Flyers-Kings thoughts: A look at the ties, possible lineup decisions

Flyers-Kings thoughts: A look at the ties, possible lineup decisions

Flyers (1-0-0) at Kings (0-0-0)
10 p.m. on NBCSP, and the NBC Sports App; Pregame Live at 9:30

The Flyers crashed one home opener already. They'll try to do it again Thursday night when they continue their season-opening four-game road trip with a matchup against the Los Angeles Kings at the STAPLES Center.

A Wayne Simmonds hat trick led the Flyers to a 5-3 victory over the San Jose Sharks Wednesday night, giving San Jose its first loss in a season opener since 2009-10 (see story).

Like last season, the Kings host the Flyers to open their home slate.

Let's get you set for puck drop with some thoughts on Game 2 of the season.

• The Flyers face an old friend here. John Stevens enters his first year as head coach of the Kings. The last time he served as a full-time NHL bench boss was with the Flyers for parts of four seasons from 2006-10 (see story). He went 120-109-34 over that span, leading the Flyers to two playoff appearances before being fired in December 2009, during the season in which Peter Laviolette took over and rallied the club to the Stanley Cup Final.

• The Flyers, of course, have plenty of other ties with the Kings. General manager Ron Hextall served Los Angeles as assistant GM the year it won the Stanley Cup in 2012. Dean Lombardi, now with the Flyers in a role not yet announced, was the GM of that club. Lombardi, who was a scout for the Flyers from 2003 to 2006, was fired by the Kings back in April.

And, of course, we all know how Jeff Carter relates to the Flyers. After leading the team with 36 goals in 2010-11, Carter was traded to the Blue Jackets for Jakub Voracek, a 2011 first-round pick the Flyers used on Sean Couturier and a 2011 third-round selection on Nick Cousins. In February 2012, Carter was shipped to Los Angeles, where he's won two Stanley Cups. Last season, he put up his best numbers (32 goals, 66 points) since that 2010-11 campaign in Philadelphia.

Also, Kings assistant coach Don Nachbaur was on the Phantoms' staff under Stevens in the early 2000s. He played for the Flyers, as well, from 1985 to 1990.

• Now to the game. How fun is it to watch Simmonds? He is so proficient at playing in front of the net, and doing so requires serious skill. The hand-eye coordination on his deflection goal — the second marker of his hat-trick performance Wednesday — is a strength he's developed, becoming one of the NHL's best at parking in front of the goalie and doing damage.

No surprise he's off to a hot start again. If you recall, Simmonds began last season with four markers in five games. Tonight, he's in an area he knows well, facing his old team and playing where he won the 2017 NHL All-Star Game MVP.

• Playing the second game of a back-to-back set, the Flyers did not hold a morning skate, so line combinations, defensive pairings and the starting goalie are all uncertain. But one thing we've learned with head coach Dave Hakstol is that he likes to roll with what's working. Given the Flyers are coming off a positive and productive season opener, changes seem unlikely — so if you want defensemen Brandon Manning and Andrew MacDonald out of the lineup, don't expect it.

So, the probable scratches again: Jori Lehtera, Sam Morin, Travis Sanheim.

An interesting decision comes in net. Brian Elliott received the nod Wednesday and wasn't lights out, but stood strong late and saved 32 of 35 shots faced for his first win in a Flyers jersey. However, Elliott was not great against the Kings last season, going 2-2-0 with a 2.98 goals-against average and .902 save percentage. Neuvirth, on the other hand, was excellent against Los Angeles last season, winning the season opener while putting up a 1.47 GAA and .943 save percentage in two matchups.

• The Flyers' power play had great life Wednesday, needing just 1:09 man-advantage time to score three goals and eventually finish 3 for 5. Things won't be easy tonight as the Kings delivered an 84.5 penalty-kill percentage in 2016-17, fifth best in the league.

• There's a stud defenseman in this one and another up-and-coming on the other side. For Los Angeles, Drew Doughty, 27, is one of the best at his position, while Ivan Provorov is a burgeoning blueliner that is already eating up ice time for the Flyers at only 20 years old. Oh, and Shayne Gostisbehere isn't too shabby. He collected three assists in the season opener.

• The Flyers have won nine of their last 12 road games against the Kings. They have not won their first two games of a regular season since 2011-12. Meanwhile, Los Angeles hasn't won a season opener since 2013-14.

Alex Lyon provides keen insight on Carter Hart's transition to pro hockey

Alex Lyon provides keen insight on Carter Hart's transition to pro hockey

VOORHEES, N.J. — Regardless of his playing status, it’s easy to gravitate to the Yale-educated Alex Lyon with his insightful answers and his introspection on all things hockey. Following his call-up from Lehigh Valley, Lyon provided some keen observations on what he’s seen from goaltending prospect Carter Hart, who struggled in his initiation to pro hockey.

