Finally settled in, Stolarz focused on development

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Finally settled in, Stolarz focused on development

VOORHEES, N.J. -- It had been a crazy couple of years for Anthony Stolarz.

Two seasons ago, the now-19-year-old goalie barely made it onto the roster of the NAHL’s Corpus Christi IceRays. His family had to drive from their home in Jackson, N.J., to New York before flying to Dallas where Stolarz eventually made the team.

The following year, he made plans to attend and play for the University of Nebraska Omaha, but after a while of riding the bench, an opportunity arose in London, Ontario, to join the OHL’s Knights.

So, once again, Stolarz hustled to a new city.

Now, finally, he knows exactly where he fits in, and he’s free to focus solely on his development.

“It’s finally nice to be settled in and know where I’m going to be this year,” Stolarz said. “Being settled in, it’s going to be a benefit for me. I’m not going to have to think too much about anything or make any difficult decisions.

“I’ll be in one place all year, so that’s something that will be a change for me -- and it will be very nice.”

The towering netminder (he’s 6-foot-6) will return to London this fall and rejoin the defending OHL-champion Knights, where he finished his first season with a 2.29 goals-against average and .920 save percentage in 20 games.

And when he arrives, he said, he’ll be an even stronger player than he was at this time last year.

“I think my patience is something I’ve worked on,” he said. “Rebound control. Those are two things that I worked on with [goalie coach] Jeff Reese this week, and I think from Day 1 when I was here at development camp last year 'til now, it’s tremendously improved.”

That improvement was absolutely on display Monday, when Stolarz teamed up with fellow Flyers goalie prospect Carsen Chubak to help the Flyers' rookies shut out the Washington Capitals' rookies, 1-0, in the teams' annual rookie game.

Stolarz’s family still resides in Jackson, and the ability to spend the summer at home meant he was a mere 45 minutes away from Skate Zone. That proximity allowed Stolarz to work out at the Flyers’ practice facility five days a week and spend time around players like Marc-Andre Bourdon, Nick Cousins, Derek Mathers and Mark Alt, who were also in town.

Talking to players who have been around the organization and have played at the pro level taught him a lot, Stolarz said. But there are still elements of his game that need improvement.

“Definitely just foot speed and beating the pass,” he said. “A big thing we’re working on this week is getting across [the crease] and getting hard pushes and moving around the crease. You look at the guys out here, and it’s definitely a lot faster than what I’m used to.

"For me, it’s just getting used to that pace and making myself quicker during the season and the offseason, to be able to compete at this level.”

When the Flyers drafted Stolarz in 2012 in the second round (45th overall), he was a confident, aggressive 18-year-old. His attitude showed even in his draft interview, when he joked with reporters and was hardly shy like draftees often are. That mindset, too, has improved, Stolarz said.

“In terms of the aggressiveness, I think I’ve calmed down a little bit,” he said. “I’m not as all over the place. A big thing with coach Reese, he’s wanted me to simplify my game and stay back a little more and let the game come to me, and I think I’ve definitely seen improvement with that.”

That said, Stolarz is still confident. He's aware of the pressure he faces, considering where the Flyers selected him, and his eyes are still on the ultimate goalie prize.

“Going in as a second-round pick, I feel that I want to live up to expectations,” he said. “I want to come to Philadelphia and be the No. 1 guy, be the guy.”

Flyers-Penguins 5 things: Different teams meet outdoors at Heinz Field

Flyers-Penguins 5 things: Different teams meet outdoors at Heinz Field

Flyers (28-25-7) at Penguins (37-14-8)
8 p.m. on NBC, CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

It’s time for some outdoor fun.

The anticipated Flyers-Penguins Stadium Series game has arrived, as the two rivals clash Saturday night at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.

Let’s get you ready for it all with five things to know.

1. Eye on the ice
The one caveat of playing ice hockey outdoors is, of course, the weather.

The forecast is calling for rain showers from morning until noon with temperatures in the low-to-mid 50s. The precipitation is expected to taper off and temperatures are expected to dip into the high-30s for puck drop.

The ice can still be playable with some rain. Both teams are expected to have their morning skates indoors. No matter what, the game ice will certainly be a bit different than playing in a concealed arena.

“I'm sure they will do the best they can to have it ready,” Michael Del Zotto said this week (see story). “Unless it is really cold, the ice is always going to be chippy playing outdoors.

“It doesn’t matter what the ice conditions are because both teams are playing with it. It’s not an advantage or disadvantage for either team. Both have to deal with it.”

Ultimately, players are ready for anything weather-wise -- with the wind being just as big of a concern as the ice (see story).

2. Two directions
The Flyers and Penguins are in contrasting spots.

Pittsburgh is built for another Cup run.

The Flyers are not yet. Instead, they are fighting simply for their postseason lives.

The orange and black have lost seven of their last 10 games. Since the 10-game winning streak, they are 9-15-4 with the NHL’s second-fewest points at 22.

