Flyers-Coyotes: 5 things you need to know

flyers-coyotes-matchup.jpg

Flyers-Coyotes: 5 things you need to know

The Flyers may have gotten their first win of the 2013-14 season out of the way on Tuesday, but the club is still searching for goals in the early going.

Headed into Friday’s matchup against the Phoenix Coyotes (2-2-0), the Flyers (1-3-0) have netted just five goals in four games.

With puck drop set for 7 p.m. on CSN, here are five things you need to know for Flyers-Coyotes:

1) Get “G” going
Claude Giroux, who has led the Flyers in scoring the past three seasons, has struggled to find his offensive game so far in this campaign. He has fired 10 shots on net, but has zero points in the team’s first four games.

Giroux on Wednesday said his hand, which required surgery in August to repair severed tendons from a freak golfing accident, isn’t bothering him but his confidence is (see story).

“The confidence is not there,” Giroux said. “I don’t think it’s the hand -- the confidence is just not there. I will be fine. A few bad games, you always have a stretch like that during the season. Going day by day. We have a new system today and guys did a good job working it. It’s an ugly win, but we’ll take it.”

Although Giroux netted two markers in the Flyers’ first two games last year, the 25-year-old didn’t get off to the best start. He had just two assists -- both in a 7-1 rout of the Florida Panthers on Jan. 26 -- in the club’s next six games.

Giroux isn’t the only forward struggling to find the back of the net, but if the Flyers want to be successful they’re going to need their captain -- and main offensive weapon -- to find his confidence soon.

2) Schenn-sational
Is 22-year-old Brayden Schenn finally poised for a breakout season?

It sure looks like it through the first four games. Schenn has registered 11 hits, seven shots and three points and has shown some chemistry with first-year Flyer Vinny Lecavalier on the Flyers’ second line.

The young forward hasn’t quite lived up to his much-talked about potential since being acquired by the Flyers as part of the Mike Richards trade in 2011. In his first two seasons in orange and black, Schenn scored 20 goals and assisted 26 more in 110 games.

Schenn’s contract expires after this season. In the preseason, he said he wasn’t worried about his contract situation and was more focused on finding “consistency.”

The season is still young, but don’t be surprised if you see a lot more from No. 10 this year.

3) Between the pipes
Steve Mason has the hot hand in net as the Flyers prepare for Phoenix. Granted, Mason has started three of the Flyers’ first four games, but the netminder has put up impressive numbers (.936 save percentage, 2.02 goals-against average) and was the main reason why the Flyers came away with a 2-1 win over the Florida Panthers on Tuesday.

New head coach Craig Berube hasn’t named a No. 1 goaltender and isn’t expected to any time soon. He reiterated earlier this week that the goaltending situation will “work itself out.”

The Flyers enter their second back-to-back situation this season with the Coyotes in town Friday and a matchup with the Red Wings in Detroit on Saturday. It’s likely Mason and Ray Emery will split those games.

4) Catching up with the Coyotes
Thanks to last year’s lockout-shortened season, in which teams played only within their conference, the Flyers have not played the Coyotes since Dec. 3, 2011. The orange and black won that game, 4-2.

The last time the Coyotes traveled to Philadelphia was Nov. 17, 2011. The Flyers handed Phoenix a 2-1 loss at Wells Fargo Center on that night.

The Coyotes went 21-18-9 and finished 10th in the Western Conference last year, failing to reach the playoffs for the first time since the 2008-09 season.

5) This and that
• In 2011-12, Matt Read collected two goals and two assists in two games against Phoenix. Giroux and Scott Hartnell added a tally and a helper each in the season series.

• Coyotes captain Shane Doan has had plenty of success in his NHL career, but not against the Flyers. In 21 regular-season games against the orange and black, Doan has just four goals and is a minus-9.

• Zac Rinaldo is averaging less than 10 minutes per game, but has registered 24 hits in the Flyers’ first four games.

NHL Notes: Chris Kreider, Rangers agree on four-year contract

NHL Notes: Chris Kreider, Rangers agree on four-year contract

NEW YORK -- The New York Rangers signed forward Chris Kreider to a four-year contract worth $18.5 million in a last-minute deal that helped the sides avoid arbitration.

General manager Jeff Gorton announced the agreement on Friday.

The deal will pay Kreider an average of $4.6 million and keep him with the team through 2020. It also includes a modified no-trade clause that prevents Kreider from being traded to 11 teams.

The 25-year-old Kreider was a restricted free agent.

