Philadelphia Flyers

Flyers-Oilers thoughts: Welcoming the best player in the world to Philly

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USA Today Images/NBCSP

Flyers-Oilers thoughts: Welcoming the best player in the world to Philly

Flyers (4-3-0) vs. Oilers (2-4-0)
1 p.m. on NBCSP, NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports App; Pregame Live at 12:30

The best player in the world comes to South Philly today. Get your popcorn ready.

The Flyers, coming off a 1-0 loss to the Predators, host the Oilers in their first matinee of the season at the Wells Fargo Center. It’s Game 4 of the Flyers’ five-game homestand.

Let’s dive into some pregame thoughts before puck drop.

• Move over, Sidney Crosby. There’s a new sheriff in town. It’s time to anoint Connor McDavid as the best player in the world. Many already have. I’m fully on board now.

This kid is special, and each game he does something that blows your mind. On Thursday night, it was a ridiculous spin-o-rama assist against the Chicago Blackhawks.

What made the play exceptional was who he did it against, Blackhawks defensemen Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. Between the two are seven All-Star Game appearances, two Norris Trophies and one Conn Smythe Trophy, so that’s no joke.

McDavid has three goals and five assists in six games this season. He has 156 points in 133 career games. He’s 20 years old. He should be the face of the league yesterday.

Market him better. I don’t care that he plays in Canada.

• It’s time to put the Brandon Manning-McDavid storyline to bed. It was fun while it lasted, but it’s overplayed (see story). If Manning is in McDavid’s head, it’s not for the better.

McDavid scored a goal and an assist last season in Philadelphia in his first game against the Flyers since Manning broke McDavid’s collarbone with a clean hockey play.

Then, in Edmonton, McDavid had a goal and two assists. Manning played both games. So if anything, it’s adding extra motivation for the best player in the world.

• It appears Travis Sanheim will remain in the lineup, a positive for two reasons:

1. Thursday against Nashville was Sanheim’s best game.

2. Sanheim’s speed and skating is a plus when having to defend McDavid.

Will Sanheim see much ice time against McDavid? I sure hope not. But the Oilers are a decent skating team, and McDavid’s speed is insane. You want as much speed against them as possible.

• You sure hope Jordan Weal can return after missing Thursday with an injury to part of his body. Weal is an important piece for the Flyers, and without him, Dave Hakstol will have to shuffle up his lines. Simply can’t replace Weal with Jori Lehtera on the second line with Valtteri Filppula and Wayne Simmonds.

That unit against the Predators was a disaster. If Weal is out again, I’d insert Matt Read into the lineup. He’s better suited for what the Flyers are doing now than Lehtera.

The good news is Weal practiced Friday. He’s expected to play.

• Three random Flyers stats:

1. Jakub Voracek needs two more points to reach 500 in his career. He will become the 23rd Czech player with 500 career points.

2. Shayne Gostisbehere’s 10 points are the most by a Flyers defenseman through the team’s first seven games dating back to the 1987-88 season.

3. Michal Neuvirth leads NHL goaltenders with a .957 save percentage. He was the worst qualified goalie last season in that category.

• The Oilers again will be without center Leon Draisaitl because of a concussion. Draisaitl practiced Friday but is still feeling symptoms. He hasn’t played since Oct. 9.

• Kailer Yamamoto, the Oilers’ 2017 first-round pick, has seen an increased role with Draisaitl injured. Edmonton has four more games to decide whether it’ll keep Yamamoto or send him back to junior. Yamamoto enters today on a three-game assist streak.

Here is the Flyers' projected lineup:

Forwards
Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
Jordan Weal-Valtteri Filppula-Wayne Simmonds
Dale Weise-Nolan Patrick-Travis Konecny
Taylor Leier-Scott Laughton-Michael Raffl

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

Goalies
Brian Elliott
Michal Neuvirth

Scratches: Forwards Jori Lehtera and Matt Read, and defenseman Brandon Manning.

Flyers notes, quotes and tidbits: Connor McDavid comes to town; Matt Read to play?

Flyers notes, quotes and tidbits: Connor McDavid comes to town; Matt Read to play?

