Flyers-Flames observations: Losing skid is finally over

Flyers-Flames observations: Losing skid is finally over


CALGARY, Alberta — The Flyers stampeded into Calgary and put an end to their longest losing skid since 2008 with a 5-2 win over the Flames on Monday night at the Scotiabank Saddledome.

It was the Flyers’ first win in almost a month after their previous victory came back on Nov. 9 over the Chicago Blackhawks.

Dave Hakstol elected to break up the Flyers’ top line and the decision yielded positive results as the line of Valtteri Filppula, Michael Raffl and Jakub Voracek combined for seven points and a plus-8 rating.

The Flyers jumped on the Flames in the second period with three goals in a span of 1:11.

Voracek assisted on three of the Flyers' first four goals, and Scott Laughton scored twice.

Brian Elliott was spectacular in victory as he stopped 43 of 45 shots. 

• Elliott had to produce some key saves during the first 5½ minutes. The Flames were looking to come out of the chute with some jump after they were completely flat against the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday. They fell behind, 6-1, in an eventual 7-5 loss. Elliott may be criticized for some of the rebounds, but they’re mostly controlled where he’s in position for the next shot or the rebound is in the vicinity of a teammate.  

• The first goal was an example of when Elliott expected the defense of Travis Sanheim and Brandon Manning to clear the puck. Manning wasn’t in position and Sanheim took a weak backhanded swipe and whiffed. With that said, if Elliott protects the five-hole, he likely prevents Troy Brouwer’s rebound goal, but it’s a bang-bang play. 

• The Flyers had a big opportunity early in the opening period when Ivan Provorov threaded a beautiful breakout pass to Jordan Weal. Unable to really make a move, Weal had his shot glance off Mike Smith’s right pad. If Weal had been playing with confidence (like last season), he likely would have challenged Smith a little more. Not a very challenging save for the Flames’ netminder.

• I liked the early pressure generated by that new-look line of Raffl, Voracek and Filppula. Raffl and Voracek are very strong on the puck and their size and physicality help them carve out space down low. Together they answered with a goal one minute after the Flames got on the board. Andrew MacDonald pulled the trigger on a shot from the slot, which created a rebound chance and Filppula connected right in front of the Flames’ crease.

• Nolan Patrick prevented an early goal when he covered up the back post on a play during which Elliott got caught in traffic on the other side. A good, smart play by the rookie to deny Matthew Tkachuk of a shot on net.

• The Flyers’ power play once again looked stale and failed to generate a shot on net in the first period. Sean Couturier had a good look in the slot but his shot clanged off the post.

• I didn’t like Provorov’s game through the opening 25 minutes. Coupled with a couple of unnecessary icings, he had the turnover that sprung Johnny Gaudreau free for a breakaway. MacDonald took a hooking minor in an attempt to slow Gaudreau down. The Flyers’ PK did a solid job of not giving the top unit the time and space it had in Philadelphia.

• There was a beautiful give-and-go between Raffl and Voracek to set up the Flyers’ third goal. It was a play that started when Raffl forced a turnover in the Flyers’ zone. Raffl has been playing some of his best hockey since his 21-goal season playing alongside Voracek and Claude Giroux.

• The Flyers’ power play wasted no time going to work just 10 seconds after Couturier drew a high-sticking penalty. Brouwer committed a giveaway, and Voracek threw it in front where the Flyers had all sorts of net-front presence with Couturier on one side and Wayne Simmonds on the other. Couturier banged away and Simmonds finally stuck it home for a cushy 4-1 lead.

• Sean Monahan loves games against the Flyers. Coming off a hat trick in the contest in Philadelphia, Monahan and the Flames capitalized off a Patrick turnover. Monahan picked the top right corner on a perfectly placed shot on Elliott.

• The Flames’ defense has been turnover-prone, especially behind the team’s own net. That led to some excellent chances for the Flyers. Weal made Calgary pay when he jumped on a turnover and tried to stuff it home, which created an easy rebound opportunity for Laughton and the Flyers’ fifth goal of the game.

• Flames defenseman Travis Hamonic collided with Dale Weise. Hamonic was ejected for an illegal check to the head even though replay showed that Hamonic didn’t clip Weise. I’m not sure it deserved a match penalty regardless.  

Lineups, pairings and scratches

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

Ivan Provorov-Andrew MacDonald
Shayne Gostisbehere-Robert Hagg
Travis Sanheim-Brandon Manning

Brian Elliott
Michal Neuvirth

Scratches: Forward Jori Lehtera (healthy), and defensemen Mark Alt (healthy) and Radko Gudas (suspended).

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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