Flyers

The shadow of last season starting to loom for Flyers

The shadow of last season starting to loom for Flyers

VOORHEES, N.J. — You don’t have to remind the Flyers that they’ve gone three straight games without a win — two of those losses at home to opponents (Panthers, Devils) who were last in their division at the time.

And the Flyers (9-9-2) certainly don’t need to be reminded this is the same exact point in the season a year ago when they went through a pummeling stretch of winless hockey with a 0-5-5 record from Nov. 11 to Dec. 2. 

The first 20 games of the season are a near carbon copy of what transpired a year ago when the team also had a .500 record at 8-8-4. The question moving forward is can the Flyers learn from last year’s mistakes and breakdowns that led to a 10-game winless stretch?

“We were in a big hole last year. We’re not in a big hole this year,” Jakub Voracek said Tuesday. “It could give us a little more confidence that we don’t have to chase as much as we did last year, but we have to find more consistency in our game.“

After taking the previous two days off — Sunday was the Flyers Wives Carnival and Monday was a designated day off — the Flyers returned to practice showing a little rust.

Dave Hakstol felt confident in what he’s seen over the past three games to keep the same line combinations during Tuesday's practice, including leaving James van Riemsdyk on the third line with Jordan Weal and Wayne Simmonds. Before Saturday’s five-goal performance, sparked by a remarkable four-goal outburst in the third period, the Flyers had gone 110:38 without a goal.

“We’ve generated more in those last three games than we have in the previous five games on average,” Hakstol said. “The opportunities are coming. We weren’t able to finish. We talked about different ways that we could do a little better, simple things, get guys to the net. Obviously, the most important thing is to finish on enough of those to put us in a good spot.”

In order to avoid the snowball from building and a potential fourth straight loss, the Flyers will have to derail a red-hot Buffalo Sabres team Wednesday that has won six straight games, all by one goal, during its longest winning streak in nine years. 

“They have a couple of new additions to their team and they’re working really well right now. It’s a dangerous group. It’s going to be tough for us,” Voracek said. “So far every game has been tough. It’s a 50/50 chance every single night. It’s been pretty even so far this year, but it’s going to start breaking down after about 45 games.

“You’re going to see a bigger picture of what’s going to happen down the road. It’s too early to judge right now.”

Lyon could see pair of starts

With three games compacted into four days over the Thanksgiving holiday, Alex Lyon is expected to receive one and possibly two starts this week. Lyon was the first goaltender off the ice during Tuesday’s practice as a sign that he could be called upon Wednesday night in Buffalo.

Lyon said there’s an NHL mindset he needs to work his way into whenever he receives the call up from Lehigh Valley.

“In the American League, you have from Sunday until Thursday typically to sit at your home and relax,” Lyon said. “Call a spade a spade, the stress level is a little bit less in the American League.” 

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Flyers roster cuts: Notable hopefuls remain in busy competition

Flyers roster cuts: Notable hopefuls remain in busy competition

VOORHEES, N.J. — The Flyers made a hefty round of cuts a little earlier than anticipated.

They changed their preseason plan Friday morning as head coach Alain Vigneault and the front office decided this was the best course of action in preparation for the Oct. 4 season opener (see story).

The Flyers trimmed the roster by 18 players.

Tyler Wotherspoon, Nate Prosser, T.J. Brennan, Kyle Criscuolo and Reece Willcox will be placed on waivers Saturday. If they clear, they'll report to AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley.

Felix Sandstrom, Cal O'Reilly, Greg Carey, Maksim Sushko, Kirill Ustimenko, Gerry Fitzgerald, David Drake, David Kase, Pascal Laberge, Isaac Ratcliffe, Matthew Strome, Rob Michel and Josh Couturier were assigned to Lehigh Valley.

None of the cuts are surprising. Sushko performed well in camp and is entering his first season with the Phantoms. Ratcliffe had an outside shot at winning a roster spot with the Flyers but it became clear throughout camp and the preseason that the 6-foot-6 winger needed development in the AHL. Felix Sandstrom is a promising goalie prospect. David Kase and Pascal Laberge will be forwards to watch, as well.

O'Reilly, 32, was a point-per-game player last season in the AHL and will be one of Lehigh Valley's best players, along with Greg Carey.

The competition for the Flyers' bottom six and defensive pairings heats up Saturday with the team's fourth preseason game out of seven. Nobody has knocked the door down (see story).

