Flyers

Flyers prospects buying into Ron Hextall's patience

Flyers prospects buying into Ron Hextall's patience

When Sam Morin and Robert Hagg returned from their respective NHL debuts with the Flyers, Phantoms coach Scott Gordon sensed something different right away, and it had nothing to do with their performance on the ice.

"The smiles were bigger," Gordon said Wednesday. "There's no questions about that. It's just one game but until you actually play that first game, I think as a player, you're waiting and you're hoping, and what if it doesn't happen? And when you get that first game, it's a load off your shoulders. I'm sure they were walking a little bit lighter."

For both guys, it was like a sample you receive walking through Costco. Next season, Flyers general manager Ron Hextall will likely have both defensemen buying in bulk as they take on a bigger load after Hextall said last week the team will go younger as they replace free agents Michael Del Zotto and Nick Schultz (see story)

But the timeline would test any young player's patience.

"Yeah, that's [Hextall's] philosophy and I agree with it 100 percent," Hagg said. "You need to be good down here (AHL) in order to have a chance at the NHL. You need to relax and realize you have young players down here and take our time to develop. When we're ready, we'll get a shot."

No other Flyers defensive prospect has as much AHL experience as the 22-year-old Hagg, who has logged 192 games. 

"You look at a guy like Robert, who's been here for three years -- it would be very easy to say, 'Jesus, it's just not going to happen here,'" Gordon said. "But he needed every bit of those three years to get to where he is now, and he's probably the most consistent defenseman out of our group. He doesn't have the amazing numbers offensively, but what he does in our defensive zone, on our penalty kill, how he gets up into the play, how he's improved his puck skills -- it's been a process."

Twenty-eight of the 30 first-round picks from the 2013 draft had already broken into the league by the time Morin (drafted 11th overall) made his debut.

"You see all those guys get their chance, but I'm not frustrated," Morin said. "I know my time's going to come. I didn't want to go to the NHL and not get better because I wasn't playing a lot. In juniors, I got a lot of ice time, here I've gotten a lot of ice time and I've gotten better every day and still getting better."

Now Hagg, Morin and 2014 first-round pick Travis Sanheim will be the defensive pillars in the Phantoms' first playoff appearance since 2009. The 6-foot-7 Morin, who's been compared endlessly to that of Hall of Famer Chris Pronger, feels there's room (in his game) to grow. 

"I'm still young," he said, "and when you see me in five years in the NHL, you're going to be like, 'That time in the AHL was worth it.'"

Panthers upset West-best Golden Knights in OT

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Panthers upset West-best Golden Knights in OT

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Aaron Ekblad scored 40 seconds into overtime to lift the Panthers to a 4-3 victory over the Vegas Golden Knights on Friday night, spoiling former coach Gerard Gallant's return to Florida.

Ekblad grabbed a rebound in the high slot and fired it past Malcolm Subban to give Florida its second win in six games this month.

Aleksander Barkov scored his league-leading fifth short-handed goal of the season and had two assists, and Evgenii Dadonov and Jamie McGinn also scored for the Panthers. James Reimer stopped 33 shots.

William Karlsson had a goal and an assist, and David Perron and James Neal also scored for Vegas. Subban finished with 22 saves (see full recap).

Pacioretty, Canadiens snap 3-game skid
WASHINGTON -- Max Pacioretty had two goals and an assist to help the Montreal Canadiens break a three-game losing streak with a 3-2 win over the Washington Capitals on Friday night.

Paul Byron also scored for the Canadiens. Antii Niemi, playing in place of Carey Price, who had been in goal for eight consecutive games, stopped 24 shots.

John Carlson and Lars Eller scored for the Capitals, and Philipp Grubauer finished with 22 saves.

Pacioretty, who has six goals in the last six games, scored Montreal's first goal at 7:08 in the second period and added an empty-netter with 1:18 remaining in the game (see full recap).

