Robert Hagg

Wayne Simmonds, power play lift Flyers to season-opening win

Wayne Simmonds, power play lift Flyers to season-opening win

BOX SCORE

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Not only do the Flyers finally know the way to San Jose, but they now also know the best mode of transportation to get here and to get the job done.

By train.

The "Wayne Train" delivered the cargo as he became the first Flyer in franchise history to score a hat trick on opening night. Two of those were vintage Simmonds parking the caboose in front of the goaltender and redirecting shots from the point. He capped his second career hat trick with an empty-netter that secured a 5-3 opening night victory Wednesday over the Sharks, just the Flyers’ second win in San Jose since the turn of the century (see observations).

It was Simmonds’ hand-eye coordination, coupled with an ability to screen a goaltender, that placed him in a very elite category.

“That’s pretty good,” Simmonds said. “I thought we started really well. I think we’ve got a lot more speed. I think if you watched the game, we just kept skating, skating and skating. I think it was because of our legs that we came away with the two points. The good thing about the young guys is they have a ton of energy and a ton of legs, so that’s good.”

“He’s the best in the business at that (working down low),” Shayne Gostisbehere said. “They always tell me if I get the puck through on net, don’t get it blocked. You’re going to get a point because it’s either going to go in or Simmer is going to tip it. It’s a good presence to have. It’s a weapon that we obviously have, and he showed it tonight.”

The Flyers utilized Simmonds and their power-play units to full potential. Not only did the Flyers’ power play complete a hat trick of its own, but collectively, the team’s two units also needed just 1:09 to accomplish the feat. 

First, Jordan Weal got the Flyers on the board on the PP before Simmonds followed suit with his pair.  

“Jokingly, we said we were saving them for the season,” Gostisbehere, who tied a career-high with three assists, said. “It was huge for us.”

The Flyers didn’t start working on their power play until a week into the preseason. They were never too distracted with their September struggles, especially in the game at Boston in which they finished 0 for 9.  

“The last three games of the preseason, things were clicking pretty well,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “Tonight, the puck went into the net. We had a real good shooting mentality. We scored a couple early by having great net-front presence. One or two passes and putting it to the net, and it was effective for us tonight.”

Brian Elliott earned the season-opening assignment in net and despite surrendering a 2-0 lead in the first period and a 3-2 lead earlier in the third period, he shut the door over the final 16:48 to earn his first win in orange and black.

“The first game of the season, you’re always figuring things out,” Elliott said. “But that was a good one for us to spoil a home opener.”

Rookie report
Making his NHL debut, Nolan Patrick played 13:30 and had three shots on goal. Patrick also won 56 percent of his faceoffs.

While he wasn’t noticeable on the offensive end, he played a responsible defensive game. 

“I thought he played really well,” Simmonds said. “I asked him if he was nervous before the game and he said no. I think it was [Jakub Voracek] who said, ‘Ah, you better be nervous.’”

Robert Hagg, paired with Gostisbehere, was on the ice for 16:13 with two shots on goal. He saw time in all situations, including nearly two minutes on the penalty kill. 

“You’d think he’d be nervous, but he was so calm,” Gostisbehere said. “He’s a cool, calm and collected guy. He just sees the game so well. He’s a good calming presence back there. I think he played really well out there tonight.”

Taylor Leier, playing right winger on the Flyers’ fourth line, saw significant ice time with 12:30 of action (4:35 shorthanded). Leier was not on the ice when the Sharks scored their two power-play goals.  

For the stat junkies
• Hakstol is now 2-0-1 in season openers.

• Claude Giroux’s first-period goal marked the fourth time he’s scored a goal in a season opener. With his first assist this season, Giroux will pass Mark Recchi for fourth place on the Flyers’ all-time list.

• With his three goals, Simmonds surpassed the 400-point mark for his career (401).

• Wednesday’s game was the third time in franchise history the Flyers started their season in California. Last season, the Flyers began in Los Angeles with a 4-2 win over the Kings. Their first season opener in the Golden State came in their inaugural season of 1966-67 when they lost to the California Seals, 5-1, at Oracle Arena, home to the NBA world champion Golden State Warriors.