“You’ve got to learn it for yourself, that’s the key,” Lyon said Friday from the Skate Zone in Voorhees. “I don’t try and get in his ear. He’s a great goalie. From my end, the only thing I try to let him know is that it’s going to be hard, and there’s going to be days when you don’t practice or get your gear on, but you have to and you have to make the most of it.

You can’t feel sorry for yourself even when you want to. That’s what I try and let him know. Just prepare right now for the fact that it’s going to be extremely difficult, even if you’re the most highly touted second-rounder or whatever he may be."

Lyon took a different route to pro hockey, spending two years in the USHL in Omaha, Nebraska, before enrolling at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, where he spent three more years. When he signed with the Phantoms, Lyon was 23. Hart, on the other hand, is just three months removed from his 20th birthday and still adjusting to independent living in a city 2,820 miles away from where he came from.  

“It just takes time. I don’t know how else to put it than that. It’s so difficult,” Lyon said. “If you think he was living with somebody who cooked him all his meals and didn’t have to pay rent, didn’t worry about taking out his garbage at night. You come home and your fridge is stocked. All of a sudden your whole world gets turned upside down. He was the most important player in that franchise (Everett Silvertips) for four years, and then everything is totally different.” 

Compounding the myriad of changes is that Hart is now cashing big paychecks in the first year of his entry-level deal that pays him roughly $750,000 bi-weekly over the course of a six-month season after receiving a mere monthly allowance at the junior level.

“You get a pay check every two weeks,” Lyon said. “It’s pretty easy to get high on life when you start making money. I’ve fallen into that trap so many times. I still fall into it.”

But financial matters don’t define greatness, and with that, Hart is forced to prove himself all over again to a group of coaches and teammates who have the same NHL aspirations as he does. 

“You get to professional hockey and he’s just another commoner,” Lyon said. “Obviously, he’s a very good goalie. It’s just so different and it’s easy to look at it in terms of your glove isn't quite as sharp or your squareness isn’t quite as sharp. Maybe his long-distance girlfriend just broke up with him. I don’t know, but that’s what it is and that stuff affects your play. It does. And to think that you can just erase that when you get to the rink is just crazy. I think that’s one thing that gets overlooked is you have to try and adjust to that.

It’s just patience. He’s going to be fine.”

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Between the pipes, Ron Hextall's patience and process being pushed to the brink

Between the pipes, Ron Hextall's patience and process being pushed to the brink

Ron Hextall, a build-from-within ideologist, is having his belief system tested.

In fact, the staunchness behind that belief system has come back to bite the Flyers — and it took only 19 games into the season.

Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth are the Flyers' placeholders. The organization has its plan with young goalies waiting in the wings — one, in particular, by the name of Carter Hart.

But those prospects haven't been deemed ready. And Hextall's vision since taking over as general manager in May 2014 has always been competitiveness in the present with a keen eye on the future. Turns out, the Flyers' fort had to be held down much firmer than the shaky stakes currently in the blue paint.

This season marks the biggest win-now moment in the era under Hextall and Dave Hakstol. The Flyers went out and landed James van Riemsdyk for five years, $35 million. The core, a big chunk of it coming off career seasons, is getting a year older, while the Flyers' youth movement has climbed another peg on the ladder.

During the offseason, though, the Flyers stood pat in net and they're now trying to survive the backfire at the mid-November mark.

Was this a risk they could afford? We'll find out.

But banking on Elliott and Neuvirth looked a heck of a lot more risky than it did safe.

Elliott underwent core muscle surgery in February and had a summer comprised of recovery and a cleanup procedure. He played 43 games in 2017-18 and, as a tandem goalie for most of his career, has played more than 50 games just once, back in 2009-10.

The oft-injured Neuvirth had offseason surgery on his hips after playing just 22 games last season and 28 the year prior. This year, Neuvirth suffered an injury during the preseason, has played one regular-season game and currently isn't practicing with the team.

The situation appears dire.

Even with Elliott out only two weeks approximately after sustaining a lower-body injury Thursday, who's to believe he won't get hurt again? He's 33 years old and was injured trying to go post to post, oftentimes a routine maneuver in net.

So what now?

Calvin Pickard is the guy. He's a goalie from outside the organization but not exactly a savior given he spent almost all of last season in the AHL.

Alex Lyon is the backup. He's played four AHL games this season and has 11 career games of NHL experience under his belt.

This is all part of the Flyers' internal approach — trusting who's next in line. Maybe Lyon or another prospect quickly rewards them.

The Flyers believe in the overall approach. They like their goalie prospects and are willing to be patient, but did the Flyers have enough time to be patient?

Or even the bodies?

Again, this is just 19 games into a season that should mean something.

The Flyers may have to act.

Because Hextall's build-from-within mindset is breaking down in net.

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