Flyers training camp: 6 things you need to know

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Flyers training camp: 6 things you need to know

Training camp with a twist.

Starting on Wednesday, Flyers veterans will report for team pictures and physicals -- not at the Skate Zone in Voorhees, N.J. -- but at the Wells Fargo Center.

Training camp begins in full on Thursday with three groups of players on the ice from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Many of the Flyers’ prospects will also be part of those sessions, which last through Friday.

Although general manager Paul Holmgren didn’t rip up the roster after failing to make the playoffs last season, he did make several moves that figure to greatly impact whatever success Peter Laviolette’s club has this season.

Heading into camp Thursday, here are six things to watch for:

1. Who’s the starting goaltender?

It’s easy to look at the Flyers’ two goalies -- Ray Emery and Steve Mason -- and simply say: The former has the starting job, hands down. But to do that would dismiss how impressive Mason was last season with the Flyers.

If ever a guy seemed totally reborn coming to Philadelphia and trying to put the past behind him, it’s Mason, who had a superb 1.90 goals-against average and .944 save percentage in seven games for a team going nowhere fast at the end.

Yet, the battle in camp is one where there is no clear-cut winner going in.

Emery has the edge given his 17-1 record, 1.94 GAA and .922 save percentage in just 21 games last season with Chicago. Plus, he’s a traveled veteran with a Stanley Cup now.

Assistant general manager Ron Hextall believes this is going to be a fascinating battle to watch and Hexy’s not willing to say who wins it. Both are hungry to be named No. 1.

2. Where does Vinny Lecavalier fit?

You can imagine the look on Jakub Voracek’s face when told that the ex-Tampa Bay captain would very much like to play the right side on Claude Giroux’s line, which would mean Voracek would have to go to left wing and Scott Hartnell would drop down to the second or third line.

Voracek shrugged, noting he’s never played left wing before and this is something that has to be settled in camp. Indeed. The Flyers’ lines are up in the air as camp gets underway.

For one, Giroux has not been cleared to use his wrist, so he’s not a factor initially, but he is expected to be in the lineup for the season opener -- Oct. 2 at home against the Maple Leafs.

The Flyers have a contingency plan, but do you ignore the obvious chemistry Giroux and Voracek have cultivated since Jaromir Jagr left? You can’t, even if Lecavalier wants to play right wing with those two players.

What about Lecavalier between Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds? That makes sense. It all has to be figured out, and it’s a challenge since Giroux’s status is unclear.

3. Who’s the starting six on defense?

Assuming Andrej Meszaros (multiple left shoulder injuries) passes his physical, the Flyers have a real challenge on defense in terms of who will be their starting six are and who wins the seventh spot.

Because Meszaros was the most injured of last year’s group, he comes into camp as the sixth or seventh defenseman. If he’s the sixth, then who is your No. 7? Erik Gustafsson? Nick Grossmann?

There are actually too many bodies and we haven’t included Hal Gill, who is in camp on a tryout. Nine defensemen are on one-way deals, meaning they have to clear waivers if sent down. Right now, the odd man out at No. 8 would appear to be Bruno Gervais.

The Flyers are looking for a way to unload both salary and a defenseman during camp given that they have committed $34.2 million to the blue line and remain $2 million over the $64.3 million salary cap.

It seems safe to say the group that begins camp won’t be the same when it ends.

So who loses out?

4. What is Dan Cleary’s impact?

The Flyers agreed to a three-year contract with the former Detroit left wing late Monday night, but because of salary cap constraints, they can’t actually sign him until October.

Cleary is expected here on a PTO -- a tryout. With him around, that means one less forward makes the roster. The Flyers are expected to carry 14 forwards. It’s likely Cleary takes a spot that would have gone to Tye McGinn or Scott Laughton.

5. Will new goalies alter the Flyers' style of play?

It almost took an earthquake to get Ilya Bryzgalov to leave the sanctuary of his net and go after a puck being dumped or shot into the Flyers’ zone. Not so with Mason, and more than a few defensemen, most notably Kimmo Timonen, mentioned how much easier it was to play in front of Mason knowing how aggressive he was at handling pucks. Emery is the same way.

