After long summer, Flyers excited to get to work

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After long summer, Flyers excited to get to work

Vinny Lecavalier is excited.
 
“Great guys and some great players here,” said the Flyers' tallest centerman. “That is what is so exciting. This is a really good team. It’s one of the reasons why I wanted to come here.
 
“I looked at the roster and really liked this team. That is why I am excited to start here.”
 
There’s always excitement and anticipation around the start of a hockey training camp. This fall, there truly is a difference as the Flyers open camp this morning at Wells Fargo Center.
 
“For me, it was exciting knowing guys are coming back healthy from where we were last year,” head coach Peter Laviolette said.
 
“The man games we lost, it’s exciting guys are coming back full health for the most part. It wasn’t that way last year. Claude [Giroux] went down and he’ll back. I hope it’s not a problem and I don’t think it will be from everything that I have heard.”
 
Giroux will be here but until his right hand is fully healed, he won’t be playing games, shooting pucks or taking contact.
 
The Flyers fell into the great abyss last season with a 2-6 start from which they never recovered and failed to make the playoffs.
 
They didn’t fire the coach or general manager Paul Holmgren, but they did fire the goalie Ilya Bryzgalov (buyout) and had an emotional farewell presser for class guy Danny Briere (buyout).
 
Then came a long, tortuous offseason.
 
“It doesn’t have the same meaning on the outside as when you are inside and competing [in the playoffs],” Laviolette said. “I think I found late spring and early summer to be hard to handle.”
 
All the while, plans were unfolding to restock the roster.
 
It began with the trade for Islanders captain Mark Streit on defense; then the signing of goalie Ray Emery; finally, the addition of Lecavalier.
 
Not a lot of moves, but critical ones.
 
Everyone in and around the Flyers seem primed for this camp. Fresh start.
 
“I’m ready,” veteran defenseman Kimmo Timonen said. “I feel like I’ve been off a really long time. Too long. To have a year like that last year, sometimes, it’s good to settle down and see what we did wrong together -- everybody. Coaches, players, management, everybody.
 
“I hate to say it was good that we didn’t make the playoffs, but at least now everybody realizes we have to work even harder and make better decisions. Sometimes, you need [as a team] to go down to come back up again.”
 
There are a few job openings to be sorted out in this camp, the biggest of which is whether Emery wins the starter’s job over Steve Mason, who was nothing short of superb in just seven games at season’s end.
 
When was the last time the Flyers had genuine competition for the starter’s job in goal? Maybe 2005, when Robert Esche and Antero Niittymaki fought it out?
 
“You certainly hope so,” Laviolette said of the competition. “You hope that’s the case. That they push each other and they do it in a competitive way that best benefits the team.
 
“You’re talking about somebody [Mason] who came in here at the end of the year and played well for us and someone who had a terrific season ... I haven’t talked to them or seen them yet. Those conversations will come.”
 
It’s a camp where some older players have something to prove.
 
Lecavalier wants people to know there’s a decent number of goals still left in his stick after his buyout.
 
“Not to prove Tampa wrong or anything,” Lecavalier said. “For me, it’s another challenge the way the year went last year with injuries and not winning, that is more the part of me saying I want to have a good year and help this team out as much as I can.
 
“Everybody has something to prove every year. We’re all going to push forward.”
 
Mason wants to prove his gaudy 1.90 goals-against average was genuine. Emery wants to prove his 17-1 record and Stanley Cup was no fluke, either.
 
Then there’s Hal Gill and Dan Cleary. Gill is on a tryout and says he can “show” the Flyers what he possesses is something this club needs.
 
Cleary has a tryout deal, plus a promise of a three-year contract waiting in the wings but may have gotten a firm offer from Detroit right now. He may or may not be here, though the club expects he will.
 
“[Cleary] and Hal are in the same situation where it’s an opportunity to come into camp and get on the ice and show what they can do,” Laviolette said.
 
“These are veteran players who have been proven to be successful in the roles they served on teams.”
 
The hardest decisions in camp will be who the starting six defensemen are -- yeah the Flyers are actually deep for once -- and who sits as No. 7.
 
Right now, oft-injured Andrej Meszaros could be No. 7. It has to be sorted out in camp.
 
Then there’s the matter of where Lecavalier plays. First line? Second line?
 
Maybe he goes between Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds?
 
“I talked to both of them,” Lecavlier said. “I don’t know who I will play with. I played few shifts with Simmer and Schenn [in the player scrimmages]. Both are great players, great hockey sense. ... Whoever I play with, I am happy to be here.”

Best of NHL: Nikita Kucherov hat trick lifts Lightning over Bruins

Best of NHL: Nikita Kucherov hat trick lifts Lightning over Bruins

BOSTON -- Nikita Kucherov had his third career hat trick to lead Tampa Bay to a 6-3 victory over the Boston Bruins on Thursday night, snapping the Lightning's three-game losing streak.

Jonathan Drouin had a goal and two assists, Brayden Point had a goal and an assist and Anton Stralman also scored to help the Lightning pull three points behind the Bruins for the second wild card in the Eastern Conference.

