Flyers

Michael Raffl, Matt Read healthy and in shape, looking for rebound seasons

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Michael Raffl, Matt Read healthy and in shape, looking for rebound seasons

VOORHEES, N.J. — Their 20-goal seasons seem like an eternity ago, and now Matt Read and Michael Raffl are spending this year’s training camp trying to prove themselves all over again.

“A little bit, yeah,” Read said recently. “I try and tell myself every day to be the hardest-working guy out there, and move your feet as much as you can, win puck battles and the other things will come as we go. Just try and be in a lot better shape than I was, not that I was in bad shape, but just try and play a full game and every shift at a high pace. Just keep working hard and hopefully, things can turn around, opportunities will come, and you just got to bear down on them.

“You've got to have something inside you that drives you through the summer,” Raffl said. “You've got to have a goal in mind. I want to come to camp and be the fittest guy in here. That’s all I can do in terms of how I prepare, especially with last season and all the injuries. I don’t want another year like that.”

From the day Read arrived in 2011, he seized his opportunities by utilizing his speed and relying on his hardest-working-guy attitude. His 24 goals led all rookies and he finished fourth in Calder Trophy voting behind Colorado’s Gabriel Landeskog, Edmonton’s Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and New Jersey’s Adam Henrique as the league’s top rookie. Read was considered one of the Flyers' most productive even-strength forwards. You may be surprised to know, but during that stretch (2011-14), only Claude Giroux’s 49 and Jakub Voracek’s 47 even-strength goals topped Read’s three-year total of 46. 

Read was rewarded with a four-year, $14.5 million contract and he hasn’t been the same since suffering a high ankle sprain just a month into that new deal. Once the injury became publicized, every time Read went through a scoring drought, questions regarding the ankle would resurface, and yet, he never missed any significant time playing through pain.    

Two years after Read burst onto the scene, Raffl followed suit, earning a roster spot with the Flyers straight out of camp as another undrafted rookie. Raffl’s transition to the NHL was not nearly as impactful as Read’s, as he scored nine goals to go along with 22 points in his rookie season. However, Raffl found his niche during his sophomore season, scoring a career-high 21 goals playing on a line with Giroux and Voracek. The big-bodied Raffl quickly understood that to keep up with highly-skilled players, the best thing to do was crash the net and good things would happen. Like Read, Raffl also benefitted financially by inking a three-year, $7 million extension.

However, last season was Raffl’s worst in orange and black. He never felt right battling through an upper-body injury during the first month of the season and then missing the final six weeks after suffering an MCL sprain.

“I was banged up all the way through,” Raffl said. ”I had a long summer and a lot of time to work on some stuff. I feel fantastic out there right now.”

Both guys felt better when their cellphones went silent back in June as Vegas was composing its expansion roster. And even though Read and Raffl were left exposed, the Golden Knights selected Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. Raffl clearly had no ambitions of continuing his career in Nevada.

"I like it here, I like where I’m at. I love Philadelphia,” Raffl said. “This is where I’ve signed for three years. I want to be here.” 

Read, on the other hand, had a more realistic and philosophical approach to the situation.

“It’s completely out of your hands,” Read said. “If it happened, it happened. If it doesn’t, you just come back to camp here and get ready for the season. If it’s out of your control, why worry about it, why fret about it? You just prepare yourself and it doesn’t matter if you’re there or you come back here. You just have to show up and be able to have a good season again. It’s out of your hands and I didn’t worry about it too much.”

Now Read and Raffl are back in the same dressing room and, for the first week of camp even, on the same line along with Scott Laughton. Together that trio proved to be a hard-checking line against Islanders superstar John Tavares, Jordan Eberle and Anders Lee in the preseason opener.

“Laughts brings a lot of speed to the middle and Raffy is obviously someone on the forecheck who separates a guy from the puck, and when he has the puck he usually does the right thing with it,” Read said. “It’s easy to play with those guys and we had fun. We had a lot of ice time. It’s a good way to start the preseason."

