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.”

Flyers skate update: Matt Read's 400th game; Andrew MacDonald scratched

Flyers skate update: Matt Read's 400th game; Andrew MacDonald scratched

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Matt Read did not have to worry about being an NHL draft bust.

He did not impress scouts enough to be drafted at all while playing collegiate hockey at Bemidji State in Minnesota. Instead, the Flyers' winger had to make the NHL the hard way — as a free agent.

“Out of college, I signed with the Flyers and was just doing everything I could to get an opportunity to make the team,” Read, 30, recalled after the team’s morning skate before the Flyers take on the Vancouver Canucks.

His hard work and determination were rewarded here as he drew into the Flyers lineup for his 400th NHL career game.

“If you told me as a 12-year-old self I was playing 400 games in the NHL, I’d be pretty happy, obviously,” Read said. “I don’t have enough words to describe (what the accomplishment means.) Every day in the NHL is a blessing, I guess. You show up every day, work hard and have fun. As a kid, I wanted to be a professional hockey player, and I get to live it out everyday, which is amazing.”

Read originally signed as a free agent with the Flyers in 2011. Unlike many other NHLers, he has played his entire career with the same organization.

“The opportunity to play for the same team for six years is almost unheard of in the National Hockey League these days, so (I) take advantage of it and enjoy it,” Read said.

What has enabled him to stick?

“I don’t know,” he said. “I’m just showing up at the rink every day to work hard, have fun, be a team guy and do as much as I can to make this team better.”

Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said he has a “solid level of trust” in Read.

“There’s a lot of different pathways towards the NHL,” Hakstol said. “I think what you see in that guys that are able to hit a milestone like 400 is, there’s a level of dedication and consistency in terms of work habits to get there. Obviously, Matt has demonstrated those. It’s a hell of a milestone. (But) probably first and foremost on his mind, I would think, tonight is playing a good hockey game and helping our team.”

MacDonald gets night off
Flyers defenseman Andrew MacDonald received the night off as Hakstol made him a healthy scratch. The move was somewhat surprising, because MacDonald has played every game since he was scratched Nov. 19 against Tampa Bay.

Hakstol said MacDonald needed a rest. As a result, Brandon Manning was shifted to the right side from the left and paired with Ivan Provorov.

According to the coach, Manning has not had trouble switching sides this season.

“He’s done a pretty good job,” Hakstol said. “If you look at it, particularly this year, he’s been pretty efficient in making that transition. Is it easy? No.”

Neuvy gets the nod again
Hakstol did not think goaltender Michal Neuvirth needed a rest. He got the nod for his fourth straight start and sixth in the last seven games overall.

“He’s been the guy that’s been in a rhythm for us and he’s done a pretty good job and he’ll go back tonight,” Hakstol said.

Neuvirth was not complaining about the heavy workload.

“It’s good to be playing,” Neuvirth said. “The more I play, the more comfortable I feel. It’s been good.”

He also prepared to be comfortable with the risk of added fatigue.

“It is what it is — you’ve gotta be ready anytime, any day,” Neuvirth said. “It’s a good opportunity for me and it’s gonna be a good challenge.”

Former Flyers coach enshrined
Late former Flyers coach Pat Quinn has been honored with a life-sized statue outside the home of the Canucks. The monument, funded by a group of Quinn’s friends and business partners, was unveiled over the weekend.

Quinn began his coaching career with the Flyers in 1977-78 before holding coaching and managing positions with the AHL Phantoms and four other NHL clubs, including the Canucks. He guided the Flyers to a 35-game unbeaten streak — a record for North American sports — in 1979-80, when they reached the Stanley Cup finals.

Loose pucks
• The Flyers’ .667 winning percentage in Vancouver ranks as their best in any current NHL city. 

• Despite outshooting their opponents in 15 of 20 games dating to Jan. 1, the Flyers are 5-8-2 in the 15 contests.

Scratches: Defensemen Andrew MacDonald and Nick Schultz

Lineup
F: Schenn-Giroux-Simmonds

Weise-Couturier-Voracek

Raffl-Cousins-Read

VandeVelde-Bellemare-Lyubimov

D: Provorov-Manning

Gostisbehere-Streit

Del  Zotto-Gudas

G: Neuvirth

Flyers Weekly Observations: Dismal start to critical Western Canada trip

Flyers Weekly Observations: Dismal start to critical Western Canada trip

Another week of Flyers hockey this season is behind us.
 
And it was another week that ended with not many positives to talk about involving the Flyers.
 
There were only two games this week and neither went well. On Wednesday, the Flyers dropped a 3-1 decision to the Flames in Calgary to kick off a crucial Western Canada road trip. Things didn’t get any better the next night in Edmonton, as the Flyers were blown away, 6-3, by the Oilers.
 
