Flyers

Flyers' top line delivers statement in win over Blackhawks

Flyers' top line delivers statement in win over Blackhawks

BOX SCORE

The Blackhawks want what the Flyers have right now.

A dominant No. 1 line.

The Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek trio scored all three of the Flyers' goals Thursday, dominating the Blackhawks' top line in the first 25 minutes of a 3-1 victory (see observations).

“When you get a chance to play against one of the top lines in the league, you get excited about it,” Claude Giroux said. “Coach told us that we were going to play most of the game against them. I think when you play with the same guys for a good amount of games, you feel more comfortable and the chemistry is more there.”

Giroux scored his ninth goal of the season 4:58 into the game on a perfect one-time feed from Voracek. A little more than seven minutes later, Shayne Gostisbehere teed up a similar pass for Voracek, who ripped home his fourth goal in his last seven games (see highlights)

Three goals, four assists and a plus-9 rating compared to Patrick Sharp-Jonathan Toews-Patrick Kane that finished with a minus-5 and no points. The Flyers' "Big Three" has combined for 60 points in the Flyers' first 16 games of the season. 

“It was a big matchup and a big challenge for us,” Couturier said. “We’re willing to go against anyone. We feel really confident about our game right now. We can outscore any line or any pairing. We've just got to keep going.”

“You’re talking about competitive people,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “There’s three good players on that line and they’re all different, they play the game differently, they have different elements, different strengths, but the three of them together, big credit to them — it has worked well for our hockey team to this point.”

Hakstol assembled the Flyers' top line by transitioning Giroux from center to left wing during the second week of training camp, and the Flyers' head coach has yet to deviate from that trio this season. On the other hand, the Blackhawks are desperate to try anything. 

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville shook up his lines again, this time pairing Toews and Kane together with Sharp in an attempt to rekindle some magic from the glory days of their Stanley Cup seasons. The Flyers proved the experiment to be an utter disaster as it barely lasted 20 minutes before Quenneville pulled the plug and switched Sharp with the speedier Brandon Saad.

Hard to believe this was the same Chicago team that put up 10 goals on the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins just a month ago. 

“[Ivan Provorov] and [Robert Hagg] did a great job against their top line and frustrating them," Gostisbehere said. "When you’re frustrating their top line, it’s kind of like cutting the head off a snake. The rest of the team will fold. I think we did a lot of good things out there of limiting time and space because they’re a skilled team."

Gostisbehere became the quickest defenseman to score 100 points in a Flyers uniform, reaching the milestone in 155 games

“Yeah, it’s awesome, a tremendous honor to do it but do it with my teammates and my coaches, they put me in those situations to go out there and get those points,” Gostisbehere said. “It’s huge. It’s a nice group effort — family support, everyone.”

After the Flyers jumped out to a 3-0 lead, they appeared to shift into cruise control and were outplayed over the final 35 minutes. Brian Elliott, who lost, 3-0, to the same Blackhawks just eight days earlier, bailed out the Flyers on more than one occasion with perhaps his best all-around game since joining the Flyers.

Elliott turned aside 38 shots and was vital in helping the Flyers kill off Chicago’s two-man advantage for 1:44 near the end of the second period.   

“It was huge," Elliott said. "They could have tied it up there at the end of the period and we would have been tied going in. Killing that off was big for our guys. We did a really great job. They didn’t do much on it. You keep things to the outside on that and they didn’t cross box us, so that’s good.”

When asked which save stood out the most, Elliott pointed to a pass he disrupted as the one play that was fresh in his mind.

“Taking away that pass from Kane in the 5-on-3 with my stick," Elliott said. "I was happy with that one because that’s an open net at the backdoor.”

“It’s big, to be able to get that at that time of the game and that situation," Hakstol said. "[Elliott] did a good job, made some saves for us. PK battled hard, big part of the game.”

The Flyers' win also marked the 14th consecutive regular-season win over the Blackhawks at the Wells Fargo Center, dating back to Nov. 9, 1996.

Quenneville might consider reuniting Stan Mikita and Bobby Hull on a top line if he thought it might bring the Blackhawks a win in Philadelphia. 

How Flyers prospect Cam York can help and torture goalies

How Flyers prospect Cam York can help and torture goalies

NHL talent evaluators couldn't miss Cam York's offensive exploits.

