Flyers

Sam Morin sees work with Kjell Samuelsson pay off in Flyers' OT preseason win

Sam Morin sees work with Kjell Samuelsson pay off in Flyers' OT preseason win

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Since the day he was drafted in June 2013, the Sam Morin comparisons have been made to Chris Pronger, but the credit since then can be given to Kjell Samuelsson.

Samuelsson, a 14-year NHL veteran and the Flyers' director of player development, has worked extensively with Morin over the past few years to refine the rookie’s all-around game. It’s a constant work in progress, but if Morin was a piece of pottery, Samuelsson would have to admire the way it's taking shape.

“I’m really confident in my game and I really believe I can make it," Morin said following Tuesday’s 4-3 overtime preseason victory against the Rangers (see observations). “It’s not over. I just need to stay focused. Work hard. Every day, every practice I’ll earn my spot and I know it.”

In the first period, Morin was able to pick his spots. With the Flyers trailing, 2-0, late in the stanza, the defenseman joined the rush, filled the slot and wristed a shot in the top corner over the blocker side of Rangers goaltender Ondrej Pavelec.

“The game now is too quick for a slap shot, except for the power play. The release is everything,” Morin said after his first goal at the NHL level. “I work a lot with Kjell with that. When I came my first year, my draft year, I was taking those big slappers, and scoring big goals, but you can’t do that here. Guys are going to block it, and that’s something I learned from Kjell. I think I have a pretty good shot. I’m pretty confident with that.”

Earlier in the opening period, Morin showed some restraint after he leveled forward Gabriel Fontaine. Moments later, he answered a challenge to drop the gloves with Bobby Farnham, who came into the fight giving up eight inches to the 6-foot-6 Morin (see video).

Once again, Morin pointed to the Samuelsson effect, as well as offseason surgery, for taking a more passive approach to those five-minute majors.

“That guy jumped me and I was ready for him," Morin said. "I did my job. I pissed him off and he gets a penalty for it. I got hand surgery this summer, too. Especially earlier in camp, I didn’t want to destroy my camp by getting hurt, but I wasn’t really confident with my wrist, but I feel great and I can fight, that’s for sure.

“Kjell is real good with me for that. In juniors, I was pretty crazy for that. I was less patient and hungry for those things. I’m still learning and I try to get better every day.”

Interestingly, Morin has been engaged in a heated battle with teammate Travis Sanheim for one of the two open positions on the Flyers' blue line. The two former first-round picks have been roommates from the moment they reported to rookie camp and into training camp. Morin didn’t watch the game at Madison Square Garden in which Sanheim scored twice (see story), but said he heard about it.

Tuesday night, Morin finally heard his name called, and he’s on track to see his name with the rest of the NHL regulars. 

“He’s in a mix of eight right now. That’s the positive of it. He’s played well," Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said. "The other seven guys are doing a good job. I know the focus is always on the young guys, but it’s a group of eight right now."

“I’m ready," Morin said. "I win those 1-on-1 battles. My game is just about that.”

Forwards discover their scoring touch
• At one point, the Flyers had played seven-plus periods of hockey and their four goals were all scored by rookie defensemen (three from Sanheim, one from Morin). The forwards finally snapped that trend when center Scott Laughton tied the game at 2-2 less than three minutes into the second period. Oskar Lindblom added his first, redirecting Andrew MacDonald’s shot from the point, and Travis Konecny answered with the game-winner in overtime off a pass from Claude Giroux.

“I always find that in the two years that I’ve played in preseason games before, the defense always steps up in preseason and gets a majority of the goals, so I wasn’t surprised," Konecny said. "But it’s definitely nice that we’re starting to get a little bit of movement and start to put pucks away.

• For the second straight night, Giroux was operating on the left wing on a line with Sean Couturier and Jakub Voracek. Giroux picked up the primary assists on Morin’s goal and the Konecny overtime winner as the line had more time in the offensive zone compared to Monday’s game in New York. The line generated nine shots on net while winning the possession battle with a 69 percent success rate in the faceoff circle.