Peter Budaj finished with 28 saves for the Lightning to earn his 29th win of the season. Ondrej Palat had three assists, and Jake Dotchin and Victor Hedman added two each.

Riley Nashy had a goal and an assist for Boston, and David Pastrnak and Zdeno Chara also scored. Tuukka Rask stopped 23 shots as Boston, which won seven of the first eight games under interim coach Bruce Cassidy, has now lost four straight and six of 11 (see full recap).

Oshie beats Bobrovsky to give Caps SO win
WASHINGTON -- T.J. Oshie scored the shootout winner as the Washington Capitals overcame a stellar performance from Columbus goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky to beat the Blue Jackets 2-1 Thursday night.

Despite 44 saves from Bobrovsky, the Capitals reached 104 points and extended their lead atop the Metropolitan Division and NHL standings. Oshie engendered memories of his Sochi Olympic shootout performance by again beating Bobrovsky, the goalie he scored on four times in six chances that day.

Dmitry Orlov finally cracked Bobrovsky early in the third period on Washington's 35th shot of the game. Orlov's goal tied the score after Seth Jones beat Braden Holtby on a wild scramble early in the third for his first goal since Feb. 7.

Holtby had 29 saves in regulation and overtime and three more in the shootout to pick up his 38th victory of the season, one shy of Bobrovsky for the league lead (see full recap).

Senators take down Penguins in shootout
OTTAWA, Ontario -- Kyle Turris and Bobby Ryan scored in the shootout to lift the Ottawa Senators to a 2-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday night.

Mike Hoffman scored in regulation for the Senators and Mike Condon finished with 34 saves, including two incredible point-blank stops in overtime to keep the game going.

Nick Bonino had the goal in regulation for the Penguins and Matt Murray stopped 29 shots.

After being outplayed for much of the first two periods, the Senators were much better in the third and tied the score 1-1 on the power play at 9:43 as Hoffman beat Murray over the shoulder with a wrist shot just 14 seconds after Matt Cullen was penalized for holding (see full recap).

Flyers regroup behind Steve Mason for big win over Wild

Flyers regroup behind Steve Mason for big win over Wild

BOX SCORE

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- When Zach Parise scored for the Minnesota Wild just 2:07 into Thursday's game, the Flyers were in another difficult position on the road.

This time, they responded with the type of game they've needed on the road all season.

The Flyers scored three unanswered goals by Sean Couturier, Matt Read and Jakub Voracek to beat Minnesota, 3-1, and snap a four-game losing streak on the road (see Instant Replay).

"They're a tough team to handle in their transition," Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said of Parise's goal. "It's quick and it's fast. The players on the bench were outstanding, talking, real calm. Just go out and push it the other way the next shift and I thought we were able to do that."

The Flyers responded with one of their best efforts on the road in nearly two months and pulled within six points of Boston for the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference (see standings). The Bruins lost, 6-3, at home to Tampa Bay.

Steve Mason made 24 saves in goal for his 100th win with the Flyers as the team was rarely challenged thanks to an all-around performance that has been missing on the road. The Flyers entered the night tied for the second-fewest road wins in the conference this season.

"Certain things on the road, you've got to be a little more specific with your game and detailed, and I think we did a better job of that tonight," said Flyers defenseman Nick Schultz, who returned to the arena where he played 10 seasons with Minnesota. "Everybody throughout the lineup did that and that's why we got a big win."

The beginning looked all too familiar, though.

An innocent looking dump-in slid to Mason, who tried to cover the puck. The puck went off his stick and Parise quickly poked it past Mason. The Wild had four quality chances early before the Flyers took control.

"They came hard early on in the game and to be able to match that speed; that was a completely different pace of game compared to what we came from in Winnipeg," Mason said. "So, it almost took a second to get your bearings straight to get up to speed."

The Flyers weathered the early flurry by Minnesota, which is safely in playoff position in the West but is facing its own late-season issues. The Flyers killed off both Wild penalties, allowing just two shots on the penalty kill.

Couturier's 12th goal of the season was critical in tying the game with 2:01 left in the first (see feature highlight).

"Coming into the room after the period, I think it's important when you get a big goal like that," captain Claude Giroux said. "You feel like you have the momentum a little bit, so it definitely helped us a lot."

Read provided the lead in the second and the Flyers, who are now 15-2-2 when leading after two periods, pressured in the third. They outshot the Wild, 9-4, in the final period.

"We didn't sit back," Hakstol said. "I thought we were confident with the puck and made some plays and spent a good amount of time in the offensive zone. We played with real confidence in our game."

Mason had been critical after the Flyers lost in Winnipeg on Tuesday, saying the team needed to be more desperate. The Flyers responded Thursday in the difficult position of being on the road and allowing the first goal.

"We knew we had to be better," Schultz said of Mason's comments. "I think on the road, you've got to be at least a .500 team and take care of business at home, and we haven't done that this year. So, obviously, we've got to get better and I think we did respond tonight. Now we have to build on it."