They may be together now, but one of those final roster spots could essentially come down to Read or Raffl.

Roster cuts
The Flyers reduced their roster by 18 players Thursday morning. Connor Bunnaman (Kitchener — OHL), Pascal Laberge (Victoriaville — QMJHL), Ivan Kosorenkov (Victoriaville — QMJHL), German Rubtsov (Chicoutimi — QMJHL) and Carter Hart (Everett — WHL) were returned to their junior teams.

Rubtsov, the Flyers' 2016 first-round pick, was returned to his junior team, rather than sent to the AHL for which he was eligible.

Forwards Nicolas Aube-Kubel, Radel Fazleev, Tyrell Goulbourne, Danick Martel, Carsen Twarynski, Mikhail Vorobyev, defensemen James de Haas, Mark Friedman, Maxim Lamarche, Phil Myers, Reece Wilcox, and goaltenders Leland Irving and John Muse were assigned to the Flyers' AHL affiliate, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. The Flyers' training camp roster now stands at 36.

“Obviously, today there’s separation in terms of where we go from here in camp,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “We still have a good number of players in camp. Today is the day when the competition starts to rise in terms of some of the tougher decisions that are coming down the road here.”

Tonight in the preseason game against the Bruins, Hakstol will be forced to dress nine players who suited up in the split-squad games against the Islanders, including Taylor Leier, who continues to make a strong push to make the opening night roster (see story).

“Taylor Leier will be back in the lineup tonight,” Hakstol said. “He’s coming off a really good performance last night. Those are the kind of performances and that’s the type of impact you want to see out of the young players who are working to make our hockey team.”

Here is tonight's roster:

Best of NHL: Islanders shut down Capitals to snap 5-game skid

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Best of NHL: Islanders shut down Capitals to snap 5-game skid

NEW YORK -- Jaroslav Halak made 31 saves after getting a vote of confidence from his coach, and the New York Islanders beat the Washington Capitals 3-1 on Monday night to snap a five-game winless streak.

Brock Nelson, Andrew Ladd and John Tavares scored goals for the Islanders, who built a 3-0 lead early in the second period and ended Washington's four-game winning streak.

It was the second time this season that Halak held an opponent to a single goal and the third time New York has allowed one goal as a team. Halak's strong performance came after coach Doug Weight sternly defended his goaltenders following the team's skate Monday morning. New York was 0-3-2 over its last five games.

Braden Holtby made nine saves for the Capitals before being pulled after the Islanders scored their third goal 1:34 into the second period. Philipp Grubauer made 17 saves in relief, and Dmitry Orlov scored Washington's only goal (see full recap).

Bernier makes 39 saves as Avalanche top Penguins
PITTSBURGH -- Jonathan Bernier stopped 39 shots and Mark Barberio scored in the third period, helping the Colorado Avalanche top the Pittsburgh Penguins 2-1 on Monday night.

Blake Comeau added an empty netter against his former team as Colorado won its second straight after a string of six losses in seven games. It was Comeau's seventh of the season.

Barberio put the Avalanche ahead to stay 6:17 into the third. His slap shot off the rush hit Pittsburgh forward Riley Sheahan in front and got past goaltender Tristan Jarry.

Bernier was on track for his second shutout of the season before Phil Kessel scored his 15th goal for Pittsburgh at 19:48. Bernier beat the Penguins for just the second time in 10 career games (see full recap).

Perreault, Jets beat Canucks to snap skid
WINNIPEG, Manitoba -- Mathieu Perreault scored two goals and added an assist to help the Winnipeg Jets halt a three-game losing streak with a 5-1 victory over the Vancouver Canucks on Monday night.

The win was the Jets' seventh straight victory at home and they have points in their last 11 games (10-0-1) at Bell MTS Place.

The Canucks have lost three straight in regulation for the first time this season.

