Valtteri Filppula

Flyers notes, quotes and tidbits: Nolan Patrick adjusting offensively

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Flyers notes, quotes and tidbits: Nolan Patrick adjusting offensively

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — It’s still a feeling out process for 19-year-old rookie Nolan Patrick, who continues to acclimate himself to the speed and style of the NHL’s brand of hockey. While he’s been defensively reliable in his own end of the ice, we’re beginning to see where Patrick prefers to do his damage offensively.

Patrick has utilized his 6-foot-2, 200-pound frame to create space down low around the goal line and behind the net. In one of most dazzling plays of the preseason, Patrick fed a blind pass to Oskar Lindblom for a quality scoring chance, and Saturday in Anaheim there was a similar play to Travis Konecny. 

“I’ve always felt I had a good vision to make plays from down there,” Patrick said. “I don’t know if I pride myself on making plays from down there, but I think in this league, there’s not much off the rush. Everyone tracks back pretty hard. I think that’s where the offense is going to come from down there, so I just try to make quick cutbacks and make plays, so that’s something I’ve been trying to focus on.”

“He’s got great vision from below the goal line, from down low in tight spaces,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “He made the play from down low on (Ivan) Provorov’s goal the other night. He had a similar type play to (Konecny) at the end of the game there. Those are strengths of his game, and we’re starting to see those things come out more and more.

Flipping the switch
After starting the season 3 for 3, the Flyers' power play is now 0 for its last 12. Hakstol will continue to leave Valtteri Filppula on the No. 1 unit, as they worked on their setup and puck movement during Monday’s practice. 

“Part of that role is shooting,” Hakstol said. “He hasn’t spent a lot of time in that spot. I think just overall adjusting to that position and that role on the power play is something that he’s done pretty well. It’s a real puck support role as well. You’re in a support role with anybody on the rink that has the puck and you’re in a puck retrieval role. I think he’s adjusting to it really well.”

Sour jam
Peter Laviolette is one of three coaches since 2010 to take two different teams to the Stanley Cup Final only to come up short on both occasions. Peter DeBoer led the Devils in 2012 and Sharks in 2016 and was on the losing end twice. Alain Vigneault went with the Canucks in 2011 and again with the Rangers in 2014.

After the Predators bowed out to the Penguins in six games, Laviolette is now attempting to draw off his experiences in the year after he guided the Flyers to the Cup Final, when they finished with 106 points, third best that season behind the Canucks and the Capitals. However, he still hasn’t moved past the gut-wrenching loss to the Blackhawks.

“It’s never easy to get over,” Laviolette said following Monday's morning practice. “Anytime you go that deep and lose it leaves a pit in your stomach, and you carry that pit forever. I look back at Philadelphia as a missed opportunity for all of us, and certainly in Nashville I look back at it the same way. You’re here to do one thing and that’s win championships and when you don’t do it, it hurts.”  

Laviolette will be reminded of that once again as the Predators raise their Western Conference Champions banner in front of their fans prior to their game against the Flyers.

Hartnell down in Nashville
Philly fan favorite Scott Hartnell returns to the Predators, the franchise that selected him in the first round (6th overall) of the 2000 NHL draft. 

Entering his 17th season, Hartnell is one of 21 active players with at least nine or more 20-goal seasons, and he believes he can reach that mark again filling the hole left by James Neal. (Neal was selected by the Vegas Golden Knights in the NHL expansion draft.) Laviolette still views Hartnell as an important part of the team’s power play and has him working with the No. 1 unit Monday.

For the first time in his career, Hartnell is taking his career year-by-year after signing a one-year, $1 million deal with the Predators.

“It’s a young man’s game now and the speed of it is incredible, and you just got to do your thing,” Hartnell said. “My game’s still pretty simple, it doesn’t change much from when I started at 18. I go to the net and that’s where I score my goals. That’s where all the action happens, and just looking forward to this year. I’m so excited to be a part of this and we’re looking forward to getting in the playoffs and making a run like last year.”

Hartnell got married for the second time over the summer after he exchanged vows at The Country Club at Muirfield Village in Dublin, Ohio. Many of Hartnell’s Flyers teammates were in attendance including Claude Giroux, Kimmo Timonen, Brayden Schenn, Sam Gagner and Nick Schultz.  

