Philadelphia Flyers

Flyers-Jets: 5 things you need to know

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Flyers-Jets: 5 things you need to know

Flyers vs. Jets
7 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet

The Flyers (20-22-7) will continue their homestand when they battle the playoff-hopeful Winnipeg Jets (26-15-8) at the Wells Fargo Center.

Here are five things you need to know for the game:

1. Money Mase
Forget his bout with the flu. Forget his lower-body injury. Steve Mason looked like his usual reliable self in relief of Ray Emery on Tuesday night.

Emery surrendered two goals on just four shots in just seven minutes against the Arizona Coyotes, prompting Flyers coach Craig Berube to quickly replace the veteran netminder with Mason in hopes of sparking the team. It worked, too. Mason gave up one goal on 23 shots before turning aside all three Arizona attempts in the shootout to lift the Flyers to a 4-3 victory.

Mason was actually aiming to return for Thursday’s game against Winnipeg. He had missed six straight games because of a knee injury and practiced just twice — on his own — during the All-Star break. Then he got sick. He was feeling well enough to dress against the Coyotes, but wasn’t expecting to see game action.

“It wasn’t exactly the plan, but it was probably easier to get thrown in not expecting anything,” Mason said after the game. “I just went out and played. With the long layoff, there’s obviously room for improvement. It was the guys in front of me who won the game with their effort.”

Mason, who has a .921 save percentage and 2.41 goals-against average in 30 games this season, practiced in full with the team Wednesday and said he felt “great.” Expect him to be back in the crease Thursday.

2. The other guys
Ryan White made his Flyers debut Tuesday, centering Wayne Simmonds and recent call-up Petr Straka.

White channeled his inner Zac Rinaldo in the first period, when he was whistled for an unnecessary interference call in the offensive zone. Remarkably, it was the Flyers’ only penalty of the game. White finished the game with two hits, a blocked shot and one shot on goal in 18:35 of ice time — a rather uneventful night.

Straka wound up playing just 10 minutes and eight seconds in his NHL debut. He didn’t make much of an impact on the scoresheet — one hit and a blocked shot — but showed flashes of his speed early on. He could get another look if Michael Raffl (flu) is unable to go.

Simmonds played the role of hero in the Flyers’ win. He tallied his 10th power-play goal of the season — snapping an eight-game goalless drought — and later scored the game-winner in the shootout. Yes, the shootout. If you’re paying attention closely at home, that’s twice already in 2015 that Simmonds has helped the Flyers to a win in the gimmick.

R.J. Umberger, who has been noticeably better over the past month and a half, also had a strong game. He fired a team-high five shots on goal and collected his ninth goal of the year. His next goal will give the Flyers seven skaters with at least 10 tallies this season.

3. Injuries
Braydon Coburn (foot) and Scott Laughton (upper-body) remain sidelined for the Flyers.

Nicklas Grossmann, however, returned to practice and skated with his usual partner, Mark Streit, on Wednesday. The shot-blocking defenseman, who is recovering from a shoulder injury, isn’t quite ready to play in a game, but could return as soon as Saturday against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

For the Jets, defensemen Grant Clitsome (upper-body) and Mark Stuart (lower-body) are on injured reserve and will not suit up.

4. Keep an eye on ...
Flyers: Claude Giroux (two goals, two assists), Jakub Voracek (five assists), Michael Del Zotto (two goals, three assists) and Streit (two goals, two assists) are all riding four-game point streaks. Take your pick.

Jets: Dustin Byfuglien, also known as “Big Buff,” was an absolute force the last time these two teams met. He bruised and battered several Flyers forwards, most notably Brayden Schenn, Raffl and Giroux. The All-Star defenseman, sometimes winger, is built like a linebacker (6-5, 265), but skates well for his size and is almost unstoppable in both zones when he’s on his game. He enters Thursday with 12 goals and 32 points in 49 games this season.

5. This and that
• The Flyers are 5-1-1 in their last seven games against Winnipeg.

• The Jets are 6-2-2 on the road against the Eastern Conference.

• During their current 3-1-0 stretch, the Flyers have potted at least one power-play goal in each contest and are 5 for 14 on the man advantage overall.

• Winnipeg has 271 infractions for 689 penalty minutes this season, the most in the NHL.

• Steve Mason is 3-0-1 with a 0.91 goals-against average, .968 save percentage and one shutout in five career games — four starts — against the Winnipeg franchise.

In the background, Mike Vecchione out to break more ceilings with Flyers

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Zack Hill/Philadelphia Flyers

In the background, Mike Vecchione out to break more ceilings with Flyers

VOORHEES, N.J. — Mike Vecchione leaned up against a stick rack in the hallway outside the rookie locker room at Flyers Skate Zone.

No one but an occasional prospect passing through was in sight.

Unlike with some other rookies at training camp, there was no hoard of recorders and cameras surrounding him.

This is just how Vecchione likes it — little anticipation, all behind the scenes.

