Flyers must find a way to finish at the net

100213_flyers-read-ap.jpg

Flyers must find a way to finish at the net

As good as the Flyers looked in playing a strong, overall game despite losing, 3-1, to Toronto in their season opener, they lacked in finishing at the net.
 
That is something that happened continually all last season.
 
You could make the argument that Game 1 resembled Game 16 or 26 or even 40 from last year. No finish, no goals.
 
The Flyers had 73 attempts at the net and just one goal against the Maple Leafs.
 
Viewed in that overall context, you could understand if they called up a scorer from the Phantoms to replace prospect Scott Laughton, who was sent back to his junior club in Oshawa.
 
And there’s the rub. The player they called up is more of an energy guy -- Kris Newbury (see story).
 
Yes, he’s been a consistent 62-point man in the AHL for the past three seasons. In some ways, he is the newest version of Peter White -- a bona fide minor-league scorer.
 
That’s just it, though. He’s not an NHL scorer, which is what they need instead of another Zac Rinaldo.
 
“It would be nice to bang a couple in,” Newbury said. “I don’t think they brought me up to put points on the board.”
 
It’s ironic that all the players who were vying for that extra forward spot on the final roster -- Laughton, Michael Raffl, Tye McGinn, Chris VanderVelde and Jason Akeson -- are all gone. None of them won the battle.
 
Instead, it now goes to the 31-year-old Newbury by default until someone else appears.
 
“He can play center or wing,” general manager Paul Holmgren said. “He’s a good energy guy. If you’ve ever seen Newbury in the American League, he’s a good player.
 
“He comes up to the NHL whether it be with Detroit or the Rangers or Toronto a few years ago, he’s a plugger and a role player. He’s willing to mix it up. A good energy guy.”
 
Is that what the Flyers need right now?
 
“More energy or penalty killing or fourth-line guys is what we’re looking at,” Holmgren said. “Down in the American League, he plays on the power play. He has the ability to move up. He is a first- or second-line center in the American League who puts up points.”
 
Newbury was centering Akeson and McGinn on the Phantoms' first line. Again, he’s not been a proven goal guy at the NHL level -- just four goals and nine points in 72 NHL games.
 
Of course, it would help if the current group that can’t shoot straight start burying its chances.
 
“When you get chances to score, that is one thing,” Holmgren said. “We got to bear down and bury the ones we get. I would be more concerned if we weren’t getting opportunities.
 
“I do think we played a good game -- certainly well enough to win the game. The bottom line is we didn’t. Now we have to figure out a way to get back on the winning side. I thought we made a couple of mistakes at key times in the game that cost us. We have to eliminate those, too.”
 
A lot of what happened in the opener goes away if  the Flyers score on more than one of their seven power plays.
 
“There were lots of looks, good things,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “I could think of times we were close as well. G (Claude Giroux) sifted one in there to Scotty (Hartnell) in the slot and he fired it and it just missed over the cross bar.
 
“There were lots of looks and in-zone and shots and maybe it hit a stick or redirected the wrong way or we weren’t in the right spot for a rebound. Again, there were good things on the power play.”
 
Just not enough goals. Again.

Pressure is on Flyers' fourth-liner Chris VandeVelde to fend off competition

Pressure is on Flyers' fourth-liner Chris VandeVelde to fend off competition

VOORHEES, N.J. — Even before Flyers training camp opened, Ron Hextall talked about a plenitude of internal competition for jobs.
 
It’s all over the ice, too.
 
Who starts in goal: Steve Mason or Michal Neuvirth, who came on strong at the end of last season? 
 
Does Ivan Provorov win a spot on the roster? And if he does, who gets sent packing?
 
Between Scott Laughton and Nick Cousins, who gets the lion's share of ice time? 
 
Can Travis Konecny or Roman Lyubimov force a veteran forward off the team?
 
Then there’s free-agent signee Boyd Gordon, a PK specialist who was second only to Claude Giroux in the league last season on winning defensive zone draws. More competition.
 
Well, one of the key battles in training camp for both roster space and minutes concerns how veteran fourth-liner Chris VandeVelde handles the competition from Lyubimov — the 24-year-old Russian who plays a heavy game and can handle special teams — and others.
 