VOORHEES, N.J. — Believe it or not, the Flyers are aware of 20-year-old Oilers phenom Connor McDavid. That doesn't make preparing for the 2017 Art Ross Trophy (most points in NHL) winner any easier, let alone slow him down.

“You have to be understated a little bit and say you're going to be aware when he's on the ice, but obviously there's more to it," Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said Friday. "He's a heck of a player and a guy that can make something happen at any time.”

McDavid has picked up right where he left off last season when he led the NHL with 100 points and 70 assists. Six games into the 2017-18 campaign, the third-year centerman already has three goals and five assists, and he's doing it in style. His two helpers helped lift Edmonton over the Blackhawks on Thursday, one of which led to the game-winner in overtime, the other — a no-look, behind-the-back pass — making highlight reels everywhere.

So, yeah, the Flyers are well aware of McDavid and what he's capable of. That doesn't mean he'll be easy to stop.

"We just have to take time and space away from him," defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere said. "That's the biggest thing. You just can't give him space out there. He's going to wind it up and wheel.

“We're aware of it. We're going to stick to our game plan, nothing special, but obviously be aware when he's on the ice.”

The Flyers knew all about McDavid last season, too. He still managed to find the back of the net twice and rack up three assists in those two meetings.

McDavid has also experienced success against both of the Flyers netminders. As a member of the Flames, probable starter Brian Elliott posted an 0-3-1 record with a .870 save percentage in four appearances against the Oilers in 2016-17. Michal Neuvirth was 0-1 and allowed six goals in his only meeting.

It seems all the Flyers can do is be aware of the challenges McDavid presents.

"Probably everywhere they go, they have reporters asking the other team what their plan is against him," Elliott said.

“He's just a unique talent that you have to be aware of at all times. He's able to make plays that a lot of other guys aren't. You just have to be on your toes. You have to respect him, but you have to play your game and make sure you're tough no matter who it is out there.”

Laughton confident
Brandon Manning isn't the only member of the Flyers who has experience with McDavid. Scott Laughton has been up close and personal with the budding superstar, having played against him in junior and in some camps.

With Laughton centering the Flyers' fourth line, he should have some opportunities to put his familiarity of McDavid to the test. The Flyers are going to need any advantage they can get — no matter how small or insignificant it might seem.

"I went to a pro camp with McDavid in Toronto in the summer, and he's special," Laughton said. "He's got the best hands I've seen. He's a world-class talent.

“At the same time, tomorrow I'm going to try to limit his space, get in his face and make it hard for him to get going and get speed. I think I can try to keep up with him once I get my speed going.”

Laughton seemed confident about potentially matching up against McDavid. At least he has a plan, anyway.

“There's not much you can do," Laughton said. "You just have to be hard to play against, be in his face all night and kind of get him off his game that way.”

Injury report
Flyers forwards Wayne Simmonds and Taylor Leier both missed Friday's skate with what the club termed as maintenance days.

Simmonds was already dealing with a lower-body injury before he was clipped in the face by a stick during Thursday's 1-0 loss to the Predators. It doesn't sound like anything that should prevent the 10-year veteran from suiting up against the Oilers, but clearly, he's banged up right now.

Leier's absence was a bit more of a mystery, and given the 23-year-old rookie's inexperience, missing practice would seem to point to an injury of some kind.

In a bit of good news on the injury front, Jordan Weal returned to practice for the Flyers. However, he refused to let on as to whether he'll be on the ice Saturday.

“Just got out there, went for a twirl," Weal said. "It's day to day right now, so just taking it day by day.”

Matt Read replaced Simmonds during the skate and could be preparing to make his regular-season debut. Read joined Weal and Valtteri Filppula on Simmonds' unit, while Jori Lehtera took Leier's place on the fourth line.

Don't read too much into those combinations, however, as the availability of Simmonds, Weal and Leier will no doubt play a role.

Sanheim sticks in the lineup
Following his strong showing against Nashville on Thursday, it appears rookie defenseman Travis Sanheim will suit up for his second game in a row.

Sanheim was a healthy scratch for the Flyers' previous two contests but drew rave reviews for his performance against the Predators. He was paired with Radko Gudas at practice, while Gostisbehere and Robert Hagg continued their partnership.

Manning may be the odd man out Saturday, despite his history with McDavid. Ivan Provorov and Andrew MacDonald remained a unit at practice, with Manning getting some work in MacDonald's spot.

