Philadelphia Flyers

Flyers open crucial week with loss to Rangers

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Flyers open crucial week with loss to Rangers

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK -- Are they a playoff contender? Or a pretender?

This is the week the Flyers get to answer that question about themselves with games against Pittsburgh, Boston and Tuesday’s opponent … the Rangers.

Their first attempt wasn’t very good.

A series of poorly executed line and defensive pair changes cost the Flyers dearly in a 4-2 loss to the Rangers at Madison Square Garden.

Peter Laviolette’s club hit the midway point again under .500 at 11-12-1, while the Rangers (24 points) also dropped the Flyers (23 points) from eighth to ninth in the Eastern Conference standings.

“Not good, we’re not good,” goalie Ilya Bryzgalov said when asked how he’d sum up the Flyers after 24 games.

“Obviously, we’re not where we want to be. And the farther it is gonna be is going to be more ugly. This is the reality.”

What has to get better?

“I can’t afford to say,” he replied. “We have coaches who are responsible for improvements.”

Rick Nash and Ryan Callahan did all the damage with two goals apiece.

Nash broke a 2-2 tie just 2:50 into the third period after the Flyers had a strong shift in the Rangers’ end with Henrik Lundqvist making a save on Jakub Voracek.

Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi caught the Flyers in a line change, outletting the puck quickly to Nash, who beat Bryzgalov stick side under his arm.

Nash put it away with another goal soon after off a bad defensive change involving Luke Schenn coming off too late.

“There’s been too many of them,” Laviolette fumed. “Too many discussions and too many topics about the line changes. It needs to be executed and it’s not.”

His players knew, too.

“Their third and fourth goals came off line changes,” Wayne Simmonds said. “Things like that can’t happen. You got to keep the game simple, maybe keep one guy out there. That was the difference.”

Bryzgalov also had problems trying to poke check Nash and Callahan on three goals coming right at him.

The game saw two injuries, as well. Flyers defenseman Nick Grossmann suffered a groin injury, sources said, in the opening period and did not return (see story).

Then, with 14:15 left to play, the Rangers lost defenseman Marc Staal. Kimmo Timonen’s slap shot off a faceoff was deflected upward by Voracek and hit Staal above the right eye.

Staal, who does not wear a visor, was bleeding, crumbled to the ice and rolled around in obvious pain, but actually got up on his own -- a good sign.

As has been the case, the Flyers started slowly, then rebounded for a strong first period only to lose the lead in the period’s final minute.

They came into play having killed off 15 power plays in a row (it was 17 but the NHL reduced it because of stat changes).

Timonen, who is second on the Flyers in minor penalties this season an unusually-high 13 (seventh in the NHL), picked up a holding call at 1:09 of the first period.

It took the Rangers all of 21 seconds to score with Derek Stepan feeding Callahan for the first of his two goals.

Six minutes later, the Flyers went on their first power play and it resulted in a beauty of a pass from Claude Giroux to Simmonds in the crease to tie it.

“Jake found the seam and passed it to G. I was lucky enough to be wide open back door and G put the puck right on my stick,” Simmonds said.

The game seemed to settle into physical play and forechecking until the final three minutes of the period when, again on the power play, Voracek beat Lundqvist on his own rebound, giving the Flyers a 2-1 lead they should have taken into intermission.

Voracek now has 17 points in nine games, as he also picked up an assist on Simmonds' goal.

“We made a couple mistakes and a player like Nash, when he is coming at you full speed, you have to stop him,” Voracek said of the game’s outcome.

The Flyers got a little sloppy with their passing in the final minute of the period. Brayden Schenn’s pass to Simmonds caromed off the boards to Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh, who dished to Callahan up the ice.

Callahan flew around Luke Schenn, then completely faked out Bryzgalov to tie it.

Bad way to end the period. Even worse, the second period was flat.

“Giving up that goal like that, that was tough late in the period in the first,” Laviolette said. “The second period was minimal chances both ways.

“You’ll never see 48 shots against the Rangers. It’s going to be hard fought. Tough to get your ice and that was the second period.”

Grossmann finished the first period but that was it.

Midway into the second period, Scott Hartnell had a glorious chance to break the tie, unexpectedly getting a puck in the high slot completely alone for a slapper that Lundqvist kicked out with his pad.

“Any time a team scores at the end of a period, it kills momentum a bit,” Giroux said. “We had the lead. It would have been huge for us.

“A couple mistakes in the third … we gotta find a way to win those third-period games.”

Finding two-way balance Scott Laughton's key to finally sticking with Flyers

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Finding two-way balance Scott Laughton's key to finally sticking with Flyers

VOORHEES, N.J. — The 2012 NHL entry draft is an excellent case study in how the career of an NHL prospect and the future of a first-round pick can venture in one of two directions.

