Big Samuel Morin stands tall at blue line

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Big Samuel Morin stands tall at blue line

The collision came on the side boards during Tuesday’s final day of the Flyers' development camp at the Skate Zone.

Prospect Samuel Morin, a 6-foot-7 defenseman, tangled with Travis Sanheim, the Flyers' first-round pick from last month’s draft.

This was a drill involving all the defensemen.

Both went down hard. Both got up slowly.

For a split-second it must have been like déjà vu for Morin, who ruptured his left Achilles' tendon last spring when a much smaller (relatively speaking) player tumbled onto him after a board check.

“No, no, no, not like that,” Morin said, starting to laugh. “When I got injured, I hit the guy. It was a rebound off the boards and he fell on me.

“I don’t know what happened here. I try to go in front of the guy and I fell. I wasn’t scared what happened [Tuesday]. It’s part of the game.”

Sometime in the not-too-distant future we’re going to see regular collisions like the one we saw this week at camp involving Morin.

Except he’ll be expected to crush the other guy.

Morin, who turned 19 during this camp, has packed 224 pounds onto his 6-foot-7 frame. He's a man hiding inside a youngster’s body. And a monster, too.

“I trained hard,” he said of a three-year growth cycle that saw him add three inches in height and 51 pounds of muscle. He was 173 pounds in his first year of junior.

Let’s go back for a moment to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League playoffs this past spring. In the series finale, Morin, playing for Rimouski, slammed Blainville-Brosbriand’s Philippe Sanche into the boards.

There was a ricochet effect no one anticipated. Morin tumbled backwards and Sanche fell across his skate boot.

“A 5-foot-4 guy injured me,” Morin said incredulously. “I hit the guy … rebound … He sat on me. I did two shifts and then I could not play again.”

Soon after, Morin was sitting in the Flyers' press box watching the Rangers series with an enormous cast on his foot.

This camp was a test to see about Morin’s total recovery on his first attempt back on the ice. No issues with his skating, foot pain or anything. He’s fully healthy and ready for junior play this fall.

Needless to say, a relief to the Flyers.

“From last year to this year, you can tell he got a lot bigger,” said Chris Pryor, the Flyers' director of scouting. “He’s more confident. He’s making progress.”

Kjell Samuelsson, who is director of development for all defensive prospects, worked with Morin last season, teaching him the defensive aspects of stick play.

That Samuelsson was very much like him as a player –- tall (6-6) with an enormous wingspan -- made it easier for Morin to grasp what he was being taught.

How ironic, however, that Morin feels the biggest improvement in his overall game from being drafted a year ago was his offensive play -- seven goals, 31 points -- not defensive.

“I think my play with the puck, my passes, my offensive game is better than it was last year,” he said. “My shot. I think I improved a lot things. My skating, too.”

The Flyers love his get-it-done attitude.

“He’s got the right frame of mind and the right attitude to make himself continually get better,” Pryor said.

Morin is in no hurry to make the NHL roster. He said he’ll pay his dues as long as the organization feels it’s necessary.

Here’s where it gets tricky. He is very different than Shayne Gostisbehere and Robert Hagg. As such, he really isn’t competing against them directly to make the roster.

He will be a true defensive defenseman, hopefully mean and nasty like Pronger with power-play attributes.

That makes him a bit of a specialist for one spot on the roster, whereas other defensive prospects are competing for similar spots among themselves.

Samuelsson shakes his head when he talks about Morin.

“Size, wingspan,” Samuelsson said. “We need to let him develop at his own speed.”

The Flyers would like Morin to play the right point instead of the left a bit more often. Morin is left-handed.

“I play more on the left side, for sure, but on the power play I play on the right side,” he said. “Like all left-handed defensemen, I like to play on the left side.”

Morin could be with the Phantoms next spring when his junior season ends.

“I'll go step by step right now and make a good impression,” Morin said. “It’s a process. I'm gonna listen to what the coaches and what [Ron Hextall] tell me. I’ve got to accept that.”

Flyers suffer deflating outdoor loss to Penguins, fall in playoff picture

Flyers suffer deflating outdoor loss to Penguins, fall in playoff picture

BOX SCORE

PITTSBURGH – They won the battle inside the faceoff circle. Outshot their opponent badly. Blocked more shots, too.

And the Flyers still lost. Sound familiar?

Saturday's 4-2 defeat (see Instant Replay) to the Penguins at Heinz Field in the Stadium Series outdoor game likely confirms for general manager Ron Hextall it’s time to be a seller at the trade deadline with a playoff berth seemingly out of sight.

"We gotta score goals. We got good opportunities, but it’s getting old," Jakub Voracek lamented. "If we don’t find a way to win a game, nobody cares."

Not enough scoring from their pop-gun offense, which now has just 25 goals over their last 16 games. Which is a major reason why they've lost seven of their last nine.

"It's that cliché, gripping your stick and I don’t like to use that," Voracek said. "The bottom line, if we want to make the playoffs we got to score the goals. We're not scoring."

It was 36 degrees at puck drop and there were swirling wind gusts. Players said the first period was tough, but they adjusted as the game went on.

