Matt Bowker

It's time to recognize Flyers' other rock on D

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AP Images

It's time to recognize Flyers' other rock on D

Take a second and guess which Flyer leads the team in plus/minus. Nope, it's not Ivan Provorov or Sean Couturier.

Give up? At plus-14, rookie defenseman Robert Hagg leads the team. And while plus/minus isn't an ideal depiction of a player's success, it's something the rookie takes pride in.

“Well, absolutely. It means I’m more on the ice when we score goals than against, so of course, I’m taking pride in that," Hagg said. "But at the same time, you can’t read too much into that because every game is different."

Every game is different, but Hagg's steady, solid play has largely remained the same across his first 31 NHL games. The 22-year-old is averaging 19:22 ice time a game — sixth-most on the team and third among defensemen behind Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere. He's also tied for third in the league with 101 hits this season. 

It's easy to forget about Hagg on a team full of young talent. But that's the way he likes it. 

"No, I love to go under the radar," Hagg said. "I don’t like the attention so much. It’s hard to disappear when you’re playing in the NHL, I guess."

On the ice, it's easy to miss Hagg. He doesn't have the flashy moves of Gostisbehere or the puck-moving skills of Provorov. He just goes out there and quietly gets the job done, at both ends of the ice. And for a rookie D-man, going relatively unnoticed at times can be a good thing. It means he's not making mistakes. 

While he may go unnoticed by fans, he has certainly stuck out in the mind of Dave Hakstol.

“He doesn’t fly under the radar in our dressing room," Hakstol said. "He’s been a good player and just by nature of some of the injuries and with [Radko Gudas'] suspension — with a couple veterans out of the lineup — he’s logged some minutes that maybe we didn’t predict quite this early, but by necessity, he’s been in these situations and he’s handled them well.

"Those are challenging minutes and assignments for a young defenseman. But Hagger has handled all of those things with pretty good poise. So he’s learning, he’s giving us good minutes and he keeps pushing to improve his game, so those are all positive things.”

With Andrew MacDonald's injury and Gudas' suspension, Hagg has been forced into playing more — and tougher — minutes than Hakstol originally anticipated for the rookie. But the coach has shown in the past — take Provorov's ascension to No. 1 D-man for example — that a player's age or experience will not limit minutes earned on the back end. 

Hagg has been a constant on the Flyers' blue line all season, and it's time to start appreciating his play as he continues to develop into a sturdy, top-four defenseman. 

Mr. 300
Michael Raffl will play in his 300th NHL game tonight and it's a special one for the 29-year-old. 

In 2012-13, Raffl was playing in Sweden when the Flyers took a chance on the Austrian.

Playing in the NHL at all seemed like a farfetched idea to him then, and 299 games later, it still doesn't feel real.

“If you asked me a couple years ago, I wouldn’t have dreamed of it," Raffl said. "It’s part of my life now. I think it’s awesome and I’m very proud of that."

This season — Raffl's fifth — had the appearance that it may have been his last. At least for the first 21 games. Playing mostly on the fourth line with Scott Laughton and Taylor Leier, Raffl didn't record a single point in that span. 

“I was trying not to change my game too much, to be honest," Raffl said of his early struggles. "I know the points weren’t there the first 20 games and I was struggling offensively, but I thought I played very well. I was trying to help the team win one way or the other. Now it’s clicking and I’ll try to ride the wave. Yeah, it’s more fun like that, for sure."

Over his last 10 games, Raffl has eight points — five goals and three assists — including five points during the Flyers' four-game win streak. It's no coincidence that the two overlap. 

Raffl's resurgence came with Hakstol's decision to break up the team's top line of Couturier, Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek.

Now on the second line with Valtteri Filppula and Voracek, Raffl has looked like the 2014-15 player that scored a career-high 21 goals. 

“It’s been a benefit for us," Hakstol said of Raffl's hot streak. "Raf is a guy that’s scored 20 goals in this league so we know that he can contribute and he can help offensively, and I think he was pretty frustrated early on by not being able to find the back of the net. His continued good play has obviously created different opportunities for him and with the line that he’s with, right now with Fil and Jake, he’s going to get some of those scoring opportunities and in the past couple weeks, he’s made good on them and it’s been a huge boost for our team."

The Flyers take on the worst team in the Eastern Conference Thursday night — the Buffalo Sabres. But with points in their last four games (2-0-2), the Flyers can't afford to take the Sabres lightly. 

“No, we can’t look past anyone and I think where we are at, we gotta bring everything we’ve got," Raffl said. "It’s going to take a lot and I think it’s way harder to play against teams that are down there."

Lineups, pairings and scratches

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

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

Goalies
Brian Elliott
Alex Lyon

Scratches: Forward Jori Lehtera (healthy) and defenseman Mark Alt (healthy).

Radko Gudas facing suspension, waives right to in-person hearing

Radko Gudas facing suspension, waives right to in-person hearing

Updated: 10:32 p.m.

Here we go again.