The Flyers' roster is at 36 players.

Forwards

Andy Andreoff
Nicolas Aube-Kubel
Connor Bunnaman
Sean Couturier
Joel Farabee
Morgan Frost
Kurtis Gabriel (injured)
Claude Giroux
Kevin Hayes
Travis Konecny
Scott Laughton
Oskar Lindblom
Nolan Patrick (injured)
Tyler Pitlick (injured)
Michael Raffl
German Rubtsov
Chris Stewart
Carsen Twarynski
James van Riemsdyk
Jakub Voracek
Mikhail Vorobyev

Defense

Chris Bigras
Justin Braun
Mark Friedman
Shayne Gostisbehere
Robert Hagg
Samuel Morin
Philippe Myers
Matt Niskanen
Ivan Provorov
Travis Sanheim
Andy Welinski (injured)

Goalies

Jean-Francois Berube
Brian Elliott
Carter Hart
Alex Lyon

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Change in plan shows Alain Vigneault isn't messing around with Flyers

Change in plan shows Alain Vigneault isn't messing around with Flyers

VOORHEES, N.J. — Alain Vigneault knows how to massage a message. He coached in Montreal, Vancouver and New York; this is not his first rodeo.

When he spoke Friday about suddenly changing the Flyers' preseason plan to ramp up the preparation and concepts for the veteran players, he chose his words wisely.

But make no mistake: Vigneault can't be thrilled with the progress.

"It has nothing to do with the outcomes, it has everything to do with the process," the Flyers' head coach said. "For me, the process needs to accelerate at this time — and that's what I intend to do."

The Flyers were ready to play a mixed group of NHLers — about nine players that would likely make the team — and prospects to compete in Saturday's exhibition game against the Rangers at the Wells Fargo Center. Instead, following a lackluster 3-1 preseason loss to the Bruins' B-squad Thursday, Vigneault met with general manager Chuck Fletcher and assistant general manager Brent Flahr Friday morning about adjusting the approach. With four exhibition games remaining, the Flyers will expedite cuts to focus on whittling down the roster and increasing the reps for the main players ahead of the season opener.

"Between the 25 and the 30 players that I feel right now have the best chance of maybe making this team," Vigneault said. "Instead of waiting until Monday, Tuesday's practice, we're going to be at that number [Saturday]."

Is it a startling change? If anything, it's proactive. The Flyers have missed the playoffs in four of the last seven seasons and haven't won a series since 2012. They've notoriously started slow in recent history. Last season, the team was in last place of the Metropolitan Division at Thanksgiving for the second straight year.

It cost people jobs and, ultimately, it's why Vigneault is in place.

After looking at the last couple of days, I feel that this is a different situation than I've been used to in the past. I've been used to coming to camp in the past and my teams have been in the playoffs. Usually I give the veteran players three of the six or seven games that we play. I feel at this time, our veteran players need more games that I originally planned. I'm going from the three that I planned to four and some might even get five out of the seven. 

I'm going on the amount of teaching that we're doing, there's a lot there, there's a lot to be assimilated by the players. I'm going by what I'm seeing about the players' performance, how they're executing, and I just feel at this time we need to make a change and that's what we're doing.

- Vigneault

In 16 NHL seasons as a head coach, Vigneault has 11 playoff berths. Eight of those teams advanced past the first round, three won the Presidents' Trophy and two went to the Stanley Cup Final. He has impressive results in Year 1 on the job (see story).

"When you're in the playoffs and you go for a round, two rounds, three rounds, four rounds, that's intense hockey, that's a longer season," Vigneault said. "This group has been off for a while and, in my mind, it just needs a little bit more preparation. There's nothing better than game situation, where games are on the line.

"With a new staff coming in and everything that we need to touch on, I need to get these guys into more games. So what we've decided to do is just accelerate the process."

Does Vigneault's track record allow him to make this change and have it stick with the players?

"They don't have a choice," Vigneault said. "That's just the way it is."

Oct. 4 is nearing and a new system from a new staff is expected to spearhead a jump back into contention for the Flyers.

"Once you get down to one group, the internal competition gets a little bit better also," Vigneault said. "That's what we need to do here, we need to get down to one group to have everybody in the same room, at the same time, and make sure that they're grasping the concepts that we're trying to apply. 

"I'm very confident that this will be better for the group."

How the Flyers start the season will provide the true answer.

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