Flyers

Doors open for Flyers' prospects as they close on Nick Schultz, Michael Del Zotto

Doors open for Flyers' prospects as they close on Nick Schultz, Michael Del Zotto

VOORHEES, N.J. -- Ron Hextall last month said the Flyers want to "get better every year, get younger every year."

They did not get better this season.

They did, however, take a step toward getting younger for next season when Nick Schultz and Michael Del Zotto left their exit interviews at Flyers Skate Zone.

To no surprise, the two blueliners strapped with expiring contracts were told on Tuesday they would not be re-signed this offseason.

Schultz turns 35 years old in August, while Del Zotto will be 27 in June. Both saw the writing on the wall with the Flyers' stable of defensive prospects not far from the NHL doorstep.

As the Flyers watch the playoffs for the third time in the last five seasons, Hextall will look to get younger, as promised.

"He thanked me for my time; I thanked him for the opportunity," Del Zotto said. "We both talked about which way the organization's going. I think it's no secret with what's happening here and we ended on that note."

Schultz, a veteran of 15 seasons (three with the Flyers) and contemplating retirement, had the same message.

"Obviously, I kind of know where I'm at -- contract's done and I know the young guys here in the system," Schultz said. "They are going to turn to those guys. Just kind of move on and move forward."

Del Zotto spent three seasons with the Flyers but was limited to 52 games in 2015-16 and 51 in 2016-17 because of injuries, which resulted in a shrunken role.

"It's unfortunate, a little emotional," he said. "I've been here for three years, have made some great friendships. Obviously, there was a little up and down and very frustrating at times. You understand the business and you learn that at a very young age. You see where this team's at -- a lot of young guys coming up on the back end."

This leaves two jobs for the taking on defense. Another could open, courtesy of the Vegas Golden Knights and the June expansion draft (i.e. Brandon Manning, Andrew MacDonald). The departures also loosen Hextall's pockets a bit. This season, Del Zotto carried a $3.875 million cap hit and Schultz $2.25 million.

So, who's in line for the vacancies?

We saw two auditions last week in the NHL debuts of 21-year-old Sam Morin and 22-year-old Robert Hagg. Both were drafted in 2013 and have developed at Hextall's preferred pace. Morin is 6-foot-7 and strong along the boards. Hagg possesses a sound two-way game with good size at 6-foot-2, 207 pounds. The pair owns a combined five seasons of experience at AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley.

"They're great players, they've got lots of talent down in the AHL," 20-year-old defenseman Ivan Provorov said. "They've got a great team. Hopefully they'll go deep in the playoffs. It'd be a good experience for them but it's definitely exciting -- we've got a great team here and lots of talent everywhere else, juniors and AHL."

Including Travis Sanheim and Philippe Myers. Last summer, Hextall acclaimed Sanheim for his physical growth since being drafted in 2014. The 21-year-old is an offense-oriented defenseman who has put up 35 points (10 goals, 25 assists) in his first season with the Phantoms. Myers is only 20 years old and still playing at the junior ranks, but impressed greatly through training camp and preseason, when he stuck around longer than anticipated.

T.J. Brennan and Reece Willcox should be in the mix, as well, come fall.

What's prevalent is the Flyers will have options and competition for spots to join the likes of Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere, both budding in their own right.

"We've got [several] free agents this year, so we'll probably have a little bit of turnover," Wayne Simmonds said. "There's a lot of younger guys in Lehigh that are high on the radar and they're really good players. I'm expecting a lot of young kids to be coming up and things to change a little bit."

Schultz and Del Zotto were the start.

"When kids are younger now and growing up, they are training sooner and doing more at a young age," Schultz said. 

"Obviously there's a learning process playing in the NHL and playing a full 82-game season. It's a process, but it's something where those young guys are developing a lot quicker and are ready to play when they come in."

No Johnny Boychuk drama, but Jakub Voracek, Flyers honest about their reality

No Johnny Boychuk drama, but Jakub Voracek, Flyers honest about their reality

The Flyers aren't fooling themselves.

There's a sense of reality setting in with the Flyers that they're running out of lives and postgame lines. They've lost four of their last six games after making a furious run from Jan. 14 to March 11, going 18-4-2 with a plus-22 goal differential.

To sustain such a pace over the final 13 games of the regular season would have been awfully difficult and the Flyers are noticing it, with another nail being hammered into the coffin Saturday afternoon courtesy of a 4-2 loss to the Islanders (see observations).

Inconsistency has reared its ugly over this 2-4-0 stretch, which has the Flyers seven points out of the Eastern Conference's second wild-card spot with seven games to go (see standings). In particular Saturday, the inconsistency bit the Flyers during the second period. They were outshot 15-5 and the Islanders pinned the Flyers in the defensive zone while taking a 2-1 lead.

Too often have the Flyers been burned by a poor period of play. Saturday was no different despite the Flyers tying the game early in the final stanza.

"Especially today, we were god-awful, oh my God in the second," Jakub Voracek said of the middle period. "I don't think we had a shot in the first 10 minutes. When they get zone time, they do a great job cycling us and keep the puck away from their net. I don't think we were moving well enough in the second period to give ourselves a chance to create something."

