Future Flyers Report: Alex Lyon finds footing with Phantoms

Future Flyers Report: Alex Lyon finds footing with Phantoms

Last week featured more of the same uneven play for the Flyers, plus a message being sent to star defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere with a benching (see Weekly Observations).

Before this week begins, it's time for our weekly check-in on the Flyers’ prospects playing in the AHL, overseas and at the junior and college levels.

In this edition, we feature a rookie pro goalie finding his footing in Lehigh Valley, a winger who’s been called up a few times on fire in the AHL and more.

Alex Lyon, G, 6-1/201, Lehigh Valley Phantoms (AHL)
With Anthony Stolarz's call-up to the Flyers last Monday, Lyon was thrust into the starting role with the Phantoms until Stolarz returns when Michal Neuvirth is healthy. Not such a bad week, either, for the first-year pro. Lyon turned away 82 of 90 shots he faced last week, winning two of three games for the Phantoms, who saw their eight-game winning streak snapped in a 5-2 loss in Bridgeport on Saturday night.

On Wednesday, Lyon stopped 30 of 31 shots in the Phantoms’ 4-1 win over Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, during which he turned away 13 shots in the final stanza. Afterward, Lyon said, via Highland Park Hockey’s Tim Riday, he’s “much more comfortable as a starter because I’ve spent the last 15 years of my life as a guy who’s played every single game.” Friday, he had a busier night with 33 of 36 saves in a 4-3 overtime win at Providence. Lyon let up two goals on 15 shots in the first period and one on 12 shots in the second but held off the Bruins for a combined nine shots in the third period and OT.

Lyon did give up four goals on 23 shots in Lehigh Valley’s 5-2 loss at Bridgeport on Saturday. Still, Lyon’s progression from his first few games until now is promising. Lyon said it’s easier for him when a team leans on him, and with Stolarz in the NHL, he’ll have his chance to prove that.

Taylor Leier, LW, 5-10/176, Lehigh Valley Phantoms (AHL)
Leier has already had a cup of coffee with the Flyers this season, albeit in a healthy scratch role. He was called up on Oct. 25 as insurance if Sean Couturier was forced to miss the Flyers’ game against Buffalo, but Couturier was able to play. He also received a call-up last season and played in six games with the Flyers, so he’s getting close. Before the season, assistant GM Chris Pryor said: "[Ron Hextall's] been saying patience, and Taylor is a perfect example of that. He has to grow as a pro and took a big step last year. He’s on the cusp from the AHL to playing in the NHL. Needs to get a little bigger.”

So how has Leier fared in his third pro season? Well, he had a big week last week with the Phantoms, registering four points in three games. On Friday, he had his third multi-point game of the season, and now has points in five of his last seven games. Overall, he has 10 assists, 14 points and 33 shots on goal in 15 games — an excellent start.

German Rubtsov, C, 6-0/190, Russian Knights (MHL)
Still no official word on whether Rubtsov will remain in North America. There was speculation the Flyers’ 2016 first-round pick would join Chicoutimi of the QMJHL after the CIBC Canada-Russia Series, which ended last Thursday. Last Monday, general manager Ron Hextall said as far as he knows, nothing has changed with Rubtsov.

The original plan was for the center to stay in Russia for two more years, as he is under contract with HC Vityaz. Chicoutimi owns his CHL rights. Chicoutimi GM Yanick Jean told the Courier-Post that the process to bring Rubtsov over from Russia began in the summer, and “there’s a desire from the kid to come overseas since the beginning.” The KHL contract remains the sticking point as to whether or not Rubtsov can come over.

Rubtsov was in North America for the Canada-Russia Series, playing in five of the six games for Russia during the series. The pivot had a two-goal game on Nov. 10 against Team OHL, but was held pointless in his four other games.

Carter Hart, G, 6-1/181, Everett (WHL)
If you have followed this report this season, you may have noticed Hart has been a mainstay each week, and rightfully so. The netminder continues to be a force in the WHL and continues to give Flyers fans hope they have another goalie to hang their hats on in the future — like Stolarz and Lyon. Last week was no different for the 2016 second-round pick.

Hart denied 70 of 75 shots he saw in three games for the Silvertips, with his best game of the week coming last Tuesday — 27 stops on 28 shots. Following up that effort, Hart surrendered two goals on 23 shots Wednesday in a 2-1 overtime loss to Kamloops, where he flashed some big-save ability late in the game. His .928 save percentage on the season remains atop the WHL’s leaderboards. Last season’s CHL Goaltender of the Year, Hart is playing himself into the conversation to win the award again this season.

Quick hits
• Lehigh Valley assigned forward Tyrell Goulbourne to its ECHL affiliate, Reading, last Wednesday. He had been a healthy scratch for most of the season with the Phantoms.

• Phantoms defenseman Travis Sanheim added two assists in three games, and now has eight assists in his first 15 professional games.

• Brynäs IF’s Oskar Lindblom is in a little bit of a slump, having gone three straight games without a point. Still, he’s tied for the team lead with 17 points in 19 games.

• Toros goalie Ivan Fedotov made his VHL debut last week, stopping 43 of 45 shots in two games.

• Piráti Chomutov’s David Kase remains out with an undisclosed injury. He hasn’t played in an Extraliga game since Oct. 30. He has seven points in 15 games this year.

• Rouyn-Noranda defenseman Philippe Myers had a huge game for the Huskies on Saturday night, recording two goals and an assist in an 8-3 win over Rimouski. He skated twice for Team QJMHL in the Canada-Russia series, but was pointless.

Samuel Dove-McFalls had another two-point week for Saint John’s, this time netting a goal and an assist on Friday in Sea Dogs’ 6-3 win over the Acadie-Bathurst Titan.