VandeVelde saw a bit of an offensive drop-off last season with 14 points. Though just a point fewer than the year before, the bigger dip was going from nine goals to two.
 
With no real goal-scoring additions in the offseason, Hextall is expecting bigger outputs from returning players.
 
In VandeVelde’s case, two goals is something Lyubimov could easily match or exceed.
 
“You have to go out there and give it your all,” VandeVelde said. “Hopefully, work hard and kinda make an impression. There’s a lot of guys fighting for a fair amount of spots. It’s going to be interesting.
 
“I think I’ve felt pressure every year. Obviously, you want to make an impression and get noticed out there. Reassure [them] I can still do the job and add a few things to my offensive game.”
 
And his self-evaluation?
 
“I think I was solid,” he replied. “As a fourth line, we were very good at times. Individually, I can add a little more and chip in a little more.”
 
VandeVelde is not scheduled to play in either of Monday’s split-squad games in New Jersey or Brooklyn.
 
At stake here isn’t just his job on the fourth line but the penalty kill, as well. VandeVelde’s 2:17 shorthanded ice time per game was second only to linemate Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (2:35) among the forwards.
 
The 6-foot-2, 207-pound Lyubimov has played on the penalty kill in the KHL, and Gordon is a PK specialist. What was VandeVelde’s edge is now something up for grabs, especially given both Hextall and coach Dave Hakstol have vowed there will be improvement on the PK, which ranked 14th last season after being among the bottom 10 much of the year.
 
Hakstol has said he intends to tweak the PK with some structural changes. That sounds like personnel changes and Gordon could be a guy on the fourth unit and will certainly be in the mix on the penalty kill.
 
How to make the kill better remains at large.
 
“We have to start a little more aggressively,” VandeVelde said. “Kinda like we finished last couple games there against Washington (in the playoffs). We kinda got burnt there 6-1 (in Game 3). We switched styles a little too late.”
 
The Flyers gave up five power play goals in Game 3 to the Caps.
 
VandeVelde admits his penalty kill experience gives him a bit of an edge going into camp.
 
“If I can bring that extra edge and solidify a role, that is huge,” he said.
 
VandeVelde returned to his home in Moorhead, Minn., over the summer to focus on his skating, hoping to get a more explosive start on the ice that he could utilize better during the penalty kill.
 
One thing seems certain: VandeVelde says there’s a greater comfort level for returning players as to what to expect from Hakstol. Also, whereas last year’s camp was one of implementing systems, this year’s camp is one of expanding on them.
 
“Everyone knows what to expect,” VandeVelde said. “So do all three coaches. They are going to tweak some things, whether it's penalty kill or power play or other systems. We’ll learn that. That is what preseason is for. All the players know what to expect and are ready to go.”
 
VandeVelde said he’s already been informed what the team expects from him this season. The competition could push him in that direction.
 
“I know what they want,” he said. “Obviously, I can do more offensively and want to chip in a little more as a fourth line and as an individual. Maybe just work on that.”

Flyers reveal split squad rosters for Monday's preseason opener

Flyers reveal split squad rosters for Monday's preseason opener

The Flyers on Monday night kick off their preseason schedule, with split squad games against the Islanders in Brooklyn and New Jersey Devils in New Jersey.

And Monday night offers the first chance for prospects Travis Konecny and Ivan Provorov to impress the Flyers' brass in game competition, as their quest to make the orange and black continues. Both Konecny and Provorov will be with the Flyers' split squad in New Jersey.

Carter Hart and Mark Dekanich will be the goalies with Konecny and Provorov in New Jersey, while Anthony Stolarz and Martin Ouellette will goaltend in Brooklyn.

Travis Sanheim and Sam Morin will be with the split squad team in Brooklyn, along with veteran defenseman Michael Del Zotto.

The Flyers' game in Brooklyn can be streamed on their official website, while the game in New Jersey will be aired on the radio at 97.5 The Fanatic.

Here are the full lineups for Monday's split-squad contest, via the Flyers.