Sean Couturier

Ron Hextall talks Claude Giroux's move to LW, Oskar Lindblom's disappointing start

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NBC Sports Philadelphia

Ron Hextall talks Claude Giroux's move to LW, Oskar Lindblom's disappointing start

Voorhees, N.J. –- With the Flyers off to a hot 4-2 start, there’s a lot to like about the team. The resurgence of Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek and the immediate impact of rookies like Nolan Patrick and Robert Hagg.

It’s all part of general manager Ron Hextall’s plan, and through six games, it seems to be working.

After Thursday’s morning skate, Hextall spoke at length about the team’s success, the development of the rookies and what to make of Sam Morin and Oskar Lindblom — two young players penciled into the lineup at the start of camp, but failed to make the final cut.

Here’s what Hextall had to say about the state of the team:

On the Giroux left-wing experiment
Due to an abundance of quality centers, the Flyers were forced to move one to the wing. And Giroux, who started his Flyers’ career on the right side, seemed to be the top option due to his playmaking ability. So far, so good as Giroux is second third on the team with nine points (four goals, five assists). 

“It’s pretty obvious that we’d be happy (with Giroux’s success),” Hextall said. …  “When you’re a smart player, you can play all three forward positions. … But G’s a smart player. He has skill, he sees the ice well, he’s gritty, he’s smart with the puck, like he’s got all the attributes that he can play all three positions and obviously, that’s a valuable guy because we’re a little loaded up in the middle this year. And then you go ‘OK, who do we want to move? Who can move? Who’s the best fit?’ There’s a lot of things that go into a decision like that and quite frankly, G had never played left wing in all his life and all of a sudden he’s playing left wing and he’s made a real quick transition. So it’s a credit to him first of all for his buy in. There was no ‘I want to play the middle’ stuff. Second of all, he’s worked at it and set his mind to it so credit to G.”

On Sean Couturier’s offensive potential
Couturier has long been maligned for his offensive abilities, but the scoring has always been there somewhere. He was the eighth-overall pick in 2011 and scored 96 points in each of his final two seasons in junior. Now that he is finally playing on with talent, like Giroux and Voracek — what an upgrade over Dale Weise and Matt Read — Couturier is starting to reach his potential with four goals and three assists this season.

“You never know until you try it, whether it’s going to work, but just the vision and the thought of it, you say ‘Hey, you’ve got a real stabile guy in the middle with two guys on the wings that love to make plays,” Hextall said of the top line. “It’s not like Coots is a poor offensive player. He’s a good offensive player. He’s been in different roles over the years and some of his role hasn’t changed. He’s going to matchup against top players, which he’s very good at. Now he’s got two dynamic players on his wings and again, he’s a stabilizer in the middle. So far, so good.”

On line balance
Perhaps the biggest upgrade over last year’s club is the depth. The Flyers can now roll four potent, speedy lines to compete with almost any team. Give credit to Hextall for addressing the team’s biggest need by getting rid of guys like Read and Chris Vandevelde and allowing the young guns to come up.

“It helps a lot,” Hextall said of the balanced lines. “There were points last year where — in terms of matchups — we had to be very fine in terms of who you’re going to matchup against another team’s top line or even their second line. Now, I think we all feel comfortable whoever’s out there is not going to get buried by whatever line and that’s a good feeling for obviously the coaches and us, but the players as well. We can put anybody out there on the road and we don’t chose the matchups and feel some comfort.”

On Nolan Patrick
One of the reasons Giroux had to make the move to wing was the Flyers’ drafting of Nolan Patrick No. 2 overall. Playing on the third line with Dale Weise and Travis Konecny, Patrick has shown his two-way prowess and oh yeah, he can make plays like this. LINK TO DROP PASS GOAL VID

“I think he’s been good. I think he’s been real solid, all three zones. I think some people, you expect too much —  second overall and all this hype and everything else,” Hextall said. “This is the NHL. And it’s a huge step so I think he’s done a good job for us. He plays a very poised game, he’s not an erratic player, very methodical in his thinking and predictable in a good way. He makes the right reads, the right plays, he’s typically in the right part of the ice. It comes down to maturity, but it also comes down to hockey sense.”

On Travis Sanheim’s benching
Sick of seeing Sanheim in the press box? You’ll get your chance to see him vs. the Predators Thursday, as he rejoins the lineup after watching the past two games. Sanheim has played in three of the Flyers’ six games, but don’t worry, he’s going to play this year, but how short is his leash? Are Hextall and head coach Dave Hakstol on the same page with benching young players?

“I think it’s not going to continue, he’s not going to sit on the bench and continue here for long-term, things are going to change so that’s something that I said at the start of the year,” Hextall said. “I don’t believe in young players sitting, nor having a really small role. … But Travis has played well for us and we’ll see where it goes and we’ll evaluate on a day-to-day basis.

Last season, defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere and rookie winger Travis Konecny each served multiple stints in the press box for poor defensive play. Hextall didn’t seem to mind.