Matt Read clears waivers as Flyers' roster is set ... for now

Matt Read clears waivers as Flyers' roster is set ... for now

Updated: 3:12 p.m.

Maybe Matt Read hasn't seen his last days in a Flyers uniform.
 
The 31-year-old winger cleared waivers and was loaned to AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley on Tuesday, as the Flyers are set with their 23-man roster ahead of Wednesday night's season opener in San Jose, California, against the Sharks.
 
The Flyers' waiving of Read on Monday was to open a spot for 23-year-old Taylor Leier, a 2012 fourth-round pick who impressed in the preseason with three points (two goals, one assist) in four games. Read, a veteran of six seasons — all with the Flyers — has not been able to rediscover his early success and is on the final year of a four-year, $14.5 million deal. With Read headed to the AHL, NBC Sports Philadelphia's Greg Paone has more on what it means monetarily for the Flyers right here.
 
But Read may be back soon. While the Flyers' roster is at the NHL-mandated 23, things could change once defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere's health is assured. Gostisbehere suffered an upper-body injury in last Sunday's preseason finale, forcing the Flyers to carry rookie defensemen Robert Hagg, Sam Morin and Travis Sanheim all to the West Coast, with eight overall blueliners on the roster. Gostisbehere took part in Tuesday's practice and said he's good to go for Wednesday.
 
General manager Ron Hextall will not keep his young prospects just to be extras. When the Flyers are completely confident in Gostisbehere's health, either Morin or Sanheim (the latter more likely) will be sent to the AHL, while a forward (very possibly Read) will be recalled.
 
Gostisbehere has not been placed on injured reserve, another sign that his issue is not overly serious and all three rookie defensemen are on board for safety measures.
 
Nonetheless, the roster is ready for now, as are the Flyers, who open the 2017-18 season with a four-game road trip.
 
Here's a look at the 23 players for opening night Wednesday and our best projection of the Game 1 lineup:
 
Forwards (13)
 
Sean Couturier
Valtteri Filppula
Claude Giroux
Travis Konecny
Scott Laughton
Jori Lehtera
Taylor Leier
Nolan Patrick
Michael Raffl
Wayne Simmonds
Jakub Voracek
Jordan Weal
Dale Weise
 
Defensemen (8)

Shayne Gostisbehere
Radko Gudas
Robert Hagg
Andrew MacDonald
Brandon Manning
Sam Morin
Ivan Provorov
Travis Sanheim
 
Goalies (2)
 
Brian Elliott
Michal Neuvirth
 
Projected lineup
 
Forwards
Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
 
Jordan Weal-Nolan Patrick-Wayne Simmonds
 
Travis Konecny-Valtteri Filppula-Dale Weise
 
Michael Raffl-Scott Laughton-Taylor Leier
 
Defensemen
Ivan Provorov-Andrew MacDonald
 
Shayne Gostisbehere-Robert Hagg
 
Brandon Manning-Radko Gudas
 
Goalies
Michal Neuvirth
 
Brian Elliott
 
Scratches: Forward Jori Lehtera, and defensemen Sam Morin and Travis Sanheim.

Ron Hextall not veering from Kings' path with Flyers' young defensemen

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AP Images/USA Today Images

Ron Hextall not veering from Kings' path with Flyers' young defensemen

If that “mirror, mirror on the wall” actually existed, Flyers fans would be lined up right now wanting to know, “Who’s the most deserving of them all?”

And rightfully so.

Unfortunately, without that magical piece of glass from the movie “Snow White,” you may not get the straightforward answer you’re looking for. "Preseason 2017," for lack of a better title, will be remembered as “The Battle on the Blue Line,” and now that we’ve cycled through the credits, culminating with the final game against the Islanders, it appears as if a sequel is already in the works.