Dmitry Kulikov, Josh Morrissey and Nikolaj Ehlers also scored for Winnipeg (18-8-5). Ehlers' 14th of the season was on the power play and gave him goals in three straight games.

Brock Boeser scored his team-leading 16th goal for the Canucks. He also extended his goal-scoring streak to three games.

Connor Hellebuyck made 25 saves for Winnipeg (see full recap).

Flyers notes, quotes and tidbits: Reversing home fortunes

Flyers notes, quotes and tidbits: Reversing home fortunes

VOORHEES, N.J. — Home is where the _____.

For the Flyers, filling in this blank hasn’t solicited positive responses this season.

Of course, the Flyers haven’t provided positive results.

After trouncing the Capitals and Panthers in their first two home games of the season, the Flyers have dropped 10 of their last 12 in South Philly. They gifted the Arizona Coyotes their first win of the season back in late October and have turned in lethargic efforts against the Vancouver Canucks, San Jose Sharks and Boston Bruins in recent weeks.

More alarmingly, the Flyers have just a 1-2-5 record in one-goal games, a situation in which home ice should come into play as one of the deciding factors. The losing and frustration culminated with a barrage of boos and a “Fire Hakstol” chant during that 3-1 loss to the Sharks on Nov. 28.

“It doesn’t help, but we’re not doing anything to help ourselves,” goaltender Brian Elliott said Monday. “You’re trying not to listen to any crowd. You’re just trying to block it all out and stay in that moment, just playing with your team out there, and that’s probably how I approach it. It’s taking that road style hockey game and bringing it here.” 

“I think the atmosphere will be better,” Sean Couturier said. “When you’re losing, it’s tough. We were trying so hard to get a win. It didn’t seem to come, and then finally to get one, two and then three. We’re kind of on a roll, but at the same time, it’s only three games. We’re pretty excited to be back home and keep winning.”  

Tuesday, the team will be looking to change its Wells Fargo Center fortunes when it opens up another five-game homestand, its longest of the season, beginning with a visit from the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Flyers are hopeful they can carry over their success from a three-game sweep in Western Canada when the Leafs hit town. 

“We keep it simple on the road. We went on the road and made a pact to keep it simple and play the right way,” Wayne Simmonds said. “We’ve had one of the best home records over the past three years. I think we do alright at home. Obviously, we’ve had a slow start at home, but we’ll pick it up.”

Not that the previous 14 home games have been irrelevant, but the final 27 games on home ice will have a much greater emphasis as 23 of their final 28 games come against Eastern Conference opponents, with 12 of those directly within the Metropolitan Division.

“From now on, games are going to get more and more important,” Couturier said. “Every point is pretty much necessary for us, especially when you lose 10 games in a row. You get behind in the standings and you’re chasing. We've got to stick together and get some more wins.”

'Ghost' feels for Wentz
Shayne Gostisbehere knows what it's like to wake up the way Carson Wentz did on Monday morning.

Wentz tore the ACL in his left knee during Sunday’s 43-35 victory over the Los Angeles Rams. 

In November 2014, Gostisbehere tore the same ACL in his knee during his rookie season with the Phantoms just five games in and never returned to action. Faced with months of rehab, there were moments when "Ghost" didn’t feel as if the injury was improving.   

“I saw the game yesterday,” Gostisbehere said. “I hope for the best for him. The rehab is really grueling. It's ups and downs. Some days you’re going to feel great, feel like you’re getting ahead of the game, and other days you feel you’re never going to get better. I think overall he’s going to have the best care in the world. I think obviously you hope for the best and hope it’s not that bad.”

Elliott named third star
Flyers goaltender Brian Elliott was named the NHL’s third star of the week after posting three road wins with a 1.67 goals-against average and .954 save percentage.

“It’s great when you get recognized,” Elliott said. “Whenever you get those recognitions as a goalie, it really shows how the group has been playing, especially this last week here. It’s probably my name up there, but definitely the whole team deserves that.”