Flyers-Islanders preseason observations: Strong effort from young lineup in OT loss

Flyers-Islanders preseason observations: Strong effort from young lineup in OT loss


UNIONDALE, N.Y. — Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol fully expected his team to have tired legs coming into their first preseason game Sunday afternoon against the New York Islanders at the newly renovated Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, but his club responded with an effort that likely would have surprised their coach before losing, 3-2, in overtime.

Islanders captain John Tavares made a move in the right circle, cut into the slot and beat Flyers goalie Leland Irving for his second score of the game just 34 seconds into overtime.

The Flyers didn’t come out looking fatigued against an Islanders squad that was a little more loaded with Tavares, Jordan Eberle, Andrew Ladd, Nick Leddy and Anders Lee all suiting up to play. The Flyers drew three first-period penalties that included a 5-on-3 power play for 11 seconds. The two teams completed a scoreless first period with each team putting 11 shots on net.

It didn’t take long for the Flyers to jump out in front, as Mike Vecchione redirected Shayne Gostisbehere’s slap shot from the point in the second period. Although not part of the official record, it was Vecchione’s first NHL goal after signing with the Flyers as a free agent on March 31. He was held pointless in two regular season games in 2016-17.

Jori Lehtera increased that lead to 2-0 as he scooped up a Michael Raffl clearing pass and beat Islanders netminder Kristers Gudlevskis to a loose puck, putting in a backhand into an empty net for the shorthanded goal.

Tavares cut the Flyers' lead in half with a shot that beat Alex Lyon just after the Flyers had killed off Mikhail Vorobyev’s two-minute minor for slashing. Tavares is in the final year of his contract.

Lyon played the first 40 minutes, stopping 19 of the Islanders' 20 shots he faced. Newly acquired Irving replaced Lyon in the third period and promptly stoned Tavares from point-blank range in the opening minute.

On to the observations ...

• The Flyers clearly want Lehtera to get accustomed to playing left wing, a position he wasn't suited for in St. Louis. Lehtera provided a pair of points in his Flyers debut, providing the secondary assist on the game’s first goal. “I want to see how he works,” general manager Ron Hextall said. “He’s probably not the only guy who’s going to have to take a peek on the wing and see how he does. Jori’s a smart player and typically smart players can play on the wing. There’s very few centers who can’t transition there — doesn’t necessarily mean they want to.”

• The Flyers' first power-play unit consisted of Nolan Patrick, Oskar Lindblom, Matt Read,  Gostisbehere and Vorobyev while the second unit consisted of German Rubtsov, Michael Raffl, Lehtera, Travis Konecny and Ivan Provorov. One noticeable change from years past is an emphasis on better puck movement. The Flyers' second unit was able to open up some cross-ice passing lanes in the opening period.

• Scott Laughton was one of the Flyers' best forwards, making noticeable plays at both ends of the ice, playing strong defensively, winning faceoffs and blocking a big slap shot on an Islanders power play. The line of Laughton-Read-Raffl turned in a solid effort matched up against the Islanders' top line of Eberle-Tavares-Bailey.

• Patrick took the game’s first penalty, a two-minute minor for slashing. Just after that sequence, Konecny exchanged words and a few shoves with Islanders forward Jason Chimera.

• Sunday’s preseason contest was the first game at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum since the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs between the Isles and Capitals on April 27, 2015. This marked the Flyers' first game at Nassau since Jan. 19, 2015, a 7-4 Flyers victory. This will be the only game played in the newly renovated arena that was completed back in April.

• Most of the veterans, including Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek and Wayne Simmonds, went through an early morning practice at the Flyers Skate Zone in Voorhees, New Jersey.

• Hextall confirmed the hiring of former Kings general manager Dean Lombardi prior to Sunday's preseason game (see story).

Lines and pairings
F: Oskar Lindblom-Nolan Patrick-Travis Konecny
Matt Read-Scott Laughton-Michael Raffl
Mike Vecchione-German Rubtsov-Ivan Kosorenkov
Jori Lehtera-Mikhail Vorobyev-Cole Bardreau

D: Ivan Provorov-Philippe Myers
Shayne Gostisbehere-Sam Morin
Robert Hagg-Travis Sanheim

Best of NHL: Blue Jackets shut out Rangers

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 producers/reporters Tom Dougherty and Jordan Hall.

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

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

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