Flyers

Flyers celebrate return of hockey with OT win and positives in exhibition vs. Penguins

Flyers celebrate return of hockey with OT win and positives in exhibition vs. Penguins

BOX SCORE

No fans and their first game action in 140 days — apparently, no problem for the Flyers.

All things considered, Alain Vigneault's bunch put on a positive exhibition performance Tuesday to record a 3-2 OT win over the Penguins at Scotiabank Arena in the Eastern Conference's hub city Toronto.

The Flyers' tune-up to the NHL's return-to-play 24-team tournament marked the club's first game of any kind since March 10. The 2019-20 NHL season was suspended March 12 because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Sean Couturier, Kevin Hayes and Scott Laughton netted the Flyers' goals. Laughton scored the overtime game-winner off a sweet lead pass by Travis Konecny.

Carter Hart played the opening two periods and Brian Elliott finished the deal in the third period and extra session.

NBC Sports Philadelphia's standout trio of Jim Jackson, Keith Jones and Taryn Hatcher was on the call from the Wells Fargo Center.

Next time the Flyers take the game ice in Toronto, it will truly matter.

Let's get into some observations from the exhibition:

• Two of the biggest positives to come from the game: the Flyers left it healthy and didn't show a whole lot of rust.

They emphasized that they were pleasantly surprised how quickly chemistry and timing came back during training camp.

There were no glaring negatives Tuesday and the Flyers have the round robin to continue ironing out any wrinkles.

• A quotable on the aspect of no fans and the arena setup:

I don't think for me that it's any different whether there's nobody in the stands or 18,000 — usually my players can hear me most of the time. When you're behind the bench and you're in the flow of the game and you're coaching and you're making adjustments and you're giving feedback, you don't really notice the fans during the game and I think that as players, you're focused on what you have to do.

I looked at the setup a few times before warmups tonight and it looks real good; I think everybody is going to get used to it.

- Vigneault

• Hart made 11 saves on 12 shots. The goal he allowed was a clear look in close for Conor Sheary as the Flyers were slow in retreat.

Elliott also fared well with 13 stops. The goal he surrendered was a rebound marker by Jason Zucker.

Both goalies will play in the round robin. One would think Hart gets the first game, Elliott plays the second and Hart takes the third (depending on the game's implications).

Hart will be the No. 1 guy when the first round begins Aug. 11.

• Joel Farabee is fighting for a lineup spot and possibly one in the team's top six. He didn't get a chance to show himself a ton Tuesday in lesser minutes (8:56). He didn't do anything to really hurt his chances but the second line of Laughton, Hayes and Konecny (which often clicked in the regular season) played well, which doesn't exactly help Farabee.

The veteran Nate Thompson played down the middle and was good on the penalty kill. The Flyers have a good decision on that 12th and final forward. More looks to come in the round robin.

• Couturier, the new dad, got the Flyers on the board in the first stanza.

• Third-pair blueliners Justin Braun and Robert Hagg were among the healthy scratches with Morgan Frost, Andy Andreoff, Connor Bunnaman, Andy Welinski, Alex Lyon and Kirill Ustimenko.

The Flyers know exactly what they have in Braun and Hagg: two steady, stay-at-home guys who make life easier by killing plays and keeping the puck out of the defensive zone.

What the Flyers might not have as strong a read on is Shayne Gostisbehere, who has had to undergo arthroscopic surgeries on both of his knees in 2020.

Gostisbehere moved well during practices and scrimmages in training camp. Everyone knows his capabilities offensively when he's elusive and transitioning the puck with his legs.

A week ago, he said he felt "10 times better" compared to how he felt during the regular season. 

"Just having a clear mind going into any sort of play," he said. "Not thinking is this movement going to hurt or is this going to hurt. Just having a clear mind and focusing straight on hockey. Making those plays, making those reads and trusting myself."

Gostisbehere had an assist and looked pretty good in 18-plus minutes. Building confidence will be important moving forward.

Vigneault is going to continue to get a look at the pieces to his lineup. Gostisbehere is pushing for a spot come Game 1 of the first round. If the Flyers struggle early in a series, especially on the offensive side of things, Vigneault could look to call Gostisbehere's number.