"It feels good. It feels awesome," Wayne Simmonds said. "It's the way ice hockey should be played."

So should a few wins with this club and it's not happening. They play well enough to win but ...

"We got to get going here," Shayne Gostisbehere said. "We're [five] points back and that's the biggest thing and it's in all of our heads now. It's getting down to not a lot of games left and we've got to get two points."

Goalie Michal Neuvirth did not have a strong game facing 29 shots.

"We walk away with the wrong result," coach Dave Hakstol said. "We have a day in-between to turn the page and get back at it."

Things began Pittsburgh's way with Sidney Crosby scoring at 11:18, sneaking to the low right slot near the goal line to take a perfect pass from Jake Guentzel and one-time into the far side on Neuvirth for his 34th goal.

Brayden Schenn, centering a new line with Nick Cousins and Jakub Voracek, had a solid scoring chance in the final minute of the period, but Pens goalie Matt Murray turned his shot aside. Murray also had two good saves on Sean Couturier earlier from in-tight.

Nick Bonino, one of the heroes from the Stanley Cup Final last season, made it 2-0 at 6:44 of the second period on the power play. He scored almost from the same spot where Crosby scored.

Minutes earlier, Guenztel took a questionable hit to the head area from Brandon Manning which the Penguins felt was illegal (see video). Pittsburgh came back with Chris Kunitz rocking Ivan Provorov two shifts later.

Manning’s hit energized the Flyers, who owned the second period.

Hours before the game, Voracek said what most people were already thinking.

"I would expect this to be the biggest game of the year," he said. "You look at the standings. We can’t afford to lose."

Voracek wasn't kidding when he said the Flyers needed to do something here. He went behind the net 4-on-4 with Justin Schultz and came around the front with the puck to muscle it past Murray at 11:14, cutting the Flyers deficit in half.

Voracek's goal, his second in three games, gave the Flyers even more of a lift and they made a strong push to tie the game before the period ended.

"We spent a lot of time in their zone and we were very strong on the forecheck," Voracek said. "We had comebacks early in the season … but two penalties in the end, it's tough … How do you rebound? You have no choice. We're not out. We have to start winning."

The Flyers killed off a carryover penalty to start the third but immediately after, the Pens got a strong forecheck with Eric Fehr behind the net, getting the puck over to 40-year-old Matt Cullen, who snuck up on Neuvirth and stunned him with a wraparound.

That was a terribly costly goal and made it 3-1 but Gostisbehere got it right back minutes later with his first goal in 34 games off a point shot during the power play.

It was as close as the Flyers got. Pittsburgh scored off a faceoff to make it 4-2 in the final six minutes. Sean Couturier lost a draw to Evgeni Malkin and the Pens scored off a point drive Neuvirth couldn't find.

"That was deflating," Gostisbehere said. "We can be sad for ourselves all we want … bad bounces or we can say, 'well, it's lucky.' But you know, it keeps happening for a reason."

Instant Replay: Flyers fall in Stadium Series to Penguins, 4-2

Instant Replay: Flyers fall in Stadium Series to Penguins, 4-2

BOX SCORE

PITTSBURGH – The Flyers still haven't won an outdoor hockey game.

They dropped to 0-2-1 lifetime after Saturday night’s highly-competitive 4-2 loss to the Penguins at Heinz Field in the NHL’s Stadium Series.

Given the Flyers came into play five points out of the wild card and desperate for points, this was a fairly significant loss and sixth in their last eight games.

Shayne Gostisbehere's power play goal drew the Flyers to 3-2 at 6:48 in the third period, but the Pens scored a late goal off a faceoff to put it away.

Michal Neuvirth did not have a very strong outdoor showing.

Questionable hit
The Penguins thought Brandon Manning hit Jake Guentzel with a high elbow to the chin in the second period (see video). You can be sure the NHL will review it on Sunday.

Numbers
As cool as the Flyers' jerseys looked, it was nearly impossible to identify numbers from the press box because they blend into the jersey. White numbers would have been better for ID purposes.

Notable goals
Sidney Crosby's opening goal at 11:18 of the first period was his 36th lifetime against the Flyers in 57 games.

Goalie report
Matt Murray played well. Not much Neuvirth could do on the Pens' first two goals but clearly he fell asleep on Matt Cullen's critical wraparound goal early in the third period that made it 3-1.

Power play
Flyers had one good chance on their first power play with a shot from Mark Streit from the circle on Murray. Gostisbehere made it 3-2 with his first goal in 34 games from the point. Flyers were 1 for 4. 

Penalty kill
Penguins got a power play goal from Nick Bonino in the second period that made it 2-0, off a Guentzel assist, his second in the game.  Pens were 1 for 5.

Injuries
Michael Raffl was speared by Evgeni Malkin in the second period without a call. He limped to the bench but stayed in the game.

Fights
There was a scrum between Dale Weise and Chris Kunitz in the second period.

Scratches
Defensemen Nick Schultz and Michael Del Zotto – both healthy; forward Travis Konecny (knee and ankle).

Up next
Flyers are off on Sunday and resume practice Monday at Skate Zone. They will host Colorado on Tuesday.