Flyers

Flyers' forward depth being tested early

Flyers' forward depth being tested early

VOORHEES, N.J. — Did the Flyers run into a red hot Marc-Andre Fleury on Saturday, or was it worth reading between the lines — as in Dave Hakstol’s lines? 

The significance of Saturday’s 1-0 loss to the Golden Knights was this: It marked the first time in 61 regular season games the Flyers had been shut out dating back to a 3-0 home loss to the Boston Bruins on Dec. 2, 2017.

It was after that game that Dave Hakstol resorted to breaking up the most productive line in hockey when Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier and Jake Voracek had accounted for a whopping 43 percent of the Flyers’ offensive production at even strength, including an NHL-leading 25 goals between them.  

Hakstol at that time was desperate for change. He had heard the “Fire Hakstol” chants raining down from the Wells Fargo Center as his team had just dropped their tenth straight game and were shutout for the sixth time in their first 26 games. The Flyers' record stood at 8-11-7 while sitting in last place in the Metropolitan Division.

Despite the ten-game winless stretch, the message from the coach and general manager Ron Hextall was the Flyers weren’t playing that poorly, but they also weren’t receiving the necessary breaks needed to win a game.  

Still, Saturday’s shutout to Vegas was a glimpse into what we saw a year ago, which raises a very important and vital question: Can the Flyers survive offensively when the big three of Giroux, Couturier and Voracek doesn’t crack the scoresheet playing on the same line? 

Prior to last season’s split, the answer was a definitive "no." The Flyers managed to win just one game, a 2-1 home victory against Edmonton, when that top line failed to produce an even strength goal. However, it was Giroux who opened the scoring with a power play goal.

“I don’t think we feel more pressure, but we’re just kinda the guys that need to step up offensively and the team relies on us to produce,” Couturier said. “I think it’s just more confidence than anything and that we’ll create chances every night.”

I agree with Couturier’s assertion that those superstars don’t feel additional pressure, but I sense there’s pressure placed on the secondary players when that top line is having an off night. 

Coming into this season with the addition of James van Riemsdyk and the emergence of players like Mikhail Vorobyev and Oskar Lindblom, the Flyers appeared stacked within their forward group. 

But it’s not until a team is faced with injuries that they’re forced to find out exactly what that depth looks like. Right now, no lines changes are expected for Tuesday’s game against the Panthers. Jordan Weal is the Flyers’ second-line center until Nolan Patrick returns, with Vorobyev centering the third line. The 21-year-old rookie has hit a wall with no points and no shots on net over his last three games.

“It can help us grow under stress,” Hakstol said. “It can help guys get in the lineup and play a little different role, play a little larger role and prove they can help us win games. Those individuals have to get in and be part of a lineup, that wins hockey games.”

Hakstol believes the Flyers could have executed better and shot a little more, but overall, the team played a much more complete and structured game in a 1-0 loss to the Golden Knights than they did in a 5-2 victory in Vegas.

As Hakstol knows, eventually the process has to yield results, or the first two months of this season will start to look eerily similar to last year.

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Ice cream and a memory vs. Carey Price remind us Carter Hart is just a kid ... but ready for the moment

Ice cream and a memory vs. Carey Price remind us Carter Hart is just a kid ... but ready for the moment

When Carey Price was at his most dominant, winning the Vezina Trophy (top goalie) and Hart Memorial Trophy (MVP) in 2014-15, Carter Hart was just 16 years old. 

The precocious but innocent kid had just begun molding his game at the junior hockey level with the WHL's Silvertips in Everett, Washington.

Price was at the sport's pinnacle.

"He was my favorite goalie growing up," Hart said.

On Wednesday, the night before his 22nd birthday, Hart found himself stretching next to Price at the center-ice line in front of the scorekeepers' bench.

There was Hart, on the same NHL stage as his idol, facing him in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The NHL postseason is serious business, requiring the utmost competitiveness and focus. Hart, whose youthfulness often belies his maturity, fully understands the beast that is the Stanley Cup Playoffs. But the postseason makes for special moments and memories. NHL players all looked up to someone at some point. For Hart, he allowed himself to appreciate the storyline ahead.

