Kevin Hayes

Chris Stewart, Kevin Hayes building bonds with Nolan Patrick through support

Chris Stewart, Kevin Hayes building bonds with Nolan Patrick through support

Chris Stewart is 32 years old and worked his butt off to return to the NHL after a yearlong hiatus in which he played 23 games for the EIHL’s Nottingham Panthers. 

He does not take wearing an NHL jersey for granted.

“It’s the National Hockey League, it’s a blessing to be here, it’s a privilege to be here,” Stewart said last week. “That year away definitely changed my perspective on life.”

In his 11th NHL season, he often finds himself in the shadows, when few are watching. During those unglamorous moments, Stewart has grown close to a 21-year-old who was picked second overall in the 2017 draft by the Flyers.

While a fierce competitor like Stewart would love to be playing, the byproduct of not suiting up every game is his support for Nolan Patrick through trying times. Patrick has battled a daily fight with a migraine disorder. As Stewart stays ready and vies for a spot in the Flyers’ lineup, Patrick joins him in pursuit of playing again.

Patrick has yet to play in 2019-20. He was diagnosed with the migraine disorder in September and last week called the recovery process “sh---y” and “pretty wavy.”

Stewart has played in nine of the Flyers’ first 30 games, serving mostly as a healthy scratch. Instead of wearing a scowl across his face, he is persistently positive — especially for Patrick.

“I’m not in the lineup right now and he’s hurt, so it’s oddly that we’re spending a lot of time together — working out together, skating together every morning,” Stewart said. “For me personally, I’m just trying to be positive for him. Toughest job in the league is being hurt and not playing. You get caught up trying to look at the big picture every night as opposed to just looking at the small picture — what do I’ve got to do today, what do I’ve got to do next. Then that building up over time, hopefully you start feeling better.”

Recently, Patrick has been skating more, getting in work with the Flyers’ healthy scratches, skills coach Angelo Ricci and the assistants.

I’m just trying to be a positive reinforcement in his life. You can tell, he wears a lot on his shoulders and he wants to play. He has his good days and his bad. Our worst day is someone’s best day. You look at the bigger aspects of life, it’s not that big of a deal. He’s coming along nicely. I noticed since he’s been back, he’s upbeat, his energy, you can see his glow starting to come back in his face, so it’s good.

- Stewart

(Charles LeClaire, USA Today Images/Zack Hill, Philadelphia Flyers)

When Stewart was scoring a career-high 64 points with the Avalanche in 2009-10, Patrick was only 11 years old.

The 2006 first-round pick of Colorado has played 661 games and scored 322 points (160 goals, 162 assists) between seven NHL teams.

Patrick is grateful to have a guy like that in his corner.

“I’ve spent a lot of time with him,” Patrick said last week. “He’s helped me stay positive, he always brings a good energy, so it’s nice to have him around.

“He’s helped me a lot through it. I can’t really thank my teammates enough.”

Stewart didn’t grind his way back to the NHL to be complacent with watching. He’s hungry to have an impact in games. However, he understands the concept of team.

It’s bigger than him.

“We’re all playing for the same goal, everybody wants to play,” Stewart said. “If you’re not playing, there’s part of a leadership role, accountability and things that you’ve got to buy into and take pride into. I’d give anything to be playing out there with my teammates but if I can’t, I’m going to do what I can to bring the energy in the room and be that guy for the boys.

“Internal competition is only healthy for the team. Everybody is good enough but you can only dress 12 guys. Whoever is in that night is going to give a hell of an effort and if you’re not, cheer them on.”

That mindset is part of why the Flyers were intrigued by the veteran winger this offseason, bringing Stewart into camp on a pro tryout and signing him Oct. 15.

“Stewie has been around the NHL a long time, he knows what it takes to play and stay at this level,” Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault said last week. “His reputation, and rightfully so, is a great team guy. … I’m happy that Nolan feels the same way. Stewie is a good influence in a dressing room.”

And a great influence for Patrick. 

We talk all the time, when we’re on the road, we keep in contact, like to check in on him every couple days about the stuff that he’s going through.

Let him know that I’m here, just be a shoulder to lean on, to talk to, an open door and that’s how we’ve been.

- Stewart

(Brace Hemmelgarn/USA Today Images)

Alongside Stewart, Kevin Hayes was also one of the fresh faces in the Flyers’ locker room entering the 2019-20 season.

After signing a seven-year, $50 million contract in June, Hayes has settled in with his new team and surroundings, also becoming one of the Flyers’ alternate captains.

He has built a bond with Patrick away from the ice as the two live together.

