Philadelphia Flyers

Flyers embrace spoiler role in win over Bruins

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Flyers embrace spoiler role in win over Bruins

BOX SCORE

In the grand scheme of things, it was a victory without reward for the Flyers. But from the Boston Bruins side of things, it could be a major headache.

The Flyers routed the Bruins, 5-2, on Tuesday night at the Wells Fargo Center and may have done some serious spoiler damage to the Bruins, who are tied with Montreal with 59 points.

Boston had the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference. Montreal was the fourth seed.

Essentially, this was a game the Bruins needed to win to secure that seed.

“It’s almost something that is fun to do,” Simon Gagne smiled. “It’s not fun where we are at in the standings.

“There was a lot of expectations with [us] this year. Everything we’re doing right now maybe shows management what kind of team we will have next year.”

Goalie Steve Mason again looked sharp with 39 saves, while Jakub Voracek scored his 21st goal of the season.

Mason was making his fifth start in eight games. He had six critical saves in the final four minutes of the second period with the Flyers ahead 3-1 that made a statement.

“A team like that, they have some great offensive talent and myself, it was a great challenge,” said Mason, who is now 3-0-1 lifetime against Boston.

“We got [to] talk about the way the guys played, the goals they scored for us to respond.”

Coach Peter Laviolette said he wanted to “flip flop” Mason for Ilya Bryzgalov and not to read anything into Mason playing against Boston.

“He’s been pretty good for us since being here,” Laviolette said. “You start to see things in practice. You see his glove. He has a real good glove and that kills a lot of plays when there is no rebounds.

“You see his puck skills and his ability to move pucks out of our end or up to a defenseman or winger.

“His athleticism when he makes a save and gets over to another position to make a save. You start to see things in his game that are real positives.”

Mason got more goal support in the final period from Voracek and Gagne, sandwiched around a David Krejci goal.

“I’m not really looking toward next season yet,” Mason said. “I just want to finish off with a strong note.”

Mason had to be sharp, too, because the Flyers again played without another key defenseman, this time Kimmo Timonen, whose season is over with a foot injury (see story).

“Just part of the challenge,” Mason said. “Obviously, losing Kimmo is a huge loss. One of our top defensemen and on the power play. Guys are having ice time right now and doing a great job with it.”

Guys like Eric Gustafsson, who logged a team-high 23:56.

Backed by an emotional “Boston Strong” tribute to the city of Boston and its people (see story), it didn’t take the Flyers long to grab a lead on backup goalie Anton Khudobin.

“Yeah, of course, you know it’s been hard to see what’s been going on in Boston,” Voracek said.

“But it’s obviously a great thing that we kind of think about it and do what we did, you know. And it’s over and they did a great job with it.”

Not even two minutes into the game, Krejci threw a lazy puck off the board into the high slot.

Scott Hartnell all but tripped over it. He couldn’t believe how it was just sitting there. Hartnell roofed a high shot into the net for his eighth goal.

“What an emotional video to start the game,” Hartnell said of the Flyers' “Boston Strong” pregame video tribute. “We wanted to come out with a big start. It couldn’t have worked out better.

“I came on to the ice from a change and just kind of worked my way to the slot. I don't think their guy knew I was there. I was able to get the turnover and get a shot off.”

Three minutes later, the Bruins charged the net hard, making rather obvious contact with Mason.

They were in pursuit of Jaromir Jagr’s shot off Mason that Wade Redden put into the net to make it 1-1.

Redden, who was in the middle of that scrum, is fighting five other players to make the Bruins’ playoff roster.

The Flyers chased Khudobin for Tuukka Rask just before the midway point of the second period after two bad goals.

Khudobin left a fat rebound in the right slot for Matt Read at 11:24 to break the tie. Seven seconds later, another sloppy clear by the Bruins came back to bite them.

This time, former Norris Trophy winner Zdeno Chara cleared a dump-in from Oliver Laurdisen into the slot from behind the net and the puck went off his goalie’s stick into the net, which infuriated Khudobin.

Then Bruins coach Claude Julien pulled him.

“Awesome, absolutely awesome,” Lauridsen said of his goal. “I mean, it wasn't the dream goal but I'll take it. It was just a dump-in and a lucky bounce but it's my first NHL goal, so I'll take it.”

Now, the second half of that period saw the Flyers get rather sloppy, forcing their penalty killers out there for a brief five-on-three kill that they survived.

Actually, Mason was the reason for the survival. He has a 2.08 goals-against average and .935 save percentage in six overall appearances as a Flyer.

“His confidence is getting bigger and bigger every game,” Gagne said. “It’s something we were talking about on bench. You can see it every practice he is getting better. It’s tougher to score in practice on him. He was really solid for us again tonight.