The Flyers have a legit chance to totally revamp their breakouts and transition game with two goalies that play the puck -- saving the defense at least 10 feet in turnaround distance. This should allow a quicker, smoother transition up ice this season and it’s something that has to be nailed down in camp.

6. Will Scott Laughton be among the top nine skaters?

Holmgren said going into camp that the organization owes it to give Laughton every opportunity to make the roster. He stuck around for five games last season before going back to junior.

And because of his age -- 19 -- he has to play either with the Flyers or go back to junior -- no Phantoms. Assume for a minute Laughton, a natural center, makes the roster.

Where does he fit?

If Sean Couturier, who is noticeably bigger with added muscle, is your third-line center, you can’t find decent minutes for Laughton on the fourth line. He’d have to move to wing. Or you put Lecavalier on the wing and use Laughton at center.

Max Talbot was the fourth-line center and heads into camp there. Whatever the Flyers do with Lecavalier will have a trickle-down effect on Laughton, not to mention Cleary’s presence. Again, it would be a waste to keep Laughton here if he’s not among the top nine. He needs ice time if he’s going to stick around.

Best of NHL: Patrick Kane hat trick lifts Blackhawks over Coyotes

Best of NHL: Patrick Kane hat trick lifts Blackhawks over Coyotes

CHICAGO -- Patrick Kane scored three goals for his third career hat trick to lead the surging Chicago Blackhawks past the Arizona Coyotes 6-3 on Thursday night for their third straight win and eighth in nine games.

Kane has 23 goals to lead Chicago, which closed within three points behind first-place Minnesota in the Central Division and Western Conference.

Rookies Nick Schmaltz and Ryan Hartman each had a goal and assist. Blackhawks defenseman Michal Rozsival scored his first goal of the season in his first game since Jan. 15.

Chicago captain Jonathan Toews added two assists to extend his points scoring streak to five games and increase his output to 22 points in his past 13.

Jakob Chychrun, Ryan White and Radim Vrbata scored for the Coyotes. Chychrun and Vrbata each scored for the second straight game (see full recap).

Rangers outlast Maple Leafs in shootout
TORONTO -- Mika Zibanejad scored the shootout winner and the New York Rangers continued a strong February with a 2-1 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night.

Henrik Lundqvist made 32 saves and J.T. Miller scored the game-tying goal in the third period for the Rangers, who improved to 8-1-1 this month.

New York moved into third place in the Metropolitan Division with 80 points.

Connor Brown scored for Toronto, which fell to 1-7 in shootouts this season. Frederik Andersen had a stellar performance in defeat with 37 saves.

The Leafs hold the third playoff spot in the Atlantic Division (68 points), two points back of Ottawa (70) and four back of Montreal (see full recap).

Islanders shut out Canadiens
MONTREAL -- Rookie Anthony Beauvillier scored in the first period, Thomas Greiss made 24 saves, and the New York Islanders beat the Montreal Canadiens 3-0 Thursday night.

Anders Lee scored in the second period and John Tavares added an empty-netter in the final minute to seal the Islanders' third straight win. New York has won the first two games on a crucial nine-game road swing and improved to 12-4-2 since interim coach Doug Weight replaced the fired Jack Capuano.

Josh Bailey and Brock Nelson each had two assists, and Greiss got his third shutout of the season.

Carey Price finished with 21 saves as the Canadiens lost coach Claude Julien's 1,000th NHL game. Montreal is 1-2-0 since Julien replaced Michel Therrien last week and has totaled just 14 goals while going 2-7-1 in the last 10 games, including four shutouts (see full recap).

Flyers' outdoor game vs. Pens different because of football stadium

Flyers' outdoor game vs. Pens different because of football stadium

VOORHEES, N.J. -- He grew up as a youngster in Judique, Nova Scotia, as a Toronto Blue Jays fan even though the Boston Red Sox were closer geographically.

