Flyers

An NHL debut worth the wait for Flyers prospect Robert Hagg

An NHL debut worth the wait for Flyers prospect Robert Hagg

Game 82 was meaningless for the Flyers, but it meant the world to Robert Hagg.

With the emotions from playing his first NHL game starting to sink in, Hagg's voice grew somewhat shaky following Sunday night's 4-3 shootout loss to the Hurricanes (see game story).

The native of Sweden thought about the phone call to his family on Saturday after he received word that the Flyers were calling him up from AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley.

Nothing would top those emotions.

"It's a dream come true," Hagg said. "I've been dreaming about this since I was kid. Tears and laughs from both sides on the phone."

A joyful time for the 22-year-old defenseman, who had participated in four Flyers development camps and parts of four AHL seasons with the Phantoms before getting his shot.

In July, Hagg talked about an oblique injury he suffered during the 2015-16 season that resulted in missed playing time and a deteriorated confidence.

"When I came back, I couldn't put it together," he said then. "I don't know what happened. So I had to start all over."

This summer, feeling recuperated and rejuvenated, he set his sights on the Flyers.

"That was the goal for the year," he said Sunday. "I reached it."

In the wee hours of the season, no less.

"Now I know how it feels to be out there," Hagg said. "I know it's Game 82, and the game is probably not the way coaches want it to be played, but I had a lot fun out there.

"The speed is different, the guys are more skilled, stronger on the puck, so you have to be pretty alert."

Hagg played 21:19, doled out a team-high four hits and blocked three shots. He was easy to see, and not because he was wearing No. 48 -- a popular jersey number among fans thanks to Danny Briere. Hagg has good size at 6-foot-2 and a steadiness to his game. He was paired with Shayne Gostisbehere, but also took some shifts with Ivan Provorov.

It appeared to be an audition of sorts, albeit just one game.

"Solid play," Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said. "I thought it was solid, strong play. Confident player. I thought he defended pretty well. It didn't take him very long to settle into the hockey game. He defended well. He moved well. I thought he supports the play really well. He showed real good confidence. So overall, it was a nice start for him."

Hagg, a 2013 draft pick, became the third rookie to make an NHL debut this week for the Flyers, joining Sam Morin and Mike Vecchione. Maybe the Flyers can take some solace in that as they pack up for the offseason with no playoff berth for the third time in the last five seasons (see 10 observations).

"I think Hagger played great tonight," Wayne Simmonds said. "Big Sam got in the other night, he played great. Vex played pretty well the two games he played, too, so we know we're going to have a lot of young guys coming in and I think that'll be a good thing."

Flyers player development coach Kjell Samuelsson and Phantoms assistant coach Kerry Huffman have played an important role in the maturation of the organization's prospects. 

Given Hagg's road has been one of greater bumps and distance, he's grateful for both coaches helping him grow.

"Huge part of it," Hagg said. "Especially Kjell, I've been working with Kjell now for three years and he's been on me basically every day to do stuff, so they've been a huge part of it."

Hagg also credited his new NHL teammates with assists.

"They just told me to play my game, go out there and have fun and try to relax as much as I could," he said. "It's Game 82, last game of the year, told me no pressure at all. Try to calm me down. They did a good job, all the guys were really good with me."

He'll see many of them in training camp next fall. The Flyers are expected to have at least two jobs open on defense, and Hagg will be near the forefront of the conversation.

For now, though, he'll soak in this April night.

"It was awesome," he said. "It's a dream come true to become a player in the NHL, play one game -- right now, I want to go out and play many more, but I'll have to wait for next season to see how it goes."

With Hagg, waiting shouldn't be a problem.

Back to the Phantoms
On Monday morning, Hagg and goalie Anthony Stolarz were loaned back to the Phantoms. 

The Flyers have played out their string of games, while Lehigh Valley is on the verge of clinching an AHL playoff berth, so the move is far from a surprise. The Phantoms are second in the Atlantic Division and their magic number is down to one point to clinch a playoff berth with three games left to play. 

