Flyers

Not excited about Kevin Hayes? Newest Flyer shows how he can change things ... with time

Not excited about Kevin Hayes? Newest Flyer shows how he can change things ... with time

The listed attendance for the Flyers' preseason opener Monday night was 16,570. The crowd was sparse and that comes with preseason hockey.

Kevin Hayes, the team's most notable offseason acquisition who signed a seven-year, $50 million contract, played his first game in front of the new home fans.

There has been some debate over the level of excitement regarding the 2019-20 Flyers and the addition of Hayes, a 6-foot-5, 27-year-old center that doesn't exactly dazzle across the ice.

"I think the fans should be excited — I think they're excited, some of them might not be too excited — but I feel great," Hayes said last weekend. "This is the best I've ever felt and probably the most in shape, most excited I've ever been in my hockey career."

If he doesn't dazzle, he does just about everything else. The Flyers want to win hockey games again and Hayes brings winning qualities — pretty or not.

On Monday night, he showed his game — the puck protection, the utilizing of his size, the disruptiveness on the penalty kill, the potential on the power play (see observations).

Those traits were why the Flyers wanted Hayes so badly and believe he can be integral to the team contending again — you know, generating excitement.

"I'm not a horrible skater, but I'm not the best skater," Hayes said after the Flyers' 3-1 loss to the Islanders. "So I need to get an upper hand somehow and that is the stuff I work on in the summer."

The Flyers need that stuff. They allowed far too many goals last season, far too easily. They surrendered the NHL's third-most markers per game at 3.41 and finished with a minus-37 goal differential. Hayes had a career-high 55 points last season and a career-high 25 goals the year prior. However, he developed a defensive-minded, penalty kill pedigree under Alain Vigneault with the Rangers. Maybe that's not exciting.

"I actually got to the league as not a PK guy," Hayes said. "A.V. put it on me and I challenged myself to become one of the better PK guys in the league and I thought over the last couple of years, I've done that. I try to outsmart the other five guys."

Hayes did his usual work on the penalty kill and made an impressive play to set up the Flyers' lone goal. He played with James van Riemsdyk and Jakub Voracek, making up a line in which possession is the name of the game.

I like those three and that effort from that line. I expect more and more will come as their timing gets better. They spent a lot of time in the offensive zone and didn't get probably as much as they would have liked. 

But the time spent in the offensive zone was good. Their execution is going to get better, but that is a pretty big line. They get pucks in deep and go retrieve it and make the plays that I think are available, just the execution was a little bit off tonight. But if the plays are available, that could be a really good line.

- Vigneault

It doesn't scream excitement, nor does Hayes' style of play.

But if it results in wins, fans will get on board.

It might just take some time.

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Flyers finally cooled off by the Capitals (and in the shootout of course)

Flyers finally cooled off by the Capitals (and in the shootout of course)

BOX SCORE

The Flyers went toe to toe with the NHL’s best and highest-scoring team Wednesday night.

And they of course took the action into overtime and the shootout.

The skills competition is where they were finally cooled off.

The Flyers lost to the Capitals, 2-1, at the Wells Fargo Center as T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov scored in the shootout for Washington.

The Flyers (10-5-3), who have gone past regulation six times in the last seven games, had their four-game winning streak snapped. They did, however, extend their point streak to seven games (5-0-2). They are 8-2-2 since Oct. 21.

Sean Couturier nearly won the game for the Flyers when he nailed the post in overtime.

The Capitals (14-2-4) lead the NHL with 32 points and are on a 13-game point streak (11-0-2). They entered scoring an NHL-most four goals per game.

• Jakub Voracek and Claude Giroux went scoreless over the team’s big weekend sweep of the Maple Leafs and Bruins.

With the Flyers in desperate need of a play in the third period, Voracek and Giroux connected for a power play goal to make it 1-1.

The sequence makes you wonder if those two will reunite soon on the first line to get both of them going.

• Head coach Alain Vigneault shuffled his lines in the second period and then not long after pieced them back together. It seemed to work as the Flyers turned it up a notch in the back end of the stanza.

The Flyers came inches away from knotting the game when Travis Konecny rung the post as a power play expired with 4:51 left in the middle frame. A minute later, Tyler Pitlick had an acrobatic chance in front but was turned away.