“My brother was the Red Sox fan,” Andrew MacDonald said.

While hockey was his passion, MacDonald loved to watch baseball. Joe Carter’s walk-off home run in the 1993 World Series clinched it for Mac, then a 7-year-old.

“Didn’t see it for a while though because we only had two TV channels,” MacDonald laughed.

“Yeah, I was Blue Jays fan from Canada.”

On Saturday, the Flyers visit Heinz Field for an outdoor game against their most bitter rival, the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2017 Stadium Series.

MacDonald was a starter for the Islanders during the 2014 Stadium Series game held at the new Yankee Stadium against the Rangers. He likes outdoor games in baseball stadiums even though that is not where this game will take place.

“When I had been to New York, I had gone to a few Yankee games at Yankee Stadium,” MacDonald said Thursday after practice. “Obviously, I got to take in the experience of being a fan there. It’s a pretty great stadium. To be on the field, although it’s a different sport and setting, it was pretty special.”

Michal Neuvirth was the backup goalie for Washington in the 2011 Winter Classic held at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.

“It’s just as big as if you played inside for two points,” Neuvirth said. “I just backed up that game there but it was awesome. The big crowd and we won the game with Washington. A good feeling afterward.”

MacDonald said his experience at Yankee Stadium was similar.

“It was great,” he said of the Bronx affair. “Not everyone gets to play in one of those games, so it was special. Just being in that outdoor environment and the capacity of the crowd. Really like a center stage, special experience.”

In both previous Winter Classics involving the Flyers, they were held in baseball stadiums -- Fenway Park in 2010 and Citizens Bank Park two years later. Incidentally, Claude Giroux is the only Flyer to have played in both of the franchise's two Winter Classics.

This “Stadium Series” game will offer a different “look” for players and fans because it occurs in the Steelers’ football stadium.

“Obviously, the setup of the ice surface will be right in the middle of the field as a rectangular field as opposed to baseball where it’s kind of on a different angle,” MacDonald said.

“It’s good. We’ll get a good skate in. A family skate. Yeah, I hope [weather cooperates]. It might not be the best ice, but hopefully, it goes according to plan and go off without a hitch.”

Hot temperatures Friday followed by heavy rain on Saturday could make things difficult.

“Tough to say as to what to expect,” said Neuvirth, who will start in goal. “For me, I am going to prepare myself for 8 o’clock and play my game.”

The most unusual thing that players say affect them during outdoor games is not having fans on the glass. They’re far away in the stands.

Yet in a baseball stadium, some of those fans are a lot closer to the ice than the setup in a football stadium.

“Yeah, it was kind of unique and took a while to get used to,” MacDonald said. “There’s no fans on the glass. You are kind of isolated by yourself there on the middle of the field.

“It’s not until the TV timeout where you can look around and take it all in. It's almost a practice-type mentality when you are first on the ice and then you get acclimated.

“Obviously, once the puck drops you are ready to go and know what to do. It’s definitely a unique experience once you get going.”

When he played at Fenway Park as a freshman at Union College, Shayne Gostisbehere said his only regret was not taking time out to just stop and absorb what was happening around him.

He was so focused on the game against Harvard that day in 2012, he forgot to cherish the moment.

MacDonald said that is something NHL players sometimes forget to do, as well. Take it all in because it might never occur again.

“Everyone is a little different,” he said. “You do have to play it as if it’s like every other game. There is a little adjustment period there with the fans so far away.

“That being said, you have an opportunity to embrace the moment. At the same time, you have to focus on what we’re trying to accomplish out there. Try to get the win like any other time.”

Loose pucks
• Flyers forward Jakub Voracek left the ice early Thursday with a slight limp. He was not available after practice but general manager Ron Hextall confirmed Voracek is fine and will play Saturday. The Flyers' leading scorer was hit with a deflected puck earlier this week in practice in his groin area but played without incident during Wednesday's game against Washington. 

• The Flyers left for Pittsburgh this afternoon.