Philadelphia Flyers

Flyers-Predators thoughts: Looking for best start since 2007-08

Flyers-Predators thoughts: Looking for best start since 2007-08

Flyers (4-2-0) vs. Predators (3-2-1)
7 p.m. on NBCSP, NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports App; Pregame Live at 6:30

The Flyers felt like they let one go last week against the Nashville Predators.

They'll have a chance at a little redemption Thursday night as the Flyers welcome the defending Western Conference champions to the Wells Fargo Center.

It's Game 3 of the Flyers' five-game homestand, and Game 7 of the season.

Let's get into some thoughts before puck drop.

• The Flyers should be happy to see the Predators again so soon. Last time these teams met, the Flyers had a 5-4 lead turn into a crushing 6-5 loss over the final 1:17 of regulation. How it transpired was wild. The Flyers were done in by two penalties and a failed coach's challenge resulting in a third. A victory would have capped a season-opening four-game road trip at 3-1-0. Credit to the Flyers, though, for moving on and winning the first two games of their extended homestay.

• Speaking of which, the Flyers have been ultra impressive on the homestand thus far. In wins over the Capitals and Panthers, the Flyers have outscored their opponents by a combined 13-3. Claude Giroux has three goals and three assists, Shayne Gostisbehere a goal and four assists, Sean Couturier three goals and an assist, while the penalty kill has been strong (7 for 8) along with the goalies (Brian Elliott, 21 saves on 23 shots faced; Michal Neuvirth, 40 saves on 41 shots faced). The Flyers are seeing their potential when all key phases are executing.

• With a win over Nashville, the Flyers would improve to 3-0 at the Wells Fargo Center. The last time they won their first three home games was the 2007-08 season, when they started 6-0 on home ice. A victory would also mark the Flyers' best start through seven games since that same season, when the club opened 6-1-0. Giroux made his NHL debut during the 2007-08 campaign, playing a pair of games in February.

• A huge reason for the Flyers' early success is sustaining energy and skating from the second period to the final buzzer. In fact, it looks like the Flyers take it up notch after the first intermission. They've gotten stronger as the game wears on and the numbers show it. The Flyers have scored the NHL's most second-period goals with 12 and are outscoring the competition, 20-11, in the final two periods.

• It doesn't look like Predators center Nick Bonino (lower body) will play tonight while defenseman Ryan Ellis (knee surgery) remains out and on injured reserve. A player to watch is winger Filip Forsberg, who put up three points (two goals, one assist) in Nashville's 6-5 win over the Flyers last week. That game, which included the winning goal, kick-started a stretch of four markers and four assists in his last four contests. Also, Scott Hartnell is back in town tonight.

• Wayne Simmonds, who missed most of Tuesday's back end of the third period because of a lower-body injury, said Thursday that he's fine.

He's expected in the lineup, as is rookie defenseman Travis Sanheim, who was a healthy scratch the last two games.

And a roster note: Matt Read has been recalled from AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley, which was expected. The Flyers' roster is now at 23 and he'll be a routine extra.

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
Michal Neuvirth
Brian Elliott

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

How Michal Neuvirth found fresh inspiration in being a dad

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How Michal Neuvirth found fresh inspiration in being a dad

For the first time in his nine-year career, Michal Neuvirth knows when he gets home at night after a game, there will be someone waiting for him with a smile.

Win or lose, it doesn’t matter to Neuvirth, or especially to his one-month-old daughter, Emily Gudasová Carolina.

“When you come home, there’s a baby waiting and it's such an amazing feeling that someone is waiting for you at home,” Neuvirth said after Tuesday's 5-1 win over Florida. “Last year, I was mostly here by myself, so I definitely like it better having a family with me now.”

Family now consists of his newborn daughter, his fiancee Karolína Gudasová and uncle Radko Gudas, Gudasová’s older brother and Neuvirth’s Flyers teammate.

To those of us on the outside, the responsibility of fatherhood seemingly has altered Neuvirth’s disposition. He smiles more, cracks a few jokes and elaborates just a little more with his answers to the media. Perhaps, he can tolerate us because there’s a deeper purpose and a sense of providing that comes with fatherhood.  

“It’s an amazing feeling being a dad,” Neuvirth said. “For me, I just have another motivation to play for my family now.”

Of course, it also helps I’ve yet to see Neuvirth yawn or show up to practice with bags under his eyes. He has escaped any late-night drama with an eight-day road trip to start the season, and for now, he apparently has a rare lifetime pass for any early morning feedings.  

“I have an amazing fiancee. She takes care of her (Emily) as much as she needs to,” Neuvirth said. “I usually put her to bed at 10-10:30. During the night, Karolina goes and feeds her in the living room, and I’m a deep sleeper, so she doesn’t wake me up.”