“People made a big deal when a couple young players last year were sat out and those young players have shown an awful lot of growth this year. With the little things that they help along the way, to realize that you know what, ‘I don’t have a secure spot in the lineup, necessarily for 82 games. I gotta be on the edge, I gotta work out, I gotta play well every night.’ There’s little messages that come out of things like that, which is why a young player — I’m not opposed to a young player sitting, especially for development reasons. Sometimes it just needs to happen an that’s not the case with Travis, but along the way, it is so a young player sits out the odd game. There’s things they learn, they realize that, ‘You know what, I can’t be complacent, I can’t do this, I can’t do that.’ You learn lessons in life and again, I don’t want you  players sitting out a lot and certainly not for the wrong reasons. I mean, if they’re making that many mistakes they’re not going to be here.”

Is Lindblom sulking in the minors?
Lindblom, a fifth-round pick in 2014, had such an impressive 206-17 playing in Sweden’s top league that many penciled him in as a lock to make the team this year. But after an uninspiring training camp, Lindblom was sent to the Phantoms, where he is off to a slow start this season. Hextall doesn’t seem worried, though. 

“Big Sam (Morin) was real good, Philippe (Myers) was real good, Oskar did some good things, probably not quite at the level that we want him to get to or that he’s hoping to get to, but he was fine. Those kids are doing well.

“Training camp, it was pretty obvious that, not early but as we got along, that he wasn’t quite ready for this level. That’s OK. He didn’t fail. Oskar is going to be a good player. We like Oskar as much as we did a month ago, two months ago, three months ago. Yeah, he comes in, you say, “OK, well he’s gonna be one of the guys we look at here’ and he’s just not ready for it. And that’s OK. It’s not a setback. It’s nothing. It’s like, ‘OK, Oskar, go down, play hard’ — and he’s playing hard. … Is he to the level that he can play? No, he’s not but that’s going to come. He’s a young kid, he’s a young player, he’s adjusting to life, the pressure. Everybody’s talking about him, he comes here, there’s all this hype on him. It’s unfair, quite frankly what the expectations that some of these kids come in with.”

Flyers-Panthers observations: Goals continue to pile up in 5-1 win

Flyers-Panthers observations: Goals continue to pile up in 5-1 win

BOX SCORE

The second period has been the knockout round lately for the Flyers and that proved to be the case again on Tuesday night.

The Flyers won their second straight game at the Wells Fargo Center as they scored four goals in the second period to crush the Florida Panthers, 5-1. They proved once again that their four-line attack is simply too much for opponents. 

Going back to last Tuesday’s game in Nashville, Dave Hakstol’s team has now scored 10 second-period goals in its last three games.

Starting for the first time in 12 days, Michal Neuvirth was a well-oiled machine and showed no signs of rust as he stopped 40 shots for his first win of the season. The Panthers scored a power-play goal with 3:50 remaining to spoil Neuvirth’s chance at a shutout. 

• Neuvirth stymied the Panthers in spectacular fashion in the early stages. He denied Derek MacKenzie, Nick Bjugstad and Aleksander Barkov in the opening 20 minutes. It’s going to be hard for Hakstol not to reward Neuvirth with another start soon.

• The Flyers dominated mostly through their transitional game. One of the biggest differences in the opening month has been the Flyers’ ability to create quality scoring chances off the rush, and they dominated in that area Tuesday night.

• Shayne Gostisbehere scored his first goal of the season on a breakout after a nice give-and-go play with Wayne Simmonds. Jordan Weal deserved some sort of assist as he drove his defender Mark Pysyk into the shooting lane, blocking Roberto Luongo’s view. Instead, it was rookie Robert Hagg who picked up his first NHL point on the secondary assist that started the breakout. 

“We’re confident,” Gostisbehere said. “We’re riding high, but we have to keep an even keel and keep going.”

• Later in the second period, the Flyers’ power play went to work. After the Panthers’ shorthanded opportunity was thwarted, Valtteri Filppula fed a wide-open Claude Giroux, who beat Luongo through an exposed five-hole. Giroux pumped his fist in celebration, displaying some confidence that was lacking for most of last season.

• The prettiest scoring play of the night was reserved for the Flyers’ fourth goal. That play started when Travis Konecny outraced the defense for a breakaway that Luongo denied. A trailing Nolan Patrick fed a pass between his legs to Dale Weise, who slipped a wrist shot past Luongo. Patrick’s second career assist was proof of the hockey sense to know where his teammates are on the ice and a credit to his unselfish play (see video).

• Simmonds capped the entertainment value on this night when he roughed up the Panthers’ newest “enforcer” Michael Haley, dropping him to the ice following a series of rights. Haley joined the Panthers in the offseason after he was second in the NHL last season with 16 fights.

Simmonds was last on the ice around midway through the third period. He was taken out for precautionary reasons with a lower-body injury. A further update will be provided in the next two days.