The Flyers have tried wiping the slate and turning the page after each difficult loss, but players are human and realistic, as well. Saturday marked the Flyers' third straight loss at the Wells Fargo Center, which this team simply could not afford.

"It sucks, that's the feeling right now, they played better than we did the whole game," Robert Hagg said. "We didn't deserve to win today, so, right now, yes, I have a terrible feeling."

The Islanders stayed away from the drama and decided to instead get the best of the Flyers on the scoreboard. Johnny Boychuk and New York didn't seek retaliation for Voracek's interference two weeks ago, a play that didn't really warrant retaliation anyway.

But when Boychuk angrily called out Voracek after the collision during the third period of the March 9 game, an attempt at payback was possible Saturday.

"There was no talking about the Voracek thing," Islanders head coach Barry Trotz said. "Those two will figure it out down the road, but Johnny is one of those ultimate team guys. He knows how important what we're trying to do is, he knows how important this game was. There was no 'me' in his thought process, it was all about 'we.'"

Boychuk was back in the lineup for the first time since the incident with Voracek. He had been mostly a healthy scratch, so it seemed like a not-so-coincidental return.

"I expected something was going to happen," Voracek. "It didn't. I'm not going to say I was unhappy about that. He played a great game.

"We just blew it."

No sugarcoating it, not with where the Flyers are now.

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Islanders 4, Flyers 2: Emotional loss the latest of crushing defeats

Islanders 4, Flyers 2: Emotional loss the latest of crushing defeats

BOX SCORE

This one had some extra sting for the Flyers.

Playing in total must-win mode over the final eight games of the season, the Flyers shifted all the momentum during the third period Saturday afternoon to only lose it late for another frustrating loss, this one a 4-2 decision to the Islanders.

Ten minutes after the Flyers (36-31-8) scored a 2-2 equalizer and even had a chance to go ahead on another power play, the Islanders stemmed the tide with two goals from Josh Bailey in the final four minutes.

The Flyers, barely holding on to postseason hope, entered Saturday five points behind the Canadiens for the Eastern Conference's second wild-card spot. The Blue Jackets, who are one point back of Montreal, do not play Saturday, while the Canadiens host the Sabres at 7 p.m. If Montreal wins, the Flyers will be seven points out with seven games to go — close to impossible.

Coming into Saturday, Hockey-Reference.com gave the Flyers a 3.0 percent chance to make the playoffs, while SportsClubStats.com had them at 1.6.

The Islanders (43-25-7), who had lost two straight by a combined score of 9-0, picked up a timely win as they continue to chase first place in the Metropolitan Division.

• The NBC Sports Philadelphia broadcast showed Sean Couturier taking a hefty hack at something in the tunnel late in the second period after he left the ice. He had all the right to be furious as he was boarded by Matt Martin but no whistle.

Martin crosschecked Couturier right through his jersey numbers.

Couturier did not come out for the start of the third period, but when he did return, he quickly drew a penalty and the Flyers scored four seconds into the power play off a Shayne Gostisbehere missile from the point, tying the game at 2-2.

At the time, the Flyers seized all momentum, especially after killing a 5-on-3 moments prior to the goal, as Ryan Hartman was hit with a questionable interference call and then Jakub Voracek was handed an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

• Carter Hart was given little help from the Flyers during the first and second periods.

The goal he allowed in the first was pretty unlucky as the puck ricocheted off of Radko Gudas' skate and was batted in out of midair by Brock Nelson.

The second goal came in the second period when it felt like the Flyers were on the penalty kill with how long the Islanders sustained time in the offensive zone and fired away shot after shot. Eventually, Nick Leddy found the middle of the ice and blasted a one-timer past the 20-year-old goalie.

Hart entered 2-1-0 with a 1.32 goals-against average and .966 save percentage over his last three starts. In the two victories, he was forced to convert 40 or more saves.

He was busy again Saturday with 36 stops. He's been having to do a lot. However, Bailey's game-winner was a stoppable shot and Hart couldn't deliver late.

New York thoroughly dominated the Flyers in the middle stanza, which has been a season-long issue for the Flyers — period-by-period inconsistency. Looking like gangbusters one period and looking overmatched another period has happened far too often.

• The officials riled up the Wells Fargo Center early in the game, too, by giving Robert Hagg a double minor for high-sticking Anders Lee. The problem with the call: Hagg didn't do a thing as Lee was actually struck by his own teammate Nelson.

It oddly worked in the favor of the Flyers, who fed off the crowd and were then rewarded by the hockey gods. Who else but Hagg put the Flyers on the board 6:39 into the first period with one of the wackiest goals you'll see this season.

• There was no extracurricular activity between Voracek and Johnny Boychuk after blood boiled between the two teams in the Flyers' 5-2 win on March 9.

That, of course, was when Voracek was whistled for interference on Boychuk, who pointed at the Flyers' winger like a madman as he left the ice with an injury. During the rest of the third period, the Islanders went after Voracek, who received a highly debatable two-game suspension from the NHL Department of Player Safety.

This was an important game for both teams. Thankfully, they focused on hockey, not WrestleMania.

• The Flyers are right back at it Sunday as they visit the Capitals (12:30 p.m./NBC). They are 0-3-0 against the defending champions this season, allowing five goals in each of the three defeats.

Washington comes in having lost four of its last six games.

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