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. 

Flyers Weekly Observations: Secondary scoring behind Western Canada surge

Flyers Weekly Observations: Secondary scoring behind Western Canada surge

A three-game win streak?!?!?! All through the daunting Western Canada road gauntlet?!?!?!

Here’s something we haven’t said in a while: what a week it was for the Flyers.

Ah, refreshing, isn’t it? I’m sure the guys in the locker room will tell you it is.

The Flyers’ kicked off the winning run with a 5-2 win Monday night vs. the Flames in Calgary to snap the dreadful 10-game losing skid. On Wednesday night, they skated past the Oilers in impressive fashion with a 4-2 victory in Edmonton. And capping things off the next night with by jumping out to a big lead in Vancouver and holding on to it for a 4-1 triumph.

Per usual, plenty of things to go through this week, but on the good side this time around.

So let’s get this party started, shall we?

• In their three victories this week, the offensively challenged Flyers scored 13 goals. They scored just 20 goals total throughout the prolonged misery of the 10-game losing streak. So what changed?

Like Frankenstein, the Flyers’ secondary scoring sat up and came to life. While Sean Couturier, Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek each still put up their points, they weren’t forced to do all of the heavy lifting this week. In Calgary, Scott Laughton scored for the first time in 22 games, Valtteri Filppula tallied for the first time in 18 games, Wayne Simmonds struck for just the second time in 19 games and Michael Raffl cashed in for just the third time all season. In Edmonton, Jordan Weal scored for the first time in 13 games and just the third time all year while Dale Weise beat a netminder for just the second time in 16 games. And in Vancouver, Shayne Gostisbehere scored for the third time in 20 games.

Now that … that is what the Flyers were drastically missing during the skid. If Giroux, Voracek and or Couturier weren’t scoring, it was basically game, set and match from the get-go and the Flyers would be fortunate to even get a single marker on the board. Heck, at one point a few weeks ago that trio had accounted for nearly 50 percent of the Flyers’ goals for the entire season.

Giroux, Voracek and Couturier will continue to get theirs. That’s just what they do. But when the others get theirs as well, you see it makes all the difference in the world.

• Have a good number of Dave Hakstol’s lineup decisions dating back to last season raised eyebrows and garnered legitimate questions? Yes, absolutely. But you have to give credit where credit is due as he made a bold decision and broke up the potent Giroux-Couturier-Voracek trio heading into the Calgary game Monday.

That was a gutsy decision to break up a line that was that lethal and one of the best in the league. I’m sure that decision raised a few more eyebrows across the Delaware Valley, but when you’re on a putrid skid and haven’t won a game in almost a month, you can try some crazy things.

This crazy thing worked as the Flyers’ goal-scoring pulse is alive again with those 13 goals in the last three games. Hakstol deserves a lot of credit for pushing the right button there.

• Perhaps the biggest beneficiary of the recent line changes has been Raffl.

The 29-year-old Austrian started the season as part of an effective fourth line with Scott Laughton and Taylor Leier. But as the Flyers started to flounder like a fish out of water, Raffl was juggled up and down the lineup with no set spot. That was until this week when Hakstol injected Raffl into the top six on the second line with Voracek and Filppula. It was one of Hakstol’s bold moves, considering Raffl hadn’t scored since January prior to his goal vs. the New York Islanders on Nov. 22, a span of 42 games (Raffl missed the final month and change last season with an injury).

And the confidence the coach put in the winger is paying off. Raffl looks like a new player out there. He’s using his speed and strength to his advantage, barreling down the ice and setting up shop in front of the net to wreak havoc and cash in. And that’s his game — he’s got a power game and is more than capable of putting the puck in the net. And he’s got noted chemistry with Voracek. Remember, the two were on the Flyers’ top line three seasons ago when Raffl potted a career-high 20 goals. Raffl could be quite the important piece moving forward if the Flyers are to dig out of this hole.

• I’d be remiss beyond comprehension if I didn’t show Brian Elliott some love here. He was pretty darn good for the Flyers over that 10-game losing skid when he went 0-3-5 with a 3.06 goals-against average and .906 save percentage. The best numbers in the world? No. But he made the saves he needed to make and gave the Flyers chances to win night in and night out, exactly what they needed. Elliott’s teammates in front of him just couldn’t pick him up.

But Elliott took his game to another level this week as he was stellar in the three games the Flyers took out in Western Canada. All told, he made 103 stops on 108 shots with a 1.67 goals-against average and .954 save percentage. His best showing of a sterling week came Monday vs. his old mates in Calgary when he stopped 43 of 45 shots faced. The Flames were pouring it on, especially in the second period when they fired 21 pucks on net. But Elliott stood firm and righted the Flyers’ ship with his play. He then stopped 24 of 26 Wednesday in Edmonton and 36 of 37 Thursday in Vancouver.