“He’s a great kid, a young guy,” Hayes said last week. “I bought a place here that’s pretty big to live by myself and invited him in. He’s been great. He’s a professional, he handles himself the right way. He’s been traveling a lot with seeing some doctors and stuff, but we pretty much see each other every day.

“We’re pretty tight. It’s not easy being a new guy here on the team and living with him makes it a lot easier. I feel super comfortable now with where I’m at, but earlier in the season, it was a little different. We spend a lot of time together, he’s a great kid. We’ve had different type of upbringings but we’ve definitely become pretty close this year.”

Patrick played 73 games his rookie year and 72 last season. He expects to play in 2019-20 but there’s no set date for his return as this type of recovery process can be difficult to predict, specifically timeframe-wise.

While Patrick and the Flyers attempt to find what works for the third-year center, Hayes sees the process in which his teammate goes through on a day-to-day basis.

I’ve been lucky enough to kind of not have a serious injury in this league and I hope I don’t ever have to go through something like that. I’m sure it’s never fun to be away from the guys. The best part about playing on a sports team is going to battle with your teammates — that’s how you build friendships around here. 

I’m sure he’s doing everything in his power to get back. I mean, I’m witnessing it firsthand. I think the biggest thing for him is getting correct with his head and then going from there.

- Hayes

Just like Stewart, Hayes wants to be there for Patrick — on and off the ice.

“We’ve all had to deal with stuff in our lives before,” Hayes said. “You can tell when someone is up or down. He handles it on his own way. I’m a pretty outgoing person, I can kind of figure out when he wants to talk and when he wants to just go hang out and chill in his room. I don’t really push anything too much on him, he’s a great kid and it’s been a blast living with him.”

(AP Images/Philadelphia Flyers/USA Today Images)

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Flyers cap special November, enter December with most points since Eric Lindros-led 1995-96 team

Flyers cap special November, enter December with most points since Eric Lindros-led 1995-96 team

BOX SCORE

Finally, a November to remember.

The Flyers capped off a big-time month by beating the Canadiens, 4-3, in overtime Saturday afternoon at Bell Centre (see highlights).

Alain Vigneault's team went 10-2-4 with an NHL-best 24 points in November. Those marks are a sight for sore eyes after the Flyers went a combined 23-29-14 over their previous five Novembers.

To finish the month in style, Ivan Provorov maneuvered the puck between his legs en route to scoring the game-winning goal just 31 seconds into overtime.

The Flyers (15-7-5) have won four straight games, a stretch in which they've allowed only 1.75 goals per game.

The Canadiens (11-9-6) have lost seven games in a row.

• Let's provide some context on how notable this start is for the Flyers.

They have their most points (35) entering December since the 1995-96 club, which had 36 at 16-6-4.

That season, Hall of Famer Eric Lindros was 22 years old and scored a career-high 115 points. Terry Murray was behind the bench.

In 2018-19, the Flyers had 10 total wins after October and November.

In 2017-18, they had eight total wins after October and November.

The 2019-20 Flyers won 10 games in November alone, matching the most the franchise has ever won during the month.

• Morgan Frost was moved off the first line during the third period in favor of Michael Raffl.

There's a good chance Vigneault wanted to shorten his bench in the final stanza and go with a safer, sound first line. Montreal was pushing hard and Raffl is a trustworthy player who makes smart decisions.

It's not a knock on Frost — it's just that he's only 20 years old and was playing in his seventh career NHL game.

Frost joined Tyler Pitlick and James van Riemsdyk, a group that didn't play the final seven minutes of the contest.

Vigneault really wanted that game.

• The Flyers didn't pay Kevin Hayes to light up the scoreboard every game. They believe he'll make plays, but they also wanted the 27-year-old center for his 200-foot focus and penalty kill strengths.

If he can score at a steady clip like he has over the past seven games, the Flyers (and fans) will be happy.

Hayes doesn't have a multi-point game in this seven-game spurt but he has consistently been a presence, recording four goals, two assists and a plus-3 mark.

When Hayes scored his career-high 25 goals in 2017-18, he had five markers through 27 games. This season, he already has eight in 27. Good signs from him.

• Brian Elliott, who entered 3-0-2 with a 2.28 goals-against average and .926 save percentage in November, registered 39 huge saves.

He was vulnerable early on when he allowed a goal 19 seconds into the game. But he made a number of timely stops as he was under siege for most of the afternoon.

The 34-year-old goalie has provided everything the Flyers could have envisioned when they re-signed him this offseason.

• Travis Konecny, who didn't look 100 percent healthy Friday, looked pretty good sniping a go-ahead goal early in the third period against the Canadiens.

He has 25 points in 27 games. Last season, it took him 48 games to notch his 25th point.

