Akeson: 'Nothing good' came from double-minor

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Akeson: 'Nothing good' came from double-minor

NEW YORK -- Jason Akeson’s night went from a dream come true to a nightmare. And quickly.

Akeson had suited up for his first-ever NHL playoff game, and was playing well. He’d registered a few shots, blocked one and caused a giveaway, too. For a 23-year-old with only two career games with the Flyers under his belt, he looked like he belonged.

And then he took a third period high-sticking double-minor. The New York Rangers scored twice while he waited in the penalty box on their way to a 4-1 Game 1 victory (see game story).

“I guess you could say that [it was like a nightmare],” Akeson said. “But it’s not like I went out there and tried to take a four-minute penalty. It’s part of the game. It is what it is.”

Akeson, playing on the Flyers’ third line with Matt Read and Sean Couturier, was having a good night. He was playing aggressive and smart, putting three shots on Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist -- good enough to tie Michael Raffl for the team lead.

The first few minutes of the game had been “nerve wracking,” Akeson said, but he had calmed himself down. He remembered it was just hockey, and had put the fans and the stakes of the game out of his mind. He’d gotten into a groove.

That is, until he went for a hit on Rangers winger Carl Hagelin at 7:35 of the third period.

“I went to hit him and my back leg kind of swung out,” Akeson said. “I don’t know what happened, I think I got hit or something, and my stick came up. It was obviously unfortunate, but it happened.”

Akeson said he had no idea at first that his stick made contact with Hagelin’s face. He had no idea he’d drawn blood and was surprised when he was handed the double-minor.

He watched Brad Richards score after the first minute of the Rangers’ power play to break the game’s 1-1 tie. And then he saw Derek Stepan add an insurance goal to the lead about 50 seconds later.

What was going through his mind as he watched the Rangers’ two quick goals?

“Nothing good,” he said. “That’s for sure.”

When Akeson returned to the bench, his teammates immediately did their best to pick him up. They told him to put it out of his mind. They reminded him that six games remained for the Flyers to get a series victory, that he shouldn’t dwell on his mistake. Their playoff hopes weren't over.

They were all “good to me,” Akeson said. They were all professionals.

“Those kinds of things happen,” Andrew MacDonald said. “As a team, you’ve got to get together and kill that off. He made a huge block earlier on that shift, sliding out to block it at the point.

“I hope he doesn’t feel too bad about it. Those kinds of things happen. He was making a good backcheck, and his stick just happened to come up.”

Akeson played 13:07 Thursday night and had even spent some time on the Flyers’ second power-play unit -- both of which were earned through strong play. His three hits added to a team total of 37, one of the few areas of the game in which the Flyers actually outplayed the Rangers.

And though he made a critical error, his coach didn’t ignore those positives. Craig Berube, though, said Akeson must improve.

“He’s got to be better with his stick,” Berube said. “Ake played a pretty good game, but you’ve got to control your stick.”

The series resumes Sunday afternoon in New York, an eternity in the realm of playoff hockey. The key for Akeson, his teammates agree, is to forget about the penalty and move on.

He’s just going to have to use it as a learning experience.

“Obviously I didn’t mean to do it,” he said. “I’ve just got to move on from here.”

Flyers Notes: Michal Neuvirth starts big season; Travis Konecny with new chance

Flyers Notes: Michal Neuvirth starts big season; Travis Konecny with new chance

VOORHEES, N.J. — In many ways, Michal Neuvirth’s contract year officially gets underway Saturday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
 
The Flyers’ goalie will make his preseason debut against the Bruins and head coach Dave Hakstol’s plan is to play Neuvirth the entire game.
 
The 28-year-old can become an unrestricted free agent following the 2016-17 season, as can his goalie partner Steve Mason. The two make up a formidable tandem and both are considered No. 1 goalies.
 
The outlook doesn’t change, though, for Neuvirth.
 
“Every season is big,” he said Saturday after taking the ice at Flyers Skate Zone. “It’s a good opportunity. I want to play my best hockey.
 
“Just going to focus on myself and try to prepare the best I can for the season right now.”
 