When the Flyers won 10 straight, they had a plus-14 goal differential over that span. In the 28 games since, they have scored an NHL-low 48 markers and own a minus-36 goal differential.

So, like last season, the Flyers have a mighty mountain to climb for a playoff berth (see story). They are now five points back of the Islanders, who currently hold the second wild-card spot with 68 points. The Flyers, at 63 points, also trail the Bruins (68) and Panthers (66), while the Sabres (62) and Lighting (62) are right there in the mix.

Meanwhile, the defending champion Penguins are third in the NHL with 82 points and first with 3.47 goals per game, spearheaded by Sidney Crosby’s league-best 33 scores.

3. Keep an eye on …
Flyers: Brayden Schenn is on a three-game goal streak and ranks No. 1 in hockey with 14 man-advantage tallies. Since Jan. 8, he is tied with Wayne Simmonds for the Flyers’ lead in goals at eight. He also owns eight goals and eight assists in 23 career games against Pittsburgh.

Penguins: Right winger Patric Hornqvist, who plays alongside Crosby, was super active in the first meeting with the Flyers, recording two assists, five shots on goal, three hits and three blocked shots. The 30-year-old has 17 goals, 18 assists and a plus-19 rating, while the Penguins are 12-3-0 when he scores a goal.

4. This and that
• Flyers goalie Michal Neuvirth is making his sixth straight start and ninth in the last 10 games. He is 2-2-2 with a 2.23 goals-against average, .921 save percentage and two shutouts in seven lifetime matchups with Pittsburgh.

• Penguins goalie Matt Murray is 5-1-2 in his last eight games with a .940 save percentage and 1.84 goals-against average. In two career games (one start) against the Flyers, the 22-year-old is 1-0-0 and has stopped 39 of 41 shots faced.

• Pittsburgh has won four of the last five meetings with the Flyers. This is Game 2 of the four-game regular-season series between the teams. The Penguins won the first matchup, 5-4, on Oct. 29 at the Wells Fargo Center.

• Penguins defensemen Justin Schultz (upper body) and Kris Letang (upper body) will be game-time decisions. Schultz is a team-best plus-31 on the season, while Letang is a two-time All-Star.

• Jakub Voracek has 32 points (15 goals, 17 assists) in 29 career games against Pittsburgh.

5. The rivalry
Relive some great moments from the Flyers-Penguins rivalry with these terrific pieces from CSN’s Orange Line.

Danny Briere recalls brawl in Pittsburgh

The origin of Philly’s hatred for Crosby

Reliving Flyers’ five-overtime playoff win

Mario Lemieux returns to form in first game back

Top Flyers-Penguins moments

Another wild-card run? Flyers need it to start outdoors

Another wild-card run? Flyers need it to start outdoors

PITTSBURGH -- At this point, the Flyers are sick of talking about Saturday night's Stadium Series outdoor game against the Penguins at Heinz Field.

They just want to get it on and get it over with. Too much buildup.

“Yeah, kind of,” Simmonds said Friday. “For us, this is an extremely important game. We’ve got to get all the points we can possibly get going down the stretch if we want to make the playoffs.

“Obviously, it’s going to be an exciting time. A lot of guys have families here. But we have to stay focused on the goal.”

To say the Flyers need points right now is a huge understatement. They are five points behind the New York Islanders for the Eastern Conference's final wild-card spot.

That’s the farthest they have been behind since occupying the wild card on Dec. 4. When the Flyers won their 10th consecutive game Dec. 14, they were 14 points ahead of the Islanders.

That’s a 19-point swing in the standings since then.

“So, we just have to find a way to get two points and get some wins in a row here,” Jakub Voracek said. “Every game against Pittsburgh is special. Playing an outdoor game -- I don't know how many people are going to be here -- but it's going to be a great experience.

“For us, every game is a huge game. So, if you play Pittsburgh or Colorado, it doesn't matter. You have to get two points.”

Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said Friday night he believes his team can still make a playoff run and salvage a wild card.

The thing is, when the Flyers made their second-half push last season, it actually began in mid-February -- earlier than now.

A couple players got hot, as did Michal Neuvirth and then Steve Mason, and you could see momentum building in the team over weeks.

That hasn’t been the case here. It’s almost March and the Flyers are floundering, no one is scoring and they are losing games despite playing pretty good hockey with no answer on how to turn things around without a major scoring increase across the board.

“It's a different season,” Voracek said of the comparison. “Different teams. You could use it as an advantage. … We have to play our hockey. The last two games, we went 1-1, but we played pretty good. We have to be ready [Saturday].”

Hextall said what happens this weekend and Tuesday against Colorado will have a trickle-down effect on what he does Wednesday at the NHL trade deadline (see story).

“We’ve played well enough at times this year that we can mount a run,” Hextall said. “I have no doubt in my mind. We’ve been playing pretty good the last eight, nine games. Except for the Edmonton game.

“But we haven’t gotten results. We need to get results. It’s not about moral victories or playing good against Washington. That’s fine and dandy, but not good enough. We have to win games.”

It starts tonight.