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Flyers Weekly Observations: Lumps, bruises aplenty for rookie D-men

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Flyers Weekly Observations: Lumps, bruises aplenty for rookie D-men

Well, that was a busy week for the Flyers, now wasn’t it?

Seven days filled to the brim with four games, each with unique elements that turned into a 1-1-2 week with four points. The Flyers could have ended the week with more than four points. But they also had every reason to finish the week with less than four points.

It started with a mostly ugly 4-3 loss to the visiting Arizona Coyotes on Monday, continued with a 3-0 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks at United Center on Wednesday and a scrappy 2-0 win over the St. Louis Blues at Scottrade Center on Thursday, and it ended back home with a 5-4 shootout loss to Colorado Avalanche on Saturday evening.

Four games left us with plenty to get down to, so let’s hop right into this week’s Flyers observations.

And let’s begin on the blue line with the young defensemen.

• It was a week of bumps and bruises, both figuratively and literally for the Flyers’ defensemen. Much of the week was played without the injured Shayne Gostisbehere and Radko Gudas, the latter of whom left the game in Chicago early and hasn’t seen the ice since. But for the younger D-men, there were booby traps all over the learning curve this week.

Let’s start with Travis Sanheim, who made a costly mistake Monday against Arizona. And by costly I mean lethal, as it led to the goal that lost the game for the Flyers. During a rush late on the 3-on-3 OT, Sanheim turned his back to the Coyotes' net instead of getting the puck toward the net. His pocket was easily picked and the Coyotes converted on the ensuing 3-on-1 rush. Game. Set. Match. It was an odd decision for a smooth, offensively gifted defenseman, especially at that stage of OT. But you get the sense it was an example of a rookie just a month or so into his career trying to do too much. Those bumps are anticipated, but, man, that was just the wrong time for that move.

Robert Hagg had two similar experiences this week that left a pit in his stomach. First in Chicago on Wednesday, a puck bounced right over his stick after a faceoff win and Jonathan Toews was off to leave Brian Elliott out to dry on a Windy City clothesline. Then Saturday night while on the PK, a Mikko Rantanen pass attempt went right off Hagg’s stick, which was in good position on the ice, and into the net for an Avalanche goal. And to boot, he took a slapper to the kidney area later in the game. Ouch.

Again, these are all lumps that come with being a rookie in the NHL, especially in a high-pressure position such as defenseman. Remember that awful game Ivan Provorov endured early last year in Chicago? Yes, he’s a special talent, but he bounced back almost immediately. The key is not letting one or a couple plays stick in your mind and change the way you play. One good play, no matter how big or small, reinforces all the confidence in the world.

• Speaking of Provorov, that guy is just a machine. Let’s take a look at his ice time this week: 28:07 vs. Arizona, 29:51 vs. Chicago, 27:08 vs. St. Louis, 28:00 vs. Colorado. That’s an average of 28:17 over the last week. What more can he do? A lot. He added three assists vs. the Coyotes and then 10 blocked shots against the Blues. He was a monster in that game in St. Louis, helping keep Russian countryman and sniper Vladamir Tarasenko at bay. It’s hard to remember sometimes that Provorov is just the ripe, old age of 20. At 20, he’s the unquestioned leader of the Flyers’ defense, and rightfully so.  

• The first 50 minutes of the loss to the previously winless Coyotes on Monday was some of the ugliest hockey we’ve seen the Flyers play in a long, long time. No one on the same page. Absolutely nothing in sync. Passes all over the place. Breakdowns aplenty. The list could go on and on and on. To say the effort was lifeless would be quite the understatement. Of course, it’s harder to get up and get motivated for a winless, less-than-sexy team like Arizona. But still, that was inexcusable.

• We all watched Brayden Schenn play for five seasons here in Philadelphia. We know he’s not a dirty player. A physical player always looking to drop a hit whenever he can? Absolutely. But not dirty. But that hit in St. Louis on Sean Couturier was unacceptable.

Fortunately, Couturier only had the wind knocked out of him and came back later in the game, but that hit was late, high and incredibly dangerous. Schenn was given a two-minute minor for interference on the play, which speaks to a more general issue around the league.

That’s exactly the type of hit the NHL wants to eradicate from the game, yet only a two-minute penalty is given? What message does that send? You can knock another player out, but it’s OK, you didn’t do that much wrong? Stiffer penalties, both during and following games, are steps to getting rid of those hits.

• Captain Claude Giroux said it best following the shootout loss the Avs (see video) — The Flyers could really use the upcoming four days off after playing a stretch of seven games in 11 days that included a visit to Canada and a journey to Chicago and St. Louis on back-to-back nights. The stretch of four games in six days this past week was especially grueling. And to top it all off, it seemed like a Flyer was getting nicked up at every turn Saturday night against the Avs. These four days off will be refreshing for a team that’s already been ravaged by injuries at different points this season. We may not like having four days without Flyers hockey to watch, but the Flyers will certainly take it.

Coming up this week: Thursday vs. Chicago (7 p.m. on NBCSP), Saturday vs. Minnesota (7 p.m. on NBCSP+)

Islanders 3, Flyers 2 (preseason): Travis Konecny comes to life in OTL

Islanders 3, Flyers 2 (preseason): Travis Konecny comes to life in OTL

BOX SCORE

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — The Flyers finished their preseason series with the Isles Friday night 2-1-1 after a 3-2 overtime loss.

How good was Carter Hart in his first Flyers start, Travis Konecny comes to life and what happened to Shayne Gostisbehere?

