New York Islanders

Flyers-Islanders preseason thoughts: NHL defense highlights Allentown roster

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Flyers-Islanders preseason thoughts: NHL defense highlights Allentown roster

Flyers vs. Islanders
7 p.m. on TCN/CSNPhilly.com and NBC Sports App

We'll have to wait another day to see if the Flyers truly plan on experimenting with Claude Giroux on the wing … if we ever see it at all in a game situation.

Giroux is not playing in tonight's split-squad game against the Islanders either in Allentown or Brooklyn. Tonight's rosters are heavy of players competing for spots.

Here are a few reasons to watch tonight:

• We'll get a look at the majority of the Flyers' defense tonight in Allentown as Shayne Gostisbehere, Brandon Manning, Robert Hagg, Sam Morin and Travis Sanheim are suiting up.

Gostisbehere is a lock, and Manning is as close to a lock as you can get. He could still lose his NHL job, but it appears unlikely at this point.

There are two open spots on the blue line. Hagg and Morin came into training camp as the favorites, and they appear to have taken a stranglehold on their competition.

Many thought Sanheim would push for a job, along with Phil Myers, but neither Sanheim nor Myers have done enough in camp to make the team. Things can change, but they're behind.

What I'll be watching: Gostisbehere and Hagg will be paired together. This could be a pairing when the Flyers open their season in San Jose on Oct. 4.

• Nolan Patrick has yet to find the scoresheet in last week's rookie game and last Sunday, but the 19-year-old — his birthday was Tuesday — hasn't looked out of place.

Patrick's spot on the Flyers has yet to be secured. As in they haven't said he's on the team yet. But he's had a steady camp and looked too good to play with kids his age in the rookie game and didn't look misplaced in his first preseason game.

Tonight gives us another look at the 2017 No. 2 overall pick. For many, it will be their first glimpse at Patrick. I'd bet on him getting on the scoresheet tonight.

On Sunday, the Islanders sent out a largely veteran lineup filled with most of their star players. Patrick passed that test. Tonight in Allentown, it's a little less star-studded Isles team. Patrick will be playing with Oskar Lindblom and Nicolas Aube-Kubel.

Michal Neuvirth will be in net tonight with Leland Irving backing him up, and with the Flyers banking a lot on Neuvirth this season, it'll be worth watching.

Neuvirth has never stayed healthy throughout his career. When he has, he's largely been a solid goalie. Last season was a different story. Neuvirth had the worst save percentage among qualified goalies, and he simply wasn't good.

The Flyers moved on from Steve Mason and signed Brian Elliott this summer. It's going to be a tandem with Neuvirth and Elliott, who isn't playing tonight in either Allentown or Brooklyn. How it works is a big question mark.

What you want to see from Neuvirth tonight is a steady performance. It's his first action of the year, so there will probably be rust. But you don't want to see too much rust, and you want to see him get steadier as the game goes on.

We don't know how much he'll play tonight, whether they'll split the game with Irving. But Neuvirth is definitely a player to watch tonight.

• Here are the rosters for tonight's split-squad game:

Nolan Patrick doesn't look out of place in Flyers' preseason OT loss to Islanders

Nolan Patrick doesn't look out of place in Flyers' preseason OT loss to Islanders

BOX SCORE

UNIONDALE, N.Y. — It certainly didn't have the feel of the first preseason game of the season on a Sunday afternoon when many sports fans are glued to a TV watching the NFL.

But a sellout crowd of 13,917 poured into the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum to watch the first hockey game in the former home of the Islanders for the first time since April 2015, and the Isles treated this exhibition as if it had some sentimental emotions.

Fans lined the parking lot of the newly-renovated arena tailgating a good two to three hours leading up to faceoff.     

"Didn't think energy was an issue," Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said. "Pretty good pace to this game. I think probably the atmosphere had something to do with that.

"It was a great atmosphere. It was competitive all the way through. It's tough to lose in overtime. Performance wise and effort wise were good."

Islanders captain John Tavares ended the game just 34 seconds into overtime to give New York a 3-2 win over the Flyers with his second goal (see observations). Tavares beat Flyers goalie Leland Irving, who signed an AHL contract with the team last month.