"I kind of like not having to be in the spotlight," Vecchione said last Saturday. "I just get to go out there, play my game and just keep my head down and work hard."

Nearly a month after the forward signed with the Flyers at the end of March as an attractive college free agent, the organization improbably landed the No. 2 overall pick in the June entry draft, meaning a bona-fide center was coming. Then, another month later, the Flyers expectedly inked rising winger prospect Oskar Lindblom to his entry-level deal.

Within thirty-two days, the Vecchione signing, his NHL debut, the buzz — much of it had fizzled. Suddenly, a 2017 Hobey Baker Award (top college player) finalist was in the background.

Sort of like his status at training camp, a scene overflowing with youth and hope for the future. Blue-line prospects are everywhere. Patrick, who just turned 19 years old, is being watched like a hawk. And Lindbolm, 21, is hard to miss with his long blonde hair while playing alongside Claude Giroux for parts of camp.

Still young and blooming at 24, Vecchione is now up against Patrick, Lindblom and others for just a spot on the Flyers' roster. No guarantees, but that's a feeling he knows well.

"Obviously when they draft Nolan, it's going to be a little tougher, but it's nothing I haven't seen before," Vecchione said. "They're going to take whoever is the best fit for the team. Right now, I'm on the wing, so it's a little different perspective. But, yeah, that doesn't change my mindset, what I'm going to do. I'm going to go out there, work as hard as I can, show them that I can be a good piece to this team. 

"I knew coming in it wasn't going to be easy, they didn't guarantee me anything and I knew I had to work for it, so, like I said, nothing new for me. I'm just looking forward to the challenge."

In fact, knowing beforehand the No. 2 pick would fall in the Flyers' lap wouldn't have changed much for Vecchione and his decision to sign here.

"No, I just had a good comfort level with the Flyers," he said. "It just felt like the best fit. When they got the No. 2 overall pick, it didn't change the way I felt about the organization, how I fit in here and how I could be a good asset to the team. Looking back in hindsight, I probably would have done the same thing. Right now, I'm still happy with it.

"Everything is about competition, competing out there, and that's what I've been trying to do my whole life. It's how I got here, so it fits me pretty well."

Looking at the counterparts in his current competition, Vecchione's résumé should remind many that he comes with a not-so-shabby track record himself. He is the all-time leading scorer in Union College history with 176 points and also ranks first in all-time assists with 105. After 63 points (29 goals, 34 assists) in 38 games his senior year — a single-season program record — Vecchione stood as the active career leader in the country.

"Nolan, what's he, 19? Oskar, 20, maybe 21? It's a lot of pressure put on the younger guys. For me, I'm 24," he said. "Yeah, I've [accomplished] all those things, but it's nice not to have all that — the media all over me, all the pressure on being the No. 2 overall pick or all the good things that you have to say about Oskar. They're two tremendous players, but you can't harp on them, put all that pressure on them, just let them go out there and play.

"But for me, I've done a lot of great things, I've been able to accomplish a lot. Yeah, I feel like I have a good pedigree, too."

Those achievements aren't as shiny when up against big names in an NHL training camp, but Vecchione, a 5-foot-10, 203-pounder, can look at them for motivation. It's a product of his work.

"It always seems to be that way," Vecchione said. "I think that work ethic, tenacity, all those things that I've had to overcome to get here has helped me a tremendous amount with maturity and mental toughness. Everything I've learned throughout my time playing hockey is you're going to have to work for everything you get and nothing is going to be given to you — hard work is going to get you a long way."

Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol sees it.

"He's a worker," Hakstol said last Saturday. "I think that's the one thing you're looking for out of everybody, obviously. There's an awful lot more to it than that as you progress through camp, but he's worked hard."

Vecchione, a restricted free agent inked to a two-year extension on Day 1 of free agency this summer, doesn't mind where he plays. He'll start the season with AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley if that's the case. He'll play winger instead of center if that's what the Flyers want.

Quite frankly, though, he doesn't care one iota about projections.

"I feel like I can put the puck in the net, make plays out there," Vecchione said. "In college, I started as a third, fourth-line guy, played center and I worked my way up.

"I feel like I have a good shot at being a top-six forward with Lehigh and maybe a bottom-six with Philly. It's all about how you perform up there and maybe you can work your way up. I've been taught to never put a ceiling on anything. The sky's the limit and I've broken a lot of ceilings that people put on me before."

Michael Raffl, Matt Read healthy and in shape looking for rebound seasons

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USA Today Images

Michael Raffl, Matt Read healthy and in shape looking for rebound seasons

VOORHEES, N.J. -- Their 20-goal seasons seem like an eternity ago, and now Matt Read and Michael Raffl are spending this year’s training camp trying to prove themselves all over again.

“A little bit, yeah,” Read said of feeling the need to prove himself. “I try and tell myself every day to be the hardest working guy out there, and move your feet as much as you can, win puck battles and the other things will come as we go. Just try and be in a lot better shape than I was, not that I was in bad shape, but just try and play a full game and every shift at a high pace. Just keep working hard and hopefully, things can turn around, opportunities will come, and you just got to bear down on them.