Ducks get upper hand on rival Kings again
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Ryan Kesler deflected home Francois Beauchemin's shot for the tiebreaking goal with 7:39 to play and the Anaheim Ducks won their second Freeway Faceoff in seven days, beating the struggling Los Angeles Kings 2-1 Friday night.

Adam Henrique scored early in the third period and John Gibson made 23 saves for the Ducks, who have won six of nine overall.

Rookie Alex Iafallo evened it for Los Angeles moments after Henrique's goal, but Kesler's long deflection sent the puck bouncing past Jonathan Quick. Anaheim then hung on in a frantic final minute to even the archrivals' season series at two games apiece.

Quick stopped 29 shots in the Kings' sixth consecutive loss, extending their longest skid of the season (see full recap).

Flyers have clear path to postseason but ...

Flyers have clear path to postseason but ...

It’s about to get real for the Philadelphia Flyers.

Real serious and potentially really hard. The Flyers have played the fewest divisional games of any team in the NHL.

That might be beneficial if the team located about 40 minutes off the shores of the Atlantic Ocean actually played in the Atlantic Division. The Flyers have hammered Atlantic teams this season: an 8-4-0 record including a win in Tampa and their most recent three-game series sweep of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Whereas the Atlantic houses a collection of domesticated poodles and Pomeranians, the Metropolitan Division is more a breeding ground for vicious Dobermans and pit bulls.

And the Flyers are about to enter the teeth of that beast.

Dave Hakstol’s club plays 19 of their remaining 37 games against the rock-solid Metropolitan, the only 8-team division in hockey without a legitimate doormat or two. 

“It’s good or bad depending on whether you’re winning or not,” general manager Ron Hextall said.“It’s great taking points from other teams and adding to your total. It does put a higher importance on those games for sure. Every game is important, but certain games are just a little more important. Your lows can’t be too low. That’s the bottom line.

“They’re divisional games. They’re huge games for us, especially with how tight it is with that wild card spot,” center Sean Couturier said. “We’ve got to step up and be ready for the challenge.”

Unfortunately for the Flyers, their sore spot over their past two-plus seasons has been their play against the Metropolitan elites — the teams they’re typically chasing in the standings.

4-4-1 vs. Capitals
3-5-2 vs. Rangers
3-6-1 vs. Penguins
2-3-4 vs. Blue Jackets

Collectively, that’s a 12-18-8 record in the Dave Hakstol era with just a 4-9-6 mark on the road. Interestingly, defenseman Brandon Manning believes roster formation has been part of the reason behind the success of the Flyers' opponents.  

“Credit to them, I think they’ve done a good job of getting better every year,” Manning said. “You look at what Pittsburgh does with their turnover and still finding a way to win. Columbus is so much better and you look at Jersey, which hasn’t been the greatest team the past couple of years, but this year they have a really good hockey team. I think credit to those teams for finding a way to get better.” 

And if there’s a direct path to the postseason, then winning these crucial divisional games has to be the way to get there. Since the formation of the NHL’s current four-division alignment in 2013-14, the Metropolitan has sent 17 teams to the playoffs and only once has a team reached the postseason without a winning record within the division — the Pittsburgh Penguins finished 9-17-4 in the Metro in 2014-15. 

The Capitals, Rangers and Blue Jackets also have the luxury of rostering a Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender in crucial divisional games, whereas, Hakstol will rely more on a platoon based on Elliott’s first-half workload and Neuvirth attempting to regain his early season form.  

“I haven’t studied the schedule that much in depth, but considering Moose started a stretch of 25 out of 30 games, that’s a real heavy workload,” Hakstol said. “I would expect the workload to be more spread out than that. We’ll find the best rhythm to be able and have both of them help our team.

“You need two goalies. I don’t care who you are,” Hextall said. “Look around the league. I said it before, there’s no Marty Brodeurs.”

Maybe not, but Saturday it all starts with Brodeur’s former team and with a back-to-back against the Devils and the Capitals this weekend. The Flyers' position within the division can change very drastically one direction or the other.