Flyers earn important win before holiday break

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Flyers earn important win before holiday break

BOX SCORE

Their goalie made a couple of timely momentum saves.

Their still fairly-new top line had another big game with four points.

And they got secondary scoring once again from a familiar face.

All three things played a role in the Flyers' 4-1 victory over the Minnesota Wild on Monday that sent the team into the Christmas break over .500 and secured a hold on a playoff spot as the third-place club in the Metropolitan Division (see Instant Replay).

You can talk at length about how Claude Giroux’s unit now has 28 points in the six games its been together, but you have to first mention that goalie Steve Mason had two critical saves at different times that gave the offense a chance to score.

First, Mason stoned Jason Pominville shorthanded with the Flyers holding a precarious 2-1 lead in the second period. A few minutes later, Giroux made it 3-1.

Then in the third period, the Wild made a hectic push for several minutes with Mikko Koivu charging down the slot to get his stick on a pass and one-time at Mason’s doorstep.

That save prevented what should have been a certain goal. And it gave the Flyers more momentum. Moments later, Simmonds (two goals and an assist) scored an empty netter (see highlights).

Game over.

“It was definitely a big save,” Mason said of the Koivu shot that drew thundering applause. “If we don’t make that, it becomes a one-goal hockey game and there is probably seven and a half, eight minutes left at that point.

“That could have become an entirely different hockey game, and those are the saves that we need to come up with in order to have success.”

What can you say about the top line that hasn’t already been said? Giroux has a career-high seven-game point streak (12 points), while Voracek has a career high eight-game streak (11 points).

The line came together Dec. 12 against Washington when Michael Raffl replaced Scott Hartnell at left wing.

“We’re finding the back of the net,” Giroux said. “It’s a lot more fun than the start of the year.

“We’ve got chemistry going. We’re controlling the play better. And [Raffl] is playing great for us. He’s moving everywhere and he has a great stick.”

Raffl had a couple of quality chances against the Wild, himself. His speed makes everyone go.

Coach Craig Berube says that’s the key.

“They all bring a different element,” Berube said. “The speed factor with Jake, the hands of Giroux and Raffl just strong on the puck. But they all skate and that is the key. They move their feet well in the offensive zone.”

Raffl is tough as nails on the wall, too, Berube said.

“It's nice to play with those guys,” Raffl said. “It's a challenge every day but I really enjoy it. I'm trying to stay on that line as long as possible.”

The Flyers kept pressing the offense against Minnesota.

“Our best defense is our offense and we keep pressuring them,” Giroux said. “We’ve got four lines going and everyone is playing great.”

Voracek seems just as relaxed as Giroux right now.

“We’re working hard all the time,” he said. “Back in the day when things didn’t go well, we stayed patient, we work real hard, and I think we’re old enough players to know we’ve got to work hard and we should be fine eventually. That’s exactly what happened and I think we’re making a difference in the game, which everybody is expecting from us.”

What has made it a bit easier on them is the contributions from others. Simmonds had two goals against the Wild. His new unit has Hartnell and Brayden Schenn in the middle.

“I think it’s worked great,” Simmonds said of his unit. “Like I said, we all do the same thing, we play north-south, we get bodies in, we grind on the other team's D, and we get the pucks to the point and we crash the net. I think that’s a good recipe and so far it’s been working.”

Right into Christmas.

AHL allowing players on minor-league deals to go to Olympics

AHL allowing players on minor-league deals to go to Olympics

Players on American Hockey League contracts will be eligible to play in the 2018 Winter Olympics.

President and CEO David Andrews confirmed through a league spokesman Wednesday that teams were informed they could loan players on AHL contracts to national teams for the purposes of participating in the Pyeongchang Olympics.

The AHL sent a memo to its 30 clubs saying players could only be loaned for Olympic participation from Feb. 5-26.

The Olympic men's hockey tournament runs from Feb. 9-25. Like the NHL, which is not having its players participate for the first time since 1994, the AHL does not have an Olympic break in its schedule.