"I liked Ghost's game tonight, I thought he tried to make some plays with the puck," Vigneault said in a video interview. "But obviously like the rest of our group, it was his first game in a long time. Made some good plays; there are some battles for that starting lineup on [Aug. 11] that are going to happen here throughout the next couple of weeks. Tonight was our first game and I expect us to get better every day."

• Hayes was noticeable for all the right reasons. He was his alert and defensive self by picking off a pass to give the Flyers a 2-1 lead in the opening frame.

"T.K. and Scotty had a good forecheck, they were on them," Hayes said of the play.

The 6-foot-5 center is an X-factor for the Flyers in this tournament.

• How about Egor Zamula?

Regarded by many as a top-50 NHL prospect, the 20-year-old got his first taste of pro hockey by playing in Tuesday's exhibition game. His appearance was particularly impressive just because he hadn't played a hockey game since Jan. 5 with Russia in the title game of the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship.

Zamula, who went undrafted and is a lanky, smooth-skating defenseman with upside, underwent back surgery in late January, ending his junior hockey career.

The Flyers were permitted to play 13 forwards and seven defensemen, so they were able to closely monitor his minutes. Zamula will have to improve his strength and decision-making in his own end.

It would be surprising to see him crack the lineup during the playoffs (maybe the round robin if the Flyers are out of it by Game 3). But he's here and gaining valuable experience; that's a real positive for both Zamula and the Flyers next season.

• During the United States and Canadian national anthems, the Flyers and Penguins stood together to convey their solidarity in the fight against injustice and racism in society.

Very cool moment.

(Getty Images/Andre Ringuette)

• The Flyers open their three-game round-robin slate Sunday against the top-seeded Bruins (3 p.m. ET/NBC10).

In the round robin, the fourth-seeded Flyers can climb and go no lower than their current standing ahead of the first round.

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Flyers sweep round robin, earn East's No. 1 seed in 2020 NHL playoffs

Flyers sweep round robin, earn East's No. 1 seed in 2020 NHL playoffs

BOX SCORE

Heading into the first round of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, everyone is looking up at the Flyers.

For the first time since 2000, the Flyers will be the Eastern Conference's No. 1 seed in the postseason after winning the round robin of the NHL's return-to-play 24-team tournament.

They punctuated their climb Saturday night with a 4-1 win over the Lightning at Scotiabank Arena in the Eastern Conference's hub city Toronto.

Nicolas Aube-Kubel had a big game with two goals, while Joel Farabee and Tyler Pitlick tallied markers, as well.

After going 3-0-0 through the round robin, the top-seeded Flyers will face the 12th-seeded Canadiens in the first round of the playoffs.

Back in 2000, the year of the Flyers' five-overtime playoff classic with the Penguins, the team lost the Eastern Conference Final to the eventual champion Devils in seven games.

Twenty years later, it's the No. 1 seed again.

"We're excited here," Farabee said postgame in a video interview. "We're ready to go dancing."

• Just how impressive were the Flyers in the round robin? They swept the Bruins, Capitals and Lightning by a combined score of 11-3.

Pretty darn good tune-up for the Flyers as the real deal begins next week. They've always been a confident team, particularly from January on, but this was a measuring-stick round-robin tourney and they turned heads.

The Capitals and Bruins finish the round robin Sunday (noon ET).

1. Flyers — 3-0-0, six points
2. Lightning — 2-1-0, four points
3. Capitals — 0-1-1, one point
4. Bruins — 0-2-0, zero points

• NBC Sports analyst Keith Jones mentioned at intermission how the Flyers come at their opponents in waves. Their depth was excellent through the round robin and will be arguably their biggest difference-maker in a playoff run.

In the round robin, Claude Giroux went scoreless, James van Riemsdyk went scoreless in two games, Jakub Voracek had an assist in two games, Sean Couturier had a few assists, Travis Konecny (two assists) didn't have to score a goal, Kevin Hayes (four assists) didn't have to score a goal, and the Flyers convincingly earned the No. 1 seed.