"Definitely really cool," Hart said last Sunday about the upcoming best-of-seven first-round matchup with Price's Canadiens. "Just had the chance to actually meet him the other week and talk with him for the first time, so that was something pretty cool. For your first playoff series, playing against Carey Price will definitely be a lot of fun; I look forward to it."

Price, who turns 33 years old on Sunday, was unable to spoil the youngster's birthday. By midnight, Hart and the top-seeded Flyers had a 1-0 series lead after earning a hard-fought 2-1 victory over eighth-seeded Montreal. Hart is 3-0-0 with a 1.00 goals-against average and .966 save percentage through three games in the NHL's return-to-play 24-team tournament.

On the ice, the Flyers were able to celebrate around Hart after he turned away 27 of 28 shots, with 16 of those saves coming in the second period when the Flyers really needed him.

Off the ice, they made sure to celebrate Hart's birthday a little early, making the best of the circumstances in the Eastern Conference's Toronto bubble.

“I think some guys got him some ice cream yesterday after the game and just sang him happy birthday," Shayne Gostisbehere said Thursday with a smile. "He’s been pretty good.”

“Let him do his thing,” Scott Laughton chimed in about Hart.

“Yeah, let him do his thing," Gostisbehere echoed.

After a short and sweet exchange with Price, Hart did his thing in Game 1.

“Just said hello quickly in warmups, good luck and it was just time to go play," Hart said.

If Hart continues to play the way he has this season and to start the tournament, he could remember the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs for much more than a memorable matchup with Price.

But there's a kid in everyone. Then again, Hart is only 22 years old.

"He’s a special kid," Derek Grant said last week. "He’s so calm. He puts his mask on, you don’t know how old he is."

With his mask off, Hart hopefully enjoyed a little ice cream and soaked in the moment.

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Canadiens head coach Claude Julien hospitalized with chest pain

Canadiens head coach Claude Julien hospitalized with chest pain

Canadiens head coach Claude Julien has been hospitalized because of chest pain, the team announced Thursday.

Julien is not expected to return to the bench for the Canadiens' best-of-seven first-round playoff series against the Flyers. Assistant coach Kirk Muller will take over head coaching duties in the interim.

Julien was behind the bench leading Montreal in Game 1 Wednesday night at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto. The Flyers beat the Canadiens, 2-1, while the series continues Friday with Game 2 at 3 p.m. ET.

Here is a statement from Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin, via the team's official website:

Good afternoon. I'm here to inform you of the reason Claude Julien was not here this morning at practice. Claude experienced chest pain during the night. We immediately consulted our doctors and it was agreed to transfer him to the hospital by ambulance. He's presently there and he's undergoing tests to determine the exact nature of his condition. This has nothing to do with COVID.

We don't expect him to be back during this series against the Flyers. Kirk, Dominique [Ducharme] and Luke [Richardson] will share the responsibility, however, Kirk is the associate head coach and he will assume the responsibility of head coach until Claude's return.  

We understand that Kirk does not speak French, but these are exceptional circumstances and we're asking you for your understanding. Out of respect for Claude and his family, I will not answer any further questions about his medical condition.

The veteran coach led the Bruins to a Stanley Cup championship in 2011. The 60-year-old began his NHL head coaching career in Montreal and has been with the club for parts of seven seasons.

"There’s no doubt that there’s a deep bond and a deep respect because we know the jobs that we’re doing," Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault said about Julien before the series.

Vigneault, 59, also began his NHL head coaching career in Montreal. From 1981-83, Vigneault and Julien were teammates on the Central Hockey League's Salt Lake Golden Eagles.

"I didn't see him after the game," Vigneault said Thursday afternoon in a video interview following practice. "I've known Claude since I was 20, so we go way back, good friends. I'm going to reach out with him; I just found out the news, I want to say 20 minutes ago, just before jumping on the bus. I'm not aware of exactly what happened."

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