The catch-me-if-you-can defenseman lit up score sheets and caught all eyes during his draft year. When a teenage blueliner skates as smoothly and handles the puck as dynamically as York does, pro clubs watch in bunches and envision big things for the future.

Flyers assistant general manager Brent Flahr said the team's entire scouting staff had seen York 10 to 15 times during the 2018-19 season. The Flyers then drafted York at No. 14 overall last summer after he set a U.S. national team development program single-season record with 65 points (14 goals, 51 assists) in 63 games.

For John Wroblewski, the head coach of the loaded USNTDP under-18 squad that year, he didn't want NHL suitors hypnotized by just the offensive gifts.

He emphasized York's defensive strengths.

"One of the things I kept telling scouts that I was so impressed with Cam was how the game was always in front of him," Wroblewski said last month in a phone interview with NBC Sports Philadelphia. "The puck hardly ever advanced behind him, you couldn’t beat him 1-on-1 — I could probably count on one hand how many times he got actually beat 1-on-1 over two years — and his strength around the net; he just understands.

"He has innate defensive ability, it’s natural. It seems effortless. Some guys you know they’re competing in their defensive zone and they have to, they scratch and claw — he just always has the right spots. His gap control, his stick detail, it’s all organic.

"I think he’s going to be rock-solid offensively in the NHL, but his prowess will be how reliable he is defensively. Working around him and watching his video on a daily basis, he never got beat." 

(Zack Hill/Philadelphia Flyers)

York is now with Michigan and his upcoming sophomore year could be his last at the collegiate level. Because of two impressive years in the USNTDP, he went to the draft and Ann Arbor with hype.

"I think if you asked him, he would want to turn pro tomorrow," Flahr said after the Flyers drafted York. "He's going to a good program at Michigan, we'll take it year by year. I don't see him as a four-year guy, let's put it that way."

In 2018-19, York was the go-to defenseman on a U.S. team that produced eight first-round draft picks last June — Jack Hughes (No. 1), Alex Turcotte (No. 5), Trevor Zegras (No. 9), Matthew Boldy (No. 12), Spencer Knight (No. 13), York (No. 14), Cole Caufield (No. 15) and John Beecher (No. 30).

York, a 5-foot-11, 174-pound lefty shot, was third on the U.S. in assists (behind only Hughes and Zegras), fifth in points and sported a team-best plus-56 rating.

"He just hit the ground running at the program, he was such a student of the game, he’s smart in practice, his instincts were outstanding," Wroblewski, who led the U-17 team this season, said. "He never really hit any type of a speed bump throughout his two years with the program. He seamlessly went from being our top defenseman to running the power play for the U-18 team in February and beyond, and then of course he set defensive scoring records at the program.

"Really kind of a seamless two years, but a kid that never really took it for granted, either. He always showed up, he had a workmanlike attitude in regard to practice. He was like a pro from a young age — he showed up, did his job, low maintenance, but a fiery competitor at the same time."

Just how skilled and electric is he with the puck on his stick?

"It’s interesting, for as much talent as we had on that team, I think Cam might have been our best shootout guy," Wroblewski said. "We didn’t utilize him because of the star power that you had with those top-five scorers — Boldy, Zegras, Cole, Jack and Alex Turcotte. We never utilized him because this just doesn’t make a lot of sense when you’ve got that firepower up front, but he was probably our best shootout guy."

As a defenseman on that team.

"The things that he would do to our goalies and Spencer Knight, he would make them look silly with the edgework," Wroblewski said. "He looked like a video game the way that he could come in, carve his edges and then just like sling it underneath the crossbar. It was really cool to watch. I’d never seen anybody be able to create on the shootout like he did."

(Rena Laverty/USA Hockey)

In his freshman season at Michigan, York dealt with a pair of injuries but still put up 16 points (five goals, 11 assists) and a plus-9 mark through 30 games. The 19-year-old led the Wolverines in secondary assists (eight) and was third in blocked shots (54).

A healthy and stronger York as a sophomore will bring him closer to the Flyers. He'll play a ton of minutes — which is what he's shooting for at the pro ranks, as well — and an even bigger role on what should be a formidable 2020-21 Michigan team.

York's strength and developmental curve at the Division I level, especially next season, will determine how quickly he signs his entry-level contract.

