Sorting out the Flyers' forward logjam

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Sorting out the Flyers' forward logjam

NEW YORK — Madison Square Garden brands itself as the world’s most famous arena.

For a handful of Flyers, the corner of 33rd and 8th Avenue in Manhattan will be one last audition on arguably the league’s biggest stage with the coaching staff and management prepared to make their biggest round of cuts Thursday.

It has been the most competitive camp at the forward position since Dave Hakstol took over as head coach in 2015. My projected group had 16 forwards to choose from, but the head coach believes it’s even deeper.

“My list is a little bit longer than that,” Hakstol said Wednesday. “The job of putting that list together has been made tough with some good performances through camp. Some are veterans battling for those jobs have played well and there’s young guys that are pushing that deserve another look.”

Here’s how it shakes out at the midway point of camp. 

No-brainers (10)
Claude Giroux
Sean Couturier
Jake Voracek
Nolan Patrick
James van Riemsdyk
Wayne Simmonds
Travis Konecny
Jordan Weal
Scott Laughton
Michael Raffl

Raffl hasn’t exactly wowed, but he’s been steady having played just one preseason game. I don’t believe Raffl is in jeopardy of being sent down either as another team would claim him in all likelihood. In the final year of a contract, I also wouldn’t be shocked if the Flyers trade Raffl for a future draft pick as I don’t see a contract extension coming. 

Looking real good (1)
Oskar Lindblom

Lindblom has had a very strong camp starting with the prospects game, and if he hasn’t solidified his job he can do so with a strong effort against the Rangers Wednesday night. However, I’m not quite ready to say Lindblom is a shoe-in with other veterans still pushing hard for a roster spot.  

Making a strong case (3)
Mikhail Vorobyev
Nicolas Aube-Kubel
Taylor Leier

Right now, I actually prefer Vorobyev as my third-line center over Weal, who would be my fourth-line center or call it 3-A and 3-B. Vorobyev has a higher offensive ceiling and has shown a commitment to playing responsibly in the defensive end of the ice. Aube-Kubel brings a fourth-line energy and a physical presence coupled with a blistering shot where he could contribute some much-needed offense in a bottom-six role. Leier had a very strong effort in the 5-1 win against the Islanders on Tuesday. 

Veterans on the bubble (2)
Dale Weise
Jori Lehtera

I think we know what both players are at this stage of their careers. If one of these two were to make the team, I’d lean toward Lehtera since he has a knack of knowing where to be on the ice and can kill penalties, it’s just a matter of getting there. I can’t imagine there’s a trade market for either guy, but it’s not unimaginable that both players are placed on waivers for the purpose of being sent down to Lehigh Valley to start the season since the Flyers have plenty of salary cap flexibility. 

Impressive, but Lehigh bound (3)
Carsen Twarynski
German Rubtsov
Danick Martel

Twarynski and Rubtsov have really impressed during this training camp and shown how much difference a year makes from age 19 to 20, which provides promise that we’ll see that improvement with Morgan Frost and Isaac Ratcliffe this time next year. Twarynski and Rubtsov need to show they can carry their strong preseason into their first year at the AHL level, where hopefully the upward trend continues.   

Simply haven't shown enough (3)
Cole Bardreau
Mike Vecchione
Tyrell Goulbourne

I expected a stronger push from Bardreau and Vecchione, who played 10 minutes in his only preseason game Monday at the Wells Fargo Center. Bardreau had an outside shot of making the big club but a poor effort in the preseason opener set the tone.

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'Going through the motions' when Flyers can't afford it

'Going through the motions' when Flyers can't afford it

Carter Hart is a positive, happy-go-lucky kind of kid. His youthful exuberance is why so many people like him. The 20-year-old will block out negativity like a brick wall.

Props to the youngster for not expressing even an inkling of lost hope after the Flyers stomached arguably their most disheartening defeat of 2018-19.

On home ice Tuesday night, the Flyers lost to the Canadiens, 3-1, a team they're trying to leapfrog in their pursuit of the Eastern Conference's second wild-card spot (see observations). With 10 games remaining, the Flyers trailed Montreal by three points and the final playoff berth by six. They needed this game and didn't get it, leaving a climb that feels insurmountable (see standings).

"Have they said that we're automatically out, have they said that?" Hart asked rather rhetorically following the game. "Then exactly, we still have nine games here and mathematically, we're not out of it, so there's still a chance. That's what the mindset has to be in this locker room."

Claude Giroux is not 20 years old. He is 31 and has seen more playoff pushes than anybody on the Flyers' roster. As much as he could try to spin the situation differently, he's too accustomed to desperation time.

"We can't afford losing a game the rest of the season," Giroux said. "We're aware of that."

The Flyers probably can't afford a bad period at this point.

On Fan Appreciation Night at the Wells Fargo Center, the Flyers didn't set the tone, playing a so-so opening stanza. They fell behind, 1-0, and had trouble generating chances with eight shots on net, not many of great quality, according to IcyData.

"I feel we didn't have a lot of urgency, we were going through the motions," Giroux said of the first period. "We didn't play bad, but we didn't play good."

Was that surprising given the implications of the game?

"Yeah," Giroux said.

It's understandable to have a not-bad, not-good period, but not when the Flyers have provided themselves so little room for error. For the Flyers — who made such a frenzied charge from Jan. 14 to March 11, going 18-4-2 with a plus-22 goal differential — their biggest hurdle isn't getting help from others, but instead having to be perfect down the stretch. They're now 1-3-0 in their last four games.

The Canadiens, who were 2-5-0 and outscored 24-12 in their previous seven games, held a 2-0 lead at second intermission Tuesday. Their goalie Carey Price came in with a 19-2-2 record and 2.13 goals-against average when leading after the second period.

Another hole in a season comprised of too many.

"I think our guys were ready to play," Flyers interim head coach Scott Gordon said.

"Obviously we would've liked to get a few more screens, but I also think [the Canadiens] worked pretty hard at preventing us from getting near … whether we need a little more fight or not, I wouldn't be able to tell you until I saw the tape. 

"I know that I did look at the chances after the first and second period — we're in the area but we can't get to where we want to go."

The same can be said for the Flyers in the standings.

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Wayne Simmonds scores his first goal with Predators

Wayne Simmonds scores his first goal with Predators

Wayne Simmonds had gone goalless in his first eight games with the Predators.

Add on his final 16 games with the Flyers and Simmonds entered Tuesday night with just one goal over his last 24 games.

However, anyone would tell you the Predators acquired Simmonds from the Flyers at the Feb. 25 trade deadline for much more than goals. His impact goes beyond numbers. It's hard to find a better locker-room guy — and that's more than just a cliché; those type of players are valued, especially for contending teams eyeing advantages at the margins.

Jakub Voracek called Simmonds his best friend. Claude Giroux called him the "ultimate warrior" and "best teammate." The Flyers' captain was even at a loss for words when talking about Simmonds following the Feb. 23 Stadium Series win, their final game together.

That night, from the Eagles' locker room in Lincoln Financial Field, Simmonds took the time to shake the hands of media members, who wanted to wish him well.

Classy and respected by everyone.

But Simmonds can still put the puck in the net, too. He did so for the first time with his new team when he lit the lamp in Nashville's 3-0 victory Tuesday night over the Maple Leafs.

To see the joy on his face, it had to be a relief. 

The Predators have won three straight and are trying to catch the Jets for first place in the Central Division.

Soon, Simmonds will be playing postseason hockey.

Don't be surprised to see him right in the middle of things.

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