Flyers 3, Rangers 2 (SO): Michal Neuvirth superb in return

Flyers 3, Rangers 2 (SO): Michal Neuvirth superb in return


NEW YORK — A day before Christmas Eve, the Flyers enjoyed a trip to New York to unwrap their three-day break in style.

And it wasn't without a little chaos, just like the holiday season.

The Flyers took down the Rangers in a shootout, 3-2, Sunday night at Madison Square Garden.

Nolan Patrick netted the only shootout tally while Michal Neuvirth denied all four shots he faced in the skills competition.

The Flyers (15-16-4) are now 3-1-0 under interim head coach Scott Gordon and have won their last five games against the Rangers, outscoring New York 23-9.

Since Nov. 23, the rebuilding Rangers (15-14-6) are 3-6-4 with 10 points in their last 13 games.

• Hey, the Flyers' power play now has goals in back-to-back games thanks to Wayne Simmonds, who handed the Flyers a 2-1 edge early in the third period.

The man advantage hadn't scored goals in consecutive contests since Games 3 and 4 of the season back on Oct. 9-10.

That is hard to believe given the power play looked like one of the clear strengths of the team ahead of the season. However, the unit was ranked 30th in the NHL before the 35th game of the year.

• That lead lasted 22 seconds as Lias Andersson shoved Travis Sanheim off the puck and quickly zipped a pass to Boo Nieves as Neuvirth had no chance for the save.

Sanheim held onto that puck a tad too long in his own end and it cost the Flyers.

• Midway through the first period, Ivan Provorov allowed the puck and Kevin Hayes to get by him along the boards, resulting in an odd-man rush and a point-blank goal for Chris Kreider to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead.

Much has been made of Provorov looking nothing like his usual steady self.

Just remember, though, he was pinned as the No. 1 defenseman at 21 years old, maybe even before then. He doesn't have any super accomplished veteran to look toward; it's all him.

Let's be patient with Provorov. The mistakes seem to be piling on top of one another at times, but he should be allowed some growing pains, too.

And, no, if anyone is thinking he should watch a game from the press box, that's crazy. He's a kid that learns a lot from playing through his mistakes.

• Because of injuries this season, Neuvirth had played just 1½ games entering Sunday's start and allowed nine goals on 32 shots faced in the limited action.

Against the Rangers, Neuvirth played exceptionally well and made 32 saves on 34 shots. From a pure personal perspective, this had to feel good for Neuvirth, who has made just 45 total starts since the 2016-17 season.

Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, on the other hand, has never made fewer than 46 starts in a non-shortened season. The 36-year-old came into Sunday with a 35-17-4 record, 2.51 goals-against average and .917 save percentage lifetime against the Flyers.

He stopped 29 shots against the Flyers but couldn't deny Patrick in the shootout.

• Michael Raffl made a solid play to score the 1-1 equalizer 1:46 into the middle stanza. The fourth-liner played the puck to himself to create a 2-on-1 and beat Lundqvist glove side. It was Raffl's first goal since the regular-season finale last year against … the Rangers.

The 30-year-old is such an undervalued player. He's a smart, puck-possession, penalty-kill guy — traits that are so important in your bottom six.

Raffl can become an unrestricted free agent in the summer and might not be a high priority to bring back for the Flyers, making him a possible trade chip ahead of the Feb. 25 deadline for general manager Chuck Fletcher.

• The Flyers will have no practice Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday as part of the NHL-mandated three-day Christmas break.

With no team activities permitted during the hiatus, the Flyers will fly to Tampa Bay, Florida, Thursday morning and play the Lightning at 7:30 p.m. on NBCSN.

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One long day should give Flyers prospect Bobby Brink plenty of motivation

Zack Hill/ Philadelphia Flyers

One long day should give Flyers prospect Bobby Brink plenty of motivation

Bobby Brink will remember waiting.

With the NHL draft, most players will say it doesn't matter where you go or when you're taken, it's just special to hear your name called — a dream realized.

Brink, a 5-foot-8, 165-pound winger from Minnetonka, Minnesota, masterfully delivered in his draft year. He carved up the USHL for 68 points (35 goals, 33 assists) in 43 regular-season games with the Sioux City Musketeers, turning himself into what many viewed as a first-round prospect.

He didn't learn his draft destiny until Saturday, Day 2 of the event, at pick No. 34 overall.

"I landed in a great spot with the Flyers," Brink said last month at development camp, "and I couldn't be happier to be here."

Thrilled, absolutely. But …

"It's motivation that teams passed up on you," Brink said. "It was a long day Friday."

He won't forget.

The Flyers traded up to snag Brink. They were excited he was still available on Day 2, three selections into the second round (see story). Brink said he had met with the Flyers throughout the year and at the NHL Scouting Combine.

"I knew the history of the Flyers," Brink said. "It's such an historic organization.

"They didn't tell me they were going to draft me or anything, but I thought I was on their radar."