1. With Carsen Twarynski having an outstanding camp, I think a message was sent to Taylor Leier, Jori Lehtera and Dale Weise with the formation of the lines. The trio comprised the Flyers' fourth line with younger players like Oskar Lindblom, Mikhail Vorobyev and Twarynski, all pushing for a job playing, above them. Leier has had stretches of hard, physical play, but overall, all three haven’t convinced Dave Hakstol that they warrant a roster spot. Twarynski reads the game like a veteran and it’s impressive to see him maintain a commitment to playing solid defensively.

2. Gostisbehere left the game in the second period for precautionary reasons. He was on the ice for the Islanders' first goal midway through the second period. Earlier, he ripped a slap shot to put the Flyers on the board.

3. Hart had little work in the opening 20 minutes, turning aside all four shots he faced, but one of the biggest areas he can be a difference-maker is on the penalty kill. Hart was key in helping kill two minutes of a 5-on-3 early in the second period. Not only is he so good positionally, but he also squares up to the shooter so quickly. In turn, his ability to read the pass and cover the angle is exceptional. Last season, the Flyers ranked last in the NHL with a .816 save percentage shorthanded.

4. James van Riemsdyk played an efficient two-way game in his return to Philly on Monday. Maybe he had some extra adrenaline, but on the Islanders' first goal, he appeared to stop skating in his attempt to backcheck, which allowed Jan Kovar to get behind him for a goal.

5. An adventurous second period for Radko Gudas, who admitted before the game he was playing on the left side for the first time in four years. Gudas came up with a bone-jarring hit behind his own net but then displayed his propensity for bad turnovers in his own zone. The first came in the first five minutes with a pass that was intercepted in the slot. Later in the period, Gudas attempted a clearing pass that was deflected.

6. Ron Hextall said he expects Michal Neuvirth to miss time with what appears to be a reoccurrence of a groin injury. Hextall also added that Nicolas Aube-Kubel was dealing with soreness, which is why he wasn’t on the ice for Friday. The Flyers are also optimistic Andrew MacDonald will be close to ready when the regular season opens. MacDonald practiced with teammates Friday.

7. There’s a feeling that Konecny hasn’t looked impressive, but I don’t see any concern here. In the opening period, Konecny proved he can be an effective player without recording a shot. He came away with a takeaway at the Isles' blue line, broke up a shorthanded chance, forced a neutral-zone turnover and drew a penalty. It’s important that Konecny has an impact even if he doesn’t show up on the scoresheet, which he eventually did with a goal he slid through the five-hole on Robin Lehner.

8. Even with the Flyers dominating on the scoreboard, the Islanders' super skilled center Mathew Barzal had a considerable amount of time and space with the puck on his stick, and the Flyers seemed content to let him fly through the neutral zone at times. Against the Islanders, without a strong supporting cast, it’s not much of a concern. However, it’s an area the Flyers want to clean up before the regular season as both Vegas and Colorado both play an uptempo style.   

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Flyers-Islanders preseason game No. 5: Roster, highlights, live stream and more

Flyers-Islanders preseason game No. 5: Roster, highlights, live stream and more

VOORHEES, N.J. — Where else can the Flyers and Islanders play a preseason game?

The two Metropolitan Division opponents square off for the fourth time this preseason when they battle at PPL Center in Allentown, Pennsylvania. In the past six days, the Flyers and Islanders have played in four different venues: Nassau Coliseum, Wells Fargo Center, Barclays Center and PPL Center.

Let the never-ending goalie drama commence. Michal Neuvirth, who was scheduled to play against the Islanders, was seen hunched over at the end of practice and stretching rather awkwardly. As Neuvirth stepped off the ice, he slammed his stick against his pad in apparent frustration. Trainer Jim McCrossin met with head coach Dave Hakstol and goaltending coach Kim Dillabaugh shortly after evaluating Neuvirth, who will likely sit out as a precaution. Rookie Carter Hart will start if Neuvirth is officially ruled out.   

If injuries persist, is there a realistic chance that Hart starts his pro career with the Flyers? Head coach Dave Hakstol had this to say at morning skate:

We’re not going to skip any steps with Carter in making sure everything is done in the best long-term interest. He’s had a good, solid camp to now. You see some areas where he needs to improve and mature, yet that’s the case with any young player. I think he’s had a really good camp up until now and that’s a positive for him.

After trimming the roster to 41 Thursday, the Flyers will dress 14 players with NHL experience — it’s the most experienced roster the Flyers have dressed this preseason. 

Although the Flyers haven’t officially made another round of cuts, eight additional players weren’t participating in Thursday’s afternoon practice. That group includes Phil Varone, Cole Bardreau, Danick Martel, Nicolas Aube-Kubel, Greg Carey, Radel Fazleev, Pascal Laberge and T.J. Brennan.      

In a rare move, the Flyers will put two right-handed defensemen together as the team’s third pairing. Radko Gudas will work the left side with Mark Friedman on the right side. The last time Gudas recalls playing the left side was at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. One of Gudas' biggest adjustments will be the forehand pass to the middle of the ice. 

Here are the essentials for tonight:

When: 7 p.m.
Where: PPL Center
Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia+
Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com

Projected lineup

Forwards
James van Riemsdyk-Nolan Patrick-Travis Konecny
Oskar Lindblom-Mikhail Vorobyev-Jakub Voracek
Carsen Twarynski-Jordan Weal-Michael Raffl
Taylor Leier-Jori Lehtera-Dale Weise

Defensemen
Ivan Provorov-Shayne Gostisbehere 
Robert Hagg-Philippe Myers
Radko Gudas-Mark Friedman   

Goaltenders
Carter Hart
Anthony Stolarz

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