Scott Laughton was the Flyers’ first-round selection that year, taken 20th overall. Laughton can begin to comprehend how that fork in the road has affected two guys selected just before him.

The Buffalo Sabres had a pair of first-round selections. With the 12th overall choice, the Sabres snatched Russian Mikhail Grigorenko, who was ranked third by NHL Central Scouting among all North American skaters. The Sabres came right back two picks later and grabbed another projected first-rounder, but not nearly as touted, Latvian Zemgus Girgensons.
 
In Grigorenko’s defense, Buffalo rushed him to the NHL at the age of 18, and clearly before he was ready. Over the course of the next three seasons, he bounced back and forth between the NHL and the AHL while never fully grasping that his skills weren’t quite good enough to be a top-six forward. In my conversations with coaches and GMs, Grigorenko also had a belief that he was a “superstar-in-the-making” whom the coaching staff was holding back and felt the “grunt work” of killing penalties and playing solid defense was reserved for players drafted much later than him. In 2015, the Sabres utilized what little value Grigorenko had left and shipped him to Colorado in a multi-player deal for star Ryan O’Reilly.   

At 18, Girgensons, unlike Grigorenko, spent the year he was drafted with the Sabres’ AHL affiliate the Rochester Americans. Because Girgensons committed to play in the NCAA and elected to go pro, he was eligible to play in the AHL. Girgensons developed more of a “blue-collar” approach as an effective penalty killer and has become the Sabres’ shutdown center who plays a very solid defensive game and is tough along the boards, all while continuing to improve at faceoffs.

Laughton, who was seated not too far from both guys at that draft in Pittsburgh that year, is starting to figure out the best way to secure an NHL job is taking the Girgensons approach to the game, and not the one paved by Grigorenko.

“I think I was caught in between there for a little bit, and that’s why I was up and down,” Laughton said Monday. “I still think I can be an offensive threat and be a good offensive guy, but I think I’ve got to take care of my own zone. I think just taking that defensive approach. I think that’s what’s going to help me stay in this league.”

Laughton’s evolution as a better two-way player was evident during Sunday’s preseason opener against the Islanders when the line of Laughton, Matt Read and Michael Raffl was tasked with shutting down the Isles’ top line of John Tavares, Jordan Eberle and Anders Lee. Even though Tavares scored twice, his tallies weren’t at the expense of Laughton or his linemates.

“I thought playing to his role, he did an outstanding job — in the faceoff dot, killing penalties, strong two-way play," Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said Sunday. "He did a real good job."

Laughton may have been the Flyers’ forgotten recent first-rounder last season after spending the entire year, minus two games, with the Phantoms in Lehigh Valley. The experience was immeasurable, as he sacrificed offensive glory to become the type of player the organization had envisioned.
 
“I think that was the biggest thing, not playing power play, just being down there taking key faceoffs and just finding my role I think,” Laughton said. “It’s nice when you have a good year in the minors. I know it’s a different league. I’m kind of building off last year and that’s what I’m trying to do. Just coming to camp, be prepared and play hard against guys. Do what I did last year and it’ll take me a long way.”

General manager Ron Hextall recognized that progression and elected to protect the younger Laughton in the June expansion draft over 32-year-old Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, who had established himself as a solid checking-line center during his three years in Philadelphia.

“Definitely was a surprise,” Laughton said of being protected. “I didn’t see it coming at all, but it felt good. I’ve been in this organization for five years now and I’m still trying to stick around and become a full-time NHLer, and I truly believe this is my year.”

Perhaps Laughton will develop into the Flyers’ version of Girgensons, one of two All-Stars from that 2012 draft class, who just re-signed with the Sabres for two more years at $3.2 million. As for Grigorenko, the Colorado Avalanche, unquestionably the worst non-expansion team in the NHL entering this season, elected to cut him loose this summer. Grigorenko inked a deal in July to play in the KHL. A promising one-time prospect‘s NHL career appears to be over at the age of 23.

Loose pucks
• The Flyers cut two more players from their training camp roster, which now stands at 55. Forward Anthony Salinitri was returned to his junior team, the Sarnia Sting. Defenseman Frank Hora will report to the Phantoms starting Thursday.

• Hakstol elected to split his two groups Monday into an NHL morning group and an AHL afternoon group, although the two teams will be combined when the Flyers play split-squad games against the New York Islanders Wednesday — one at the PPL Center in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and the other at Barclays Center in New York.

• Forward Wayne Simmonds was not on the ice for Monday’s practice. Hakstol said Simmonds was given a maintenance day.  