• Victoriaville’s Pascal Laberge remains out because of a concussion — hasn’t played since Oct. 15. Laberge was in Philly for the Flyers’ game Thursday against Winnipeg.

• Ohio State’s Tanner Laczynski continued his torrid start to his freshman campaign with back-to-back two-point games Friday and Saturday against Rensselaer. Laczynski now leads the Buckeyes with 18 points (5 goals, 13 assists) in 13 games.

• Another freshman Flyers prospect, Wade Allison, had solid week for Western Michigan with goals in back-to-back games against Air Force. Allison has six goals and nine points in 12 games this season for the Broncos.

Mark Friedman is heating up at Bowling Green. The junior defenseman had a three-assist game Saturday against Alabama-Huntsville and also picked up a helper Friday against the Chargers. He has six points during his current four-game point streak.

Changes may be in store for struggling Flyers

AP Images

Changes may be in store for struggling Flyers

Flyers coach Dake Hakstol acknowledged a shakeup in the lineup might be on the way after his squad lost for the seventh time in eight games.

“We haven’t done much of that so far, but there’s a chance that we’ll make a change or two in terms of combinations, maybe even in terms of who’s in and who’s out of the lineup,” Hakstol said after Friday’s practice. “It’s too early to say that for sure right now, but we’re looking at a couple different things just to try to change a little bit of the rhythm, change a little bit of the chemistry.”

With only 10 games remaining and the Flyers’ once tight grip on a playoff spot suddenly in jeopardy, Hakstol may not want to wait too long to act.

The Flyers enter a pivotal weekend in third place in the Metropolitan Division, but several teams are nipping at their heels. Their 81 points are tied with the Blue Jackets, who are behind in the standings based on a tiebreaker, followed by the Devils with 80 and the Panthers’ 77.

Not only that, but the Blue Jackets and Panthers are hot, both winning eight of their last 10 contests. The Devils and Panthers also have one and three more games remaining, respectively.

Time is not on the Flyers’ side.

“We’re going to address some things individually as well as team-wise and get pushing in the right direction,” Hakstol said.

Despite their recent tumble in the standings, the Flyers aren’t panicking. Hakstol noted several of the losses have been close, though that’s largely only true of their last three defeats. They’ve played a tough schedule during the ongoing slump, a slate that included the Lightning, Penguins, Bruins, Jets and Golden Knights – all teams with better records.

Plus, the Flyers have been incredibly streaky all season long, a fact not lost on the team captain.

“We’ve been in this position before,” said Claude Giroux. “We got out of it pretty well. We just need to find a way to get out of it and stay on the winning track.”

Prior to their skid, the Flyers had a four-game losing streak sandwiched between a run where they won eight of nine and another where they won 10 of 11. There was also a 10-game winless stretch that spanned from mid-November into the first week of December.

Giroux thinks the Flyers will be fine as long as they continue doing the things that brought them to this point.

“Obviously, we have to be a little bit better in what we’re doing,” Giroux said. “But in talking about our system, I think we just keep doing what we’re doing and just work a little harder and we’ll be more successful.

Having been through cold spells before, it’s safe to say the Flyers won’t be thinking about it once the puck drops.

“Right now it’s about our guys making sure mentally the deck is clear from anything from last night or from the past week and just a real clear mindset on what our next opportunity is here,” Hakstol said.

The Flyers’ next opportunity to snap out of their funk is at the Hurricanes on Saturday.

Capitals reclaim sole possession of Metro lead

USA Today Images

Capitals reclaim sole possession of Metro lead

WASHINGTON — T.J. Oshie, Nicklas Backstrom and Matt Niskanen scored as the Washington Capitals swept a home-and-home set against the skidding New York Islanders with a 6-3 win on Friday night.

Alex Chiasson had a goal and two assists for the Capitals, who hammered the Islanders 7-3 in New York on Thursday. Jakub Vrana's goal gave Washington a 5-1 lead with 9:04 remaining. Lars Eller added an empty-netter, and Braden Holtby made 22 saves.

Washington broke a tie with the idle Pittsburgh Penguins for sole possession of first place in the Metropolitan Division. The Capitals' four-game winning streak is their longest since taking five in a row from Dec. 28 to Jan. 9.

Evgeny Kuznetsov, Washington's second-leading scorer, left in the second period and did not return after sustaining an upper-body injury, according to the team.

Mathew Barzal, Brock Nelson and John Tavares scored for the Islanders, who have lost 10 of 11 (see full recap).

Hoffman lifts Senators over Stars in OT
OTTAWA, Ontario — Mike Hoffman scored at 3:26 of overtime and the Ottawa Senators beat the Dallas Stars 3-2 on Friday night to win their third game in a row for just the second time this season.

Ottawa won on home ice for the first time since Feb. 17.

Marian Gaborik and Matt Duchene also scored for the Senators (26-33-11), and Craig Anderson made 23 saves.

Tyler Seguin and Tyler Pitlick had the goals for the Stars (38-26-8). Ben Bishop, who stopped 22 shots, made his first start since missing five games with a knee injury sustained March 5 against the Senators. Bishop has a 9-0-4 career record against Ottawa.

Dallas has lost four straight, its longest skid of the season (see full recap).

Predators rally past Coyotes
GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Nashville Predators keep rolling toward the best regular season in franchise history.

Kevin Fiala and Kyle Turris each had a goal and assist in the third period, leading Nashville to a 3-2 win over the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday night. Ryan Ellis also scored to help the Western Conference-leading Predators get their 21st road win of the season and improve to 12-0-1 in their last 13 games overall. Pekka Rinne finished with 32 saves.

Nashville, which reached the Stanley Cup Final a year ago after earning the second wild card in the West, has 102 points through 70 games, and needs nine more in its final 12 games to set a new franchise record (see full recap).