Flyers defenseman Radko Gudas was offered an in-person hearing by the NHL for his dangerous slash to the back of the head of Winnipeg's Mathieu Perreault in Thursday's loss. Late Friday night, Gudas waived his right to the in-person hearing and will now have it via phone on Sunday, meaning he can't play Saturday afternoon when the Calgary Flames visit the Wells Fargo Center.

Gudas was handed a game misconduct — the sixth of his career — and was tossed for his unnecessary slash. Was it dirty? Judge for yourself in the video above.

The NHL certainly seems to think it was intentional, however. The offering of an in-person hearing means Gudas is staring down a suspension — and a lengthy one, too — should the NHL discipline him. In-person hearings warrant a suspension of at least six games, as opposed to a suspension of five games or fewer that would be discussed in a phone call.

While the slash was certainly grounds for a suspension, Gudas' reputation is also working against him. The D-man is a repeat offender and was last suspended for six games in Oct. 2016 for a late hit. 

In his absence (Gudas can't play until the hearing is held), the Flyers figure to get Andrew MacDonald back from a lower-body injury within the next week or so. MacDonald injured his leg while blocking a shot Oct. 21 vs. Edmonton. The Flyers are 3-5-3 in his absence. Mark Alt, who is currently serving as the team's seventh defenseman, also figures to step in should MacDonald not be ready for Saturday's game.

Flyers notes, quotes and tidbits: Nolan Patrick to return next week?

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Zack Hill/Flyers

Flyers notes, quotes and tidbits: Nolan Patrick to return next week?

VOORHEES, N.J. — At this point, Nolan Patrick is pushing the extremes of what qualifies as a day-to-day injury.

Patrick, who suffered an upper-body injury on Oct. 24, has made progress — doing individual drills before practice in his yellow “injured” jersey this week. 

Both general manager Ron Hextall and head coach Dave Hakstol acknowledged the injury, a suspected concussion, has taken longer than originally anticipated to heal. But the Flyers’ rookie isn’t far off from a return.

“It’s taken longer than we thought, certainly hoped,” Hextall said. “But he skated today and everything went good and worked out. Things are good and now it’s a matter of starting to ramp him up. You just can’t go from zero to 60, it’s gotta be zero to 20 and then up. So he’ll go a little harder tomorrow and then hopefully, continues to progress.

“He skated this morning, he’s making progress and it’s a matter of kind of ramping him up a bit every day and hopefully, things continue on the path they’re going right now.”

Since being hit awkwardly into the boards in a home loss to the Ducks, Patrick has missed each of the Flyers’ last six games and will very likely miss the next two, including tonight vs. the Blackhawks. 

“It’s always a concern when a player’s out of the lineup but at the same time, there’s people that are here to work with him and we have full confidence that all the right things get done and players work hard to get back in the lineup when they’re able,” Hakstol said.

The Flyers have managed to stay afloat without Patrick, going 2-2-2, but it’s clear the team is lacking the punch and depth Patrick provided. In nine games with Patrick this season, the team has averaged 3.3 goals per game, compared to 2.8 in the six games without Patrick. 

Veteran center Jori Lehtera has stepped in for Patrick on the third line, but with a large contract and his best days behind him, it’s easy to see why he was expendable in St. Louis and a healthy scratch to start the year.

“I think Jori’s done a good job for us,” Hakstol said. … “He came in on the left side and did a good job for us and when we needed him up the middle here over the past few games, I think he’s done a very good job in a two-way sense as a centerman for us. And obviously, he’s very comfortable. He’s a veteran player and a veteran centerman in this league."

Lehtera is a fine fill-in, adding one assist in nine games this season, but lacks the playmaking ability that allowed the Flyers to roll four productive lines to begin the season.

“Jori does a very good job down low defensively as well as down low offensively. If you watch carefully, closely, he creates a lot of good puck possession and makes plays in tight spaces so he provides a real strong middle-ice presence.”

So when can we expect to see Patrick back in orange and black? Dealing with concussions is a tricky business, but with two promising skates in the last three days, Patrick seems to be improving. 

Improving enough that Hextall wouldn’t rule out a possible return on the Flyers’ upcoming road trip to Minnesota and Winnipeg next week. 

Help is on the way
More good news on the injury front for the Flyers as it looks as though Radko Gudas (upper-body injury) has been cleared by the team to return tonight vs. the Blackhawks.

Fellow D-man Andrew MacDonald isn’t far behind, as Hextall anticipates the veteran to begin skating next week. MacDonald suffered a lower-body injury while blocking a shot on Oct. 21. 

“Mac sees a doc tomorrow,” Hextall said. “He’s right on schedule. Again, I’m not exactly sure what day we’re at now but he’s at the front end of the 4-6 (weeks) is what we expect. We hope he’s skating next week.”

Projected lines
Brian Elliott will make his first start in eight days. Winger Matt Read and defenseman Mark Alt are healthy scratches.

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

Defense: Ivan Provorov-Robert Hagg
Brandon Manning-Shayne Gostisbehere 
Travis Sanheim-Radko Gudas

Goalies: Brian Elliott
Michal Neuvirth