3 reasons why Flyers shut down 'best player in the world' Connor McDavid

3 reasons why Flyers shut down 'best player in the world' Connor McDavid

BOX SCORE

A stat line of 0 goals, 0 assists and 0 points has never looked so good.

That's how Connor McDavid will remember his 22:03 of ice time Saturday afternoon at the Wells Fargo Center.

In another tight-checking defensive battle, it was Wayne Simmonds who scored the game-winner with 2:15 remaining in the third period to give the Flyers a 2-1 victory over the Oilers (see observations).

"Pretty big emphasis," Simmonds said of McDavid. "He's probably the best player in the world right now, so you know, we just didn't want him getting the puck in full flight.

"We just wanted to keep him on the outside and kind of limit the touches he was getting."

Aside from the broken collarbone game during his rookie season, when he was forced to leave in the second period, this marked the first time the Flyers held the 20-year-old superstar without a single point.

Prior to Saturday, McDavid had registered six points against the Flyers with at least one point in three straight games.

So, how did the orange and black bottle up the Art Ross Trophy winner — the only NHL player to top 100 points last season?

1. Deploy a multitude of forward lines and defensive pairings
Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol started the game matching McDavid's line with Scott Laughton's line. In the final two periods, the task of slowing down McDavid — for the most part — was left to Sean Couturier and the Flyers' top line.

McDavid had five extended shifts of 1:30 or longer, requiring the Flyers to use a combination of lines and bodies against McDavid. Last year, McDavid may have capitalized against a slower Flyers team but this season, there is more balance across the four lines.

"It's real important," Hakstol said. "And it's not just the extended shifts. He's got an ability to finish a long shift, take one off and come right back, and that can be challenging."

2. Ensure Ivan Provorov was on the ice
After the Shayne Gostisbehere-Robert Hagg pairing handled some of the first-period shifts against McDavid, it was Provorov who primarily handled those duties in the final 40 minutes. Paired mostly with Andrew MacDonald, Provorov also saw ice time with Hagg, Radko Gudas and even Gostisbehere in the third period.

Fronted by Provorov, McDavid failed to register a single shot on Brian Elliott in the third period. Not surprisingly, Provorov played a season-high 25:54.

"His skating ability and his positioning on the ice is so good he's able to slow guys down to kind of put him on his back, just kind of angle them into parts of the ice they don't want to go into," MacDonald said. "It makes it a lot easier when you're playing with a guy who's capable of doing that so well and covering so much ground. It's great to see and he just keeps getting better."

3. Flyers took away his world-class speed
McDavid may be the fastest player in the world with the puck on his stick in the open ice. In fact, McDavid's glide has more speed to it than most players' stride. If you didn't know that prior to the Flyers-Oilers game, you certainly didn't walk away with the belief that McDavid possesses the acceleration of an Italian-engineered sports car. There wasn't one time Saturday you could recall McDavid flying into the offensive zone with the puck on his stick.

"You can't let him get speed because if he does, he's gone," Laughton said. "I think that's the biggest thing. Take away his speed early, so he can't get that puck and take it away down low too. I thought we did a good job."

For Hakstol and Co., bottle up this game plan for the future. It will come in handy when the Flyers take on the Oilers on Dec. 6 in Edmonton.

The Guy
Guy Lanzi has been the Flyers' oral surgeon since 1993. In that time, Lanzi has pulled, repaired or replaced hundreds of chiclets and Friday afternoon was no different.

Simmonds sat in Lanzi's dentist chair for nearly four hours to have some extensive dental work after taking a puck to the mouth while sitting on the bench Thursday against the Predators.

"No surgery — just a lot of work," Simmonds said Saturday. "I was in the doctor's office for a while there. Couple of root canals, couple of pulled teeth replaced, couple teeth bridged. Work is not done yet. I got to go back soon."

Because of that, Simmonds was forced to wear the protective face guard to ensure a puck or stick doesn't do any more damage.

“I can't be getting hit in the mouth again or the rest of my teeth are going to fall out,” Simmonds said.