• Carter Hart, who turns 22 years old next Thursday, looks primed for the first round.

The Bruins had an NHL-most 100 points during the regular season. The Lightning scored an NHL-best 3.47 goals per game. Hart totaled 57 saves on 59 shots in matchups with those clubs.

• In 2018-19, Aube-Kubel got his first taste of the NHL ... hardly. Called up from AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley, Aube-Kubel went scoreless in a nine-game stint with the big club, playing only 5:35 minutes per night.

“It’s pretty hard, especially when you spend some 15 minutes without playing, 10 minutes without playing, so it’s really hard for the legs," Aube-Kubel said in February about the limited minutes last season. "When you’re out there, you’re just so stressed about not making a mistake that you don’t really show anything.

“Last year, I didn’t really get a good chance to show what I could do. I’m glad this year … even in my first game, I got put in a good situation with good players and it worked out for me.”

In 2019-20, the Flyers eventually summoned Aube-Kubel in mid-December. The new coaching staff has done a solid job of giving him opportunity but also constantly keeping him motivated. It's resulted in a hungry, hard-working, forechecking winger who gave the Flyers a monstrous boost against the Lightning with the club's first two goals.

In a game against the loaded Lightning, the 24-year-old Aube-Kubel was one of the best players on the ice. During training camp last month, he mentioned how his style of play suits the playoffs. It sure looked like it Saturday. The Flyers would love that type of effort and jolt throughout the playoffs.

• It appears the Flyers avoided what would have been a costly injury right before the first round.

Travis Sanheim left the game 22 seconds into the second period after taking a hit from Blake Coleman. It looked Sanheim was nursing his wrist or arm after the check as he went up the tunnel.

Fortunately for the Flyers, Sanheim returned later in the period.

• An injury scare like that creates a reminder of the Flyers' young, promising stable of blueliners. Playing his first round-robin game, Shayne Gostisbehere reminded everyone of his game.

If Gostisbehere is the Flyers' seventh defenseman, he did everything to potentially shake that status moving forward. Gostisbehere, who has had to undergo arthroscopic surgeries on both of his knees in 2020, had a good camp and said he has felt "10 times better" compared to during the regular season.

Against Tampa Bay, he looked like his mobile, confident, making-things-happen self from the blue line, recording two assists and a plus-2 rating. Gostisbehere made a sharp play to help create Aube-Kubel's first goal and showed his vision to assist Farabee's goal, which was a big one as it extended the Flyers' lead to 3-1 in the middle frame.

"That was a hard pass from Ghost, it takes a special skill set to be able to one-time that," Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault said postgame in a video interview. "Great play by Ghost but also great shot by Joel."

The 27-year-old offensive-minded defenseman displayed good instincts defensively, as well.

A performance like that will have Vigneault thinking, that's for sure. The sixth and final spot on defense will come down to Robert Hagg and Gostisbehere. Hagg likely has the slight edge for now, but Gostisbehere has drawn much closer and should be called upon if the Flyers don't have a positive start to the first round.

With Voracek out (undisclosed issue), Farabee jumped to the first line. Given he opened the tournament fighting for a spot in the lineup and likely the bottom six, this was a golden opportunity for the 20-year-old rookie winger.

He took advantage of it pretty well, scoring a goal and tallying an assist. His game allows him to scale the lineup but he truly stands out when he's with talented players. Good stuff from him and he's pushing for a bigger role, especially depending on the statuses of Voracek and Michael Raffl (undisclosed injury), who missed the final two games of the round robin.

"You look at our lineup, we have such great depth," Farabee said postgame in a video interview. "Ghosty and I are sliding in, we've got guys sliding out, coming back in, it just goes to show how good of a team we are and how deep we are."

• The power play never really got going during the round robin as the Flyers finished 0 for 11 through the three games. That will have to be better over a course of a best-of-seven series.

• The Flyers caught some breaks throughout the round robin, but give them credit for taking advantage of those breaks.

They didn't face Vezina Trophy finalist Tuukka Rask in the 4-1 win over the Bruins. They didn't see James Norris Memorial Trophy finalist John Carlson in the 3-1 win over the Capitals.