"What happens in this type of deal is that both sides have stated positions and when the specter of 'arb' comes, it drives both sides closer," Matt Keator, Kreider's agent, said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "For us, the term was the right amount and for the team that amount was the right amount, so we were able to come together on both sides. 

"It worked out fine, and Chris loves New York and wants to be there."

Keator said both sides were ready to present their cases Friday morning before reaching an agreement.

Kreider had 21 goals and 22 assists in 79 games for New York and a plus-10 rating. He established career-highs in even-strength goals (16) and hits (177), and he tied his career-high in goals, set the previous season.

Kreider was one of six NHL players who registered at least 20 goals, 40 points, a plus-10 rating and 50 penalty minutes this past season. Alex Ovechkin, Jonathan Toews, Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand and James Neal were the others.

He ranked third on the team in power play goals (five), fourth in even strength goals, fifth in goals and even strength points (35), and tied for fifth in points. Kreider also led the Rangers in goals (15) and ranked second on the team in points (26) on the road this past season (see full story).

Sabres: Evander Kane charged with harassment at bar
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Buffalo police say Sabres forward Evander Kane has been charged with four counts of non-criminal harassment and one count of misdemeanor trespass after an incident at a city bar last month.

Police say the 24-year-old Kane surrendered to authorities Friday and was issued a court appearance ticket. Investigators say two women accused Kane of grabbing them at a bar on June 24.

According to the reports, one woman told police Kane threatened her inside the club and when outside, grabbed her throat. The second woman accused Kane of trying to force her from the bar.

Kane's attorney, Paul Cambria, says his client is innocent of all charges.

In March, prosecutors said there was no evidence to support a sexual assault charge against Kane stemming from a December incident. 

Kane has two years remaining on his contract.

Maple Leafs: No. 1 overall pick Auston Matthews signs 3-year deal
TORONTO -- The Toronto Maple Leafs signed No. 1 overall draft pick Auston Matthews to a three-year, entry-level contract Thursday with the maximum bonuses allowed.

Matthews had 24 goals and 22 assists in 36 games last season for the Zurich Lions in Switzerland and had nine points for the United States at the world hockey championship.

The 18-year-old from Scottsdale, Arizona, immediately became the face of the Maple Leafs' franchise when they selected him first in last month's draft. General manager Lou Lamoriello typically refuses to give bonuses to rookies, but agent Pat Brisson confirmed that Matthews' deal includes the maximum entry-level salary of $925,000 per year plus potential bonuses that could add up to an average annual value of $3,775,000.

"There were no issues at all getting it done with Lou [Lamoriello] and the Leafs," Brisson said. "Auston is thrilled (see full story)."

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Pascal Laberge brings more than just offense to Flyers’ system

Pascal Laberge brings more than just offense to Flyers’ system

VOORHEES, N.J. — Pascal Laberge has all the tangibles front office officials treasure in a prospect.

A willowy 6-foot-1 frame, slick and smooth skills with the puck and a scoring IQ well beyond his age of 18.

A true dream when it comes to offensive hockey.

It’s a package the Flyers liked and drafted this summer in the second round with the 36th overall pick.

But what the Flyers loved about Laberge was beyond the ice — and it's likely a reason they’ve already signed the Canadian forward to his entry-level contract (see story).

“If you look at Pascal’s story, he’s had a tough year as an individual, especially as a young kid,” Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said last week at the conclusion of development camp. “He persevered through. We loved his perseverance.”

Laberge and his family have suffered hardships and heartbreak (see story).

The game was his outlet.

“When I was at the rink, I was not thinking about what happened with my family,” Laberge said. “Thank God I play hockey because that would have been a harder year for me.”

It makes his 2015-16 season at the junior level that more impressive. Playing for Victoriaville of the QMHJL, Laberge recorded 23 goals and 45 assists for 68 points in 56 games.

Over a 10-game scoring streak from Jan. 23-Feb. 19, Laberge racked up 21 points on six goals and 15 assists. Earlier in the season, he tallied a point in nine straight games. He also competed in the World Juniors for the Canada U-18 team, posting a pair of goals and assists in seven games.

“It was a great experience,” Laberge said of the World Juniors. “I improved myself, played defensively. I had more defensive responsibilities, so that was fun, just to learn new things.”

Make no mistake, though, Laberge’s forte is depositing and facilitating the puck.

“Pascal has good size, good speed, he’s got good skills,” Hextall said. “He’s a highly skilled young player.”

He offers exactly what the Flyers needed in their system: forwards with size and playmaking ability. At 175 pounds, he’ll have room and time to become stronger.

