Flyers

Flyers searching for a New Year's identity

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Flyers searching for a New Year's identity

New Year’s Day has long been that one day of self reflection while providing an opportunity to find the necessary improvements to bottle into a New Year’s resolution.  

Collectively, the Flyers are no different.

Identifying a team identity would serve as a good starting point. So what is that identity?

“That’s a tough question,” said goaltender Brian Elliott, who's playing on his third different team in three years. “I think we know that we can play with and beat any team. We’re right there in that wild-card race and we have to keep inching up. There’s going to be a lot of three-point games and you can’t just win one and lose one. That’s not going to do it in this league.

“I think we’re still trying to find what our identity is,” said forward Dale Weise. “One night when you see in Tampa that we can compete with anybody in the league, and then the next night, no disrespect to Buffalo, we can get dominated by some teams down in the standings. I think going forward we need to find what that identity is and find some consistency.”

More importantly, is that identity passed down from management and the coaching staff or is it developed internally from the leadership group to where it spreads throughout the entire organization?

“It’s probably a two-way street,” said head coach Dave Hakstol. “I think everybody has to do their part in building that identity. This is a group that has success through its depth. That identity hasn’t wavered or changed. We went through a real tough stretch where we couldn’t get the results, but that still didn’t change the identity of our team.”

The Flyers may have a positive outlook for 2018, but to produce better outcomes, it’s essential to learn and correct the mistakes from 2017, which saw the Flyers finish the calendar year with a 35-33-14 record, or 84 points in 82 games. 

And now they embark on a pivotal four-game homestand vs. Pittsburgh, the New York Islanders, St. Louis and Buffalo where points will be at a premium. The Pens and Isles are both ahead of the Flyers in the wild-card hunt. The Sabres currently have the fewest points in the East. And while the Blues are a formidable foe, the Flyers shut them out earlier in the year out in St. Louis.

This is where some consistency would be a huge boost.

“First 38 games (this season) we’ve been very inconsistent. When you look at the winning and losing, that’s obvious. Even when you’re having a bad day, you have to find a way,” said forward Jake Voracek. “We know we can come back at any time. Obviously, we were short in Buffalo and we were short in Florida, but in some games when we're down 3-0 to get some of those points. So I’d say that identity is that we really never give up.” 

Flyers prefer the warmth
With the 10th anniversary of the Winter Classic outdoor game and the Flyers' upcoming game against the Penguins, it’s a reminder how those two factors will merge next season when the Flyers host the Pens at Lincoln Financial Field on Feb. 23, 2019.

Despite early morning temperatures in the single digits, it was still a balmy 16 degrees at puck drop between the Sabres and Rangers at Citi Field in NYC, making it the second coldest outdoor game in NHL history.

As a kid, Claude Giroux would skate outdoors on the pond in Northern Ontario in temperatures that were minus-30 to minus-40.

“When you’re a kid, it doesn’t really matter whether you’re cold or not, you just play through it. You’re just having so much fun, the weather’s not really an issue,” said Giroux.

As far as next season’s game against Pittsburgh?

“A little bit of cold. The wind makes a big difference. When you’re skating on one side, you’re going way faster from when you’re skating on the other side. I actually enjoy a little bit of snow,” Giroux said. “I think when we played in Pittsburgh there was a little bit of snow.” 

World Junior Championships snow?

“That was too much snow,” Giroux said followed by smile.

A better Provorov?
Prior to the Flyers’ New Year’s Day workout, Ivan Provorov’s younger brother, nine-year-old Vladimir, was going through a rigorous workout with father Vladimir, who was barking out instruction in Russian. Ivan’s brother was skating around cones while shooting through a small gap near the cross bar with one net lodged against the other.      

“He’s pretty good. I think he’s definitely ahead of where I was at 9 years old,” said Ivan. “He skates two or three times a day when he has a chance, watches highlights and just loves hockey.”

Ivan says the younger Vladimir has an advantage since his father was able to experiment with Ivan growing up in Yaroslavl, Russia before Ivan left to play in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania at age 13.

“I think it’s the same way, except now, he sort of knows what works and how and which way to push and in which direction,” said Ivan. “I think he knows right now which way to go.”

Vladimir currently plays forward and wants to follow in Ivan’s footsteps, but not for some time. He won’t be NHL draft eligible until 2026.

Another Oskar Lindblom? Marcus Westfalt has footsteps to follow with Flyers

Another Oskar Lindblom? Marcus Westfalt has footsteps to follow with Flyers

Ron Hextall knows how these things can work out.

He remembers plucking Oskar Lindblom in the fifth round of the 2014 NHL draft. Not much was made of the pick, barely even a peep, because, well, the 138th overall selections don't typically draw heaps of praise.

Lindblom quietly slipped back to Sweden. Three summers later, Flyers fans couldn't stop talking about him.

"Oskar went away, no one knew who the hell he was, fifth-round pick, over there getting better and better and better and bang," Hextall said last July. "He's the SHL Forward of the Year."

One has to believe Lindblom's name popped in the general manager's head when the Flyers saw Marcus Westfalt still available and the clock ticking on their 2018 seventh-round pick. At 205th overall, Westfalt became the Flyers' final selection, making for eerie similarities to Lindblom, who forced his way to the big club in 2017-18.

