Holmgren talks roster moves, what's to come

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Holmgren talks roster moves, what's to come

WASHINGTON -- Preseason hockey ended for the Flyers on Friday night with an exhibition game against the Capitals that only serves as a tune-up for next week’s regular-season start.

The bigger news was the Flyers' roster.

Austrian winger Michael Raffl, who appeared to have a spot all but locked up at left wing, was sent to the Phantoms along with defenseman Oliver Lauridsen.

By process of elimination, that left Chris VandeVelde as the sole survivor at left wing with Tye McGinn going back to the Phantoms early Friday morning following Thursday’s loss in New Jersey.

The Flyers still have 14 forwards in camp, including 19-year-old Scott Laughton, who the organization feels has to play center, whereas VandeVelde has played both center and wing.

The 25-year-old Raffl was trying to make the jump from Europe to North America without a year on the smaller ice at the AHL level. He nearly succeeded.

“He played four of our games and I thought he did something good in each of those games, but we want to get him more experience on the smaller ice down there where he can play more minutes,” general manager Paul Holmgren said of Raffl. “Kind of learn the North American game.”

VandeVelde has a minor-league deal. He will likely be offered a two-way contract, Holmgren said. The Flyers have 48 pro contracts and a couple of “slide” contracts, as well. Fifty is the limit.

The wild card, once again, is Laughton.

“Yes, a lot depends on what happens with Scott,” Holmgren said. “He has the little 'J' [junior eligibility] beside his name unless he plays X-number of games. We kept our options open with Chris. He’s played pretty good for us.

“The difference there is Chris is a North American player and has played three years pro and NHL games. For purposes of sending Michael down, it’s important to get him playing more minutes down there.”

Laughton can stick around for nine NHL games before going back to junior or the clock starts ticking on his NHL contract.

Ideally, the Flyers would prefer to place Laughton with the Phantoms, but they can’t because of age restrictions.

“We want to be extra careful,” Holmgren said. “It’s good that he is still here. I thought he was one of our better guys [Thursday] night and it was hard to find a guy who played good.”

Laughton and VandeVelde both played Friday night in the Flyers' preseason finale against the Caps.

Holmgren said he is having difficulty deciding on whether to keep 13 or 14 forwards.

As part of this decision, there remains the question on defense -- carry seven or eight?

Holmgren admitted he’d like to sign Hal Gill, who is on a tryout. Both men are slated to meet Saturday morning. Holmgren said he is considering asking Gill to sign a minor-league deal.

The 38-year-old Gill would be a better option as a seventh defenseman rather than asking a younger player, who needs playing time, to sit in the press box as an extra. The Flyers don’t like doing that.

“He doesn’t get beat,” Holmgren said of Gill. “You could argue that he is slow, but he’s been the same player for probably the last 10 years. Maybe the game has gotten a little faster.

“Having him at camp has been a real pleasure. He is full of life. For an older guy who played as many games as he has, he provides enthusiasm. He’s a good pro. I love having him around.”

Complicating this is the fact that the Flyers have seven regulars on defense right now with Andrej Meszaros and Erik Gustafsson vying for the final spot among the top six.

Holmgren said he would not put Gustafsson through waivers for the purposes of sending him to the Phantoms for fear of losing him.

NHL rosters have to be submitted by 5 p.m. on Monday. Holmgren said he would like to make some roster decisions by late Friday.

Holmgren: Gagne not in Flyers' plans
Free agent forward Simon Gagne said late Friday that he had not heard from the Flyers. Holmgren said, at this point, Gagne no longer figures in any plans for the Flyers, regardless of what happens with their current roster.

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.