Flyers

Flyers weekly observations: A telling attendance figure, a good problem, Egor Zamula and more

Flyers weekly observations: A telling attendance figure, a good problem, Egor Zamula and more

Thanks to four straight wins, the Flyers went into the NHL-mandated holiday break with plenty of good vibes.

They have the NHL's sixth-most points (47) and sit in third place of the Metropolitan Division (21-11-5).

Now the Flyers will look to build on those positives when they open a six-game road trip Saturday with a matchup against the Sharks (10:30 p.m. ET/NBCSP+).

With some weekly observations, let's take a look at all things Flyers as the break wraps up:

• Monday night's attendance listed on the NHL's official game report was a season-best 19,776 for the Flyers. The atmosphere at the Wells Fargo Center had a playoff feel to it as the Flyers beat the Rangers, 5-1. Fans were loud and engaged from the opening puck drop.

Prior to Monday, just five home games ago, the listed attendance was an eye-opening 15,811 for the Flyers' 6-1 win over the Maple Leafs.

Sure, Monday was the day before Christmas Eve and the Flyers were playing a division rival with some New York fans in the house. But you can sense and see fans starting to buy back in because the on-ice product is building excitement. So many aspects factor into attendance figures — price of tickets, amenities in the arena, the opponent, the day of the week, the time of the year, etc.

Ultimately, though, the players on the ice will dictate fan support. Monday showed why it's improving and how it always steadily does when a team starts to win. The Flyers deserve credit for improving the on-ice product and giving fans a reason to be optimistic and intrigued.

During 2018-19, the Flyers went 19-18-4 in Philly, giving them their fewest home wins over a full season since 2006-07.

At home in 2019-20, the Flyers are 13-2-4, have the NHL's best points percentage (.789), allow the league's fewest goals per game (1.95) and score the second most per game (3.79).

As the season picks up, the Flyers are becoming a fun ticket for a fan base that, understandably, has been frustrated and needs convincing.

• The Flyers have a good problem: lineup decisions on defense.

Considering the injuries they've suffered at forward and what they went through in net last season, the Flyers will be happy to make difficult calls on who to play each night among a competitive crowd of blueliners.

When Philippe Myers sits a game or two as a healthy scratch, it can be a positive. The Flyers haven't had this type of depth on defense in a while.

In 2017-18, Travis Sanheim was in a similar situation as Myers. It did not prove detrimental at all to his development or career.

• The more you see prospect Egor Zamula, the more you tip your cap to Flyers amateur scout Mark Greig.

Zamula, a long, mobile and skilled defenseman, scored two goals in Russia's 4-3 loss to Czech Republic during Day 1 of the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship.

https://twitter.com/HeresYourReplay/status/1210220499143409664?s=20

The 19-year-old went undrafted and Greig is a big reason why he's in the Flyers' prospect pool. Zamula (6-4/170) is a point-per-game player for the WHL's Calgary Hitmen (seven goals, 21 assists in 28 games) and owns a plus-19 rating.

He'll be in the professional picture next season.

• To finish off December, the Flyers play three teams at the bottom of the Western Conference — Sharks, Ducks and Kings.

Then, the Flyers will get a good test in January when nine of their 11 games come against teams currently in a playoff spot.

 

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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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