• For the first time since camp opened Friday, the Flyers worked on Hakstol’s systems, which included more structure on the team’s breakouts. Much of the focus through the first four days has been on individual battles in close quarters. One drill included intense 1-on-1 play with a goaltender at one end of the faceoff circle and another goalie directly across from him. “It’s important in today’s hockey because every single team overloads in the defensive zone,” Jakub Voracek said. “You need to win those battles, 1-on-1 and 2-on-2, they’re really important."

Monday's lines and pairings
Forwards
Oskar Lindblom-Claude Giroux-Jakub Voracek
Dale Weise-Sean Couturier-Travis Konecny
Jordan Weal-Nolan Patrick-Taylor Leier
Jori Lehtera-Valtteri Filppula-Colin McDonald
Michael Raffl-Scott Laughton-Matt Read

Defense
Shayne Gostisbehere-Robert Hagg
Ivan Provorov-Andrew MacDonald
Sam Morin-Travis Sanheim
Brandon Manning-Radko Gudas

Travis Konecny not taking secured spot on Flyers for granted

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Travis Konecny not taking secured spot on Flyers for granted

VOORHEES, N.J. — Before Travis Konecny can realize his full potential on the ice, the 20-year-old Flyers winger must improve his mindset.

Konecny’s first NHL season was nothing to be ashamed of, but he didn’t exactly light the world on fire, either. The former first-round draft pick finished among the top-20 rookie forwards with 11 goals (18th), 17 assists (tied for 15th) and 28 points (tied for 15th) in 2016-17.

Yet, when you’re used to scoring and creating offense almost at will, as Konecny became accustomed in the OHL, that level of production can feel like a disappointment.

“I was down on myself a lot last year,” Konecny said Friday. “When you come from junior as a captain, a player who is used to scoring, getting points and playmaker kind of things like that, it’s tough when you come into a humbling league like this.”

Konecny was a point-per-game player from the moment he set foot on an OHL rink. By his third season, he was almost a two-point-per-game player, finishing with 30 goals and 71 assists in 60 games with the Ottawa 57’s and Sarnia Sting.

The NHL simply doesn’t work that way. There were only eight point-per-game players in the entire league last season, and not a single one of them was a rookie.

“It’s so much different," Konecny said, "because every time you get on the ice, you’re thinking you’re going to create something. You’re going to have a good chance.

“When you’re playing these types of games, you just have to wait, and not necessarily sit back, but wait for the other team to make that one mistake that you can capitalize on or be one step ahead of them.”

Needless to say, the jump to the NHL was an eye-opening experience for Konecny.

“I’ve learned it’s not easy to score, it’s not easy to produce and create something every single shift," he said, "so I think I’m going to have more of a positive look on this year.”

Though far from a breakout season, Konecny’s rookie campaign did little to diminish his potential.

Selected 24th overall in the 2015 draft, Konecny remains very much a part of the Flyers’ future. When training camp opened last week, the 5-foot-10, 175-pound wing joined captain Claude Giroux and prospect Oskar Lindblom on Group 1’s top line.

Clearly, the Flyers are hopeful Konecny can continue progress in the year ahead. In order to take the next step, however, he must maintain a high level of confidence throughout the process.

“There are other good players in the league, too,” Konecny said, “so when I get beat, I have to be able to bounce back and realize it’s not always my fault. There are good players, and you’re going to have those mistakes.

“That’s the way I’m going to approach this year. I’ve learned as a pro to just stick in the game more, wait for my opportunities and be positive.”

That begins by setting attainable goals. If Konecny goes into this season with All-Star numbers in mind, he’s probably going to wind up disappointed again.

Konecny seems to have a more reasonable outlook, so far. Last season, he played both left and right wing, bounced between lines and was even a healthy scratch on occasion. This season, he’d like to solidify his role with the club, for starters.

“I'm going to work hard, and when my opportunities present themselves, I have to take advantage,” Konecny said. “There's no excuses this year. I have to bear down a little bit more.

“I think my goal is just wherever I play in the lineup, I want to stick there, and I want to play my position right and try to be more consistent.”

Konecny sounds eager to turn over a new leaf, but then, every player should be excited about the prospect of a new season. Today, he has a clean slate — but how will Konecny react once he’s mired in an inevitable slump as the schedule grinds on?

To his credit, Konecny isn’t taking anything for granted. While his spot on the Flyers' roster is all but assured, he arrived at camp with the mindset that he’s competing for a job.

“I still have to prove myself as a player,” Konecny said. “I’ve only had one year under my belt, and I still have to prove my spot on the team, prove what I can do the coaching staff and my teammates.

“My rope doesn’t get any longer. It’s still a pretty short rope, which is fine because it holds me accountable for each and every play when I step on the ice.”

Of course, the best thing Konecny can do to maintain a positive outlook and feel comfortable in his role with the Flyers is play quality hockey. That’s the funny thing about confidence — it often tends to be in direct proportion with performance.