defenseman Tony DeAngelo did the Flyers a favor by getting his stick on a shot that beat Lundqvist. The Flyers tied the game at 2-2 with Scott Laughton’s redirecting Provorov’s entry shot. This is a prime example of why the Rangers defensively appear lost without Ryan McDonough and Marc Staal, two of the better defenseman in the league. 

• I have the Flyers winning the first period on the fight card, 10-9 the advantage. Dale Weise wasn’t as fortunate in his scuffle with Cody McLeod. A total of 32 penalty minutes were handed out in the first 20 minutes.

• Just as the Flyers’ power play expired, Peter Holland and Zuccarello caught the Flyers’ defense flat-footed and connected on a 2-on-1 rush. The Flyers had four forwards on the ice plus defenseman MacDonald, and MacDonald left his feet in an unsuccessful attempt to break up the pass. He should have forced Holland to shoot. To make matters worse, Neuvirth appeared to have injured himself on that play moving post to post. Judge for yourself…

• Lyon replaced Neuvirth to begin the second period and the rookie was tested right away as the Rangers converted another bad rebound goal. Radko Gudas and Manning certainly didn’t help out their goaltender as both guys were on their knees in front of Lyon, who made the first two saves, but couldn’t stop Holland’s attempt after falling face forward to the ice.

• In the first period, Neuvirth was in goal for a similar play when MacDonald rode his man up the boards, which left center Sean Couturier forced to play Rick Nash 1-on-1 in front of the crease. Nash was able to maintain inside position and simply curled the puck around Neuvirth’s skate. Through 40 minutes, the Flyers’ defense in front of their goaltender was somewhere between subpar and terrible. 

• Lyon came up with some big saves in that second period - the biggest came when Lyon snared J.T. Miller’s snap shot out of the air with his glove. Lyon finished with 13 saves in the second period coming off the bench cold.

• Konecny continued his red-hot scoring pace with another multi-point game. After passing up a prime opportunity earlier in the second period, Konecny wasn’t about to let another one go by as he sniped a shot under the arm of Lundqvist, who clearly wasn’t having his best game as poor as the defense has played in front of him. Konecny’s tally wound up as the game-winner.

• Lyon was positioned perfectly again on Nick Holden’s wrist shot early in the third period. In his fourth career appearance, this is the best Lyon has looked as he didn’t try to do too much and was square to nearly every shot.  

Forwards
Giroux-Couturier-Konecny
Voracek-Patrick-Simmonds
Raffl-Laughton-Weal
Lehtera-Filppula-Weise

Defense
Provorov-Gostisbehere
Hägg-MacDonald
Manning-Gudas

Goalies
Neuvirth
Lyon