Flyers' defensemen confident despite criticism

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Flyers' defensemen confident despite criticism

VOORHEES, N.J. The Flyers defensemen know what youve been saying about them.

They know you think that, as a group, theyre weaker now than they were heading into last season. Theyre aware of your skepticism as to whether theyll be good enough to give goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov a chance.

But they see things differently.

I like it, Nick Grossmann said of the teams defense as a whole. We got a couple additions in Bruno Gervais and Luke Schenn, and I think it adds a lot of skill and size. I like our group. Theres a few guys who played together last year here, theres still the same core. And these guys, I think its a good addition. Im looking forward to playing with them.

Along with Schenn and Gervais, the Flyers most recently brought in veteran D-man Kurtis Foster to help bolster their blue line. All three are solid acquisitions, but none of them will be the next Chris Pronger or Matt Carle -- two players who were on the active roster entering last season.

You take out a Hall of Famer in Chris Pronger, and Matty Carles a good player, as well, Braydon Coburn said. But we put some good players back in the lineup with Kurtis Foster and Bruno and a young guy, Luke Schenn. I think that gives our defense a pretty solid three pairings.

Theyre three big pairings, as well. With their newest additions, the Flyers now have one of the leagues biggest defensive corps -- the eight blue-liners in camp average out to 6-foot-2 and 219 pounds each.

And lest you worry about their ability to move the puck and assist in coach Peter Laviolettes run-and-gun system, they believe theyre up to the task.

I think weve got pretty good mobility, Coburn said. Our team is an attack-oriented team. Were a team that moves, and weve got guys that can skate. Weve got a good combination of skating and size back there.

Its foolish to suggest the Flyers are better off having not brought in a top-tier defender last summer, but given the short 48-game season and six-day training camp, the teams defensemen do believe they have a leg up over other teams with vastly changed back ends.

Anytime you play with each other before, its going to help out, Grossmann said. You know each other, you know how to read off each other, everyone kind of knows the system. And then these two guys come in and it feels like youre able to play with them thats how you know theyre good guys. Im looking forward to playing here and see what they can bring to the table.

Of course, there are some issues. Andrej Meszaros is working his way back from a torn Achilles tendon, and isnt sure whether hell be ready to go for Saturdays season opener against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Erik Gustafsson, whos shown talent at moving the puck and generating offense, has an ankle injury and isnt attending camp. Marc-Andre Bourdon, who had a breakout season in 2011-12, is suffering from post-concussion symptoms.

There's also a matter of uneven conditioning. Some players, like Kimmo Timonen, haven't played in a game since the Flyers were eliminated from the playoffs last April.

But all that aside, the Flyers' defensemen are a confident group. They've been all business at training camp. And theyve got a message for those who believe that they might not be good enough to help the team be a real contender.

We dont know that yet, do we? Timonen said. Well see how the season gets going. But we got some new guys, we got some young guys. Hopefully we can play good defense and help the forwards and help the goalies.

We have to wait and see.

E-mail Sarah Baicker at sbaicker@comcastsportsnet.com

Elements will play factor for both Flyers, Penguins in outdoor game

Elements will play factor for both Flyers, Penguins in outdoor game

PITTSBURGH -- The ice on Friday afternoon at Heinz Field was watery and slushy.
 
That’s because the city set a historic record at 78 degrees for Feb. 24.
 
So what were the ice conditions?
 
“They were pretty good,” said Sidney Crosby. “It was pretty bright there. Started off the practice and the sun was beating down pretty good.
 
“I’ve played in a few of these and the ice was pretty good considering how warm it was. It’s supposed to cool down and I’m sure it will get better.”
 
The Penguins will host the Flyers on Saturday night in a Stadium Series outdoor game.
 
Pittsburgh took the ice Friday at 4 p.m. The Flyers got on the ice a little more than an hour later and things started to cool down.
 
“We had a pretty good practice given the circumstances,” Jakub Voracek said. “This is a little better setup than Philly. The fans are closer.”
 
It was much hotter when Pittsburgh took the ice, but the temperature was still warm after the sun went down.
 
Shayne Gostisbehere said, “It was hot for sure. … It was fun, but it was pretty hot.”
 
Defenseman Radko Gudas said the ice surface was, “playable, but a little rough.”
 
On Saturday, rain is expected, with temperatures falling to 42 degrees by 5 p.m.
 
During the game, which begins at 8 p.m., the temperature is projected to continue to drop and there will be wind gusts up to 31 mph. By the end of the night, the forecast says temps will be in the 20s. 