Westfalt plays for the same Swedish junior team (Brynäs IF J20) and SHL squad (Brynäs IF) as Lindblom did when he was taken by the Flyers. Both prospects are from Sweden and dropped in their respective drafts. Lindblom, a left winger, stands 6-foot-1, 191 pounds, while Westfalt, a center/left winger, comes in at 6-foot-3, 203 pounds.

Another Lindblom in the works?

"Hopefully, that's my dream, of course," Westfalt said three weeks ago at Flyers development camp. "But he's a really good player, he's got a lot of skill. But, yeah, hopefully."

The 18-year-old was well aware of Lindblom. It was hard to not hear or see his fellow countryman transform from fifth-round pick to ballyhooed Flyers prospect. In 2016-17, when Lindblom really took off with Brynäs IF and won Swedish Hockey League Forward of the Year, Westfalt witnessed the rise.

"I watch him a lot," Westfalt said. "His last year in Brynäs before he got here, I watched him a lot. He's a [role model] because I think he's really good, he's good with his hands, his speed, he uses his body well. I watch him a lot."

In his draft year, Lindblom played only four SHL games compared to 43 for Brynäs IF J20. For Westfalt, it was a bit different. He appeared in 39 SHL games, including playoffs, while playing 26 contests at the junior ranks, where he put up 27 points (12 goals, 15 assists) and a plus-19 rating.

Westfalt's goal for 2018-19 is to play the whole season in the SHL. Lindblom did a bit later than Westfalt, but once the jump was made, he impacted games.

"Try to get more ice time," Westfalt said. "Bigger role in the game.

"[Brynäs IF] told me that I have some things I need to work on and if I do that, I can get to play."

Westfalt, who had four points (one goal, three assists) in those 39 SHL games, said he tries to be "a smart, two-way centerman," and feels his "play in the D-zone is better than the offense."

"I'm strong without the puck and with the puck," he said.

While the goal is to stick in the SHL, he's uncertain which level will be best for his on-ice growth at this stage of his development."

"When I play in junior, I get more ice time, I get to play a lot more with the puck, I get to play the power play and stuff like that," he said. "I want to play in the juniors, too, because I want to work on my skills, but my big goal is to do the same thing I do in the juniors in the SHL."

Lindblom eventually did, carving out his path to the Flyers at 21 years old.

"I just think about it by myself, like fifth-rounder, I just felt like I can play and I can be on this level," Lindblom said last summer.

With Westfalt, there is no chip on his shoulder as a seventh-round pick.

"No, for me, I'm just glad that I'm here," he said. "It's a great organization. It's fun to go earlier [in the draft], but I'm just happy to be here."

And eager to climb like Lindblom.

More on the Flyers

Flyers re-sign restricted free agent Anthony Stolarz

Flyers re-sign restricted free agent Anthony Stolarz

General manager Ron Hextall is nearly finished wrapping up contracts for his restricted free agents.

And his goalie picture is now clear for 2018-19.

The Flyers on Wednesday re-signed netminder Anthony Stolarz to a one-year, two-way contract. The deal is worth $761,250, according to a report by hockey writer John Hoven.

With Stolarz back, defenseman Robert Hagg remains the Flyers' lone restricted free agent.

Stolarz, a 2012 second-round pick, underwent a nightmarish 2017-18 season just a year after he made his NHL debut and performed well in seven games with the Flyers. The 24-year-old tore the meniscus in his left knee during early September, the same injury he suffered at the end of 2016-17 with AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley.

He played in just one AHL game and three ECHL contests as a result. In 2016-17, he made his way to the big club and put up a 2.07 goals-against average and .928 save percentage in a small sample. Then the injury occurred with the Phantoms and it's been an uphill battle ever since for the 6-foot-6, 210-pounder.

Stolarz will have his work cut out for him — if he hasn't already — as playing time will be earned at Lehigh Valley with Alex Lyon back in the fold and Carter Hart joining them.

"It's just competition. No one is going to go in there and hand you a job, so you have to earn it,” Stolarz said in June after an on-ice workout at Flyers Skate Zone. "I think the thing for me is to prove I'm healthy. I don't think I've skated since the end of January. I had the one flare up before one of my games and it had nothing to do with my knee injury. It was a separate injury. I think the biggest thing is proving I'm healthy and going out there and working to prove I'm still a high-caliber goalie."

The Flyers' goaltending tandem is set with Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth, both of whom are in the final year of their contracts. Things obviously can change this offseason, as Neuvirth and Stolarz seemed like realistic trade candidates.

But as of now, it's Elliott and Neuvirth with the younger trio pushing and competing.

"I'd rather have too many goalies than too few," Hextall said earlier this month. "If something makes sense and we can make something happen, we'd at least look at it. We saw it last year. All of a sudden, a couple goalies go down and you're scrambling for goalies. If we start with five, we start with five. Not a perfect situation, but again, I'd rather start with five than with three."

More on the Flyers' goalies

• Following 'gloomy' time, what's next for Elliott?

• Why Neuvirth's NHL career hinges on this offseason

• Hart says so long to Twitter, hello to pro life

• No arbitration needed for Flyers and Lyon

• Sandstrom hungry to prove he's not the 'other' goalie