It was an intense competition revolving around the team’s talented, homegrown defense. Sam Morin, Robert Hagg and Travis Sanheim competed for the two vacated positions. Sanheim displayed an impressive and rare offensive skill set with a team-high-tying three goals, but he flashed shortcomings with his penchant for turnovers. Morin was strong in all phases, most notably his imposing physical presence, while also showing a tendency to contribute offensively. Morin’s mishaps, perhaps not nearly as glaring as Sanheim’s, were mostly positional play. Hagg was perhaps the least flashy and noticeable of the trio, but remained consistent throughout.

All three rookies had their bags ready to go Sunday night — destination unknown at the time. Either they would be joining the rest of the Flyers team on the charter to San Jose or they would be carpooling to Allentown as they begin another season in the AHL. Now with the upper-body injury to Shayne Gostisbehere, all three rookies are California dreaming, and more importantly, California unpacking.

If "Ghost" suits up in the season opener, then in all likelihood, only Hagg will actually crack the lineup to start, and that will remain a head-scratcher for a fan base that's been asked to sit on its collective hands.

And they’re not alone. Even members of the Flyers' Cup teams have expressed to me personally a desire to see the kids play. The decision is even more puzzling to guys like Morin and Sanheim, who both believe they did everything possible to earn their spot.

“Yeah, I’m very excited,” Morin said Monday. “I think I had a pretty good camp. I deserve it. We’re going to see what happens. I’m just living one day at a time. I’m just really excited to prove I can be in the NHL and be a regular.”

For Hextall, this is nothing more than business as usual. He rarely deviates from the script that comes straight out of Hollywood, just not crafted by Disney.

During his time with the Kings, then-general manager Dean Lombardi nurtured his defensive corps in much the same manner.

Alec Martinez — Three seasons of college hockey followed by 2½ seasons with the Manchester Monarchs of the AHL. Became a full-time NHL regular at age 23.

Jake Muzzin — Four years in the OHL (Ontario Hockey League) proceeded with 2½ years with the Monarchs. Became a full-time NHL regular at age 23.

Slava Voynov — Three full seasons (266 games) with the Monarchs. Entered the NHL at age 22.

Martinez and Muzzin remain core pieces to the Kings' defensive unit and Voynov was equally as talented, perhaps even more so. However, Voynov was indefinitely suspended for allegedly assaulting his wife, and hasn’t suited up in an NHL game since October 2014. He has since returned to Russia to play in the KHL.

Compare those players with Hagg, 22, Morin, 22, and Sanheim, 21, and you can see Hextall will not serve up one of his defensemen until they are properly aged to his standards. You can place Drew Doughty and Ivan Provorov into a category of all their own.

During his brief press gathering Sunday night following the decision that Oskar Lindblom would begin his North American career with the Phantoms, Hextall had this to say: “American League time hasn’t hurt one player in the history of professional hockey.” In other words, to Hextall, no one regresses playing in the minors … ever.

It seems fitting the Flyers will begin their season just a few hours away from Napa Valley, because Hextall refuses to pluck one of his guys off the vine until the time is absolutely right. There’s no one right way to serve up an NHL defenseman, but there is, in Hextall’s vision, a certain recipe for disaster. Don’t think for a moment the ingredients that go into that will ever change, especially now that Hextall just recently hired Lombardi, who I’m sure packed up his “How to Build a Stanley Cup Champion” cookbook and brought it with him.

When asked about his three impressive, young defensemen specifically, Hextall smiled and said, “When you look at the career of a young player, going to the minors is OK, even if its for a couple years. It’s not a death sentence. You’re still a pro hockey player and you’re still one injury, one day away from a call-up. It’s not as disastrous as you try to paint it, maybe.”

Even Hextall understands that sometimes the best-laid plans have to shelved. It was an injury to Mark Streit that opened the door for Gostisbehere, who burst onto the scene two years ago and never looked back, despite just 21 games of AHL experience.

When will Morin and Sanheim earn their spot, permanently?

If you have a magic 8-ball lying around, now would be a good time to dust it off, and give it a good shake.