Hakstol anticipated that tired legs would be an issue after two hard days to open training camp that included a lot of skating and some intense board battles during drills.

"They did what we asked," Hakstol said. "Go out and play to your strengths, play within themselves and do the things that they do best. Playing with poise and confidence and making plays."

Unlike Hakstol, who utilized a prospect-heavy group, Islanders head coach Doug Weight elected to use a more veteran-heavy presence in his lineup that included Tavares, newcomer Jordan Eberle, Josh Bailey, Anders Lee, Nick Leddy and former Flyer Dennis Seidenberg.

Irving took over for Alex Lyon in the third and faced a pair of point-blank opportunities in the opening minute from Tavares, who then won it in OT.

"Yeah, it's tough," Irving said with a laugh. "Tough going into the third. Sometimes those situations happen too, so you just have to be ready and prepare yourself for that situation.

"He obviously has some great finish. I knew who had the puck so it was just trying to be patient, follow him across, but he made a good shot right above the pad and below the blocker. When it goes post and in, you just tip your cap to him.

"You did what you had to do."

Hakstol couldn't have drawn up a better game situation to test the youth of his team after the Islanders erased a 2-0 deficit at the 14:37 mark of the third period.

"You could feel it in the legs today that you had two days of hard practices," defenseman Robert Hagg said. "At the same time you need to find a way to get around it, play a solid game and that's what I tried to focus on."

The natural Patrick
Playing in his first NHL game, second overall pick Nolan Patrick definitely didn't look out of place. There is a relative ease to his game, where he knows precisely where to be on the ice and exudes a calmness and confidence that rarely accompanies a rookie his age.

Patrick, who turns 19 on Tuesday, was teamed up on a line with Oskar Lindblom and Travis Konecny. That trio had not worked at all together prior to Sunday's preseason game.

"Yeah, he's a good player," Patrick said of Lindblom. "He protects the puck well. He's got a good shot. I think I'll be more of a pass-first guy, so I can find him as much as I can. Obviously, they had a pretty good lineup over there. I thought I played OK.

"I know I can still be better. Obviously, a little bit of nerves going into that first one."

Prospect watch
It's just the first preseason game, but Sam Morin and Hagg may have gained some separation from the other defensive prospects by turning in steady performances. Coming off a rookie game where he played in big chunks of minutes, Travis Sanheim had a bad turnover trying to bank a pass off the boards behind the Flyers' net that led to an uncontested shot on Lyon, and Mathew Barzal blew past Sanheim in the right circle before scoring the game-tying goal.

Phillipe Myers had some minor miscues, but the one that led to Tavares' overtime-winner certainly stood out. Part of constructing the roster for Sunday's game was to see how the four main defensive prospects would play together and handle the pressure and tempo of an NHL game.

"We certainly wanted to have those young guys in this game," Hakstol said. "It probably won't be the last game that we see them in. We tried to get them all within their roles, and I thought, for the most part, there was a lot of positive performances there.

"Obviously, there's a lot of learning experiences there as well, but there were some good positives."

Who can wing it?
General manager Ron Hextall is a firm believer that playmaking centers with good hockey IQ can make the transition from center to wing. Two players were called upon to make that transition Sunday.

Jori Lehtera manned the left side with Mikhail Vorobyev in the middle, and rookie Mike Vecchione lined up at right wing for the first time in roughly five years after playing center in his four seasons at Union College, where he was a finalist for the Hobey Baker award as college hockey's top performers last season.

Vecchione didn’t back down from the challenge, showing a real toughness in battling for the puck along the boards.

“It’s a bit of an adjustment. I’d been working at it all week,” Vecchione said. “I played in high school and through junior and then I switched to center in college, where they needed me to play center. I have a fairly good background at right wing. It’s a little bit of a learning experience too. I’m just trying to adjust as best I can.”

Lehtera has played wing in international competition, but this will be the first time he’s played the position significantly on the smaller NHL ice where there’s more of a premium on winning individual board battles. Lehtera passed the first test with a shorthanded goal to go along with an assist.

“I played there in Olympics, World Cup and World Championships, so it’s not weird,” Lehtera said. ”I don’t think it matters if you have a good centerman it doesn’t matter if you’re a winger. It was a good first start.”

