Philadelphia Flyers

After offseason, Flyers loaded with captain savvy

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After offseason, Flyers loaded with captain savvy

If inexperience was a problem for last year’s Flyers, it shouldn’t be this time around.

Never mind the understanding Claude Giroux now has of what it takes to be the Flyers’ captain -- though that will certainly help. Thanks to GM Paul Holmgren’s offseason moves, Giroux has two new teammates who also wore the "C" last year, as well as a new goaltender who already knows what it takes to play in Philadelphia.

Those new additions will more than make up for the supposed excess of youth (and lack of veteran leadership) on last season’s team.

“Having guys like Vinny Lecavalier and Mark Streit come in, they've been captains in the league and they are good leaders,” Giroux said. “A guy like Ray Emery has been around the league for a while. To have guys like that come in and help the young guys -- and help me -- it's obviously a real good thing for us.”

The Flyers bought out alternate captain Danny Briere’s contract over the summer, and with him they lost a veteran well known for his off-ice influence. Briere mentored and even hosted Giroux and Sean Couturier in his home when they were new to the team, was captain of the Buffalo Sabres before he came to Philadelphia, and wore the "A" on his jersey while he was here.

But, arguably, the Flyers were able to upgrade on the ice while bringing in comparable leadership experience even as they let Briere go. And that’s the idea.

“They were great additions,” Max Talbot said. “You look at the three guys they brought. You have two captains and [two] Stanley Cup winners. All guys with experience and all of them have great attitudes, as well. That is the base. And we know they can all play.”
 
Streit and Lecavalier agreed that having served as captains in the past will help them personally, as well as help the team when there's a need for players besides Giroux, Scott Hartnell and Kimmo Timonen (the latter two will serve as alternates this season) to speak up.

They won't, according to Lecavalier, fade into the background just because they're no longer wearing a letter stitched onto their jerseys.

"I don't really think like that," Lecavalier said.

Instead, he said, he thinks having so many players with leadership experience is "great” for the team.

“When you’re captain, you need a group of guys, you need to help each other out," Lecavalier said. "And of course our leaders, Claude Giroux, and great leadership with Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell and other guys coming up, and obviously Mark Streit, and myself being captain in Tampa -- we’re all going to help out each other and try to lead by example, for sure.”

There are times and places for different players to raise their voices throughout the year, and Giroux will benefit from having others around him who've been through tough times, as well as the best times (like those aforementioned Stanley Cup victories).

As Streit said, "it’s a long season. There’s a lot of ups and downs."

“Experience, leadership, it’s going to help us down the stretch,” Streit said. “For me, it was a great experience being captain for two years. I learned a lot.

"The [Flyers'] guys are all great, it’s a great room, and I think that’s really important, to have great chemistry. And I can tell -- I’ve been here for a few days and already feel comfortable. It made my adjustment really easy.”

In comfortable spot, Taylor Leier puts game on display to Flyers during preseason win

In comfortable spot, Taylor Leier puts game on display to Flyers during preseason win

BOX SCORE FROM ALLENTOWN | BOX SCORE FROM BROOKLYN

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.”

Patrick's progress
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.”

Flyers-Islanders preseason observations: Nolan Patrick finds Shayne Gostisbehere for OT winner

Flyers-Islanders preseason observations: Nolan Patrick finds Shayne Gostisbehere for OT winner

BOX SCORE FROM ALLENTOWN | BOX SCORE FROM BROOKLYN

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — It would have been more appropriate if the PPL Center would have just dropped the "L" from its name in a penalty-filled contest Wednesday, as the Flyers' power play proved to be a little bit better than the Islanders' in a 3-2 overtime, split-squad preseason victory.

Shayne Gostisbehere ripped home a one-timer from Nolan Patrick on a 2-on-1 just 53 seconds into the overtime period. The Islanders pulled goaltender Christopher Gibson in the final 1:30 of regulation, resulting in a game-tying 6-on-5 goal as the extra attacker Anders Lee poked one across with 24 seconds remaining.

• The two teams combined for 11 power-play opportunities as the first three goals were scored with the man advantage. Playing in familiar surroundings, Taylor Leier provided the damage for the Flyers as he scored the team’s first two goals — both in the second period, as he played with a relentless forecheck for much of the night (see story).

• Michal Neuvirth backstopped the Flyers for the first 40 minutes and turned in a very solid preseason debut as he proceeded to stop 16 of the 17 shots he faced. The lone goal Neuvirth surrendered came on Mathew Barzal’s wide-open power-play one-timer. It was Barzal’s second goal against the Flyers this preseason. The 16th overall selection in the 2015 draft, Barzal came through last Sunday with the Islanders' game-tying goal by catching Travis Sanheim flat-footed in the third period at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

• As he did in Long Island, Leland Irving took over in net in the third period but didn’t have to concern himself with the lethal John Tavares, who scored the game-winner Sunday. Irving had a relatively quiet night until the final two minutes of regulation.

• The Flyers crawled out of the gates offensively. It took them 12:30 into the first period to record their first shot on net, which came during their second power-play opportunity. They followed that up with another slow start in the second period in which they failed to register a shot over the first 6:30. 

• An impressive element to Oskar Lindblom’s game has been his ability to backcheck and his commitment to defense in his own end. With a reputation as a two-way player in the Swedish Hockey League, Lindblom made two solid defensive plays in the first period, and his pursuit and retrieval of the puck led to one of Leier’s second-period goals.

• One infraction the referees have been really cracking down on during the preseason is Rule 76.4, as the league attempts to curb cheating on faceoffs. Islanders forward Josh Ho-Sang was nailed twice in this game, resulting in a pair of Flyers power plays. 

• Defenseman Sam Morin showed a degree of discipline and maturity that perhaps wasn’t present during the start of his professional career. Morin refused to engage with Islanders winger Ross Johnston, who dropped his gloves with Morin backed up against the glass. Johnston was whistled for roughing, giving the Flyers a power play.

• More disruptive than Morin’s fists has been his stick. While killing a Sanheim crosschecking minor, Morin utilized his 6-foot-6 frame and his extra long stick to disrupt a pass three different times on one shift. If Morin can maintain poise and stay in position, he can be a real force on the penalty kill.

• The NHL is also looking to eliminate slashing penalties. The Flyers were whistled for three slashing calls in the first 10 minutes. As a result, Barzal easily converted a 5-on-3 one-timer for the game’s first goal.

• Solid and steady would be the description so far for Flyers 2013 second-round pick Robert Hagg in his quest to make the opening night roster. Hagg hasn’t been rattled and has shown in two preseason games to make the right plays in his own zone.

Lines and pairings
Dale Weise-Jori Lehtera-Matt Read
Oskar Lindblom-Nolan Patrick-Nicolas Aube-Kubel
Taylor Leier-Corban Knight-Pascal Laberge
Carsen Twarynski-German Rubtsov-Colin McDonald

Sam Morin-Mark Alt
Shayne Gostisbehere-Robert Hagg
Brandon Manning-Travis Sanheim

The other game
Despite goals from Travis Konecny and T.J. Brennan, the Flyers' other squad fell to the Islanders, 3-2, in Brooklyn.

Boston bound?
Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, Jakub Voracek, Valtteri Filppula, Radko Gudas, Ivan Provorov, Andrew MacDonald and Brian Elliott were the Flyers' regulars that did not suit up in either Allentown or Brooklyn on Wednesday night. Hextall said most of the guys listed above, but not all, will play against the Bruins Thursday at TD Garden.