Manning was hopeful he would be in uniform. Hakstol, on the other hand, downplayed Manning's personal rivalry with McDavid as it pertains to any decision about which defensemen will skate.

“It's a situation for us every game where we have that tough decision," Hakstol said. "Regardless of whether it's one particular team, we'll look at it situationally and consider all of those factors as to who the six are that dress tomorrow. There's a lot of different factors involved."

Flyers fail to get revenge as offense quiet in loss to Predators

Flyers fail to get revenge as offense quiet in loss to Predators

BOX SCORE

No questionable penalty calls. No need to use a challenge. No last-minute heartbreak this time.

A furious nature was replaced with frustration after the Predators scored the lone goal at the Wells Fargo Center to beat the Flyers, 1-0, Thursday night (see observations).

Predators third-line center Colton Sissons, who missed the first meeting between the two teams nine days ago, connected on the only goal of the game 3:49 into the third period as he blasted a shot that beat Michal Neuvirth to the far post (see highlights).

“I’ve got to watch the replay to see if I was on the right angle, but it’s a tough play 2-on-1,” Neuvirth said. “Usually when it’s a tight game like that, it’s about one mistake and you've got to move on.”

The Flyers appeared to have the play covered. However, when Kevin Fiala took control of the loose puck, Wayne Simmonds reached for it and that kick-started the Predators’ rush for what ultimately proved to be the game-winning goal.

“It’s a tough play,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “You see the puck and you want to go get that loose puck. It’s a 0-0 game. It was a real good play on the cycle, and there’s scrum on the hash marks there. It’s a tough play and, unfortunately, the puck got past Simmer and now it’s a race back up ice and they got a pretty good quality shot away.”

For a high-octane offensive team ranked second in goals scored, the Flyers are still looking to prove they can win the tight-checking, low-scoring games.

Overall, it was also a tough night for the Flyers' leading scorer Simmonds. He was dealing with a lower-body injury, and at times, appeared to be laboring on the ice. Simmonds also took a stick to his lip that required stitches, which essentially excused him from making any postgame comments.

The 1-0 loss marked the second time in the first seven games the Flyers have been shut out this season, and on both occasions Neuvirth has been the victim of the lack of offense.

“It’s tough to say,” Neuvirth said. “We had really good chances, but we couldn’t get one behind him. It was frustrating to see that, but we've got to move on and we've got another big game on Saturday.”

Once again, the Flyers could have been bailed out by their power play. However, the two units collectively finished 0 for 5 for the third time this season. That’s because 6-foot-5 Pekka Rinne, who’s mobile for his size with one of the best glove hands in the league, stopped all 28 shots.

“That was a lot of battle,” Rinne said. “I was able to see the puck for the most part and make the first save always and a lot of times guys were bailing me out, too.”

Outside the Wells Fargo Center earlier on Thursday, the Flyers organization unveiled a nine-foot statue of founder and chairman Ed Snider prior to faceoff with almost every member of the team’s Hall of Fame in attendance (see story).

Unfortunately for the club, it was the only moment worth celebrating.

Notes, quotes and tidbits
• Filling in for the injured Jordan Weal (upper body), forward Jori Lehtera saw his first action of the season. He played on a line with Valtteri Filppula and Simmonds. Lehtera played 12:06 and finished the game without a shot on net. If Weal is unable to go Saturday afternoon, it will be interesting to see if Hakstol goes back to Lehtera or gives the quicker Matt Read a shot against a speedy Oilers team.

“Lehts did a good job,” Hakstol said. “To step in in game No. 7, not having played, I thought Lehts went out and played a real rock solid game. Lehts has been here. Lehts has done the work. You guys don’t see behind the scenes the kind of effort and what that takes as a teammate every day to stay ready.”

• The 1-0 loss comes exactly 50 years to the day the Flyers beat the Pittsburgh Penguins, 1-0, in their first-ever home game at The Spectrum. The last time the Flyers were shut out 1-0 on home ice was March 31, 2011, by the Atlanta Thrashers.

• Defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere played a career-high 25:23. Not only has he regained his offensive form from his rookie season, but he’s also refined his defensive game by using more body and less stick to gain position on his man.