Let’s take a look back at what went wrong for the Flyers out in Alberta.
 
• It’s not just that the Flyers dropped the first two games of the road trip this past week. The Western Canada trip is always a tough one, especially for teams from the Eastern Conference that have to make the long trip out there. It’s the manner in which the Flyers lost both games that has to be the most disheartening factor. They were lethargic and you just didn’t see the kind of urgency you should see from a team, that as poor as it has played in recent weeks, is still in the thick of a playoff chase in the jam-packed Eastern Conference. In Calgary, the Flyers actually did come out of the gates hot with a goal by Nick Cousins 1:30 into the game, but it fell apart from there. They had 34 shots in that game, but not many testers on Flames goalie Brian Elliott. The next night in Edmonton, the Flyers were just overwhelmed and steamrolled from the second the puck dropped. It was all Oilers and the Flyers were just standing by. At the end of the day, the Flyers are still alive in this playoff race and you’d like to see the urgency that comes along with that.

• If there was one thing that summed up the Flyers’ lack of apparent urgency this past week, it had to be that ugly five-minute power play that included a two-minute two-man advantage Wednesday night in Calgary. Ugly would actually be quite the compliment. It was downright brutal. First off, the Flyers were handed a gift because Alex Chiasson’s spear on Cousins was not a major penalty. Chiasson shouldn’t be spearing anyone, but that was a love tap compared to some others around the league this season. But the Flyers fumbled that gift away with a power play that was basically a practice drill for the Calgary penalty killers. The Flyers slogged around in the neutral zone or unsuccessfully dumped the puck in or turned it over. It goes back again to urgency. The best power plays feel the urgency to score every time out on the ice. It just wasn’t there Wednesday night with the low-percentage cross-ice passes and inability to track down the puck. The Flames had 11 clears compared to two shots for the Flyers. It was as disappointing as a power play can be. Over the last six games, the Flyers’ power play is just 2 for 19. That is not helping with the scoring woes.
 
• Hopefully this Connor McDavid-Brandon Manning nonsense is now over after Manning answered the bell and fought the much larger Patrick Maroon on Thursday in Edmonton. The whole thing was dumbfounding to begin with. McDavid lost an edge while Manning was defending against him last season when he broke his collarbone. It should have ended right then and there because for someone to even insinuate intent on Manning’s part or anything other than that it was an unfortunate play would be asinine. It continued to be dumbfounding when McDavid stirred the pot during and after December’s meeting between the teams. For it to even reach the point it did Thursday was just stupefying. And Milan Lucic’s low blow on Manning behind the Flyers’ net Thursday was cheap, to say the least. But good for Manning to stand up to Maroon.

• If there was one positive to take from this past week, it had to be the play of Cousins in Calgary on Wednesday. He was all over the ice. He was making plays happen with five shots on net, bringing energy and being a pest. He’s at the top of his game and most effective when he brings that energy and pest behavior. The goal he scored was well-deserved and he should have had another one if not for the great save Elliott made at the end of that long, wretched Flyers power play. If Cousins can play that effective way more consistently, he can be a valuable piece going forward for the Flyers. Most of the good teams in the league have that one player other teams just hate to play against.

• I also like what Cousins had to say in the locker room after the loss Wednesday. “We’ve got to make it harder on them,” he said. “We’ve got to get more traffic. It’s the same excuse here it feels like after every game. We’ve got to score more goals — simple as that.” He didn’t massage his way around anything, He came out and stated bluntly what’s going on right now. The Flyers can talk about playing good hockey and not getting the results. But the results come when you earn them. Can we say that about the Flyers earning results the past few weeks? Against the Sharks last Saturday, sure. But any other games?

• Shame that Jordan Weal was injured in Thursday’s loss to the Oilers. He was doing everything he could to try and provide a spark. He was bringing some of that much-needed energy and, more importantly, trying to make things happen by firing the puck toward the net. He had a team-high six shots on goal Wednesday in Calgary. His combination of speed and skill makes him an intriguing player going forward. The Flyers have to hope he recovers sooner rather than later so they can get an extended look at him with the big club.

• Is the offside challenge working as effectively as it should? It sure looked like the Oilers were offside before the opening goal of Thursday’s contest. But the league still ruled it a good goal. And you may recall the eight-minute delay in the Chicago-Minnesota game a few weeks ago as officials reviewed an offside play before a goal. In essence, offside is a pretty cut-and-dry rule. The play is offside or it isn’t. I’m not crazy to say there shouldn’t be this much grey area on a pretty cut-and-dry rule, right?

Coming up this week: Sunday night at Vancouver (10 p.m./CSN), Wednesday vs. Washington (8 p.m./NBCSN), Saturday’s Stadium Series game at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh (8 p.m./NBC10).