Players are more concerned about the wind than the ice at this point. Crosby, who has played in three previous NHL outdoor games, said wind is a huge factor. It happened to the Penguins at the 2014 Stadium Series game in Chicago.
 
“It can definitely be a factor,” Crosby said. “I want to say in Chicago that was something we kind of had to look at. We felt it a little more there compared to the other two [outdoor games]. If it going to get windy like that, it’s something to be aware of.”
 
It remains to be seen how the NHL will handle which team goes into the wind first.
 
“Yeah, the wind,” Penguins assistant coach Rick Tocchet of what element will be a big factor. “I hope you don’t have to backcheck. Who gets the advantage? They change in the third period. But who picks what end? There is a wind factor.”
 
Tocchet rated the ice Friday as “a little slushy.”
 
“It was good early and then it got tough because it was hot outside,” Tocchet said. “But we got a half-decent practice out of it.
 
“The one thing, the puck didn’t bounce, which was good. Players can adapt a lot better when the puck doesn’t bounce. When things bounce, it’s a tough night.”

Flyers GM Ron Hextall on trade deadline: 'We're not buying'

Flyers GM Ron Hextall on trade deadline: 'We're not buying'

PITTSBURGH -- When asked Friday night at Heinz Field whether the Flyers would be buyers or sellers at next Wednesday’s NHL trade deadline, Ron Hextall didn’t flinch.
 
He was adamant he won’t be a buyer. He also intimated he’s looking to sell and that these next two games before the deadline could impact that decision.
 
“We’ll see,” Hextall said. “We’re not buying. I’ve said that for a while now. We’re not buying. We’ll see where we’re at in a couple days. Like I said, tomorrow’s a big game. I have ideas and we’ll execute them depending.
 
“We’ll be making calls and getting calls and we’ll see what’s out there and see where we’re at as a team in the standings and make the appropriate moves.”
 
The Flyers also play Colorado on Tuesday, the day before the deadline.

“It could have some effect, it could,” Hextall said on whether the next two games will impact his decision-making at the deadline. “We’ll watch the standings closely and what we’re doing tomorrow night.”

Hextall made his comments Friday night while the Flyers practiced on the outdoor ice at Heinz Field for Saturday’s Stadium Series game against the Penguins.
 
The most obvious candidates for the Flyers to move at the deadline are defensemen Mark Streit and Michael Del Zotto and goalie Michal Neuvirth.
 
More than 10 NHL clubs have been scouting the Flyers regularly over the past month, home and away (see story).
 
Hextall has been saying for months he doesn’t like to make decisions based on “small samples.” Yet the Flyers have been very inconsistent the entire season, save for a 10-game win streak between November and mid-December.
 
They are 3-6-1 in their last 10 games. Of those seven losses, they have scored one or no goals six times. What does that say?
 
“It tells me we have to be more consistent,” Hextall replied. “It tells me what we’re capable of and at times we’re not playing anywhere near to that level. That’s been frustrating.
 
“I like our team. We’ve got some good players, but the consistency part, we have to level that out for sure, especially from now to the end of the year.”
 
Some NHL clubs -- Pittsburgh last season and Chicago this season -- have promoted scores of younger players onto their roster. The Flyers promoted Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny this season.
 
Why not promote some players from the Phantoms right now?

“Not to make us a worse team,” Hextall said. “If we make something happen and if we can bring someone up and we take a lateral move, yeah, that’s kind of where you want to get to.

“That’s why you don’t want to bring kids up, 20-year-olds that aren’t ready to play. You mentioned Pitt there, their guys that helped them last year are all 23 now except for the goalie. Keep that in mind. They were kids, but 23-year-old kids.”

The Phantoms are having a good season. They could go far in the AHL playoffs. Hextall said that wouldn’t prevent him from bringing players up, even if it hurt the Phantoms’ chances.

“Is it a factor? I guess at the bottom,” Hextall said. “My job is to do what’s best for the Flyers. Part of what’s best for the Flyers is having the best team down there that we can have to grow kids in a winning environment.
 
“That’s part of it. I wouldn’t not bring a kid up that’s ready to play because he’d be leaving the Phantoms, assuming you have a roster spot and cap space and the things that come along with that.”
 
Loose pucks
Jordan Weal (concussion symptoms) could play Saturday Hextall said. ... Konecny (ankle and knee) is ahead of schedule and could be back in four weeks or less instead of six weeks. He skated at least four times this week on his own.