Neuvirth started his preparation by playing in the World Cup of Hockey for Czech Republic. His last game was Sept. 17 when he lost to loaded Canada, 6-0, still making an impressive 44 saves on 50 shots.
 
He’s now ready to get back between the pipes at the Wells Fargo Center.
 
“Very excited,” Neuvirth said. “I haven’t played for a while and it was a good week for me in practice and finally get into a game.”
 
Entering his second season with the Flyers, Neuvirth is fresh off a career year in 2015-16, when he went 18-8-4 with personal bests in goals-against average (2.27) and save percentage (.924). He also shined in the postseason when he relieved Mason, going 2-1 against the top-seeded Capitals and stopping 103 of 105 shots.
 
Despite the internal competition, Neuvirth and Mason have always supported each other.
 
“It’s a great situation,” Neuvirth said. “Mase is a great guy, I love to be with him on the same team. Unfortunately only one guy can play. Like Mase said, we’re making each other better every day.”
 
Sean Couturier, Shayne Gostisbehere and Jakub Voracek, all of whom played in the World Cup, will also make their preseason debuts.
 
Trying the left
Travis Konecny’s tryout at left wing starts tonight, as he’ll be centered by Sean Couturier with Jakub Voracek on the right, making up the Flyers’ second line.
 
Hakstol debuted the trio during Friday’s practice. It will now see its first game action.
 
“It’s exciting,” Konecny said. “They’re high-skilled, hard-working forwards, so it makes it easier for a guy like me to just keep things simple and just let the game take over and have fun.”
 
Left wing is Konecny’s greatest shot at making the Flyers’ roster. The Flyers are heavy at right wing, where if Konecny were to play, it would be on a bottom-six line. If he makes the roster, the Flyers likely want their prized prospect to play more than bottom-six minutes for developmental reasons.
 
“New spot for Travis in terms of playing on the left side, in our camp anyways,” Hakstol said. “He’s played there before. It’s his second day at left wing and he’ll get the opportunity there tonight.
 
“There’s an adjustment but good players make those adjustments.”
 
Konecny is happy to play left — whatever is asked of him.
 
“As far as I’m concerned, it’s just the other side of the ice,” he said. “I’m sure I’ve found myself on the other side of the ice when I’m right wing before.
 
“I’m not too worried about it.”
 
Young pairing
Instead of pairing Ivan Provorov with a veteran blueliner, which has oftentimes been the case during preseason, Hakstol is putting him with fellow 19-year-old prospect Philippe Myers.
 
“Those two young guys have played a little bit together on the power play, they’ve paired up pretty well in practice and I think they’ll handle things well,” Hakstol said. “They’ve got pretty good chemistry between the two of them. I’m sure there will be some challenges, but they’ll be fine.”
 
Five to Phantoms
As expected, forwards Petr Straka, Andy Miele, Chris Conner and Greg Carey, as well as defenseman T.J. Brennan have cleared waivers and will join AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley. The Flyers' roster now stands at 34, including injured Nick Schultz, Mark Alt and Cole Bardreau. It needs to be at 23 before the Oct. 14 season opener.
 
Schultz skates
Injured defenseman Schultz (knee) skated before practice Saturday. It was announced Wednesday he would miss four to seven days.
 
Projected lineup
F:
Brayden Schenn-Nick Cousins-Wayne Simmonds
 
Travis Konecny-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
 
Scott Laughton-Jordan Weal-Dale Weise
 
Chris VandeVelde-Boyd Gordon-Roman Lyubimov
 
D: Shayne Gostisbehere-Michael Del Zotto
 
Ivan Provorov-Philippe Myers
 
Travis Sanheim-Andrew MacDonald
 
G: Michal Neuvirth
 
Steve Mason

Hakstol intrigues with pairing, potential of Konecny, Couturier, Voracek

Hakstol intrigues with pairing, potential of Konecny, Couturier, Voracek

VOORHEES, N.J. — Travis Konecny, Sean Couturier and Jakub Voracek styled matching green jerseys during Friday’s practice at Flyers Skate Zone.

Together, they whipped around the ice in what head coach Dave Hakstol called a “physical, grinding, competitive day, probably the most competitive of camp … and that was for a purpose.”

Flyers fans are likely crossing their fingers, hoping the trio in green holds a purpose, as well.

