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Flyers notch first victory in Berube's debut

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Flyers notch first victory in Berube's debut

BOX SCORE

Updated: 11:30 p.m.

Sometimes you win ugly in hockey.

And when your team is 0-3, with a discombobulated power play, has fired its coach, torched itself with bad penalties, and yet somehow managed a win … well, Craig Berube will take it.

Thanks to goalie Steve Mason, who was unconscious in net (see story), the Flyers were able to overcome their own shortcomings with a gut-check 2-1 win over the Florida Panthers on Tuesday night at Wells Fargo Center for “The Chief’s” first NHL victory as a head coach.

“He played great,” Berube said of Mason’s 33 saves. “His composure in net, he looked real solid, right on top of things. Saw all the pucks. Just looked big in net.”

Mason kept the Flyers in the game, helping them erase a four-minute Panthers' power play with a couple of saves and four huge blocked shots from the penalty kill units, which were superb as well.

“It was good -- guys are getting on the same page and Mason making some big saves when we need it,” Braydon Coburn said. “We really needed him to play good. He really stuck out his head for us. That’s been a strong point for us right now.”

Clutching a 2-1 lead that last period, Jay Rosehill picked up a roughing call behind the play. A scrum broke out as Rosehill, headed to box, then turned around and darted across the ice to knock down Tomas Kopeck from behind as teammate Zac Rinaldo was surrounded by Panther jerseys.

Rosehill drew a double minor and 10-minute misconduct.

Along with that, Rinaldo and Kopecky had minors to cancel each other out, leaving the Panthers with a four-minute power play.

That could have been the game right there. Instead, the Flyers rose to the occasion.

“It’s a fine line. You don’t want to be in the box all the time, but at the same time, when he’s surrounded by four other guys, I feel a need to get in there,” Rosehill said.

“If I had to do it over again, I might not have gone in there the same way or I would have tried to take someone with me.”

Berube, a fierce enforcer himself as player, said that turning around when you’re just about to step into the box and picking up those extra minutes were “unacceptable.”

He’s been preaching better team discipline. Yet when a newspaper columnist asked whether Rosehill would be disciplined, Berube fired back, “You want me to spank him? Get lost.”

As bad as that was, Eric Gudbranson’s five-minute boarding of Scott Hartnell later was worse, giving the Flyers a five-minute power play.

The Flyers had three quality chances from Mark Streit, Vinny Lecavalier and Brayden Schenn but no goals. In all, five shots on goalie Jacob Markstrom.

They were 0 for 5 on the power play and are just 2 for 19 on the season.

“Our penalty kill was great,” Hartnell said. “Blocking shots, defensive play … Our power play was awful again, especially our unit.

“We worked to get it into the zone, they pressured us and we were a step behind. We had some shots, but perimeter shots.”

There was a first for the Flyers on the season in this game. Not just scoring two goals, but actually having a 2-0 lead.

Panthers goalie Tim Thomas had trouble with puck caroms off the back boards on both those goals and appeared to injure his groin defending on them, as well, because he left the game after the second goal at 7:31 and never returned.

“They’re lucky goals and that happens,” Berube said.

Jakub Voracek’s shot off the left boards bounced ahead of Thomas’ reach into the slot for Schenn’s easy rebound at 4:49. He now has two goals and three points in four games.

“It’s still early,” he said. “I just want to keep on contributing and get the opportunity to play with Vinny Lecavalier and Jake Voracek right now. You have to make the most of those opportunities and that is what I am trying to do.”

The second goal saw Sean Couturier line one off the boards that had Thomas moving awkwardly. He was well out of position for the crazy carom that ended up on Braydon Coburn’s stick, making it 2-0.

Thomas removed himself from the game for Markstrom.

“Anytime you put pucks on net or shooting the puck, you know things can happen like a bounce, rebound or going off the boards,” Coburn said. “You just have to play the pucks. There is no other way about it.”

Thomas came into this game with a career 8-0 record in Philadelphia with a 1.86 goals-against average and .947 save percentage. So, this was a rather huge loss for the toothless Panthers.

The second period was all Mason with 12 saves among breakdowns with uncontested shots.

“There’s always work to be done and right now it’s a difficult game because there is new stuff being thrown our way because of the coaching change,” Mason said.

“At the same time, our own end is going to take care of itself eventually. Just a matter of keep working at it.”

His pad stop on Shawn Matthias' shorthanded breakaway that period stood out.

“He was on his game,” Matthias said.

What hurt the Flyers in the second was the same thing that harmed them in Montreal -- penalties. They took consecutive ones to wipe out whatever momentum they were generating five-on-five.

Hence, they seemed tired at period’s end when Luke Schenn blocked a shot from Aleksander Barkov, but the puck went onto Brad Boyes’ stick for an easy rebound, setting up a tense final period.

“The players are squeezing their sticks -- everybody can see that,” Berube said. “I really liked our third period. We did a lot of good things without the puck.

“And I thought we did a lot of good things with the puck ... Overall effort, I have no problem with it.”

Ugly or not.

How Michal Neuvirth found fresh inspiration in being a dad

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How Michal Neuvirth found fresh inspiration in being a dad

For the first time in his nine-year career, Michal Neuvirth knows when he gets home at night after a game, there will be someone waiting for him with a smile.

Win or lose, it doesn’t matter to Neuvirth, or especially to his one-month-old daughter, Emily Gudasová Carolina.

“When you come home, there’s a baby waiting and it's such an amazing feeling that someone is waiting for you at home,” Neuvirth said after Tuesday's 5-1 win over Florida. “Last year, I was mostly here by myself, so I definitely like it better having a family with me now.”