• The Flyers’ third line could change soon. Carsen Twarynski, Kevin Hayes and Voracek haven’t gotten much going. The group has good size but hasn’t used it to its advantage.

Vigneault expects more out of Voracek and Hayes — and justifiably so. Voracek had the timely assist on the power play, while Hayes is without a point in eight straight games.

• Carter Hart came in 4-0-0 with a 1.92 goals-against average and .929 save percentage during November. He was brilliant against the league’s top-scoring team, making 35 saves.

Hart was once again clutch during the first period, making 15 saves as the Capitals took it to the Flyers in the opening 20 minutes. Prior to Washington’s goal by Brendan Leipsic, the Flyers had outscored the opposition 6-0 during the first frame in their previous four games.

Washington goalie Braden Holtby went 3-0-0 with 84 saves on 90 shots against the Flyers last season. He cracked only once Wednesday, finishing with 30 stops. Giroux was the only Flyer to beat him in the shootout.

• For the first time in 12 NHL games, Joel Farabee took a step back. He didn’t look like himself with the puck, quickly giving it away a few times instead of keeping it on his stick and making a smarter decision.

In the second period, he was briefly taken off the first line and both power play units, possibly a message from Vigneault telling the 19-year-old to get his game going and not be intimidated by the Capitals.

The rookie didn’t play much in the third period and didn’t see action in OT.

• The penalty kill continued its yeoman’s work. The Flyers, who entered as the NHL’s seventh-best shorthanded team at 85.4 percent, held the Capitals’ vaunted power play to 0 for 3.

The Flyers have not allowed a power play goal at home since Oct. 21.

The team’s own man advantage had fallen into a 2-for-17 funk before snapping out of it in the final stanza.

• Matt Niskanen, who spent his previous five seasons in Washington and won the 2018 Stanley Cup with the Capitals, played his first game against his former teammates since being traded to the Flyers during June.

He was his typical steady self.

Radko Gudas, who was sent to Washington in the trade, received a tribute from the Flyers during the first period.

• The Flyers open their fifth back-to-back set of 17 this season when they visit the Senators Friday (7:30 ET/NBCSP+).

The team returns home Saturday to play the Islanders (7 p.m. ET/NBCSP).

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Matt Niskanen's fine balance of saying hello and cutting the cord

Matt Niskanen's fine balance of saying hello and cutting the cord

Matt Niskanen will never forget his time with the Capitals.

When you give hundreds of thousands of fans a parade in a city craving a championship, it would be impossible to move on with no sentimental feelings for the past.

But Niskanen is now a Flyer and playing for a city that hasn't seen its hockey team win a Stanley Cup since 1975. Performing in orange and black is his focus, as hard as that is when facing his former teammates for the first time since being traded during June.

Niskanen won the 2018 Stanley Cup in Washington, the city's first major championship since 1992. The Capitals visited Philadelphia to play the Flyers Wednesday night and held a morning skate at the Wells Fargo Center.

The 32-year-old defenseman hadn't yet caught up with his old buddies. Following the game might be a better time for Niskanen.

"There’s that kind of special connection that you get when you have that kind of success with a team," he said Wednesday morning.

"There’s a fine balance of wanting to say hi to these guys and also you’ve got to cut the cord a bit, too. My focus is playing well with the Flyers right now. But I’m not that far removed from playing with these guys, so if I see somebody, I’ll chat and say hi.”

Niskanen has been excellent for the Flyers, impacting the club's improved goal prevention, special teams units and young defensemen. Some of his new, younger teammates have asked him about winning a Stanley Cup.

"A bit," the unassuming Niskanen said. "It’s not something that comes up all the time, or usually not in front of a big group. I try not to bring it up too much. On occasion, a few times they have.”

Alain Vigneault knew about Niskanen from coaching against him in the Metropolitan Division. The Flyers' head coach also heard from Scott Arniel — one of the Capitals' assistant coaches who was on Vigneault's staff in New York — about Niskanen.

“He told me that I was going to have a real solid leader, quiet leadership, but great role model and that’s exactly what we have," Vigneault said.

“Just by the way he conducts himself. If you watch him in practice, he’s always doing things the right way and he pays a lot of attention to details. When he talks to, whether it be a teammate or coaches, it’s soft-spoken but right to the point. We’ve got a great person there and we’ve got a defenseman that’s really helping us out.”

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