“You got to have something inside you that drives you through the summer,” Raffl said. “You gotta have a goal in mind. I want to come to camp and be the fittest guy in here. That’s all I can do in terms of how I prepare, especially with last season and all the injuries. I don’t want another year like that.”

From the day Read arrived in 2011, he seized his opportunities by utilizing his speed and relying on his “hardest working guy” attitude. His 24 goals led all rookies and he finished fourth in Calder Trophy voting behind Colorado’s Gabriel Landeskog, Edmonton’s Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and New Jersey’s Adam Henrique as the league’s top rookie. Read was considered one of the Flyers' most productive even-strength forwards. You may be surprised to know, but during that stretch (2011-14), only Claude Giroux’s 49 and Jake Voracek’s 47 even strength goals topped Read’s three-year total of 46. 

Read was rewarded with a four-year, $14.5-million contract and he hasn’t been the same since suffering a high ankle sprain just a month into that new deal. Once the injury became publicized, every time Read went through a scoring drought questions regarding the ankle would resurface, and yet, he never missed any significant time playing through pain.    

Two years after Read burst onto the scene, Raffl followed suit earning a roster spot with the Flyers straight out of camp as another undrafted rookie. Raffl’s transition to the NHL was not nearly as impactful as Read’s, as he scored 9 goals to go along with 22 points in his rookie season. However, Raffl found his niche during his sophomore season, scoring a career-high 21 goals playing on a line with Giroux and Voracek. The big-bodied Raffl quickly understood that to keep up with highly-skilled players, the best thing to do was crash the net and good things would happen. Like Read, Raffl also benefitted financially by inking a three-year, $7-million dollar extension.

However, last season was Raffl’s worst in orange and black. He never felt right battling through an upper-body injury during the first month of the season, and then missing the final six weeks after suffering an MCL sprain.

“I was banged up all the way through,” Raffl said. ”I had a long summer and a lot of time to work on some stuff. I feel fantastic out there right now.”

Both guys felt better when their cellphones went silent back in June as Vegas was composing their expansion roster. And even though Read and Raffl were left exposed, the Golden Knights selected Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. Raffl clearly had no ambitions of continuing his career in Nevada.

"I like it here, I like where I’m at. I love Philadelphia,” Raffl said. “This is where I’ve signed for three years. I want to be here.” 

Read, on the other hand, had a more realistic and philosophical approach to the situation.

“It’s completely out of your hands,” Read said. “If it happened, it happened. If it doesn’t, you just come back to camp here and get ready for the season. If it’s out of your control, why worry about it, why fret about it? You just prepare yourself and it doesn’t matter if you’re there or you come back here. You just have to show up and be able to have a good season again. It’s out of your hands and I didn’t worry about it too much.”

Now Read and Raffl are back in the same dressing room and for the first week of camp even on the same line along with Scott Laughton. Together that trio proved to be a hard-checking line against Islanders superstar John Tavares, Jordan Eberle and Anders Lee in the preseason opener.

“Laughts brings a lot of speed to the middle and Raffy is obviously someone on the forecheck who separates a guy from the puck and when he has the puck he usually does the right thing with it,” Read said. “It’s easy to play with those guys and we had fun. We had a lot of ice time. It’s a good way to start the preseason."

They may be together now, but one of those final roster spots could essentially come down to Read or Raffl.

Roster cuts
The Flyers reduced their roster by 18 players Thursday morning. Connor Bunnaman (Kitchener - OHL), Pascal Laberge (Victoriaville - QMJHL), Ivan Kosorenkov (Victoriaville - QMJHL), German Rubtsov (Chicoutimi - QMJHL) and Carter Hart (Everett - WHL) have been returned to their junior teams.

Rubtsov, the Flyers' 2016 first-round pick, was returned to his junior team, rather than sent to the AHL for which he was eligible.

Forwards Nicolas Aube-Kubel, Radel Fazleev, Tyrell Goulbourne, Danick Martel, Carsen Twarynski, Mikhail Vorobyev, defensemen James de Haas, Mark Friedman, Maxim Lamarche, Philippe Myers, Reece Wilcox, goaltenders Leland Irving and John Muse have been assigned to the Flyers AHL affiliate, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. The Flyers training camp roster now stands at 36.

“Obviously, today there’s separation in terms of where we go from here in camp,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “We still have a good number of players in camp. Today is the day when the competition starts to rise in terms of some of the tougher decisions that are coming down the road here.”

Dave Hakstol will be forced to dress nine players who suited up in the split-squad games against the Islanders, including Taylor Leier, who continues to make a strong push to make the opening night roster.

“Taylor Leier will be back in the lineup tonight,” Hakstol said. “He’s coming off a really good performance last night. Those are the kind of performances and that’s the type of impact you want to see out of the young players who are working to make our hockey team.”