Flyers' camp shifts to Lake Placid for getaway

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Flyers' camp shifts to Lake Placid for getaway

The list of Flyers fall getaways during this decade is impressive.
 
West Point, N.Y., Annapolis, Md., Banff, Alberta. Those were under coach Ken Hitchcock.
 
Whistler, B.C. That was John Stevens’ team.
 
Today, it’s Peter Laviolette’s turn to take the Flyers' training camp on the road for team-bonding exercises and further camp development.
 
Laviolette chose tiny Lake Placid, N.Y., where history was made in 1980 when the U.S. beat the Soviet Union in ice hockey, then went on to capture the gold medal against Finland.
 
Had Laviolette had his way, the Flyers would have trained there last year, but general manager Paul Holmgren couldn’t swing it. Circumstances broke just the right way this fall with the ongoing renovation of Skate Zone.
 
“Paul and I talked a couple of times but schedule-wise, it was hard to put together,” Laviolette said. “This seems the perfect spot with Skate Zone remodeled and the break in the schedule.”
 
The Flyers don’t play another exhibition game until next week, allowing for these four days away. The team will arrive Thursday morning, then return home Sunday afternoon.
 
“This year it just worked out with what's going on at the Skate Zone, the renovation, and the way that training camp broke,” Holmgren said.
 
The split-squad games allowed the Flyers to play four games in three days in two countries.
 
“I wouldn't mind moving two of those games next year, to play two doubleheaders with two split squads,” Holmgren said.
 
“Peter and the coaches have some interesting things planned for the players [in Lake Placid]. They'll not only put them through the paces on the ice, but some off-ice stuff they can do, which is very important as you prepare for an 82-game season, and hopefully, playoffs.”
 
With the exceptions Hal Gill and Kimmo Timonen, no active player attending the Lake Placid retreat was alive to see the “Miracle on Ice.”  
 
Even Laviolette admits he has no idea if his younger players are fully tuned-in to what Lake Placid means to Americans, let alone USA Hockey.
 
It means a world to Flyers assistant coach Joey Mullen. He likely had a spot locked up on Herb Brooks’ Olympic squad before doing something so unselfish, so caring, few people ever knew what was behind it.
 
Mullen turned pro with the St. Louis Blues the summer prior to the Olympics. He needed his signing bonus to help support his family back home in the Hell’s Kitchen section of New York City because his father had become ill.
 
“I did try out for that team,” Mullen said. “My dad got sick and I had to make a decision and I think I made the right one for me.”
 
He never got an Olympic medal, but Mullen was later rewarded with two Stanley Cups as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
 
Mullen still remembers the feeling of practicing and playing in Lake Placid.
 
“It’s a good way to bond,” he said. “It’s a good way to get in a place where we’re all together and go right to work. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us. We’ve got things to accomplish this year and it starts when we get in.”
 
Much of what the Flyers do in Lake Placid will be behind closed doors. The bonding exercises strengthen “trust” within players. Some of them are mental exercises, some physical. Saturday is an off-day when players can choose from a variety of activities.
 
“Team-building stuff is phenomenal. I really enjoy it,” said center Vinny Lecavalier, one of several newcomers on the Flyers.
 
When Lecavalier captained the Lightning in Tampa Bay, they went to Mont Tremblant, Quebec for their team-bonding experience.
 
“It’s a great idea,” he said. “For me, I’m the new guy. You get to know the guys a lot more. You come into the locker room every day. Everybody is doing their thing when they step on the ice.
 
“When you go away three, four days, it’s like you never get to know somebody unless you go on vacation with them.
 
“It’s not a vacation, but you get to know your teammates on the ice, off the ice. It’s kinda of a four-day thing. For me, especially, getting to know the guys, it’s a great thing.”
 
The NHL has asked the Flyers several times about training in Europe and starting the season over there. The organization has always been intrigued by the idea, yet team owner Ed Snider has never been convinced it doesn’t hurt the club at the start of the season with the travel, time difference, etc.
 
In 2009, the Penguins trained 10 days in Europe, opened the season there, and won the Stanley Cup. Max Talbot, who scored the winning goal that spring in Game 7 against Detroit, said it was a unique bonding experience.
 
“I think it is necessary and I did it quite a bit of it in Pittsburgh,” Talbot said. “I always enjoyed it. What is kinda related is the year we started in [Sweden]. It’s not exactly the same kind of training camp concept, being in another country, but it was great for team bonding and we won the Cup.”
 
Defenseman Mark Streit, another newcomer, also believes in getting away.
 
“We did it in Montreal every year and I felt it was good for us,” Streit said. “Team bonding is important, but it is also a good time to practice up there. We have not had enough time here to work on a few things and this will help. It will be fun to hang with guys and be on the road a bit.”
 
Not every NHL team goes to some place special for bonding. Sometimes, they go to ordinary places.
 
When he was playing goal in Columbus, Steve Mason, beginning his first full season as a Flyer, said the Blue Jackets went away to … Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.
 
“We didn’t necessarily go and take a plane and fly to a different city, but we had team-building things outside the city limits,” Mason recalled. “We got away from the families and distraction of camp in your own building. Have that bonding experience in a more intimate setting.
 
“Any time you can go away and isolate the team as a whole, it’s great moving forward. With all the new people we have this season it will be great to build new relationships with them.”

Shayne Gostisbehere was right: Let's not forget the big picture

Shayne Gostisbehere was right: Let's not forget the big picture

Shayne Gostisbehere spoiled us.

In 64 games last season, we were spoiled by his 17 goals, most by an NHL rookie defenseman since Dion Phaneuf scored 20 over a full 82 in 2005-06.

Spoiled by a historic 15-game point streak, the longest ever for a first-year blueliner.

