Flyers-Blues observations: Finally on the right side of a review

Flyers-Blues observations: Finally on the right side of a review


ST. LOUIS — The Flyers put together one of the most impressive shutouts in franchise history on Thursday with a 2-0 win over the St. Louis Blues at Scottrade Center.

Despite playing with a makeshift unit that had just 272 games played combined amongst the team’s six defensemen, the Flyers walked away with the win. Goalie Michal Neuvirth stopped all 33 shots he faced for his 11th career shutout.

Brandon Manning scored the game’s first goal 38 seconds into the second period. It was initially waved off for goalie interference but overturned after a review. 

Claude Giroux added an empty-netter in the final minute.

• Not only was Ivan Provorov all over the place Thursday night, but he was in every shooting lane as well. Facing the NHL’s No. 1-ranked team in blocked shots, Provorov turned in a performance even the Blues could admire with 10 blocked shots of his own, which tied a team record.

• Neuvirth went down awkwardly after he collided with Mark Alt’s stick in the third period. Neuvirth stayed down for several seconds. After officials blew the whistle to stop play, Neuvirth recovered and remained in the game.

• It appeared as if the Flyers lost another key player to injury as Brayden Schenn took a late run at Sean Couturier and caught him with a forearm in the head area. Couturier went down hard and stayed down in obvious pain before he was helped off. Schenn was given two minutes for interference.

Couturier missed the final eight-plus minutes of that second period. He returned to begin the third period and showed no ill effects from the shot he took from Schenn.

• I’m not sure if there are too many teams that move their defense around as much as the St. Louis Blues do. Offensively, they’re never stagnant and as long as their forwards rotate and cover defensively, it makes for a difficult matchup. 

• After Couturier exited, Jori Lehtera, who played his best game as a Flyer, filled in on that top line, as did Scott Laughton.

• Neuvirth brought his A game to the Gateway City with his biggest save on former teammate Schenn. Neuvirth flashed the glove on a perfectly executed breakout play that started behind the Blues’ own net. Neuvirth also displayed excellent rebound control as he steered shots toward the boards and in areas where St. Louis couldn’t generate a second-chance opportunity.

• I’m surprised the officials overturned their own call on the ice as they awarded Manning with the goal even after they whistled Jakub Voracek for goaltender interference. Credit the officials for recognizing that Alex Pietrangelo made the contact with a nudge, but it still didn’t appear as if Voracek made contact with Blues goalie Jake Allen. 

• One replay gave the appearance that Manning’s point blast was redirected, but it was hard to see who got a stick on the puck.

• Early in the second period, the Blues’ No. 1 power-play unit stayed out on the ice for the entire two minutes. While the Blues were able to keep it in the zone for much of that time, credit the Flyers’ penalty killers, as most of the Blues’ shots came from the perimeter and not much in the high-danger areas.

• The Flyers were under barrage for the first seven-plus minutes of the game as the Blues outshot them 10-1 to begin. Dale Weise committed a pointless slashing penalty away from the puck that gave St. Louis its first power play. The Blues’ best opportunity came when sniper Vladimir Tarasenko had a wide-open net from the right circle, but it appeared he tried to guide the puck and missed the net entirely.

• Making his NHL debut at the age of 29, Will O’Neill appeared to be very mindful of not getting caught out of position or overcommitting. O’Neill worked with a number of partners but played just 2:54, and actually had a shot on net.

• Allen misplayed a puck behind his net, which rolled outside the trapezoid area and allowed Couturier to gather it before the goalie could return to his net. However, Couturier was not able to take advantage as none of his linemates were unable to fill the passing lane with a wide-open net.

• As part of their defensive structure, the Blues’ forwards are very committed to their backchecking duties, which was evident in the opening 20 minutes. The biggest hit came when Vladimir Sobotka leveled Couturier behind the net. Whether it’s accurate or not, and it usually favors the home team, the Blues outhit the Flyers 13-3 in the opening period.

• St. Louis dominated the first half of the period, but the Flyers bounced back in the latter half. The Flyers did a considerably better job of maintaining puck possession and not allowing the Blues to cycle the puck quite as much.

Lines, pairings and scratches

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

Ivan Provorov-Robert Hagg
Brandon Manning-Travis Sanheim
Will O’Neill-Mark Alt

Michal Neuvirth
Brian Elliott

Scratches: Forward Matt Read (healthy), and defensemen Radko Gudas (upper body) and Shayne Gostisbehere (upper body).

It's back to school for Flyers prospect Noah Cates

Philadelphia Flyers

It's back to school for Flyers prospect Noah Cates

Noah Cates became a hit in high school.

His first year after graduation, though, he didn't exactly mind being away from the classroom. From Stillwater, Minnesota, Cates traveled south to Omaha, Nebraska, for a full season of USHL hockey with the Lancers.