“As a team, even if you are out of the playoffs, you want to get ready for next season. Show what you can do as a team. Right now, we like what we see from him.”

Flyers GM Ron Hextall: 'We have a tough roster to crack right now, which is good'

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Flyers GM Ron Hextall: 'We have a tough roster to crack right now, which is good'

VOORHEES, N.J. — With 26 players still competing to make the Flyers' 23-man opening day roster, the competition over the final few spots is heating up.

"We have a tough roster to crack right now, which is good for us," Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said Saturday after practice.

The Flyers already trimmed 18 players from their roster Thursday, but the most difficult decisions lie ahead. The tightest battle appears to be developing at defenseman, where Brandon Manning and rookies Samuel Morin and Robert Hagg are all vying for two spots. Travis Sanheim is still in the mix, but will likely start the season at Lehigh Valley.

So far, there is no clear winner in sight.

"We're going to monitor the situation as we go along here," Hextall said. "We'll see what we have with injuries and whatnot, and we'll make decisions at the appropriate time."

"They've all played well. They're all here for a reason still. We could've sent one of them down if they didn't deserve to be here, but at this point, they all deserve to be here."

Both Morin and Hagg have impressed this training camp and preseason. Manning has experience but is also working his way back from offseason back surgery — though Hextall does not sound concerned.

"There's nothing that tells me or certain information that I have from our staff that he's not ready to go," Hextall said, "so as far I'm concerned, he's 100 percent ready to go."

Some cuts will be easier than others. As expected, Alex Lyon was demoted to Lehigh Valley on Saturday.

Between Lyon and one of the blueliners, the roster will eventually get down to 25. That means two forwards will eventually wind up out of the equation, and the three players on the fringe fighting over that one spot are running out of time.

"We have four (preseason games) left," Hextall said. "Our big guys have to play, so we're getting ready for the season now. There's still players in the mix, but you get down as quick as you can and go from there."

Hextall acknowledged spots are "hard to come by" for prospects such Mike Vecchione, who has only appeared in two preseason games thus far. However, the Flyers are not viewing a demotion as a disappointment for any of their young talent.

"We'll see what Vechs, what he does," Hextall said, "and if he has to start out down below, or a couple other guys have to start out down below, that's the way it is."

In addition to the 18 cuts the Flyers made, two players will wind up on injured reserve to begin the season. Winger Colin McDonald and center Cole Bardreau are finished for the remainder of camp and preseason.

Bardreau is out for three-to-four weeks with an upper-body injury. McDonald is down for an undisclosed number of weeks with a lower-body injury.

Barring any additional major injuries, the Flyers intend to carry a full 23-man roster in the regular season, which is set to open Oct. 4 at San Jose.

"You plan certain things in injuries and performance," Hextall said. "You have to adjust on the fly."

"Right now, I'd say we plan 23, but see who gets injured — if a guy is injured, how long is he gonna be — all that kind of stuff. We'll adjust as we go along here, but right now, I'd say we plan on 23."

Roster cuts
The Flyers on Saturday continued to trim their roster. Forwards Greg Carey, Corban Knight and Phil Varone and defensemen Mark Alt, T.J. Brennan and Will O'Neill were assigned to Lehigh Valley after clearing waivers as well as Lyon.

Rating 5 changes the NHL made to its rulebook

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Rating 5 changes the NHL made to its rulebook

If you have witnessed preseason hockey this past week, you are well aware that the NHL is buckling down on its rulebook and even revising it. An excess of penalties and power plays have occurred as a result of these changes. Are they good for the game? I examine each of the five new rules or changes to the existing rulebook. 

Rule 78.7 (b) — A coach's challenge on an offside play — If the result of the challenge is that the play was “onside,” the goal shall count and the team that issued the challenge shall be assessed a minor penalty for delaying the game.

In 2015, the NHL granted each coach a challenge they could utilize in the event of overturning an incorrect call on the ice. If the challenge failed and the original call stood, then the challenging coach would forfeit the team’s timeout. Starting this season, a failed challenge on an onsides call in which there’s a goal will result in a two-minute minor penalty.   

