Jordan Weal

Flyers-Sharks observations: Wayne Simmonds sparks opening win

Flyers-Sharks observations: Wayne Simmonds sparks opening win

BOX SCORE

SAN JOSE, Calif. — The "Wayne Train" was a freight train of goals on opening night Wednesday as Wayne Simmonds notched his second career hat trick in the Flyers' 5-3 season-opening win over the San Jose Sharks.

The Flyers blew a 2-0 lead and a 3-2 lead, but their power play bailed them out as they were able to pull out a win at the Shark Tank for just the third time in their last 22 matchups in San Jose dating back to 2002.

Simmonds scored the Flyers' final three goals of the game, the last of which was an empty-netter with 36 seconds remaining in regulation. The hat trick marked the Flyers' first on opening night in franchise history, according to NHL public relations.

• Brian Elliott got the start in net and appeared to struggle tracking the puck throughout the first period. However, he settled down and closed the door over the final half of the third period to collect his first win with the Flyers. Elliott stopped 32 of 35 shots. 

• One of my preseason keys was how the Flyers had to develop a potent second power-play unit. On its first rush following a change, it worked a perfect give-and-go as Travis Konecny flipped a pass to Jordan Weal, who beat Martin Jones with a cross-ice shot. Weal’s shot was perfectly placed, but it’s still a shot Jones should stop from that angle.

“It was a good breakout and we executed what we wanted to do,” Weal said. “I just put it in a spot where I thought I could either put it in, or if it didn’t go in, it would create a rebound for a guy going to the net. But it found a way in.”

• All of that preseason concern and panic over the Flyers’ power play was a worthless exercise. The Flyers’ two PP units needed just 1:09 to convert its first three power-play opportunities.

• Sharks goaltender Jones essentially put the Flyers on the board first when he hesitated behind his net and then sent a perfect tape-to-tape pass right to Jakub Voracek, who quickly tapped it over to Claude Giroux for a one-time goal in the opening period. Interestingly, Elliott nearly handed the Sharks a goal in the first few minutes of the game when he misjudged a puck, which resulted in an awkward lunge. However, San Jose couldn’t convert on Elliott’s turnover.

• Who in the world is Kevin Labanc and what was he doing on the Sharks’ top line? Well, Labanc proved just what type of player he is with a pair of first-period goals. San Jose’s sixth-round selection (171st overall) in 2014 brought some speed and energy alongside veterans Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski. That’s what the Flyers were hoping for from their 2014 fifth-round pick Oskar Lindblom. One knock on Labanc: he committed the Sharks’ first three minors, two of which resulted in goals for the Flyers.

• On Labanc’s first goal, defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere was caught deep in the offensive zone and the Sharks broke out with what was shaping up to be a 3-on-1. However, the Flyers recovered nicely in their end, and if Elliott would have controlled the rebound, the team would have avoided that early goal. 

• If the Flyers’ top line is to have any sustained success, Sean Couturier has to develop some sort a finishing touch working with Voracek and Giroux. Couturier had a breakaway and after putting a nice move on Jones, the Sharks’ netminder got a piece of the shot with his right pad. Couturier would have scored a goal had he elevated the puck. Still, one benefit with Couturier on that line is the players will have more possession time in the offensive zone. Overall, he was very assertive and he makes that top line tougher to defend.      

• In his NHL debut, Nolan Patrick, the Flyers’ second overall pick, played 13:30 with three shots on net. He also won 5 of 9 faceoffs. Patrick played a responsible game and rarely seemed out of place. For Patrick, I’m sure it’s good to get that first one out of the way. 

• The Flyers are 23-19-8 all-time in season openers, and they’ve now won back-to-back season openers on the West Coast.

Lines, pairings and scratches

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

Defensemen
Ivan Provorov-Andrew MacDonald
Shayne Gostisbehere-Robert Hagg
Brandon Manning-Radko Gudas

Goalies
Brian Elliott
Michal Neuvirth

Scratches: Jori Lehtera, Sam Morin, Travis Sanheim.

Flyers camp notes, quotes and tidbits: Roster chatter, Nolan Patrick's status, more

Flyers camp notes, quotes and tidbits: Roster chatter, Nolan Patrick's status, more

VOORHEES, N.J. — The Flyers play a preseason back-to-back set when they visit the Rangers on Monday, then host them Tuesday.