His progress remains one of the Flyers' biggest positives and he'll enjoy the off day Sunday.

• Following a healthy scratch Friday, Philippe Myers was back in the lineup for Robert Hagg. The Flyers are high on the 22-year-old Myers and the probable odd-man out on defense moving forward is Hagg. But the Flyers will want to get him games from time to time — he's a good extra defenseman to have and there's definitely pressure to perform among the blueliners.

• The Flyers are off Sunday and practice at 11:30 a.m. Monday in Voorhees, New Jersey, before kicking off their December slate Tuesday when they welcome the Maple Leafs (7 p.m. ET/NBCSP).

Hitting the road this week, or wasting away on the couch in a food coma? The perfect time to binge your favorite NBC Sports Philadelphia podcast! Click here for more.

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Plenty of leftovers as Flyers eat up vs. Red Wings on Black Friday

Plenty of leftovers as Flyers eat up vs. Red Wings on Black Friday

BOX SCORE

Playing an inferior opponent on Black Friday, the Flyers took care of business at home by beating the Red Wings, 6-1.

The Flyers (14-7-5) started slowly but Carter Hart did not and the team turned it on behind him.

Kevin Hayes, Sean Couturier, Oskar Lindblom, James van Riemsdyk, Shayne Gostisbehere and Scott Laughton all scored goals for the Flyers, who are 9-2-4 during November, earning at least a point in all but two games (see highlights).

Since Oct. 21, the Flyers are 12-4-4 with 28 points, second most in the NHL over that stretch. There are still games to play Friday across the NHL, but impressive nonetheless.

With the victory, the Flyers are 8-1-4 at home and will finish the first two months of the season with only one regulation loss at the Wells Fargo Center. The last time the Flyers pulled that off was the 2003-04 season, before the days of the shootout when games could end in a tie.

The NHL-worst Red Wings (7-18-3) have lost eight straight games.

 • Steady veteran defenseman Matt Niskanen, who has been integral to the Flyers’ improvements, had a Dylan Larkin shot deflect off his face 7:23 into the game, drawing a good bit of blood.

Fortunately for the Flyers, Niskanen returned at the start of the second period with some new gear.

Tough dude.

• Niskanen, with the cage, lifted a sharp pass to Couturier for an important goal in the second period, giving the Flyers a 3-1 lead right before intermission.

Jakub Voracek pointed at Niskanen as the Flyers celebrated.

The accomplished 32-year-old finished with two assists and has been a massive acquisition by general manager Chuck Fletcher (see story).

Niskanen and Ivan Provorov were a combined plus-7.

• Gostisbehere returned to the lineup following three healthy scratches and exhibited the offensive skill head coach Alain Vigneault has wanted to see from the 26-year-old defenseman.

On a first-period man advantage, Gostisbehere made a strong play to spin and fling the puck back toward the net, which found its way past Detroit goalie Calvin Pickard.

The marker was his second goal and seventh point on the season. He was solid and the Flyers suddenly have internal competition on the blue line.

“It’s refreshing to get back into the lineup with a nothing-to-lose mentality,” Gostisbehere said at first intermission, via Flyers public relations. “Just go out there and be the player that I know I can be and have fun again. I was putting a little too much pressure on myself and maybe not being the best teammate.”

• Hart was one of the Flyers’ best players Friday — and all of November, as well.

The 21-year-old made highlight-reel saves (32 stops in total) against the Red Wings and was reliable with the Flyers not at their best, especially early in the game.

During the month, Hart is 6-2-2 with a 1.95 goals-against average and has allowed two or fewer goals in eight of 10 starts.

Pickard, who played 11 games for the Flyers last season, converted 29 saves in his first game with the Red Wings.

• Laughton has been a stud since returning after a 13-game absence because of a broken finger.

The valuable depth piece scored the game’s opening goal and slung a nice pass to Hayes for a tally to begin the third period, when the Flyers took over.

• Travis Konecny appeared to be hampered by some sort of ailment as he labored throughout the game. He played from start to finish but didn’t have his usual speed.

He recorded a season-low 13:39 ice time. Something to watch moving forward.

• Jakub Voracek had three assists, while Couturier had another multi-point game with a goal and an assist. The do-it-all center has 15 points (six goals, nine assists) and a plus-10 rating in his last 16 games.

• The Flyers' penalty kill is 53 for 59 (89.8 percent) since Oct. 21, best in the NHL over that span.

• The Flyers wrap up November on Saturday when they visit the Canadiens (3 p.m. ET/NBCSP).

 

Hitting the road this week, or wasting away on the couch in a food coma? The perfect time to binge your favorite NBC Sports Philadelphia podcast! Click here for more.

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