As Gudasová has kept an eye on the cradle, Neuvirth has secured the crease. He’s allowed three goals in his two starts this season with a .956 save percentage, which has initiated the debate for more playing time.

Interestingly, adapting to a new addition is something Neuvirth has also discussed with teammate and fellow netminder, Brian Elliott, who went through a similar set of circumstances with his son, Owen, last season in Calgary. Elliott called that first month with the Flames “a huge adjustment” and his October numbers reflected that.

Six games into the season, Neuvirth apparently has it all figured out. 

Of course, a good night’s sleep has a way of bringing clarity to the situation.

Buried by Flyers' depth, Jori Lehtera may soon finally crack lineup

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Buried by Flyers' depth, Jori Lehtera may soon finally crack lineup

On the first day he was officially a member of the Flyers, Jori Lehtera was literally pumped. So much so, the weight room warrior hit the gym that morning and slapped on a few extra plates on each side of the barbell.

“My wife woke me up and said, ‘Do you know we’re going to Philadelphia?’” Lehtera said Sept. 11, after the first day he skated with his new teammates in Voorhees, New Jersey.

"I said, 'That's good.' I went to the gym and had a little bit bigger weights than normal. It was good. I needed some change because my game wasn't that good there."

Lehtera was acquired by the Flyers from the Blues at the 2017 NHL draft in the Brayden Schenn trade. In the span of one year, Lehtera’s status has plunged from a top-line center on a playoff team to the 13th forward on a non-playoff team.

That’s not to say the Flyers have failed to recognize Lehtera’s skill set and utilize him effectively, he just didn’t show enough in the preseason to warrant playing time.

The fourth-highest paid forward on the Flyers’ roster has started the first six games of the season as a healthy scratch. Dave Hakstol has opted for the speedier Dale Weise, who’s earning roughly half of Lehtera, who has a $4.7 million cap hit for the next two seasons.

Lehtera's opportunity could come as early as Thursday against the Predators. Wayne Simmonds left Tuesday's game for precautionary reasons with a lower-body injury.

If Simmonds can't go — the Flyers will have an update on Simmonds Thursday — Lehtera is the next guy up as Hakstol would have to shuffle his lines.

“I’m still excited,” Lehtera said recently. “Camp wasn’t good. I wouldn’t say terrible, it was OK. I’m kind of still looking to find my spot. When I get my opportunity, I’m going to take my spot. Where it is, I don’t know.”

Lehtera bolted St. Louis, the city he spent his first NHL seasons, in a cloud of dust. His "Spirit of St. Louis" was completely sucked dry during his time there, as he finished the 2016-17 season with just seven goals and 22 points in 64 games.

“The whole season was a struggle,” Lehtera said. “I just couldn’t get everything out of myself. It wasn’t just a couple of things. It was a lot of big things, and a lot of small things together.”

Playing for Ken Hitchcock, who just passed Al Arbour for third on the NHL’s all-time wins list, has a way of wearing down a player’s psyche.

According to Hitchcock, who rejoined the Dallas Stars this summer after he was fired by the Blues back in February, Lehtera’s struggles were partly a result of centering the team’s top line with superstar winger Vladimir Tarasenko.

“First couple of years there was no attention being paid [to Lehtera]," Hitchcock said in the summer, "and last year, there was a lot of attention of being paid. He lost his confidence because he was in and out of the lineup, so the line wasn’t that effective. The line got special attention for the first time. Because of the way our lineup was built, we were really able to take advantage of matchups.”

Lehtera and Tarasenko developed a lethal chemistry as teammates for Novosibirsk in the KHL, but it didn’t translate to the smaller NHL rink, where time and space to operate with the puck are at a premium. Tarasenko’s reputation quickly earned the attention of the NHL opposition and its top defensive players.

“You saw that chemistry right away,” said Brian Elliott, a teammate of Lehtera’s for two seasons in St. Louis. “They were a dynamic duo and then they were split up, and I think he was looking for that guy to pass to and things like that.”

Compounding Lehtera’s struggles was a concussion he suffered that knocked him out of the lineup for several weeks in February. Once Lehtera returned, he was never quite the same, as he struggled with the speed of the game.

“We played him at wing after he came back from being injured, but his natural position is at center, and that’s where he played his best hockey,” Hitchcock said. “He’s a guy strong on the puck, good down-low player, he protects the puck well.” 

Interestingly for a guy listed at 6-foot-2, 210 pounds and lacking quickness, Lehtera would appear to be more suited at the wing position.

And the potential opportunity Thursday alone may have Lehtera pounding out a few more extra reps in the gym.