• Sean Couturier’s office appears to be anywhere there’s blue paint. The Flyers’ top-line center opened the scoring from the seat of his pants as he was left alone in front, made a nice move and whacked away at a loose puck that just crossed the line behind Luongo. Of Couturier’s four goals, the puck has yet to leave the ice.

First-period observations
• If you’re going to get burned on a breakaway, better make it against a fourth-line center. Florida’s MacKenzie was denied a point-blank shot in the first period as Konency did an excellent job of racing back to get his stick on the puck from behind MacKenzie without committing a penalty.

• Looking for his first goal since the season opener in San Jose, Weal had two prime opportunities in a span of 15 seconds to score on the Flyers’ first power play. Playing his off wing, Weal misfired on one chance and missed the net on the other.  

• Panthers center Owen Tippett made his NHL debut Tuesday at the Wells Fargo Center. Tippett was the 10th overall selection in the 2017 NHL draft, and he’s the fifth player from the most recent draft class to play in the league this season. Unlike Patrick, selected second overall, Tippet was a non-factor.

Lines, pairings and scratches

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
Brandon Manning-Radko Gudas

Goalies
Michal Neuvirth
Brian Elliott

Scratched: Jori Lehtera and Travis Sanheim.

Flyers-Panthers thoughts: Top line scary good; Manning-Sanheim big deal?

Flyers-Panthers thoughts: Top line scary good; Manning-Sanheim big deal?

Flyers (3-2-0) vs. Panthers (2-2-0)
7 p.m. on NBCSP, NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports App; Pregame Live at 6:30
 
Did the Flyers save any goals for the rest of the five-game homestand?
 
That's probably what many are asking after watching the 8-2 demolition they put on the Washington Capitals in Saturday night's home opener.
 
The Flyers will try to keep things rolling Tuesday night when they welcome the Florida Panthers to the Wells Fargo Center.
 
Here are some thoughts before Game 6 of the season:
 
• You couldn't ask for much more from the Flyers' top line against the Capitals. Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier and Jakub Voracek downright manhandled Washington. When Giroux moved to the left wing and Sean Couturier bumped up to first-line center, Saturday's performance was likely the dream scenario in the minds of the Flyers' coaching staff and front office.
 
It seemed like Voracek was making a play every time he touched the puck, Couturier did yeoman's work in all phases, and Giroux looked like his old self, showing a little bit of everything in his arsenal. The trio combined for 10 points on four goals and six assists. No one is expecting such production on a game-by-game basis, but let's see if this group can sustain these positive vibes and turn itself into a staple up top. As evidenced by Saturday, the Flyers go to a different level when those three are on.
 
• No one wants to see Travis Sanheim sitting. He's a first-round pick the fan base has been eager to see. He has great size and offensive upside for a defenseman. It will be exciting to watch him become a pillar of the Flyers' blue line.
 
But is it really the end of the world if Brandon Manning plays a couple games here in the early going? Manning will suit up Tuesday for his second straight game in place of Sanheim (more here from morning skate). The 21-year-old rookie won't be in the press box for long, though, because that doesn't jive with general manager Ron Hextall's development plan. So Sanheim will sit for a few, watch and learn. That's not too terrible.
 
And, the two games Manning has played so far (season opener and home opener), the Flyers won both by a combined score of 13-5. Was he the most critical reason why? No, but he didn't hurt the Flyers, either. Keeping your projected seventh defenseman somewhat active is a good idea for when/if he is needed.
 
Sanheim will be fine and he will play.
 
We're about to be only six games in here … let's just give this some time.
 
• Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said he planned on using both of his goalies over this homestand. Michal Neuvirth will get the call against the Panthers after Brian Elliott started four of the first five games. Neuvirth looks like the clear backup, but it's important to get him starts, and that's what Hakstol plans on doing.
 
Neuvirth didn't see Florida last season. However, he did see the Panthers in 2015-16 and was terrific, delivering a shutout, 1.59 goals-against average and .943 save percentage in two games. He hasn't seen game action since Oct. 5.
 
• Wayne Simmonds, who has been a stud so far with five goals in five games, did work against Florida last season, posting three goals and an assist in three games.
 
• The Panthers are good. They've scored 16 goals through their first four games, all tough tests against the Lightning twice, the Blues and the Penguins. Florida boasts some nice, young talent in center Jonathan Huberdeau (three goals, two assists), center Aleksander Barkov (three assists) and defenseman Aaron Ekblad (two goals, two assists), just to name some.
 
To add to it, Florida's first-round pick at 10th overall this past summer, Owen Tippett, will make his NHL debut tonight. The 18-year-old scored 44 goals in 60 junior games last season for the OHL's Mississauga Steelheads.
 
• 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
Brandon Manning-Radko Gudas
 
Goalies
Michal Neuvirth
Brian Elliott

Scratches: Forward Jori Lehtera and defenseman Travis Sanheim.