Mike Vecchione 'couldn't be happier' to join Flyers

Mike Vecchione 'couldn't be happier' to join Flyers

Mike Vecchione attended last July's Flyers development camp.
Forgetting for a moment what his former Union College teammate Shayne Gostisbehere had told him about the organization, Vecchione went into the camp with eyes wide open.
He liked what he saw. He remembered what he saw. And that was added reasoning for signing with the Flyers on Friday morning (see story).
"In my heart, I felt I had the best opportunity in Philly and I couldn't be happier with how everything turned out," Vecchione said during a conference call.
"With the whole Philly organization, I got to meet everyone when I went to development camp, the coaches, Mr. Hextall, the rest of the front office guys, a lot of the players. I just had that experience being around everybody, learning from their systems and learning from guys.
"I talked to Ghost. He obviously wanted me to go there, but at the same time, it's what's best for me and my future and it's ultimately my decision."
Vecchione is the first top-three finalist from Union College up for the Hobey Baker Award as the top collegian in the country. Gostisbehere was a top-10 finalist only.
This is a major step going right from the college ranks to the NHL -- not even "Ghost" was able to bypass the AHL.
"Obviously it's a huge jump," Gostisbehere said of his newest teammate. "You can't say it's not. It's totally different. I went right [into] the American League and I thought that was a bit of a jump for me coming right from college.
"But Veccs is a different player. He's 24 years old and I think his game's way too mature for the college level. It's going to be cool to see it translate to the professional level."
Vecchione made it clear he prefers to play center.
"We talked about that a little bit," Vecchione said. "Obviously, I'm a centerman. Four good years at Union and that's where my comfort zone is. When you're in the middle you have a lot more room to make some plays, but obviously, at center, comes a lot more responsibility in the D-zone. Just being responsible in all three zones, actually."

Hextall said he needed to see how things "shake out" during training camp next fall but he is leaning toward center as well, which means Pierre-Edouard Bellemare would move to the wing.
Then again, Vecchione didn't totally rule out wing either.
"We did talk about my flexibility to play wing," he said. "I played wing a lot in high school and junior hockey and then converted to center as a college guy. I'm really happy that they're gonna put me in at center.
"It's that comfort level to stick with what I know best there. I feel like my game is at center, providing offense there and obviously being strong defensively is something that we talked about, so if I'm not providing offense, I can be a good asset defensively and vice versa."
Hextall said Vecchione needs at least one practice with the team before playing. It wasn't certain whether he would make Saturday's morning skate.
The earliest Vecchione could play would be Sunday night's game in New York against the Rangers, one of the teams who wanted his services.
"They want me to come in and play some games," he said. "That wasn't a deciding factor whether I'd get into some games this year or try out and get in some games next year.
"I definitely want to get some experience in at the end of this year, get my feet wet, get my feel for everything, figure out the systems that Philly runs and get acclimated to the whole organization and how they operate over there. Hopefully, I can get into some games soon."

Flyers-Penguins Game 6 essentials

Flyers-Penguins Game 6 essentials

Here's everything you need to know Sunday afternoon for Game 6 of the Flyers-Penguins best-of-seven first-round playoff series.

Flyers vs. Penguins (Penguins lead series 3-2)
3 p.m. on NBC; Pregame Live at 2:30 p.m. on NBCSP+ with Postgame Live after final buzzer

Live stream
Live stats
Social media
Series schedule

Projected lineups

Claude Giroux-Valtteri Filppula-Jakub Voracek
Michael Raffl-Nolan Patrick-Travis Konecny
Scott Laughton-Sean Couturier-Wayne Simmonds
Matt Read-Jori Lehtera-Dale Weise

Ivan Provorov-Shayne Gostisbehere
Robert Hagg-Andrew MacDonald
Brandon Manning-Radko Gudas

Michal Neuvirth
Brian Elliott

Scratches: Forwards Oskar Lindblom, Jordan Weal and Taylor Leier; defensemen Travis Sanheim and Johnny Oduya; goalie Petr Mrazek.

Jake Guentzel-Sidney Crosby-Patric Hornqvist
Carl Hagelin-Evgeni Malkin-Phil Kessel
Conor Sheary-Derick Brassard-Bryan Rust
Zach Aston-Reese-Riley Sheahan-Tom Kuhnhackl

Brian Dumoulin-Kris Letang
Olli Maatta-Justin Schultz
Jamie Oleksiak-Chad Ruhwedel

Matt Murray
Casey DeSmith

Scratches: Forwards Dominik Simon, Josh Jooris and Carter Rowney (injured); defenseman Matt Hunwick.

What to watch for …

John Boruk
Keep an eye on: 
Ivan Provorov
The Flyers' minute-munching defenseman was dinged up in the final 90 seconds of the Game 5 win. Provorov's presence is vital if the Flyers want to push the series to a Game 7. He logged 30 minutes in Game 5 and the Flyers needed him on the ice during the final minute when Sidney Crosby nearly tied the game. Provorov hasn’t missed a game in his two-year career, and while I don’t expect him to miss Game 6, watch closely to see if he’s limited in any way.

Bold prediction: Game 6 will be decided in overtime. You have to go back to the 2012 Eastern Conference semifinals against the Devils to find the Flyers' last playoff game decided in overtime — a stretch of 20 straight in the postseason. As poorly as the Flyers have played on home ice in this series, Game 6 will be competitive as Michal Neuvirth will turn in another solid effort to keep the game close.

Tom Dougherty
Keep an eye on:
Flyers on home ice​
The Penguins have outscored the Flyers, 20-4, in eight games at the Wells Fargo Center this season, including the playoffs. No one thought there would be a Game 6, yet here we are. The Flyers extended their season one more game, but how will they fare on home ice? Home ice hasn't treated the Flyers well vs. Pittsburgh; they have to figure it out today.

Bold prediction: The Flyers are so unpredictable. With that said, I don't see this series going back to Pittsburgh. This one will be close; perhaps the Flyers even take the lead. But in the end, the Penguins come out on top, and the Flyers schedule their vacations.

Jordan Hall
Keep an eye on: Michal Neuvirth
Neuvirth is arguably the most important player on the ice for the Flyers. With the lineup employed, the Flyers are trying to muddy things up in an attempt to force the Penguins out of their style. A more physical, low-risk approach keeps the Flyers in it, but to play such a game, you desperately need your goalie to do his part. Neuvirth is 3-1-0 with 133 saves on 137 shots for a 1.01 goals-against average in his last four playoff starts. Can he have sustained success against these Penguins?

Bold prediction: The team that has scored first has won every game of the series. That will change in Game 6 as momentum swings will be felt at a lively, pressure-filled Wells Fargo Center.

Recommended reading
• Flyers' fate lies with Neuvirth ... and that's a good thing

• Hakstol's unconventional decisions keep season alive

• With Giroux's story, heroic Couturier pulls a Pronger

Michal Neuvirth gives the Flyers hope against Penguins

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.