Flyers

Ron Hextall addresses Sam Morin's status with Flyers, goalie situation, more

Ron Hextall addresses Sam Morin's status with Flyers, goalie situation, more

VOORHEES, N.J. -- Unless Brandon Manning's back issue flares up again -- he went through a full practice on Thursday -- don't look for Sam Morin to return to the Flyers for their final two games this weekend.
 
The Phantoms have not clinched a playoff spot and have games Friday and Saturday.
 
"We've talked about a couple of things," general manager Ron Hextall said on Thursday. "They are playing meaningful games there.
 
"We'll continue to think and look at it. If we think it's appropriate, we'll make a move and if not, we won't.
 
"I thought [Morin] did well. A little bit nervous early, like everybody in their first game, but I thought he made a nice account for himself."
 
Does Morin, who was paired with Shayne Gostisbehere, bring a certain element moving forward that was missing this season?
 
"You can always use more size and physical play, right?" Hextall replied. "That's still a part of the game and Sam brings that also.
 
"He's a solid player. You can't bring those guys in any more that are borderline players. Sam's a big, physical player, that's his foundation."

What about Mike Vecchione's debut at center between Chris VandeVelde and Colin McDonald?
 
Hextall said he was pleased with Vecchione's play during a 1-0 overtime loss in New Jersey.

"I thought he got better as the game went on," he said. "He did some things. He is a responsible player. Defensively, he was good. Couple things showed up late in the game and I thought he was same as Sam. Solid debut."
 
Hextall said he would wait until after the season to discuss whether the team will bring back goalie Steve Mason (more on him here).
 
He did announce that Michal Neuvirth, who collapsed from a severe sinus infection and chest cold last weekend, is done for the season with a separate "upper-body injury."
 
Neuvirth has concussion symptoms from falling backwards and striking his head on the ice.
 
"Being a little cautionary there," Hextall said. "Our feeling is, what's the sense trying to bring him back? In saying that, if we had another week or two in our season, I'm comfortable in saying he'd be back playing. But trying to bring him back one game."
 
Similarly, Radko Gudas (concussion) is being shut down, as well.
 
Hextall said he was pleased with rookie Travis Konecny's season and didn't regret not sending him back to junior. He declined to get specific about the NHL-readiness of Travis Sanheim or Robert Hagg.
 
He also declined, for now, to talk about whether the club needs to break up or remove someone from its core group of players, one that has been here for the three playoff absences over the last five years (more on that here).
 
Hextall said he would address that next week in his postmortem news conference after breakup day.
 
Hextall has been GM now since May of 2014 but has been solely responsible for the past two drafts and all free agents/trades since that spring.
 
This is his group and has been for a while.
 
"Well, I'm responsible for it," he said. "We missed the playoffs. It's my responsibility. I get it. We're just going to continue to get better. Year over year.
 
"That's the whole thing. We didn't this year. We're going to work at it this summer and bring back the best team possible in September."

Flyers in uncharted territory with lack of penalties

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USA Today Images

Flyers in uncharted territory with lack of penalties

To the Broad Street Bullies of the 1970s, today’s brand of hockey is simply unrecognizable, and perhaps to some, even unacceptable.

When the Flyers take the ice Thursday against the Blue Jackets, the clock will be ticking on one of the most un-Bully-esque streaks in franchise history. 

The Flyers have somehow managed to play their last 215 minutes and 14 seconds without having to kill off a single penalty — a stretch of hockey that extends to the second period of a game against the Devils on Feb. 13 when Sean Couturier was whistled for tripping. 

Not only is the box an uninhabited area for the Flyers recently, but it’s also uncharted territory. They’re just the second team in NHL history to exhibit that kind of discipline since the league began keeping penalty records in 1977-78.

If this somehow continues, the guys at Comcast-Spectacor’s premium seating division could be looking at a prime opportunity to add a luxury suite at ice level. Fast food restaurant chain Jack in the Box would be the perfect sponsor.

The Flyers' penalty kill has also improved slightly by virtue of not having to kill penalties, from 30th in the league to now ranked 28th, still holding steady at 75 percent, but more importantly, their commitment to steer clear of the sin bin now has them ranked seventh in the NHL in the number of times they’ve been shorthanded.

The reasons behind their whistle-free work ethic can be attributed to a number of areas. 

For one, the Flyers have made the necessary adjustments to the league’s new slashing penalty, where a stick anywhere near the hands has resulted in a two-minute minor. Secondly, the entire team, and especially rookie Nolan Patrick, who went through a tough stretch earlier this month, has been very mindful of not committing high-sticking, hooking and other lazy infractions when chasing down the puck carrier.  

“I don’t think we’ve dominated puck possession over the last couple of games,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “But when we haven’t had it, we’ve worked hard to get it back the right way. At this time of year, it’s moving your feet, trying to get above plays and trying to check the right way.”

Secondly, as the season enters the drive towards the playoffs, NHL referees have shown a tendency to allow players to decide the outcome and not enforce the game as tightly as they did over the first three months of the season. In the first 30 games, the Flyers were forced to kill off an average of 3.4 power play opportunities per game. Over their last 30 contests, the number has been reduced significantly to 2.33.

More importantly, Dave Hakstol’s team is better equipped this season to play more effectively 5-on-5 and in all even strength situations, which was a point of emphasis after missing the playoffs a year ago. The Flyers' goal differential this season is plus-11 at even strength, whereas last season it was a minus-19.

“I think we’re doing a pretty good job 5-on-5,” defenseman Andrew MacDonald said. “I think you have to realize that most of the game is going to be played 5-on-5 and at even strength, and you have to generate in those situations throughout the rest of the year and into the playoffs.”

Even if the Flyers can’t maintain this unimaginable penalty-free pace, they clearly have more success and their penalty kill is much more efficient when they’re forced to kill off just a handful of penalties, as the chart below illustrates.

PK Attempts   Record     Kill %
2 or fewer        18-8-1        87.5%

3-4                      9-9-5         68.0%

5 or more          4-2-4         75.0%

In the 27 games where the Flyers have killed two or fewer power play opportunities, the success rate is nearly 88 percent, and they’re winning 67 percent of their games. They’ve been able to extend their energy throughout the 60-plus minutes while rolling four lines more consistently.

“If you have to kill three or more minor penalties, you’re at a little bit of risk, but you can get the job done,” Hakstol said. “When you get in the five, six range now you’re draining the bench, you’re draining energy, and you’re taking guys out of rhythm who aren’t killing penalties. There’s a lot of things that domino off of that.”

All of which conserves energy and creates good habits as the Flyers inch closer towards the postseason.