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.

Flyers Weekly Observations: More flashes, more frustration

Flyers Weekly Observations: More flashes, more frustration

The Flyers' playoff hopes are all but buried alive, but we still have plenty to discuss after a busy week of hockey.

The Flyers took the ice four times and finished up with yet another inconsistent showing last week.

They pulled off a 4-3 overtime win over the visiting Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday, dropped a disappointing 3-2 decision to the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday, impressed with a strong 3-1 victory over the Minnesota Wild on Thursday and then were stifled in a frustrating 1-0 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday afternoon.

Let's take deeper dive into the week that was for the Flyers.

• While it was another one of those up-and-down weeks for the Flyers that we've all become used to, Sean Couturier stuck out in a good way this past week. Two plays, in particular, stuck out, and not just because the puck ended up in the back of the net each time. Sunday in overtime against Carolina, Couturier revved up on a quick and powerful solo rush up the ice, broke in on goalie Cam Ward and created a prime scoring opportunity that Brayden Schenn cleaned up for the game-winner. It was something we don't see often enough from Couturier. He has the size with his 6-foot-3, 211-pound frame and can be tough to stop when he gets in gear the way he did in OT on Sunday night. That could be such a weapon for the Flyers if he could do it on a more consistent basis. His goal Thursday in Minnesota was a thing of beauty. He took a slick pass from Schenn, maneuvered the puck through his legs and beat Devan Dubnyk five-hole. Between the pass and the lovely finish, it might have been the prettiest goal the Flyers scored all season. But it was Couturier's skill that finished it off. So he again showed flashes of mixing his size and skill this week to create offense. Queue the broken record, but the Flyers, who average just 2.50 goals per game heading into Sunday night's tilt in Pittsburgh, really need Couturier to do those kinds of things much more consistently.

• Steve Mason was not out of line to question his teammates after Tuesday's disheartening loss in Winnipeg. Heading into that game, the Flyers talked about how, even though their playoff hopes were slim, they still thought they had a real chance to reach the postseason. Entering the third period on Tuesday, the game was tied at 1-1. The Flyers had 20 minutes to vanquish a Jets team that was missing five regular defensemen in the lineup. Instead of playing like a team hungry for the playoffs, the Flyers sat back and let the Jets carry play to predictably terrible results for the Flyers. Think about this: the Flyers had just two shots in the period 13:34 into the frame. I know Mason mentioned the eight straight minutes of penalties the Flyers took in the second period, and, while frustrating, that happens sometimes. The two shots through more than half the third period can't happen. Urgency anybody? They did respond nicely Thursday against a good, albeit stumbling, Wild team. That may have been the Flyers' best all-round effort of the year.

 • In response to Tuesday's lackluster effort in Winnipeg, Dave Hakstol again switched up the Flyers' lines ahead of Thursday's game in Minnesota. One of the changes saw rookie forward Travis Konecny slide down to the fourth line next to Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Chris VandeVelde. That's a curious move. Think about this: the Flyers' playoff hopes are virtually toast, right? What does Konecny get out of playing fourth-line minutes now? Shouldn't he be further up the depth chart in an effort to find some chemistry with more skilled linemates heading into next season? I get that he has defensive deficiencies. But he's a rookie and all rookies have those. At the end of the day, the kid is a skilled scorer. And these are important minutes for him to get more and more comfortable in a top-wing role. You've got to take the good with the bad, especially with the Flyers' goal-scoring needs.

• The Flyers' power play continues to be a debacle. After an 0-for-3 showing Saturday in Columbus, the Flyers' power play is 3 for 43 in the month of March. It's not just that the power play is stagnant right now. It's that it's giving the opponent momentum and helping turn games around against the Flyers. It's more deflating than anything else. More often than not, it just seems that opponents have more quality chances while shorthanded than the Flyers have with the man advantage. Gotta give the Flyers' power-play units credit on Saturday, though. They fired 10 power-play shots on goal, but Sergei Bobrovsky had every answer. He was superbly flawless all game long for the Jackets, for that matter.

• Want a telling stat? Try this on for size: heading into Sunday's games, 16 teams have positive goal differentials for the season and 14 teams have negative goal differentials for the season. Those 16 teams with positive goal differentials are in the current playoff picture. The 14 teams with negative goal differentials, well … I'll let you fill in the blank. FYI, the Flyers' goal differential is minus-27.