A nice, little perk to the decision?

"No school that year for me, so that was fun just to play hockey," Cates said with a smile three weeks ago at Flyers development camp. "Develop, work on everything."

Despite not hitting the books, Cates, a 2017 fifth-round draft pick of the Flyers, learned a lot, gaining a knowledge base he'll use moving forward.

Because it's back to school.

In mid-to-late August, the 19-year-old is headed to the University of Minnesota Duluth to continue his education and hockey career with the 2018 national champions, where he'll be joined by his older brother Jackson Cates.

"Very excited," the younger Cates said.

A year away from home to prepare for the college hockey life did Cates well. He grew on and off the ice, which built confidence — especially important ahead of development camp, a world junior summer showcase and his freshman season.

"Just how to be a pro, show up every day," Cates said. "It's a long season but you have to be consistent — that was a big part for me. Consistently, doing the right thing, day in and day out.

"It's all about confidence. If you're confident you can play with those guys and that your body can hold up, you can do it. That's just a big part of it and what I developed this year."

Cates, a left winger with a true offensive skill set, came on strong after a feeling-out start to the season in which he totaled 14 points (six goals, eight assists) over his first 22 games. From then on, he broke out for 41 points (15 goals, 26 assists) in his final 38 contests, finishing second on the Lancers with 55 points (21 goals, 34 assists) in 60 games, while posting a plus-21 rating. 

"Second-half league for me, just got more comfortable with the team, the coaches, the league," Cates said. "The team did well, so I kind of fit in, did my part."

The offense has always been a part of Cates' game. Beyond the statistics, what truly stood out from the 2017-18 season was the added strength to his 6-foot-1 frame. Cates weighed 165 pounds at 2017 development camp. He said he started the year with Omaha at 170. Impressively, by season's end, he was a solid 180 to 185.

"That was a big part, how I progressed throughout the season," Cates said. "That was my main goal going there to step into college hockey and get ready to play against those older guys, so it was a really good season in that case."

Cates will now take his next test — back in class and on the ice.

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Nolan Patrick selected as No. 1 breakout player for 2018-19 by NHL Network

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Nolan Patrick selected as No. 1 breakout player for 2018-19 by NHL Network

Nolan Patrick's rookie season can be split into two halves, but his performance down the stretch has caught the attention of one national pundit.

NHL Network analyst Mike Johnson, who played 12 years in the league, selected Patrick as his No. 1 breakout player for the 2018-19 season during Friday night's "NHL Tonight."

Johnson scored 375 points in 661 NHL games from 1996-2008 and last played in the league during the 2007-08 campaign with the St. Louis Blues.

Behind Johnson's reasoning for picking Patrick as his No. 1 breakout player was the Flyers' center's two-way instincts, ability to finish, size and a full summer of training ahead of him.

"We know his injury history, his lack of proper training, his lack of ability to hit the gym properly," Johnson said, "and he's still strong on the wall. That's only going to get better as he matures physically."

For what it's worth, Connor McDavid was NHL Network's No. 1 breakout candidate for the 2017-18 season — that was a bit of a softball.

As for Patrick, the center joined "NHL Tonight" on Friday to discuss the honor and also provide an update on how his summer is going.

"Coming off that surgery last year," Patrick said, "I had a slow start. It took a while to get my body back to where I wanted it to be. I missed two summers of training. It's been the first summer for me in a while that I've been back in the gym."

Patrick, the No. 2 overall pick in 2017, finished with 13 goals and 30 points in 73 regular-season games. He missed nine games in October and November because of a concussion and spent most of the first half of the season getting his mobility back after undergoing offseason abdominal surgery. In fact, he's lost his past two summers of training because of surgery.

Prior to his final junior season and his draft year, Patrick underwent sports hernia surgery. Then 10 days before the Flyers drafted him, he went under the knife again.

Now he's fully healthy and has a full summer of training.

"First time I can get after it," Patrick said during the team's exit interviews in April (see story). "It's going to be a big summer for me. I'm not satisfied with how the year was or how my year was, so I'm looking to take big steps here."

Once Patrick began feeling healthier, he started getting a bigger role with the Flyers. He was elevated to the team's second-line center and stuck. He also found a role on the power play.

The 19-year-old posted 17 points in the final 25 games, which translates to a respectable 0.68 points per game clip and 55 points over an 82-game schedule. Not too bad for a rookie who couldn't actually train during his previous two offseasons.

"My coaches pushed me throughout the year. Then they gave me more opportunity," Patrick told the NHL Network. "Jake Voracek was huge for me. He thinks the game so well. The puck protection that guy has, you just got to get open for him.

"I think my body also just felt better as the year went on. I kind of took a while to get my skating legs there, so I think in the second half, I had a little more pep in my step."

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