“I’m an offensive player, I’ve got a good shot,” Laberge said. “Even if I’m not that heavy, I like to play a physical game. I’m pretty sure in three years, I’ll be bigger and I’ll be able to play that kind of game.”

Laberge said he can play either forward position — he’s opened to both, although wing may be best for both him and the Flyers.

“I think it’s more of both positions,” he said. “I can play center and I can play as a winger. My coach last year thought that I was better as a wing, which I think I did — when I got to wing, I put more points on the board.

“Either position [the Flyers are] going to make me play, I’ll play it.”

Laberge enjoyed his first development camp. He bonded with fellow prospects and saw where he stood among the best before preparing for another junior season.

“It’s pretty fun to play with some older guys and compare yourself to these guys,” he said. “My goal is just to make a good impression and try and go as far as I can.”

His perseverance should only help.

For Brayden Schenn and Flyers, short-term deal could make sense

For Brayden Schenn and Flyers, short-term deal could make sense

The NHL is quickly heading toward its annual August dead period.

Teams have made their draft picks, had their rookie camps, signed free agents and made the most of their important trades.

But as a month of relative inactivity approaches ahead of September’s World Cup of Hockey, the Flyers and general manager Ron Hextall still have one piece of business to attend to: signing restricted free-agent forward Brayden Schenn to a new deal, preferably before an arbitration hearing scheduled for Monday (July 25).

Both sides have said there’s no rush and a deal will get done, but both sides surely want to avoid a hearing, which can get messy. For an example, see John LeClair’s hearing with the Flyers in the summer of 2000 when he was eventually awarded a record $7 million deal for one year by the arbitrator. The Flyers offered $5 million and then went on to argue LeClair’s weaknesses as a player during the hearing. That’s the last time a Flyer has gone through with an arbitration hearing.

No one wants to reach that point and these kinds of things often find a conclusion. Remember when Michael Del Zotto came to terms with the Flyers last year before a scheduled hearing? To further that point, the Washington Capitals agreed to a deal with Marcus Johanssen earlier this week just hours before a scheduled hearing.

After a career season, during which he had career highs in goals (26) and points (59) and found a home on Claude Giroux’s wing on the top line, Schenn deserves, and will get, a raise from the $2.75 million he earned last season.

How much of a raise remains to be seen, but it will be a healthy amount the Flyers have to fit in. Somewhere in the $4-5 million per year range makes sense and the Flyers currently have just over $5 million in cap space for this coming season.

But when talking term, it could be beneficial for both the 24-year-old and the Flyers to go for a shorter contract rather than a longer one.

Schenn has been plagued by inconsistency throughout his five seasons in Philadelphia, and last season marked the first time Schenn was able to score at a consistent rate. That was especially true after the All-Star break, when Schenn went off for 14 goals and 19 assists in 35 games to close the regular season.

For that reason, the Flyers should be hesitant to hand out a long-term deal. In reality, five or six years is too long of a deal for a player who has yet to prove he can make last year’s production happen on a season-to-season basis. While last season was a career year for Schenn, it’s also cracked the window open more for the Flyers to see if that’s what he’s truly capable of year by year.

And a short-term deal could be beneficial to Schenn, as well.

It’s understandable when a player is coming off a great season that he would want long-term security in his next deal. A chance at long-term security isn’t something that comes along often in the pro sports world. 

But, coming off last season, this is where Schenn could bet on himself. He could bet on himself for the next two or three seasons that he can duplicate that production, especially with the chemistry he formed with Giroux and Wayne Simmonds on the top line.

Per the NHL’s collective bargaining agreement, a player can’t reach unrestricted free-agent status until he’s 27 or has seven accrued seasons (on a roster for 30 games) in the league. The latter reason is why Steven Stamkos, 25, was slated to be UFA before re-signing with the Tampa Bay Lightning earlier this summer. Barring a catastrophic injury, Schenn would reach seven accrued seasons in the summer of 2018. He would turn 27 past that summer’s UFA filing deadline, so age wouldn’t work for him until the summer of 2019.

If he continues to consistently produce, he’ll be in position to cash in big time in a few seasons while still in the prime of his career.

Hextall has publicly stated he’s not a fan of long-term deals. And with Schenn’s historic inconsistency, this could be one of those instances in which one of those deals makes Hextall take a deep breath.

But if Schenn bets on himself for the next few seasons and succeeds, any cause for deep breaths will be gone and he’ll have proven he’s worth signing long term. And then he’ll be worth plenty of money, too.