With such a schedule setup, head coach Dave Hakstol already has two lineups in mind as the Flyers continue their evaluation for the opening night roster. The training camp roster is technically at 29, but with three players injured (Cole Bardreau, Colin McDonald, Anthony Stolarz), it's actually at 26 and must be down to 23 by the Oct. 4 season opener.

The obvious roster hopefuls are forwards Nolan Patrick, Oskar Lindblom, Scott Laughton, Taylor Leier and Mike Vecchione, and defensemen Robert Hagg, Sam Morin and Travis Sanheim.

"Everybody that's here is still in the mix," Hakstol said after practice Sunday at Flyers Skate Zone. "I said it a couple days ago, this is when the competition gets pretty high."

If Sunday's practice combinations are any indication of what Monday's lineup will look like at Madison Square Garden, Travis Konecny, Vecchione, Leier and Lindblom will be extras. They were the four-man rotational line Sunday.

Hakstol said there could be some differences from the groupings Sunday when it comes to Monday's game. However, he does hope to play each bubble player at least one of the two games. So whoever sits Monday is more than likely to play Tuesday.

Eyes on Patrick
Patrick is feeling better and better.

After assisting Shayne Gostisbehere's overtime winner in Wednesday's 3-2 preseason split-squad win against the Islanders, Patrick played 16:50 Thursday in the 2-1 OT loss to the Bruins at TD Garden. The No. 2 overall pick saw some power-play time, had a few shots on goal and a pair of takeaways.

"Last game was the most comfortable I've felt," Patrick said Sunday.

He's now played in three preseason games, as well as the rookie game.

Patrick centered Jordan Weal and Wayne Simmonds on the second unit at practice, a spot which suits his strengths playing between two finishers with a good blend of ways to score.

Look for that line to stick Monday.

"We've only had one game together, but I think Simmer's obviously a top player in the league, he was an All-Star last year, he can put the puck in the net and make plays," Patrick said. "So he's big down low to create space. Jordan's great offensively, he's got a lot of speed, so I just try to play smart and find them when they're open and make plays."

Sound with studs
Hagg has put together a strong camp and preseason.

The 22-year-old defenseman is well-groomed and prides himself on play in his own end. Playing alongside Gostisbehere doesn't hurt, either. It allows Gostisbehere to focus a bit more on producing offensively because Hagg understands his defensive role.

The last two days, Hagg has been paired with Ivan Provorov.

With those two, he isn't complaining and seems to relish being the complementary piece.

"They're pretty good guys to play with," Hagg said.

"I don't mind it. Let them do their job and I'm taking care of the defense, kind of what I did last year, as well. Start getting used to it and I don't have any problems with it.

"I think my best game is in the D-zone, shutting down guys, 1-on-1 battles. And then sure, I can follow up in the game and find some pucks here and there. But my main focus is to be good in the D-zone, take care of that and the rest will take care of itself."

Roster two cents
Vecchione has played only two preseason games thus far and he was among the four-man line at practice. He should play at least one of these games on the back-to-back, but at this point, he looks like he'll start the season at AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley. There just isn't a spot for the rookie forward right now and he won't be on the roster to be an extra man.

Laughton seems to be a safe bet to make the Flyers' roster. He's been playing in the exact role the Flyers are hoping for him and he proved growth to general manager Ron Hextall last season with the Phantoms.

Leier has done everything you'd ask for from a guy fighting for a spot. However, the numbers game likely pegs him at Lehigh Valley to start 2017-18.

Nonetheless, Hakstol has been impressed by the 23-year-old winger, who had a two-goal game Wednesday in the 3-2 split-squad win at the PPL Center.

"It's about playing his role, what his role is," Hakstol said. "Taylor's a responsible two-way forward. When he's been with us, he's played in that third, fourth-line wing type of role, he's killed penalties — that's his chair. He's done a good job of that so far in camp and that's why he's got himself solidly in the mix."

Can't get enough
Weal is always getting in extra work.

Ever since coming to the Flyers in the January 2016 Vinny Lecavalier trade, he is often the first player on the ice before practice even starts. On Sunday, he was the last one off of it with Konecny. Together, the two took in some bonus ice time.