The reward for Simmonds' mouth-numbing procedure was his fist-pumping, crowd-roaring game-winner and his team-leading sixth goal and fourth game-winner of the season.

“I don’t know how many people would want to go through that and then come back and play a hockey game," Hakstol said, "but he did it, and he scored the game-winner.”

“I think just getting two points satisfies me," Simmonds said. "I’m in a lot better spirits today.”

Flyers-Oilers observations: Red-hot Wayne Simmonds plays hero in win

Flyers-Oilers observations: Red-hot Wayne Simmonds plays hero in win

BOX SCORE

For the second straight game, the Flyers were forced to get defensive, and this time, they found a way to come out on top Saturday afternoon with a 2-1 win over the Edmonton Oilers at the Wells Fargo Center.

Wayne Simmonds produced the game-winner after taking a pass from Valtteri Filppula and snapping it past Cam Talbot with 2:15 remaining in the third period.

It was a tight-checking game that played out similar to what we saw Thursday against the Predators, as the Flyers held the Oilers to 24 shots on net. Connor McDavid registered four shots on net but wasn’t much of a factor offensively.

• The Flyers jumped on the board first with the help of their first power play when Shayne Gostisbehere’s blast from the point was deflected out front by Wayne Simmonds right to Claude Giroux, who corralled the loose puck and punched it into a wide-open net for his fifth goal of the season. 

Following an 0 for 5 effort against Nashville, the Flyers needed to capitalize on the man advantage chances.  

“We just have a lot of different looks this year,” Gostisbehere said to NBC Sports Philadelphia's Chris Therien during the first intermission. “We have so many plays out there. It’s harder for other teams to prepare for us. We’re getting pucks to the net and our guys are doing what they're supposed to do.”

• Former Phantom Patrick Maroon finally got the Oilers on the board with 4:23 remaining in the second period when he outmuscled rookie Nolan Patrick along the corner boards, coming away with the puck and making a move past Ivan Provorov, before putting a shot between Brian Elliott’s pads. 

Patrick appeared to have been distracted by a broken stick along the boards that made him hesitate with the puck. The Flyers' rookie center could have elevated the puck with his backhand, but by holding onto to it for a split second too long, he allowed Maroon to come up with the takeaway.

• The Flyers got careless defensively in the opening 10 minutes of the second period as defensive breakdowns led to some quality scoring chances for the Oilers.

• The Flyers did a solid job of containing last year’s Art Ross Trophy winner McDavid, primarily deploying Scott Laughton’s line along with the Sean Couturier line sometimes during the same shift. McDavid had some extended shifts — three even-strength shifts over 1:30 — requiring the Flyers to use a multitude of forwards and defense pairs.

• McDavid left the game briefly in the first period and returned midway through.

• Jori Lehtera produced his best scoring chance of the season when he took Radko Gudas’ outlet pass and attempted to squeeze through a pair of defenders. The plodding Lehtera was unable to gain enough speed for an uncontested shot, but with his strong forearms and hands, he was able to draw a slashing penalty and still put a shot on net. 

• Last season, Giroux didn’t score his fifth goal until Nov. 29th. 

• Both Taylor Leier and Jordan Weal missed Saturday’s game with upper-body injuries. According to general manager Ron Hextall, both forwards are day-to-day. 

• Referee Ian Walsh was honored prior to the game for officiating his 1,000th career game. Flyers captain Claude Giroux presented Walsh with a framed autographed jersey signed by the team with the No. 1,000 on the back.

Lines, pairings and scratches
Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
Jori Lehtera-Valterri Filppula-Wayne Simmonds
Dale Weise-Nolan Patrick-Travis Konecny
Matt Read-Scott Laughton-Michael Raffl

Ivan Provorov-Andrew MacDonald
Shayne Gostisbehere-Robert Hägg
Travis Sanheim-Radko Gudas

Brian Elliott
Michal Neuvirth

Scratched: Jordan Weal, Taylor Leier and Brandon Manning