“Defensemen are always going to take a little bit longer," Wroblewski said. "Goalies take the longest, defensemen are the next, you look at the middle of the ice, centermen, that’s next and then wingers transition the quickest to the NHL obviously.

“I think any opportunity, as long as he’s being challenged at the college level, he should stay. But I also appreciate the challenge of the American Hockey League. I know a lot of guys don’t want to go there, ride the bus, but after having worked in that league, that buffer zone between there and the NHL is very important and can be pivotal for defensemen and young players.

"You look at [Casey] Mittelstadt in Buffalo as an example of how college wasn’t challenging enough for him, the NHL might have been too much — that American League is a really, really, really pivotal spot for a lot of young players. ... It can be a huge tool and not one that prospects should be scared of or feel slighted if they end up there.”

But Wroblewski doesn't see York far down the ladder.

"Just from his past, the way that he came into the program, U-17 and was able to fit right in, and then really thrive at the U-18 level as an underager and then set the scoring records that he did," Wroblewski said. "He looks at home in the college game and displays the same offensive characteristics. A kid that truly appreciates keeping the puck out of his net first and then letting the offense come to him — those are characteristics that should prove worthy of him making a quick climb to the NHL.”

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Predictions for who wins Flyers' 2019-20 Gene Hart Memorial Award as the player with most 'heart'

Predictions for who wins Flyers' 2019-20 Gene Hart Memorial Award as the player with most 'heart'

Going End to End today are NBC Sports Philadelphia's Brooke Destra, Katie Emmer, Taryn Hatcher and Jordan Hall.

The topic: Predicting who wins the Flyers' 2019-20 Gene Hart Memorial Award as the player with the most “heart.”

Destra

Looking back at the season, no one is more deserving of this award than Oskar Lindblom. 

When the news was given back in December that Lindblom had been diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma, the whole NHL community was in shock. Through the news and the process since, the 23-year-old has continued to be a positive light for the organization and fans. 

Though his season on the ice was cut short, his impact remained just as important as the year progressed. The team went out and played for him every single night. Those moments when he was in Wells Fargo Center — whether the team knew, it was a surprise or even when he popped up on team picture day, he always made it better. 

Head coach Alain Vigneault says it best whenever Lindblom is mentioned, always commenting on his “beautiful smile.”

Emmer

The player to win the Gene Hart by the end of the season should be Sean Couturier.  

Couturier is so clutch for many reasons. We always talk about his strong 200-foot abilities and simply put— his marvelous abilities with the puck. On top of that all, he’s consistent.  

Couturier is always stepping up for this team and bringing heart to the game in times the team needs it most. Specifically, games following defeat. 

Couturier in games following a loss: 

26 games, 13 goals, 19 assists, 32 points, plus-13

Couturier is a game-changer and I think there’s something to say about how he’s been such a consistent key component for the Flyers. 

I completely believe Couturier deserves to be awarded the Gene Hart for the third consecutive season because of that passion he brings to the Flyers, and the sport of hockey in general. 

Hatcher

The Gene Hart Memorial Trophy has to go to Lindblom.

Lindblom is a phenomenal teammate according to every single person who plays alongside him, a guy who is tremendous to work with in every interaction I’ve had with him (and every other reporter who covers the team will say the same), and a player who was seemingly taking a massive step in his career this season before it was so unfairly cut short.

Despite Lindblom being forced to take a step back from the ice to battle Ewing’s sarcoma, he has become a key piece in the force that drives this team. This team has made it clear that it fights for him while he’s forced to fight for his health. 

I’d pull up stats for how the team has played on days when Lindblom has been at morning skate, or quotes on all the wonderful things the Flyers have said about what Lindblom means to them, but honestly this video of him surprising the team (and specifically Jakub Voracek’s reaction) says more than I could adequately say. 

Hall

It would be really cool to see Robert Hagg win this award.

The 25-year-old Swede is a low-key guy who does the unglamorous things and never aims for recognition. Instead, he plays with a huge heart and always puts his teammates first.

Hagg has found his niche on this 2019-20 team, all while dealing with the shocking news of his good friend Lindblom being diagnosed with cancer. He has pushed forward for Lindblom and the Flyers.

Hagg is a player that doesn't make the headlines. He deserves this one.

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