The 25-year-old Weal just loves the rink and it's gotten him from lots of healthy scratches in 2015-16 to what should be a prominent role in 2017-18.

Quotables
"I think they're going to try to stick to it a little bit more. I don't mind it. It's like impossible to cheat now in faceoffs. But some guys, it's kind of a skill to be able to cheat in faceoffs. I don't know, I think they're going to stick to it, and if they do, it's good. Guys are going to be not trying to cheat because you want to stay in the faceoff dot. We'll see what happens."

- Claude Giroux on refs being stricter in the faceoff circle during preseason

"I had quite a few chances that game. Just being able to jump up in the rush at the right times. You're seeing a lot more in the NHL these days that a lot of the offense is being pushed from D-men getting up in the play and joining the rush and creating chances. That's something I've had as a part in my game all the way through my career. I'm just trying to bring that to this level."

- Travis Sanheim on his goal against the Bruins Thursday

Practice lines and pairings

Forwards
Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek (more on this here).
Jordan Weal-Nolan Patrick-Wayne Simmonds
Jori Lehtera-Valtteri Filppula-Dale Weise
Michael Raffl-Scott Laughton-Matt Read
Mike Vecchione-Taylor Leier-Oskar Lindblom-Travis Konecny

Defensemen
Ivan Provorov-Robert Hagg
Brandon Manning-Shayne Gostisbehere
Travis Sanheim-Radko Gudas
Sam Morin-Andrew MacDonald

Current roster breakdown

Forwards (18)
Cole Bardreau (injured)
Sean Couturier
Valtteri Filppula
Claude Giroux
Travis Konecny
Scott Laughton
Jori Lehtera
Taylor Leier
Oskar Lindblom
Colin McDonald (injured)
Nolan Patrick
Michael Raffl
Matt Read
Wayne Simmonds
Mike Vecchione
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 (3)
Brian Elliott
Michal Neuvirth
Anthony Stolarz (injured)

2017 Flyers training camp: 5 questions that must be answered

2017 Flyers training camp: 5 questions that must be answered

VOORHEES, N.J. — On Friday, the Flyers and the other 30 teams across the NHL opened training camp in their pursuit of dethroning the Pittsburgh Penguins, the first back-to-back Stanley Cup champions since 1998.

Every season comes with an entirely new set of questions that need to be answered. For the Flyers, some are obvious ones: Will Claude Giroux regain his form, which rookies will make the opening night roster and who will be the No. 1 in net? Ultimately, how will the pieces come together for the season opener in San Jose come Oct. 4?

Assuming everyone starts the season healthy, here are five more questions worth exploring:

1. Does Valtteri Filppula start the season at center?  
If the answer to this question is yes, then Jori Lehtera would be forced to make the unfamiliar move to wing. And where would that leave Nolan Patrick with Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier and Filppula as your three primary centers?

As you recall, the line of Filppula along with Jordan Weal at left wing and Wayne Simmonds at right wing provided some spark at the end of last season with Weal scoring a goal in four straight games and a point in six of his last seven. Does that late chemistry keep that line together to start this season? Probably not. Center is Filppula’s natural position and he’s reliable taking draws, where he’s been above 50 percent almost every season throughout his 12-year career.

He’s also defensively responsible, and during his brief time in Philadelphia last season, he rarely looked out of position. The 33-year-old Filppula is also versatile enough to play left wing as he’s proven during his time in Detroit and Tampa Bay. I think Dave Hakstol ultimately will utilize Filppula at both positions throughout the preseason to see what combinations work best. While I don’t see him reaching the 20-goal mark, which he hasn’t done since 2013-14, he’s more of an ideal third-line player since he plays a smart, responsible game. 

2. Who are your top two left wings?
Piggybacking off the previous question surrounding Filppula and Lehtera, left wing appears to be the one position that is wide open to competition. I see Travis Konecny, Weal and Oskar Lindblom as three talented, skilled left wingers who will battle it out to play in the Flyers' top six. Weal’s emergence at the end of last season coupled with Lindblom’s potential scoring ability make this scenario rather interesting.

While Weal is certainly capable of playing on a fourth line, that would seem to undermine what type of contributor he could be and why the Flyers elected to re-sign him.