And spoiled by four overtime winners, an NHL rookie single-season record.

With it all, Gostisbehere created a mighty and somewhat unfair challenge. He exceeded anyone’s wildest expectations and perhaps made for even greater ones as an encore.

So, naturally, questions and doubts have swirled around his quiet sophomore season. Speaking to reporters last week after a 4-1 loss in Buffalo, Gostisbehere, for the first time, expressed just a hint of frustration. In the midst of his current 22-game goal drought, he wanted to make a point.

Astutely, he did.

“I’m doing my job,” he said. “I mean, I’m a defenseman, I’m not a goal scorer.”

It served as a reminder of what many wanted to see improve in Gostisbehere’s second NHL go-round — a more sound game in his own end by honing in on the defensive skills to his position.

Yes, he can change a game offensively, but could he be reliable and responsible defensively?

After all, Gostisbehere is a defenseman, like he said. We’ve already seen the offensive potential. From the onset, defensive growth is what head coach Dave Hakstol wanted to see.

“Consistency every day,” Hakstol said in early October. “Just be an everyday worker who is pushing hard to really improve himself as an NHL defenseman.”

Now, not only is Gostisbehere in a malaise offensively with four goals and 15 assists through 43 games, but he also hasn’t been sharp or consistent defensively. That certainly is a part of the concern permeating through the Delaware Valley. The 2015-16 Calder Memorial Trophy (top rookie) runner-up has been benched twice because of it and is a team-worst minus-17 on the season.

However, the positive here is he’s focused on it. Forget scoring goals for a moment. Even with Gostisbehere’s struggles, Flyers defensemen have provided offense among the league’s best. And for a stretch of 20 games following his first healthy scratch on Nov. 17, Gostisbehere was cleaner and more active with 17 giveaways and 24 blocked shots just partially telling the story. In the 17 games prior, he had 19 giveaways and only 20 blocked shots.

“I’m here to help the team in any way possible,” Gostisbehere said last Sunday. “Right now, it’s just getting back to work and doing the little things. It’s not going to come easy. That is something that me personally, and a lot of us have to look at.”

Even some of the all-time great defensemen went through the proverbial sophomore slump. Hall of Famer Nicklas Lidstrom went from 60 points and a plus-36 rating as a rookie to 41 and a plus-7 in his second season. Brian Leetch, also in the Hall of Fame, saw a dip in production across the board in Year 2 after winning the Calder Trophy.

But let’s not draw crazy comparisons. Let’s just understand the important thing here, which is Gostisbehere’s understanding that defense is paramount. He’s learning through his lumps, starting at the end of his breakout rookie campaign in which he looked spent from the NHL grind. He underwent minor offseason surgeries on his hip and lower abdomen, suffered a nasty face cut in the season opener, then a bone bruise on his right hand in December.

We’re just over halfway through the 2016-17 schedule. Gostisbehere is only 23 years old, a 2012 third-round pick with a cap hit less than 16 other Flyers in a season that looks more like a continued rebuild than a jump to contention.

Really, Shayne Gostisbehere should be some of the least of our worries.

Best of NHL: Surging Capitals rock Blues in St. Louis

Best of NHL: Surging Capitals rock Blues in St. Louis

ST. LOUIS -- Andre Burakovsky, T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov each had a goal and an assist to lead the Washington Capitals to a 7-3 victory over the St. Louis Blues on Thursday night.

Jay beagle, Brett Connolly, Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams also scored, and Alex Ovechkin and Daniel Winnik each had two assists to help Washington earn at least a point in its 12th straight game (10-0-2) for an NHL-best 66 points.

Braden Holtby bounced back from his roughest outing of the season with 22 saves. Holtby was pulled after giving up a season-high five goals on 26 shots in an 8-7 overtime loss at Pittsburgh on Monday. He improved to 22-8-4 and 5-0 lifetime against St. Louis (see full recap).

Grabner scores 2 goals, Rangers top Leafs
TORONTO -- Michael Grabner scored two goals against his former team, helping the New York Rangers snap a three-game losing streak with a 5-2 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night.

Pavel Buchnevich, Brady Skjei and J.T. Miller added goals for New York, and Henrik Lundqvist made 23 saves following a series of rough outings.

Tyler Bozak and Zach Hyman scored for Toronto, which had a three-game winning streak stopped. The Maple Leafs had earned 21 of a possible 26 points in their previous 13 games (10-2-1). Frederik Andersen gave up four goals on 40 shots (see full recap).

Tavares leads Islanders to shutout of Stars
NEW YORK -- Getting a new coach this week didn't change things much for the Islanders -- and oddly enough, that's a good thing for New York.

John Tavares narrowly missed out on his second hat trick in a week, Thomas Greiss got his second straight shutout and the Islanders beat the Dallas Stars 3-0 on Thursday night in their first game since firing longtime coach Jack Capuano.

New York canned Capuano in the middle of his seventh season Tuesday, replacing him on an interim basis with Doug Weight (see full recap).

Niederreiter, Wild dodge letdown, edge Coyotes
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Nino Niederreiter had two power-play goals and an assist, including the go-ahead score for the Minnesota Wild with 7:06 remaining in a 4-3 victory over Arizona on Thursday night after the Coyotes came back from a two-goal deficit.

With Shane Doan in the penalty box for hooking, Niederreiter knocked in a nifty redirect of Mikael Granlund's slap shot for the winner. Devan Dubnyk stopped 20 shots for the Wild, who are 18-2-2 in their last 22 games.

Louis Domingue made 21 saves for the Coyotes, who lost their fourth in a row and fell to 2-12-1 in their last 15 games starting with a 4-1 loss to Minnesota in Arizona on Dec. 17 (see full recap).