• Was going over some stats on Sunday morning and, oh, those poor Avalanche fans. Colorado has just been abysmal this year. As of Sunday morning, the last-place Avs are 20 points behind the next team in the standings, Arizona. Twenty! The Avs' goal differential on the season is minus-104. That's an astounding number that's 44 goals behind the next worse number, coincidentally Arizona's. So for you Flyers fans angry at how this season has soured, just remember it's worse somewhere else. Much, much worse. … If that's any consolation.

Coming up this week: Sunday at Pittsburgh (7 p.m./NBCSN), Tuesday vs. Ottawa (7 p.m./TCN), Thursday vs. New York Islanders (7 p.m./CSN), Saturday vs. New Jersey (7 p.m./CSN).

Flyers-Penguins 5 things: Final long road trip of season ends in Pittsburgh

Flyers-Penguins 5 things: Final long road trip of season ends in Pittsburgh

Flyers (34-32-8) at Penguins (46-17-11)
7 p.m. on NBCSN/CSNPhilly.com and NBC Sports App

The Flyers conclude their final four-game road trip of the season on Sunday night in Pittsburgh against a Penguins team with its playoff ticket already punched.

Let's take a closer look game at No. 75 for the Flyers.

1. Power outage
The theme remained the same for the Flyers in their 1-0 loss to Columbus on Saturday: a lifeless power play leads to little offense in a must-win game that killed any realistic, however slim, hope of making a last-second run at the Eastern Conference's second wild-card spot.

After going 0 for 3 against the Blue Jackets, the Flyers' power play is now 3 for 43 in March, 0 for its last 14 and 2 for its last 25. On Sunday night, they face a Penguins penalty kill that is lingering near the bottom 10 of the league at 19th overall with an 80.3 percent kill rate.

"We're getting our chances and it's not going in," Shayne Gostisbehere said Saturday. "It's not like we're not getting shots, so it's a matter of sticking with it and it'll come."

In their 4-0 shutout win over the Penguins on March 15, the Flyers were 1 for 4 on the man advantage and it was the last game the team found twine on the power play.

2. Mr. 100
After winning his 100th game as a Flyer on Thursday night Minnesota -- only the third goalie in franchise history to reach 100 wins -- Steve Mason had Saturday afternoon off.

Without context, rolling with Michal Neuvirth on Saturday was a surprising move considering Mason has been the better goalie of the two and the team believed its season was not yet over. But it was the first game of a back-to-back against two of the East's elites.

Neuvirth appeared rusty in the opening period but settled down in Columbus, but Mason is expected back in between the pipes Sunday against the Pens, whom he shut out 11 days ago.

On Sunday, he's expected to make his 50th start of year. Mason will be the first goaltender in Flyers history to start over 50 games in four consecutive seasons. He's appeared in 53 games this season in total heading into Sunday night's tilt.

Mason is 2-3-1 with a 2.62 goals-against average and .910 save percentage in March and owns a 2.73 goals-against average and .906 save percentage overall this season.

3. Playoffs … playoffs?
With Saturday's 1-0 loss, the Flyers' playoff hopes are realistically dead -- not as if they weren't already. The Flyers have eight games left and are eight points out of the playoffs.

One has to believe the Flyers have to win out and acquire all 16 possible points to have any legitimate chance at the playoffs. That's not taking into account help needed elsewhere.

Let's do some math. If the Flyers were to earn all 16 points on the table, they'd finish the year with 92 points. Is that enough to get into the playoffs? Not unless the four teams ahead of them crash and burn. The Flyers are not officially eliminated, but the playoffs are a pipe dream.

4. Keep an eye on …
Flyers: Let's go with Sean Couturier, who has three goals and seven assists in his last 11 games. He had a goal and an assist with a career-high eight shots vs. the Pens 11 days ago.

Penguins: Nick Bonino has seven goals in his last 10 games and nine points in his last 12 games. Bonino has one goal in three games against the Flyers this season.

5. This and that
• The Penguins will wear their gold Stadium Series jerseys against the Flyers on Sunday.

• The Flyers have scored just 20 goals in their last 17 losses.

• This game was originally set for 12:30 p.m. but was rescheduled earlier in the season.

• Pittsburgh is 3-0-2 in five contests since losing to the Flyers on March 15. The Pens are 8-1-3 in their last 12 games and are coming off back-to-back shootout losses.