Flyers notes, quotes and tidbits: Nolan Patrick, Valtteri Filppula trading spaces

Flyers notes, quotes and tidbits: Nolan Patrick, Valtteri Filppula trading spaces

ANAHEIM, Calif. — It appears Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol is switching up his second and third lines for tonight's game against the Anaheim Ducks.

During today's morning skate, Nolan Patrick and Valtteri Filppula swapped spots. Patrick was centering Dale Weise and Travis Konecny, while Filppula was with Jordan Weal and Wayne Simmonds.

Patrick had his hands full Wednesday with Logan Couture's line in San Jose and then endured a heavy workload the following night against "That 70's Line," arguably the Kings' best line with Jeff Carter at center.

The line of Weal, Filppula and Simmonds caught fire in the final few weeks of last season, and perhaps Hakstol is looking for that line to spark some offensive firepower again. 

“We’re definitely more familiar,” Filppula said. “We played quite a bit at the end of last season. That’s always something that helps.”

“I don’t know (why it worked). We just built chemistry really quickly — me and Wealsy,” Simmonds said. “We started off with (Claude) Giroux and then switched to Filppula and I don’t think we missed a beat. Filppula’s a veteran player with great awareness and he’s always in the right spots. The way he plays the game, you just get open and he’s going to put the puck on your stick. For me, I think that’s a great thing.”  

It’s easy to look at the move as a demotion for the 19-year-old rookie Patrick, but it could allow him to open up his game offensively playing alongside Konecny.

“Just continue to grow your game,” Hakstol said of Patrick. “He’s a confident player. He’s doing a good job. He’s going to experience a lot of firsts along the way. First game in San Jose, I thought he did a really good job — with the puck, without the puck. The following night he has the experience of his first back-to-back with a little bit of travel in between, and he’s going to continue to learn through a lot of these firsts.”

Power wingers
Whenever the Ducks and Flyers do battle, it’s typically a matchup of two of the premier power forwards at the right wing position. Since Simmonds joined the Flyers in 2011, Corey Perry ranks second in goals in the NHL with 183 amongst right wing and Simmonds is fourth with 166. The "Wayne Train" has patterned himself after Perry over the years. 

“I actually used to hate his guts (when I was in L.A.),” Simmonds said of Perry. “But we spend a lot of time now in the London (Ontario) area during the offseason. He’s one of the guys I’ve tried to emulate his game since coming to Philadelphia — playing that net-front presence. He’s probably been the best in the league over the last 10 years in that area. There’s lot of his game that I’ve tried to take and incorporate into my own.

“He’s a good player. He’s strong, he’s physical. He can skate. He’s got good hand-eye coordination,” Perry said. “You put all of those together, you’ve got a pretty good hockey player. He’s a player I know quite well. He loves the game and he just wants to be out there and help the team win.”

Playoff redemption
Brian Elliott will be back in net, and this time, looking to wash out the bad taste of last year’s playoff series against the Ducks, who swept Elliott’s Flames out of the playoffs, essentially ending his brief one-year stint in Calgary.

Elliott started all four games and finished with a 0-3 record, a 3.89 goals-against average and an .880 save percentage. It was, by far, the worst playoff series in his 10-year NHL career.

Hakstol believes, though, Elliott can build off his season-opening victory in San Jose.  

“There were several key (third period) saves in that game,” Hakstol said. “He fought hard to make those saves. Beyond that, I thought he had a good presence. The end result is what really matters. He helped us get a win in a tough building on the road in night No. 1" 

Coach speak
In studying game tape of the Flyers' first two games, Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle has definitely noticed the speed and agility of the Flyers’ blue line.

“The one thing you do notice that stands out is the ability of their back end,” Carlyle said. “That’s probably the biggest change I can see from the two games that I’ve watched. I think that the (Shayne) Gostisbehere kid is a special player in the back end, and (Ivan) Provorov seems to have a comfort zone in doing that and playing that type of game, and they have some young kids who can move up and down the ice.”

A day off in paradise
Nothing beats a complete day off on a road trip in Southern California.

Filppula lounged around Newport Beach. Sean Couturier hit the stores for some shopping, where he purchased a pair of dress shoes. However, none of that topped the excitement of the Jakub Voracek-led group that spent the day at Universal Studios Hollywood.

Voracek drove a “soccer-mom” style minivan toting around teammates Radko Gudas, Michal Neuvirth and Gostisbehere to name a few.

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

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

Brian Elliott

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?