“I thought it was a nice progression,” Hakstol said. “You’re not going to have a finished product overnight. I thought [Monday] was a good start. I thought tonight was a good progression from there. They created a lot tonight. They had the puck a lot, spent a lot of time in the offensive zone, and that’s what you want to see.”

• Like with Lindblom, the Flyers appear to have found another mid-round gem with center Mikhail Vorobyev, who was taken 104th overall in 2015. Vorobyev had an exceptional rookie game with a pair of assists and was called up from Lehigh Valley on Tuesday to center the Flyers' third line with Lindblom and Konecny. Vorobyev has a vision to see openings and plays that other guys would otherwise miss, which included an impressive cross-ice pass to Giroux. 

“I think he only played 10 or 11 minutes tonight. I thought he played a heck of a hockey game,” Hakstol said. “He didn’t get into much of a rhythm or flow in the first period with all the penalties. He made a couple of high-end plays offensively up and down the rink. He has a great sense of what’s around him. I thought he was reliable. It was really nice to see him come up, and he took advantage of a good opportunity.”

Flyers have clear path to postseason but ...

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Flyers have clear path to postseason but ...

It’s about to get real for the Philadelphia Flyers.

Real serious and potentially really hard. The Flyers have played the fewest divisional games of any team in the NHL.

That might be beneficial if the team located about 40 minutes off the shores of the Atlantic Ocean actually played in the Atlantic Division. The Flyers have hammered Atlantic teams this season: an 8-4-0 record including a win in Tampa and their most recent three-game series sweep of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Whereas the Atlantic houses a collection of domesticated poodles and Pomeranians, the Metropolitan Division is more a breeding ground for vicious Dobermans and pit bulls.

And the Flyers are about to enter the teeth of that beast.

Dave Hakstol’s club plays 19 of their remaining 37 games against the rock-solid Metropolitan, the only 8-team division in hockey without a legitimate doormat or two. 

“It’s good or bad depending on whether you’re winning or not,” general manager Ron Hextall said.“It’s great taking points from other teams and adding to your total. It does put a higher importance on those games for sure. Every game is important, but certain games are just a little more important. Your lows can’t be too low. That’s the bottom line.

“They’re divisional games. They’re huge games for us, especially with how tight it is with that wild card spot,” center Sean Couturier said. “We’ve got to step up and be ready for the challenge.”

Unfortunately for the Flyers, their sore spot over their past two-plus seasons has been their play against the Metropolitan elites — the teams they’re typically chasing in the standings.

4-4-1 vs. Capitals
3-5-2 vs. Rangers
3-6-1 vs. Penguins
2-3-4 vs. Blue Jackets

Collectively, that’s a 12-18-8 record in the Dave Hakstol era with just a 4-9-6 mark on the road. Interestingly, defenseman Brandon Manning believes roster formation has been part of the reason behind the success of the Flyers' opponents.  

“Credit to them, I think they’ve done a good job of getting better every year,” Manning said. “You look at what Pittsburgh does with their turnover and still finding a way to win. Columbus is so much better and you look at Jersey, which hasn’t been the greatest team the past couple of years, but this year they have a really good hockey team. I think credit to those teams for finding a way to get better.” 

And if there’s a direct path to the postseason, then winning these crucial divisional games has to be the way to get there. Since the formation of the NHL’s current four-division alignment in 2013-14, the Metropolitan has sent 17 teams to the playoffs and only once has a team reached the postseason without a winning record within the division — the Pittsburgh Penguins finished 9-17-4 in the Metro in 2014-15. 

The Capitals, Rangers and Blue Jackets also have the luxury of rostering a Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender in crucial divisional games, whereas, Hakstol will rely more on a platoon based on Elliott’s first-half workload and Neuvirth attempting to regain his early season form.  

