Flyers

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

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

BOX SCORE

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

Michal Neuvirth gives the Flyers hope against Penguins

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AP Images

Michal Neuvirth gives the Flyers hope against Penguins

VOORHEES, N.J. — And now comes the real test.

Watch the Flyers one night and they may look unbeatable. The next night they’ll come out flatter than Kyrie Irving’s view of Earth.  

The Flyers, maddeningly inconsistent at times — OK, most of the time — will need to build off of Friday’s Game 5 win to keep the series alive with a win in Sunday’s Game 6.

It’s now or never for these Flyers.

After steamrolling the Penguins in Game 2 in Pittsburgh, the Flyers returned to home ice with all the momentum in the world. And we all know what happened next. A 5-1 drubbing in Game 3, a loss seemingly dolled out before the horn sounded after the first period.

This time around, though, the orange and black will have a huge upgrade they were dearly missing in Games 3 and 4.

Goalie Michal Neuvirth. Yes, that’s right, the oft-injured Neuvirth is the Flyers’ best and only hope of forcing a Game 7. That’s not a hot take, either. Just check out the numbers.

Neuvirth’s playoff numbers are staggering. His .930 career playoff save percentage and 2.00 goals-against average rank third and fourth, respectively, among active goalies. 

“I just enjoy playing in the playoffs,” Neuvirth said of his ability to ramp up his play in the postseason. “Crowds been unreal in Pittsburgh and at home so it’s just so fun playing in the playoffs. I had success in the past, even in the AHL so I believe in myself that I can bring my A-game on the big stage.”

The fact is, Neuvirth — when healthy — is the only goalie on the Flyers’ roster capable of delivering that brick-wall, game-stealing performance for the team.

Playing his first full game since Feb. 16, Neuvirth stopped 30 of 32 shots in Game 5, including the ones that mattered most. 

The 30-year-old stoned the Pens’ blazing powerplay, as the penalty kill went a perfect 5 for 5. The Pens came into the game 5 for 19 with the man advantage, but the stability of Neuvirth, as well as the return of Sean Couturier, stifled the attack.

“We knew Neuvy was gonna come in and play big for us,” Shayne Gostisbehere said. “He’s a playoff goaltender.”

And he did just that in Game 5. With the extra attacker, Neuvirth robbed Sidney Crosby of a soul-crushing, game-tying goal in the waning seconds of the game to send the series back to Philly.

“He made some huge saves the end of the third period there to able to go across (robbing Crosby)," Giroux said after the 4-2 win. "When he plays cocky, he’s pretty good.”

Of course, that was all just one game. 

But with the Flyers facing elimination, one more game is all the team can ask for. 

Dave Hakstol's unconventional decisions do the trick for Flyers

Dave Hakstol's unconventional decisions do the trick for Flyers

PITTSBURGH — When Dave Hakstol decided to push a few buttons prior to Game 5, the initial reaction was the noise that rings out when a toddler sits down at a piano for the first time.

Valtteri Filppula centering Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek? Dale Weise back in the lineup for the first time in 23 days? Starting a goalie that many feared would pull up with a groin injury midway through the second period? And of course, the only defense pairing that’s remained intact is Brandon Manning with Radko Gudas. 

None of it sounded all that good, but desperate times apparently call for unconventional coaching decisions. Hakstol found a way to string a few notes on a sheet of music, and while he may not be considered the NHL’s Beethoven behind the bench, Friday's game at least left you tapping your foot to the beat.

And somehow it all came together.

Consider: How may teams can cycle through three different goaltenders and three different No. 1 centers five games into a playoff series against the two-time champions and still live to see another day?

Even Claude Giroux, the franchise’s No. 1 center for most of the past decade, was singing Filppula’s praises. 

“He’s a smart player and he’s in great position all the time,” Giroux said. “We did some nice plays. I think it’s probably the first time I’ve played with him. He’s easy to play with. It was fun.”

But ultimately the Flyers needed a showstopper in net. General manager Ron Hextall pointed that out Thursday before the team charter departed for Pittsburgh. 

Brian Elliott had been pulled in two of his four starts in this series, and while it was a mere footnote of a dreadful 5-0 shutout loss in Game 4, the decision to give Michal Neuvirth the nod over Petr Mrazek as Elliott’s backup could very well be the single biggest reason the Wells Fargo Center is hosting a Game 6 Sunday.

“We just felt Neuvy looked sharp in practice,” Hakstol said. “He went in the other night and got some game action. Just talking it through with Kim Dillabaugh, our goaltending coach, he was the right choice.”

Sidney Crosby would agree. The Penguins superstar had scored at will in this series, and the only time he had been denied on the doorstep was the result of some sort of stick malfunction in Game 2 that saw his shot miss the net completely.

But with 50 seconds remaining Neuvirth’s glove was better than Crosby’s stick. He not only saved the game but the Flyers' season as well.

“He made some huge saves the end of the third period there to able to go across (robbing Crosby)," Giroux said. "When he plays cocky, he’s pretty good.”

Neuvirth now has a 3-1 record with a .960 save percentage in five career postseason games with the Flyers.

Giroux also referred to the Flyers' Game 5 win as the team’s best overall game in this series.

Of course, this time of the season it doesn’t have to be a masterpiece, it just has to be good enough that it doesn’t leave your ears bleeding.