By doing so, the NHL instituted a method to help maintain the game’s integrity in the event of a missed call by a linesman, as many coaches hold onto their challenge at a critical juncture — typically during the third period. Now with a two-minute penalty, it’s a way of reversing course without actually taking away the challenge. It's as if the league is saying we want you to have a challenge, but not really. The league is now discouraging teams from using it. As we’ve seen over the past few years, offsides calls can be measured in millimeters — that’s how arbitrary it’s become. But to penalize an entire team for a coaching staff’s misjudgment is excessive, and as we’ll see this season, it will sway the outcomes of a few games. Forfeiting a timeout for losing a challenge is acceptable, but killing a two-minute power play? Absurd, and for that I give it …

Two thumbs down   

Rule 61.1 — Slashing — Any forceful or powerful chop with the stick on an opponent’s body, the opponent’s stick, or on or near the opponent’s hands that, in the judgment of the referee is not an attempt to play the puck, shall be penalized as slashing.

Flyers fans can call out Sidney Crosby for emphasizing this rule, which is not a rule change but simply the enforcement of an existing rule. Crosby violated this in the worst way when he performed a machete slice over the hands of Senators defenseman Mark Methot late in the season. The result was a broken finger, nearly severed from the tip and the loss of one of Ottawa’s top defensemen for weeks. Watch the video and you can hear Methot scream in pain as Crosby took his whack.

In the preseason, we have seen more slashing than department store prices during Black Friday. It’s out of control, not the slashing itself, but the slashing calls. As the rule states, it’s a "forceful or powerful chop," which usually requires a two-handed grip. However, the referees have resorted to blowing the whistle for a one-handed love tap. As Shayne Gostisbehere said Wednesday, “When they blow the whistle and everyone’s like, ‘What just happened?’ That’s not a penalty.”  

I suspect come October when the regular season begins, the officials will ease up on their slashing calls, but it definitely creates a gray area, much like the interference call. Over the course of the season, some refs will whistle everything, while others will let stuff go. If it protects the league from injury, especially serious injury in cases like Methot and even Johnny Gaudreau, it can be beneficial, but I see some inconsistency from game-to-game and for that I give it ...

One thumb up ... my good, non-slashed thumb

Rule 76.4 — Faceoff positioning and procedure — The players taking part shall take their position so that they will stand squarely facing their opponent’s end of the rink and clear of the ice markings (where applicable).

Like the slashing penalty previously discussed, this is another enforcement of an existing rule. In other words, the league wants to cut down on cheating during faceoffs. You know when players began cheating on faceoffs? Since the inception of the faceoff. In fact, I can recall producing a three-minute story when I was working at a Nashville TV station on how players gain advantages and bend the rules on faceoffs. Three minutes. On cheating! 

Now, those L-shaped lines are no longer suggestions or recommendations, but strict guidelines of where the players should stand prior to a faceoff. If a team is caught twice during the same faceoff (and it doesn’t have to be the same player), the result is a two-minute minor penalty. The Islanders' Josh Ho-Sang was a guilty offender twice during Wednesday’s game in Allentown and the Flyers benefited with a power play in each instance. The league’s explanation states they want to protect players from banging heads, and more importantly, protect the linesman dropping the puck. 

Like the slashing penalty, I’m curious to see which linesmen strictly enforce this rule and which ones will be a little laxer. This is another one of those penalties (like the challenge call) that you certainly don’t want to impact the outcome of a game. The league has good intentions for enforcing Rule 76.4, but will they have consistent enforcement? And for that I give it …

One thumb up

Rule 87.1 — No timeout shall be granted to the defensive team following an icing.

Once again, here’s another example of a moment when a coach would intervene during a critical point of a hockey game (usually late during the third period). An attacking team is applying pressure in the offensive zone of a close game and the defensive team, obviously gassed, flips the puck out of the zone for an icing. That coach proceeds to call a timeout to allow his team to catch its breath and grab some water before the ensuing faceoff.

My take on the new rule: Love it! This rule should have been implemented years ago. You can penalize a team for icing without actually calling a penalty. Allowing a timeout does exactly the opposite and circumvents any drawbacks of icing. By forcing a tired group of guys to line up and take a faceoff right away is precisely the way it should be handled, and for that, I give this new rule …

Two big thumbs up

Eliminating Rule 80.4 — Numerical advantage on faceoffs — When a team on the power play high sticks the puck, the ensuing faceoff will be conducted at one of the two faceoff spots in their defending zone.

This is the abridged version of the rule that was roughly half a page long. Playing the puck with a high stick is instinctual and when the game is played at warp speed, a player’s natural inclination is to raise their stick in an attempt to knock the puck out of the air. When a player is guilty of a high stick, the whistle is blown and a faceoff occurs. Now that this rule has been eliminated entirely from the rulebook, the ensuing faceoff will take place in the zone in which the infraction was committed.

No team should be given a territorial advantage as a result of a high stick. I’m surprised it’s taken this long to acknowledge the absurdity of Rule 80.4, and for finally acknowledging this, I give the elimination of this rule …

Two thumbs up