It’s believed Konecny will have a shot at starting the season with Giroux on the team’s top line with Jakub Voracek flanked on the right side. However, Konecny found himself in Hakstol’s doghouse toward the end of last season, when he averaged around 10 minutes over his final 10 games. He knows he needs to sharpen his two-way game.

Lindblom, who was paired with Giroux on Day 1 of camp, is a special player and the coaches have raved about him leading up to training camp, but he’s an unproven commodity. Essentially, you have three players (Weal, Konecny and Lindblom) battling for prime minutes on the Flyers' top two lines.

3. Can you trust the rookies together as the third defensive pairing?
This is the question that needs to be answered with certainty by the time the puck drops in San Jose.

How nice would it have been to ease into the season with a string of home games to acclimate the young guys on defense regardless of if it’s Sam Morin, Robert Hagg or Travis Sanheim? Unfortunately, the Flyers don’t have that luxury. Instead, they begin the season with four straight on the road, which obviously gives their opponent last change. While expectations run high with this group of prospects, it’s natural to think there will be a few bumps in the road.

Considering Shayne Gostisbehere started 68 percent of his faceoff shifts on the offensive side of center ice (league high for defensemen), rarely is "Ghost" called upon to begin a shift in the defensive zone. When the Flyers face bigger teams like the Sharks, Kings and Ducks, Hakstol will have to be wise when and where he employs his defensive pairings. One mark of a quality playoff team is one that has reliable defensemen capable of protecting a one-goal lead in the final minutes of a game, especially on the road. Ivan Provorov is only one guy, which is why the Flyers need a second pairing that Hakstol can trust as much as his first one. Perhaps the head coach finds a way to split up the two rookies to maintain some balance of skill, size and experience. I wouldn’t be surprised if one rookie is a healthy scratch to start the season in favor of the more experienced Brandon Manning.

4. Is the loss of Pierre-Edouard Bellemare a big deal?
Bellemare was left unprotected this summer on the Flyers' expansion list that included Weal, Matt Read and Michael Raffl, to name a few. While Bellemare was not a contributor on the scoresheet in terms of points, he knew exactly what his role was with the Flyers and accepted it. He earned his way onto the Flyers coming out of training camp in 2014 and proceeded to play 237 out of a possible 246 games, mostly as a fourth-line center.  

Bellemare can be credited for doing a little bit of everything. He delivered hits, blocked shots, killed penalties effectively and won key faceoffs, even if his overall numbers were below 50 percent. He was not your typical fourth-liner, averaging over 13 minutes in his three seasons in Philadelphia, and would you believe Bellemare actually finished last season in the top 50 in voting for the Selke trophy as the NHL’s top defensive forward?

The Vegas Golden Knights saw the value in Bellemare and snatched him up at a cap value of just less than $1.5 million for the next two seasons. While in the Flyers' grand scheme losing Bellemare won’t prove to be much of a setback, it does create a void for the upcoming season. There are several contenders the Flyers will be considering to plug the gap, and right now I would lean toward Scott Laughton, who the coaching staff raved about for adopting more of a two-way game last season with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. Interestingly, general manager Ron Hextall elected to protect the 23-year-old Laughton over the 32-year-old Bellemare during the expansion draft because of the youth factor.  

5. Can the Flyers create balance within their power play?
As the longest-tenured assistant coach on the Flyers' staff, Joe Mullen was replaced this past offseason with Kris Knoblauch. Knoblach's primary duties will be handling the power-play responsibilities. It was the Flyers' power play that propelled them to the top of the standings during their 10-game winning streak. Following the stretch, they struggled mightily, falling from No. 1 in the league to middle of the pack by season’s end as the Flyers' top unit was relied upon to perform most of the heavy lifting. It accounted for a whopping 83 percent of the team’s power-play goals.

Only nine of the 54 goals tallied on the man advantage were scored by someone other than Giroux, Simmonds, Brayden Schenn, Voracek or Gostisbehere. There has to be a little more balance here if the Flyers want to finish in the top 10 again. Who will provide that element of skill on the second unit? Lindblom instantly comes to mind as the coaching staff has raved about his quick release and impressive skill set. Patrick could be a good fit if he indeed makes the team, as well as Lehtera with his vision and hockey sense. It’s a two-fold process: How will Knoblauch’s setup and design incorporate the strengths of the Flyers' roster, and how will the two units be assembled so they’re both power-play threats?