Family now consists of his newborn daughter, his fiancee Karolína Gudasová and uncle Radko Gudas, Gudasová’s older brother and Neuvirth’s Flyers teammate.

To those of us on the outside, the responsibility of fatherhood seemingly has altered Neuvirth’s disposition. He smiles more, cracks a few jokes and elaborates just a little more with his answers to the media. Perhaps, he can tolerate us because there’s a deeper purpose and a sense of providing that comes with fatherhood.  

“It’s amazing feeling being a dad,” Neuvirth said. “For me, I just have another motivation to play for my family now.”

Of course, it also helps I’ve yet to see Neuvirth yawn or show up to practice with bags under his eyes. He has escaped any late-night drama with an eight-day road trip to start the season, and for now, he apparently has a rare lifetime pass for any early morning feedings.  

“I have an amazing fiancee. She takes care of her (Emily) as much as she needs to,” Neuvirth said. “I usually put her to bed at 10-10:30. During the night Karolina goes and feeds her in the living room, and I’m a deep sleeper, so she doesn’t wake me up.”

As Gudasová has kept an eye on the cradle, Neuvirth has secured the crease. He’s allowed three goals in his two starts this season with a .956 save percentage, which has initiated the debate for more playing time.

Interestingly, adapting to a new addition is something Neuvirth has also discussed with teammate and fellow netminder, Brian Elliott, who went through a similar set of circumstances with his son, Owen, last season in Calgary. Elliott called that first month with the Flames “a huge adjustment” and his October numbers reflected that.

Six games into the season, Neuvirth apparently has it all figured out. 

Of course, a good night’s sleep has a way of bringing clarity to the situation.

Buried by Flyers' depth, Jori Lehtera may soon finally crack lineup

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Buried by Flyers' depth, Jori Lehtera may soon finally crack lineup

On the first day he was officially a member of the Flyers, Jori Lehtera was literally pumped. So much so, the weight room warrior hit the gym that morning and slapped on a few extra plates on each side of the barbell.

“My wife woke me up and said, ‘Do you know we’re going to Philadelphia?’” Lehtera said Sept. 11, after the first day he skated with his new teammates in Voorhees, New Jersey.

"I said, 'That's good.' I went to the gym and had a little bit bigger weights than normal. It was good. I needed some change because my game wasn't that good there."

Lehtera was acquired by the Flyers from the Blues at the 2017 NHL draft in the Brayden Schenn trade. In the span of one year, Lehtera’s status has plunged from a top-line center on a playoff team to the 13th forward on a non-playoff team.

That’s not to say the Flyers have failed to recognize Lehtera’s skill set and utilize him effectively, he just didn’t show enough in the preseason to warrant playing time.

The fourth-highest paid forward on the Flyers’ roster has started the first six games of the season as a healthy scratch. Dave Hakstol has opted for the speedier Dale Weise, who’s earning roughly half of Lehtera, who has a $4.7 million cap hit for the next two seasons.

Lehtera's opportunity could come as early as Thursday against the Predators. Wayne Simmonds left Tuesday's game for precautionary reasons with a lower-body injury.

If Simmonds can't go — the Flyers will have an update on Simmonds Thursday — Lehtera is the next guy up as Hakstol would have to shuffle his lines.

“I’m still excited,” Lehtera said recently. “Camp wasn’t good. I wouldn’t say terrible, it was OK. I’m kind of still looking to find my spot. When I get my opportunity, I’m going to take my spot. Where it is, I don’t know.”

Lehtera bolted St. Louis, the city he spent his first NHL seasons, in a cloud of dust. His "Spirit of St. Louis" was completely sucked dry during his time there, as he finished the 2016-17 season with just seven goals and 22 points in 64 games.

“The whole season was a struggle,” Lehtera said. “I just couldn’t get everything out of myself. It wasn’t just a couple of things. It was a lot of big things, and a lot of small things together.”

Playing for Ken Hitchcock, who just passed Al Arbour for third on the NHL’s all-time wins list, has a way of wearing down a player’s psyche.

According to Hitchcock, who rejoined the Dallas Stars this summer after he was fired by the Blues back in February, Lehtera’s struggles were partly a result of centering the team’s top line with superstar winger Vladimir Tarasenko.

“First couple of years there was no attention being paid [to Lehtera]," Hitchcock said in the summer, "and last year, there was a lot of attention of being paid. He lost his confidence because he was in and out of the lineup, so the line wasn’t that effective. The line got special attention for the first time. Because of the way our lineup was built, we were really able to take advantage of matchups.”

Lehtera and Tarasenko developed a lethal chemistry as teammates for Novosibirsk in the KHL, but it didn’t translate to the smaller NHL rink, where time and space to operate with the puck are at a premium. Tarasenko’s reputation quickly earned the attention of the NHL opposition and its top defensive players.

“You saw that chemistry right away,” said Brian Elliott, a teammate of Lehtera’s for two seasons in St. Louis. “They were a dynamic duo and then they were split up, and I think he was looking for that guy to pass to and things like that.”

Compounding Lehtera’s struggles was a concussion he suffered that knocked him out of the lineup for several weeks in February. Once Lehtera returned, he was never quite the same, as he struggled with the speed of the game.

“We played him at wing after he came back from being injured, but his natural position is at center, and that’s where he played his best hockey,” Hitchcock said. “He’s a guy strong on the puck, good down-low player, he protects the puck well.” 

Interestingly for a guy listed at 6-foot-2, 210 pounds and lacking quickness, Lehtera would appear to be more suited at the wing position.

And the potential opportunity Thursday alone may have Lehtera pounding out a few more extra reps in the gym.