For good reason.

Brink isn't regarded as the biggest, fastest or strongest, but there's a deceptive quickness to his skating, he thrives on outsmarting the opposition and he's exceptionally skilled. 

I rely on the scouts to put the list together and Bobby was a player that our entire staff highly endorsed, scouted and very much liked as a hockey player. I've known Bobby and his family for many years. His dad Andy coached my son and also taught him in school. So there's a long relationship there. 

In terms of the background, I felt comfortable giving my opinion to the staff about what a quality kid from a quality family. Watched him play at every level, and it's remarkable — he was a star player in squirt and peewee, and he's a star player in the USHL. It's been amazing to watch his rise. He's a high-quality prospect.

- Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher

During the 5-on-5 scrimmage to finish off development camp, Brink stood out playing alongside top prospects Morgan Frost and Isaac Ratcliffe.

"He's a small guy, but he works hard," the 6-foot-6 Ratcliffe said. "He seemed to control the puck and it was on a string for him out there.

"He's a really good player."

Brink, who is headed to the University of Denver, said growing up he has admired smaller players in the NHL like Johnny Gaudreau and Patrick Kane.

"Seeing them do that, I realize that I can do it, too," Brink said. "They're providing me opportunity, for the smaller guys, by having so much success."

Gaudreau, the 25-year-old five-time All-Star, is a 5-foot-9, 165-pound winger who was drafted out of the USHL in 2011. He heard his name called in the fourth round.

Sometimes waiting can be a good thing.

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Noah Cates is a prospect the Flyers 'can't stop bragging about'

Zack Hill/Philadelphia Flyers

Noah Cates is a prospect the Flyers 'can't stop bragging about'

The Flyers selected Noah Cates during the fifth round of the 2017 NHL draft, plucking him out of Stillwater Area High School in Minnesota with the 137th overall pick.

At the time, Brent Flahr, Chuck Fletcher and the Minnesota Wild were sitting at No. 147.

"A kid like Cates was right in our backyard," Flahr said. "One thing in Minnesota when you are there, you hate when Minnesota players, especially the good ones, go ahead of you."

Flahr can now thank Flyers amateur scout Nick Pryor. As the assistant general manager of the Flyers, Flahr no longer has to kick himself for missing out on Cates.

"Nick Pryor did a good job," Flahr said last month at development camp. "He was right near his house. They got him. He looks like a real good prospect for us."

(Zack Hill/Philadelphia Flyers)

As a fifth-round pick out of high school, Cates was once well below the surface in the Flyers' prospect pool. With time and hard work, he's beginning to blossom — and the Flyers see it. 

"We talk about him every day and we can't stop bragging about him," Flyers player development coach Kjell Samuelsson said. "He's quietly gotten better and better every year, and everything we ask him to do, he's doing it."

In 2017-18, Cates scored nearly a point per game (21 goals, 34 assists) over 60 contests with the USHL's Omaha Lancers. He then followed it up by playing an important role for 2019 national champion University of Minnesota Duluth, recording 23 points (nine goals, 14 assists) and a plus-12 mark through 40 games as a freshman.

What made the national title even sweeter was winning it alongside his brother Jackson Cates, for a school just shy of a 2½-hour drive from his parents Jeff and Jenny Cates.

"Awesome," Cates said. "I think they were at every game this year. It was so much easier for them that we were in the same spot, a couple hours from home. They're obviously so proud of us."

Couple his freshman year with a goal and two assists for the U.S. in the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship, and it was a productive 2018-19 for Cates.

"Just grew so much, developed so much with the college game — living on my own, going to school and everything like that," Cates said. "Just an awesome year all around and capping it off with that national championship was so special with my family."

Cates is far from the skinny, offense-first player he was in high school. He's gone from 6-foot-1, 165 pounds to 6-foot-2, 180 pounds. He's a smart, all-situation thinker — in large part because of his development with the Bulldogs and trust from head coach Scott Sandelin.

"My role kind of grew as the year went on, got more comfortable," Cates said. "A little bit of power play, some penalty kill, last-minute stuff — that's important to play in all those key situations, so important moving on to have that experience. To do it for a team like that, it was really special. I can't say enough good things about that program and the whole year in general. Coach Sandelin gave me a lot of opportunity and I'm so grateful for that opportunity and took advantage of it."

The Flyers noticed.

"He scored goals, he's on the ice when you're protecting leads, he's killing penalties," Samuelsson said. "He's a very rounded hockey player."

Cates said it's too early to tell how long he'll stay in school.

"When you're on a team like that and with a program like that, you don't want to leave too early and maybe hurt your career," Cates said, "especially with the opportunity that's in Duluth."

After all, there's no real rush. Flahr, Fletcher and the Flyers know him well.

"So happy to be in Philadelphia," Cates said.

"I just need to play the way I can play, especially these next couple years with my development. They're on board with that, they're happy with where I'm at, but I've got to keep making strides."

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