“I haven’t studied the schedule that much in depth, but considering Moose started a stretch of 25 out of 30 games, that’s a real heavy workload,” Hakstol said. “I would expect the workload to be more spread out than that. We’ll find the best rhythm to be able and have both of them help our team.

“You need two goalies. I don’t care who you are,” Hextall said. “Look around the league. I said it before, there’s no Marty Brodeurs.”

Maybe not, but Saturday it all starts with Brodeur’s former team and with a back-to-back against the Devils and the Capitals this weekend. The Flyers' position within the division can change very drastically one direction or the other.

Pleasant surprises in a first for Flyers

Pleasant surprises in a first for Flyers

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When asked what he thought about the current Flyers team prior to his retirement ceremony, Eric Lindros admitted he really didn’t know all that much regarding this year’s team. 

After Thursday night’s 3-2 win over Lindros’ hometown Maple Leafs (see observations), "Big E" and a sold-out Wells Fargo Center crowd learned something about the Flyers that no one in Philadelphia had been privy to.

The Flyers capped off their first win this season when trailing by two or more goals entering the third period. Interestingly, the only other third-period comeback that led to a victory was when they trailed this same Toronto team, 2-1, on Dec. 12. Prior to this game, the Flyers were 1-12-2 this season when trailing after two periods.

Certainly, the Flyers needed goal scoring, but more importantly, they also received a handful of momentum saves from goaltender Michal Neuvirth.

“Huge," Neuvirth said regarding his 29-save performance. “When we tied it, it was like, 'OK, here we go. You gotta be at your best right now.' So I was just focusing on the next shot. Just happy the way the guys responded in the third.”

Neuvirth had little, if any, margin of error after the Leafs scored twice in a 28-second span to grab a 2-0 advantage, but the Flyers' backup netminder provided a handful of momentum saves that allowed the Flyers to win in overtime.

• A minute after Wayne Simmonds tied the game at 2-2 with a shorthanded goal, Neuvirth stopped Auston Matthews and Connor Brown on back-to-back shots, including an impressive blocker save on Brown from up close.

• With 2:48 remaining in regulation, Neuvirth made the save of the game with the Leafs coming down on a 2-on-1. Neuvirth expected Nazem Kadri to shoot. Instead, he passed it to his left, forcing Neuvirth to make a full extension on Patrick Marleau, turning aside the shot with the tip of his right pad (see highlights).

• Neuvirth denied Matthews from in tight with another pad save just 10 seconds into overtime. That save created a 2-on-1 scoring chance resulting in Sean Couturier’s game-winning score. 

“At least three 10-bell saves by Neuvy. He was tremendous,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “We generated a lot in the third period, but when you give up those chances against, Neuvy stole the show in my opinion and you need those saves sometimes to win games. For me, he was first star.”

Neuvirth and the rest of the Flyers needed an initial spark and 19-year-old rookie Nolan Patrick was surprisingly the one to provide it. After taking a shot that hit the side of the net and caromed behind it, Patrick chased down Mitch Marner, stole the puck and fired a quick shot on goaltender Frederik Andersen for his first goal in his last 25 games.

“I tried to forget how many games it was in a row without a goal and just keep playing,” Patrick said. “I thought I was playing some good hockey lately and I knew it would come.”

A minute and 52 seconds later, Simmonds tied the game at 2-2 with the Flyers' second shorthanded goal of the season, extending his point streak to six games.

Struggling to find the right overtime combinations, Hakstol elected to go with the trio of Couturier, Travis Konecny and Ivan Provorov to start the extra session. Couturier continued his magical run and now has 11 goals in his last 12 games, while also providing five game-winning goals in the Flyers' last 10 victories. 

“He’s hot. We keep calling him ‘Rocket,’" Simmonds said, referring to Hall of Famer Maurice “Rocket” Richard. “You just keep giving him the puck and he’s going to find the back of the net. When you’re hot, you want to keep giving it to a guy like that. Hopefully, he’s going to continue to score for us.”

More Couturier goals and more game-changing saves, and the Flyers will find themselves rocketing up the standings.