Against the Lightning, they avoided Steven Stamkos (lower-body injury), who had 66 points in 57 games during the regular season. In the first period, Tampa Bay also lost stud defenseman Victor Hedman (undisclosed injury), who is also a finalist for the Norris Trophy.

These games weren't necessarily close, though, either — the Flyers did damage against three of the best clubs in the NHL.

• As the No. 1 seed in the first round, the Flyers face the 12th-seeded Canadiens, who upset the fifth-seeded Penguins in the best-of-five qualifying round, taking the series 3-1.

The Flyers went 2-1-0 against Montreal in the regular season, with a 3-2 overtime win Nov. 7, a 4-3 overtime victory Nov. 30 and a 4-1 loss Jan. 16.

The first round of the playoffs is scheduled to begin next Tuesday. The Flyers' schedule is to be determined.

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2019-20 Flyers season grades: Jakub Voracek

2019-20 Flyers season grades: Jakub Voracek

The 2019-20 NHL regular season has concluded and the race to the Stanley Cup is on in the 24-team tournament. The Flyers are hungry and ready to battle it out, but that is thanks to the hard work from back in October.

In an End to End series, NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Brooke Destra, Joe Fordyce and Jordan Hall have graded players based on individual performances. 

Today, we finish the series by looking at Jakub Voracek. 

Destra

Voracek had a rather slow start to the season. With the winger as one of the top veterans on this team and a key leader, head coach Alain Vigneault expected more out of him and others in similar positions. When Vigneault was looking at Voracek’s line at the time, which also consisted of Kevin Hayes and James van Riemsdyk, he made his expectations for them known. 

“All those guys, I love the person,” Vigneault said back in November. “I love Kevin Hayes as a person, James and Jake I’m starting to know, they’re great people. I need more from the hockey player. Two different distinctions, right? 

“It’s time. I’m not telling you anything that I haven’t told them. Obviously they feel pressure, but that’s why they’re paid the big bucks. You’ve got to deliver, you’ve got to produce, and we expect those guys to produce.”

Following that, in terms of production, Voracek had one heck of a season. He finished with 56 points, which was third best on the team, and his 44 assists earned him the top spot. This was his sixth consecutive season in which he finished with 40-plus assists — you can’t ask for much more consistency than that. 

In fact, he passed Hall of Famer Eric Lindros and Flyers Hall of Famer Rick MacLeish for sixth on the franchise’s all-time assist list. With just three more regular-season assists, he’ll also pass Hall of Famer Mark Recchi.

Voracek rightfully deserves a B+ for this season. 

Fordyce 

Voracek is another player for the Flyers who is extremely streaky. When he’s on a hot streak, he can pile up points at the same pace as anyone in the NHL. Voracek’s vision is the best part of his game and his 44 assists this season led the Flyers. In fact, Voracek was third on the team in points behind only Travis Konecny and Sean Couturier.

Voracek is a player at times who seems hesitant to shoot. You could even say he’s too unselfish sometimes (if there is such a thing) and, at times, passes up goal-scoring opportunities. If Voracek were to think shot first a little more, those numbers could look even better. When Voracek is an aggressive player, he’s one of the top wingers in the sport. He just needs a little more consistency.

B+ for Voracek. 

Hall

Voracek had a very good 2019-20 regular season.

There were some early growing pains under a new head coach and in a new system, but that's understandable. The Flyers as a whole took until November to get things going.

Since Nov. 1, Voracek had 47 points (eight goals, 39 assists) and a plus-14 rating in 58 games. And since Nov. 23, just after he moved to Couturier's line, Voracek recorded 43 points (eight goals, 35 assists) and a plus-17 mark in 47 games.

In a system predicated on balance and depth, Voracek played 17:03 minutes per game, his fewest since 2011-12, his first season with the Flyers. As a result, the veteran was more effective in all three zones because he had greater help offensively and still finished with a team-best 44 assists to go along with a career-best plus-14 rating.

An A- for an underrated 2019-20 regular season from Voracek.

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