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: Surging Capitals rock Blues in St. Louis

Best of NHL: Surging Capitals rock Blues in St. Louis

ST. LOUIS -- Andre Burakovsky, T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov each had a goal and an assist to lead the Washington Capitals to a 7-3 victory over the St. Louis Blues on Thursday night.

Jay beagle, Brett Connolly, Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams also scored, and Alex Ovechkin and Daniel Winnik each had two assists to help Washington earn at least a point in its 12th straight game (10-0-2) for an NHL-best 66 points.

Braden Holtby bounced back from his roughest outing of the season with 22 saves. Holtby was pulled after giving up a season-high five goals on 26 shots in an 8-7 overtime loss at Pittsburgh on Monday. He improved to 22-8-4 and 5-0 lifetime against St. Louis (see full recap).

Grabner scores 2 goals, Rangers top Leafs
TORONTO -- Michael Grabner scored two goals against his former team, helping the New York Rangers snap a three-game losing streak with a 5-2 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night.

Pavel Buchnevich, Brady Skjei and J.T. Miller added goals for New York, and Henrik Lundqvist made 23 saves following a series of rough outings.

Tyler Bozak and Zach Hyman scored for Toronto, which had a three-game winning streak stopped. The Maple Leafs had earned 21 of a possible 26 points in their previous 13 games (10-2-1). Frederik Andersen gave up four goals on 40 shots (see full recap).

Tavares leads Islanders to shutout of Stars
NEW YORK -- Getting a new coach this week didn't change things much for the Islanders -- and oddly enough, that's a good thing for New York.

John Tavares narrowly missed out on his second hat trick in a week, Thomas Greiss got his second straight shutout and the Islanders beat the Dallas Stars 3-0 on Thursday night in their first game since firing longtime coach Jack Capuano.

New York canned Capuano in the middle of his seventh season Tuesday, replacing him on an interim basis with Doug Weight (see full recap).

Niederreiter, Wild dodge letdown, edge Coyotes
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Nino Niederreiter had two power-play goals and an assist, including the go-ahead score for the Minnesota Wild with 7:06 remaining in a 4-3 victory over Arizona on Thursday night after the Coyotes came back from a two-goal deficit.

With Shane Doan in the penalty box for hooking, Niederreiter knocked in a nifty redirect of Mikael Granlund's slap shot for the winner. Devan Dubnyk stopped 20 shots for the Wild, who are 18-2-2 in their last 22 games.

Louis Domingue made 21 saves for the Coyotes, who lost their fourth in a row and fell to 2-12-1 in their last 15 games starting with a 4-1 loss to Minnesota in Arizona on Dec. 17 (see full recap).

End to End: What adjustment would you make on Flyers' defense?

End to End: What adjustment would you make on Flyers' defense?

Throughout the season, we'll ask questions about the Flyers to our resident hockey analysts and see what they have to say.

With the Flyers on their bye week, let’s discuss a few topics.

Going End to End this week are CSNPhilly.com producers/reporters Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone.

Today’s question: What adjustment would you make on the Flyers' defense?

Dougherty
There is not much in Dave Hakstol’s arsenal to significantly improve the team defense with a lineup change. Sure, scratching Andrew MacDonald could be a positive step, but that does not solve the problem here. We can point fingers at the defensive group because the Flyers have allowed the league’s second-most goals at 144. They’re part of the problem.

What is plaguing the Flyers is not just the play of their six defensemen on any given night; it’s their overall team defense. Some forwards are quitting on the backcheck, and not providing enough support in their own zone, missing their own assignments.

The Flyers, I believe, are struggling with the lack of practice time. And while it is true that every team is dealing with the same compact schedule as the Flyers, Hakstol has to maximize the little practice time he gets going forward and preach team defense. Gaps have been a major issue with the current group of blueliners, and that is an area assistant coach Gord Murphy has to fix. Hakstol has singled out the team’s rush defense as an issue, and that’s another area the team has to work on, too.

A lot of the same issues that were appearing in the beginning of the season when the Flyers were struggling are reappearing in their game now. They were able to make adjustments earlier in the season to hone their game defensively. More film study and more coaching are just a couple of the adjustments I’d make with the current options.

Hall
Sometimes it takes a fresh face, some new blood to spark change.

If anything, it sends a bit of a message.

The Flyers have options at AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley and general manager Ron Hextall didn’t rule anything out last Sunday.

But, of course, given the Flyers’ salary cap conundrum, it’s not as simple as just calling up a player.

So, the easiest thing that can be done is change within the current personnel. That means scratching MacDonald from time to time, just how Hakstol has done so with Shayne Gostisbehere, Brandon Manning, Michael Del Zotto, Radko Gudas and many Flyers forwards.

MacDonald hasn’t been as bad as some may think. Oftentimes, his mistakes are magnified more than others. But too frequently do we see him out of position or misreading a play on a goal against. And that’s been true for all Flyers defensemen, yet MacDonald seems to be one of the only spared of the consequences.

Benching MacDonald isn’t a drastic fix and it may not do much at all, but it’s something we haven’t seen since Nov. 19.

Paone
This a really tough question because, to be quite frank, there is no easy solution here to fixing a Flyers defense that has been mired in a state of miserable play and has played a large part in the team's allowing 3.50 goals per game in the 14 contests since the 10-game win streak ended in mid-December. 

It's not like Hakstol or Hextall can push some magic button here and have things fixed in a matter of moments. The Flyers have salary cap and roster issues, so it's going to be tough to bring in a player via trade to help fix things on the back end. Same goes for bringing up a prospect because space on the roster would have to be made first.

This situation leaves the Flyers to fix the problem from within with the defensemen they currently have at the NHL level. They're going to have to play their way out of this. And that's why I'm interested in focusing on the younger defensemen like Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov right now. We know what the veteran defensemen on this team are and they've been through this sort of thing before. This will not be the last team-wide rut the younger defensemen will play through in their careers. It will happen again. They're going to have to learn how to play through this and not let it affect their individual play. That's why I didn't agree with Ghost's benching in Boston last weekend.  Sure, he has not played well this season and the warts to his game have been evident. And there are times when sitting back, taking a breather and watching can be beneficial. But I'm a believer that a young player has to play through his growing pains and grow from them.

This isn't going to be an answer most of you will like to hear, but with the way the Flyers' hands are tied, they're just going to have to play their way out of these defensive struggles with what they have.