The AHL's decision does not affect players assigned to that league on NHL one- or two-way contracts. No final decision has been made about those players.

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly denied a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation report that the league had told its 31 teams that AHL players could be loaned to play in the Olympics. It was an AHL memo sent at the direction of that league's board of governors.

When the NHL announced in April that it wouldn't be sending players to South Korea after participating in five consecutive Olympics, Andrews said the AHL was prepared for Canada, the United States and other national federations to request players.

"I would guess we're going to lose a fair number of players," Andrews said in April. "Not just to Canada and the U.S., but we're going to lose some players to other teams, as well. But we're used to that. Every team in our league has usually got two or three guys who are on recalls to the NHL, so it's not going to really change our competitive integrity or anything else."

The U.S. and Canada are expected to rely heavily on players in European professional leagues and college and major junior hockey to fill out Olympic rosters without NHL players.

With AHL experience, Flyers prospect Nicolas Aube-Kubel out to score again

With AHL experience, Flyers prospect Nicolas Aube-Kubel out to score again

VOORHEES, N.J. — At the junior level, scoring was second nature to Nicolas Aube-Kubel, like riding a bike after you figure out the balance aspect.

Goals came in bunches and points piled up — that was his game and it came effortlessly at times, especially over his final two seasons with the QMJHL's Val-d'Or Foreurs, posting back-to-back campaigns of 38 markers and 80-plus assists.

"Usually in junior, scoring was always coming naturally to me, having points and goals," he said last week at Flyers development camp.

On the AHL ice last season, it was a whole new ballgame. For Aube-Kubel, Year 1 of pro hockey was a feeling-out process from start to finish. His prolific scoring didn't carry over much at all, as the speedy 5-foot-11 winger finished with nine goals and nine assists in 71 regular-season games for Lehigh Valley.

"Guys are better with the puck," he said of the AHL. "I've always been strong on the ice and skating-wise, too, but translating to the AHL, guys are faster, guys are quicker with the puck and less turnovers."

This was part of toeing the waters in a new surrounding. Not many prospects jump from the junior ranks to the AHL without missing a beat. Aube-Kubel, who turned 21 in May, wanted to fulfill his role and duties first before worrying about scoring. He finished the season as a plus-10, tied for fourth best on the team and tops among Phantoms with 70 or more games played.

"I've always been an offensive player," Aube-Kubel said. "From being my first year in the pros, I was trying more to focus on details and what the coach was telling me. I'm excited for next year and I'll try to step up my game, for sure, and try to do what I was doing in junior."

Following his fourth development camp, Aube-Kubel finds himself heading into an interesting second season with Lehigh Valley. A lot has changed since he was taken by the Flyers in the second round of the 2014 draft. With time, the organization has significantly built up its prospect pool and added depth at forward. 

Aube-Kubel is just fine with that.

"Since I've been drafted, there was depth," he said. "Any way I'm going to play in the NHL, I'm going to make my own spot. No one is going to give it to you. If there are more drafted players, it doesn't change anything."

He's also enjoyed working with the Phantoms' staff, led by head coach Scott Gordon. More development off the ice and a greater workload during games should help moving forward.

"I liked it. They treat you like a pro," he said. "Everyone does their own thing. If you cheat or if you're not serious about it, it's you to pay off. If you're not serious, it's going to be you that gets penalized."

If Aube-Kubel needs any comfort in the quiet start to his pro career, he can look back at his first season of junior play. He tallied just 10 goals and 27 points in 64 regular-season games. Then he jumped to 53 points (22 goals, 31 assists) in 65 games in 2013-14 before scoring at will over his third and fourth seasons with Val-d'Or.

Maybe easing his way in is just part of his hockey DNA.

If so, keep an eye on Aube-Kubel next season.

"This year, I was maybe more focusing on having a role and trying to do what the coach was asking of me," Aube-Kubel said. "Now that it's all set, I'm going to focus on offensive play. I don't want to put pressure on myself, but last year wasn't my best offensive year. It was also my first year. I think I was trying to learn a lot of it and we'll see what happens next year."