The line of Konecny, Couturier and Voracek was a new wrinkle to 2016 training camp, a day before the team’s fifth preseason game. Maybe an experiment of sorts by Hakstol, but one that exudes all kinds of potential leading up to Saturday night’s contest against the Bruins at the Wells Fargo Center.

“It’s one day of practice,” Hakstol said. “They were fine. I wasn’t keying on that line in any way, I was keying on a lot of our team play. They were fine, they worked hard. To really see what kind of chemistry they have and how productive they can be, we’ll have to wait until the game [Saturday] if they’re together.”

Will we see that?

“You might,” Hakstol said. “I don’t have anything set yet.”

Konecny played left wing Friday, next to Couturier at center and Voracek on the right. If that is in fact the case Saturday, the 19-year-old Konecny will see another golden opportunity to woo management in his push for a roster spot. The Flyers purposely paired Konecny with NHL forwards Brayden Schenn and Michael Raffl in Wednesday’s 2-0 preseason win, and the 2015 first-round pick responded with a goal and an assist.

Friday marked a new day with new possibilities.

“It felt good,” Konecny said. “Just like the game [Wednesday] night, you’re playing with good players and it makes the game easier. I was just trying to keep things simple and work hard.”

Couturier and Voracek are two of the Flyers’ most skilled passers and playmakers. Combine them with Konecny — a prized prospect with the same traits — and it’s hard to measure the upside.

“It opens up a lot of space,” Konecny said. “Those guys are big out there, so when they’re going to the corners, it creates a little room for me. I’ve just got to find the holes and find the spots and the puck kind of just comes to you.”

Left wing is Konecny’s best shot at making the team’s roster and snagging a top-six role. The Flyers are heavy at right wing while light at left. Among the Flyers’ group of forwards, it’s the position of greatest need.

Like Hakstol said, Friday’s practice had purpose. So Konecny’s trying out left wing had substance, too.

“I think it’s a possibility,” Hakstol said. “I wouldn’t say that’s an absolute, but that’s one area that we’re looking at — not just for him, but for other players. So that’s one possibility.”

Konecny, more of a right winger and/or center, has no qualms with playing left. Really, a player of his ilk can make an impact regardless of position.

“I’ve played all positions through junior,” he said. “I’ve played right, middle and left, so wherever I fit in, I’d play there. I’m trying not to look too far ahead, though, just trying to play every day, and wherever I am that day, I’ll focus on that position and get the job done that day.

“I usually end up on the left wing when I’m coming across the ice anyway. I enter the zone on that side of the ice, so it helps me. I actually think I see the ice better when I play on that side of the ice.
 
“I got another day to play today. It’s just about earning each and every day.”

Voracek and Couturier, both of whom have yet to play in a preseason game because of World Cup of Hockey competition, looked at Friday as just another practice with new elements — such is life in training camp.

“It needs some work, obviously we need to get used to each other but if we skate and play with the puck, we should be fine,” Voracek said.

“Even last year along with this year, every game [Konecny has] been very solid. He’s a hard-working kid for his size. He’s very greedy, he’s not scared and he’s skating well. For a 19-year-old, he’s looking very, very sharp.”

Roster talk
According to a report by generalfanager.com, the Flyers waived forwards Petr Straka, Andy Miele, Chris Conner and Greg Carey, as well as defenseman and South Jersey native T.J. Brennan. None of the five were seen practicing Friday and the Flyers did not have an announcement. If they clear waivers — which seems likely — they’ll report to AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley.

With the reported moves, the Flyers’ roster stands at 34, including injured players Nick Schultz, Mark Alt and Cole Bardreau. The Flyers will have to be at 23 by the season opener Oct. 14.

Goalie situation
Hakstol said whomever is in net Saturday will play the entire game. He would not say if it would be Steve Mason or Michal Neuvirth. An announcement will be made Saturday morning. Neuvirth is back from the World Cup and has yet to play a preseason game.

Gudas update
Defenseman Radko Gudas (wrist), who said Wednesday he’s “pretty close” to 100 percent, will “definitely” play in a preseason game, Hakstol said. The coach would not say whether it would be Saturday or next week.