ALLENTOWN, Pa. — It’s a short bus ride to Allentown, but on Wednesday night, the Flyers preferred to ride a Leier jet.
Taylor Leier, 23, made a strong case to make the opening night roster by scoring a pair of power-play goals in a 3-2 preseason overtime win against the Islanders, to go along with his typical tenacious, aggressive play (see observations).
“These games mean a lot for a lot of guys. It felt good to be back in Allentown,” Leier said of the split-squad game at the PPL Center. “It’s a lot of familiar territory and familiar faces around the rink. I felt good coming into the game. You’re not going to feel good every night, but when you get those games when you feel good, and you know you feel good, you try to run with it.”
Leier brought elements of skill and touch with his two goals and a two-line lob pass over the defense that led to a quality scoring chance, to go along with a relentless, physical forecheck that has been a staple of his success.
“That’s what you love about Taylor. You know what you’re going to get from him,” coach Dave Hakstol said. “He’s the guy who knows and understands the detail of the game. He’s a pretty consistent performer in the role that you give him.”
Leier’s comfort level in Lehigh Valley is a result of starting his season with the Phantoms over the past three years, where he has put up respectable AHL numbers, scoring 33 goals in his first two seasons. Leier would have likely increased that total much more last year in his third season if it weren't for a painful neck injury that limited him to 48 AHL games, and a brief 10-game stint with the Flyers.
“Growing up, I was always a scorer,” said Leier, who registered 64 goals in his last two seasons with the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL. “It was an eye opener for me coming from junior to pro, that everyone was a superstar in junior. Everyone that’s here is good. You get put in certain situations, and when you get a break and you get to play in a more skilled position, you try to show what you can do. I’ve always been confident in my offensive abilities, but sometimes it’s a matter of when you get those opportunities.”
Leier would seem to be an ideal candidate in a fourth-line role with the energy he brings and the potential to chip in with some occasional offense. Phantoms captain Colin McDonald feels as if it’s just a matter of time.
“The easy thing to say is it’s a numbers game,” McDonald said referring to why Leier has spent little time in the NHL. “It takes time and I’ve been telling him that. I didn’t get all of my NHL games until I was 28. Sometimes you lose sight of that because you’re drafted at 18, and it’s a young league. So you get frustrated after a couple of years and you haven’t gotten your chance, but you've just got to stick with it. He’s going to be in the NHL, there’s no doubt.”
A hack job
Familiarize yourself with NHL rule 71.1 that states, “Any forceful or powerful chop with the stick on an opponent’s body, the opponent’s stick, or on or near the opponent’s hands that, in the judgement of the referee, is not an attempt to play the puck, shall be slashing.”
In 10 preseason games on Monday, there were 49 slashing penalties called. As the Flyers discovered Wednesday, it apparently doesn’t have to be forceful or even powerful to be considered a penalty. The Flyers were whistled for two slashing minors within the first two minutes of the game, which led to an easy Islanders tap-in 5-on-3 goal.
“You want to get pace of the game, and I was talking with some guys after the second (period), and I think we had played just five minutes of even strength,” defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere said. “It’s hard to get into the games. It’s just going to put more emphasis on special teams. When they blow the whistle and everyone’s like, ‘What just happened?' That’s not a penalty.”
Slashing the roster
General manager Ron Hextall said there are "lots" of decisions that still have to be made before the season starts. He’ll make his biggest round of roster cuts Thursday morning following these split-squad games against the Islanders.
“These [games] are huge,” Hextall said. “I remember doing these myself, we all do. Whenever there’s something at stake playing for a team, you hope guys rise up, and that’s certainly what we’re looking for.”
Prior to Wednesday’s game, Hextall said he liked what he had seen so far from No. 2 overall pick Nolan Patrick, but was looking for a little bit more.
“He’s shown the type of player he is,” Hextall said. “He’s a smart player. He’s got good poise. He typically makes the right plays, typically is in the right position, so he’s done a lot of the things we expected, but he’s got to do some things here."
Following his first preseason point — the assist on Gostisbehere’s overtime winner (see video) — Patrick concurred with the GM’s assessment.
“I think there’s a lot more I’m capable of," he said. "I think I’m just getting back into it here. I think I’ve played three games after not playing for a while, so I’m just getting back into it. If I play Thursday, I’m going to try and take another step.”