The guy has been the steadying veteran presence in net and in the locker room. He’s been invaluable to the team so far. He’s taken the reigns of the No. 1 job, and that was even before Michal Neuvirth’s most recent injury. The Flyers clearly have their No. 1 goalie. And Elliott has earned every ounce of that role.

• If you haven’t yet, check out my colleague Jordan Hall’s column from Saturday morning on Hakstol and how the Flyers’ current philosophy has put him in a tricky spot behind the bench.

The Flyers have been toeing this line between development and trying to win for a while now and it’s been a tug of war for Hakstol with his coaching decisions. While some are rightfully questioned, he is still in a tricky spot. It’s a deep dive into that position for Hakstol. Well worth any Flyers fan’s time.

Coming up this week: Tuesday vs. Toronto (7 p.m. on NBCSP), Thursday vs. Buffalo (7 p.m. on NBCSP), Saturday vs. Dallas (7 p.m. on NBCSP).

Best of NHL: Sergei Bobrovsky gets 23rd career shutout in Blue Jackets' win

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Best of NHL: Sergei Bobrovsky gets 23rd career shutout in Blue Jackets' win

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Josh Anderson scored 30 seconds into the game and Sergei Bobrovsky did the rest, recording his 23rd career shutout as the Columbus Blue Jackets beat the Arizona Coyotes 1-0 on Saturday night.

The reigning Vezina Trophy winner had 35 saves and got his fourth shutout this season as Columbus won its second game in as many days and its 10th out of 13.

Antti Raanta started in goal for the Coyotes after missing seven games with an injury and was sharp in stopping 33 shots.

But Bobrovsky was better, and the Blue Jackets (19-10-1) created more quality looks overall.

Anderson got his team-leading 11th goal when he picked up a hard Artemi Panarin ricochet pass off the back wall, skated around the net and snapped a shot over Raanta's glove into the far corner. Pierre-Luc Dubois also got an assist.

Arizona (7-20-5) lost its third in a row and sixth out of its last seven (see full recap).

Bozak scores twice, Maple Leafs bury Pens early in win
PITTSBURGH -- Tyler Bozak scored two goals, and the Toronto Maple Leafs got off to a fast start in a 4-3 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night.

Conner Brown and James van Riemsdyk scored in the first 1:42 of the game, and Bozak also scored in the first period. Mitch Marner had three assists for the Maple Leafs, who've won five of their last seven.

Frederik Andersen stopped 33 shots for his 50th win with the Maple Leafs. Andersen has won 11 of his last 15 starts.

Evgeni Malkin scored his ninth goal on the power play and Riley Sheahan tallied his third for Pittsburgh. Sidney Crosby scored his 13th with 2:48 to play, but the Penguins couldn't manage the equalizer. Crosby has at least one point in 10 of the last 12 games. Pittsburgh had won five of six before Saturday.

Tristan Jarry made 13 saves, but allowed three first-period goals before he was pulled for Casey DeSmith. DeSmith, making his second career appearance, stopped eight shots.

Brown got Toronto on the board early when he took a feed from Morgan Rielly in the slot and whipped a wrist shot behind Jarry (see full recap).

Blues score 4 times in 5-shot span, rout Red Wings
DETROIT -- Jaden Schwartz knocked home his own rebound and the St. Louis Blues scored four times on only five shots on the way to beating the Detroit Red Wings 6-1 Saturday.

Vladimir Sobotka, Scottie Upshall, Jay Bouwmeester, Brayden Schenn and Dmitrij Jaskin also had goals for the Blues in their third straight victory.

Frans Nielsen scored for Detroit, which has won just once in its last eight games.

Shortly after killing off a high-sticking penalty, the Blues opened the scoring at 11:50 of the first period. Schwartz took a pass from Alex Steen and drove a low shot that Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard stopped with his left pad. Schwartz put the rebound past Howard.

The Blues made it 2-0 at 4:07 of the second period when Sobotka's long wrist shot from just inside the Detroit blue line beat Howard high on the glove side. It was the Blues' first shot on goal since Schwartz opened the scoring.

St. Louis made it three goals on three consecutive shots when Upshall got loose on a breakaway after a turnover by defenseman Niklas Kronwall and slipped the puck between Howard's pads to make it 3-0 at 6:17 of the second period (see full recap).