Flyers-Islanders preseason observations: Strong effort from young lineup in OT loss

Flyers-Islanders preseason observations: Strong effort from young lineup in OT loss

BOX SCORE

UNIONDALE, N.Y. — Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol fully expected his team to have tired legs coming into their first preseason game Sunday afternoon against the New York Islanders at the newly renovated Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, but his club responded with an effort that likely would have surprised their coach before losing, 3-2, in overtime.

Islanders captain John Tavares made a move in the right circle, cut into the slot and beat Flyers goalie Leland Irving for his second score of the game just 34 seconds into overtime.

The Flyers didn’t come out looking fatigued against an Islanders squad that was a little more loaded with Tavares, Jordan Eberle, Andrew Ladd, Nick Leddy and Anders Lee all suiting up to play. The Flyers drew three first-period penalties that included a 5-on-3 power play for 11 seconds. The two teams completed a scoreless first period with each team putting 11 shots on net.

It didn’t take long for the Flyers to jump out in front, as Mike Vecchione redirected Shayne Gostisbehere’s slap shot from the point in the second period. Although not part of the official record, it was Vecchione’s first NHL goal after signing with the Flyers as a free agent on March 31. He was held pointless in two regular season games in 2016-17.

Jori Lehtera increased that lead to 2-0 as he scooped up a Michael Raffl clearing pass and beat Islanders netminder Kristers Gudlevskis to a loose puck, putting in a backhand into an empty net for the shorthanded goal.

Tavares cut the Flyers' lead in half with a shot that beat Alex Lyon just after the Flyers had killed off Mikhail Vorobyev’s two-minute minor for slashing. Tavares is in the final year of his contract.

Lyon played the first 40 minutes, stopping 19 of the Islanders' 20 shots he faced. Newly acquired Irving replaced Lyon in the third period and promptly stoned Tavares from point-blank range in the opening minute.

On to the observations ...

• The Flyers clearly want Lehtera to get accustomed to playing left wing, a position he wasn't suited for in St. Louis. Lehtera provided a pair of points in his Flyers debut, providing the secondary assist on the game’s first goal. “I want to see how he works,” general manager Ron Hextall said. “He’s probably not the only guy who’s going to have to take a peek on the wing and see how he does. Jori’s a smart player and typically smart players can play on the wing. There’s very few centers who can’t transition there — doesn’t necessarily mean they want to.”

• The Flyers' first power-play unit consisted of Nolan Patrick, Oskar Lindblom, Matt Read,  Gostisbehere and Vorobyev while the second unit consisted of German Rubtsov, Michael Raffl, Lehtera, Travis Konecny and Ivan Provorov. One noticeable change from years past is an emphasis on better puck movement. The Flyers' second unit was able to open up some cross-ice passing lanes in the opening period.

• Scott Laughton was one of the Flyers' best forwards, making noticeable plays at both ends of the ice, playing strong defensively, winning faceoffs and blocking a big slap shot on an Islanders power play. The line of Laughton-Read-Raffl turned in a solid effort matched up against the Islanders' top line of Eberle-Tavares-Bailey.

• Patrick took the game’s first penalty, a two-minute minor for slashing. Just after that sequence, Konecny exchanged words and a few shoves with Islanders forward Jason Chimera.

• Sunday’s preseason contest was the first game at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum since the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs between the Isles and Capitals on April 27, 2015. This marked the Flyers' first game at Nassau since Jan. 19, 2015, a 7-4 Flyers victory. This will be the only game played in the newly renovated arena that was completed back in April.

• Most of the veterans, including Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek and Wayne Simmonds, went through an early morning practice at the Flyers Skate Zone in Voorhees, New Jersey.

• Hextall confirmed the hiring of former Kings general manager Dean Lombardi prior to Sunday's preseason game (see story).

Lines and pairings
F: Oskar Lindblom-Nolan Patrick-Travis Konecny
Matt Read-Scott Laughton-Michael Raffl
Mike Vecchione-German Rubtsov-Ivan Kosorenkov
Jori Lehtera-Mikhail Vorobyev-Cole Bardreau

D: Ivan Provorov-Philippe Myers
Shayne Gostisbehere-Sam Morin
Robert Hagg-Travis Sanheim