Holmgren talks roster moves, what's to come

michaelrafflchrisvandeveldeoliverlauridsenusaapusa.jpg

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.

Michael Raffl's power moves impressing Flyers, adding another element to top line

Michael Raffl's power moves impressing Flyers, adding another element to top line

He did it last Sunday in Nashville.

And he did it again Thursday night against Edmonton.

Michael Raffl displayed power and speed to send the Flyers to their seventh straight victory and longest winning streak since 2011 Thursday with a 6-5 win over the Oilers.

"Raf has this stutter step that's undercover speedy," goalie Steve Mason said. "He used it in Nashville to get a big goal and then here tonight.

"It looks like he's going to stop fully up, but he finds another gear and he really adds another element to that line that brings physical play.

"He has that sneaky talent, too, that can make you pay."

Raffl received a bank-pass off the wall from Jake Voracek, stutter stepped and then blew by Oilers defenseman Oscar Klefbom, protecting the puck along the way before flipping it over goalie Jonas Gustavsson for the game-winning marker with 1:29 left in the game.

It was his sixth goal of the season and his second game-winner in three games.

"Jakey has been hard on me for three years now," Raffl said, referring to Voracek's pass, "and it's actually the first time it worked out.

"He wants me to make that play all the time. He's been hard on me. I threw a little fake in there, got around their D-man and chipped it up high."

Voracek, who tied a career-high with four points (one goal, three assists) said after the game his pass was not as perfect as it appeared on tape, as it didn't hit Raffl in stride.

"I think we should use it a little bit more to be honest," Voracek said, "because if their D wants to have a gap on that, you know you put it off the boards, it's tough to handle for the defenseman. (Raffl) had to slow down a little bit, so next time I got to put it better."

Juggling his lines in an attempt to find chemistry, Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol moved Raffl up from the third line to the top line with Voracek and captain Claude Giroux on Nov. 27. Coincidentally, that was the start of this seven-game winning streak.

On Thursday night, Raffl showcased the reasoning behind the move to the top line, a spot he's familiar with, having played with Giroux and Voracek in seasons' past.

"He's good from coming off either way as he enters the zone," Hakstol said. "He's got the ability to take it to the net. 

"Obviously at a critical time of the hockey game. But, that's Raffl when he's at his best. He's a power forward that can do those type of things offensively."

In his fourth season with the Flyers, the 28-year-old doesn't possess jaw-dropping skill. He's better suited for a third-line role, but drives play at 5-on-5 and is strong on the puck to move up into the top six. His style complements Giroux and Voracek's game well.

"(Raffl) complains a lot on the bench," Giroux quipped. "Nah, he was fired up there in the third. He is so strong on the puck. That's a big goal for us. He's been playing some great hockey right now for us. I think me and Jake are lucky to play with him right now."

"He does every little thing right," Voracek said. "He wins the battles. He wins so many puck battles in the corners and on the boards and gives me and G a lot of space to work with. He knows what to do to have success with us and he's been doing that."

Against the Oilers, Raffl was one of two European free agents the Flyers found to contribute to their win, with Pierre-Edouard Bellemare slowing down Connor McDavid.

It's been an avenue the Flyers have found some success in recent years. Raffl was a Paul Holmgren signing, while general manager Ron Hextall plucked Bellemare from the SHL.

"Since we signed him, I think he surprised everyone," Voracek said of Raffl. "He's got a lot of talent. He's a strong guy on the puck. He's skating well. He's got a great shot.

"I think he's one of the good players."

The Flyers described Raffl as a sneaky talent, someone who may not demand the respect from defensemen but has the ability to surprise and make them pay for playing lax against him.

But it's really simpler than that, according to Raffl.

"Just puck possession," he said. "Just focus on being the first on forecheck, digging out pucks. It's not a fun job to do, but somebody has to do it.

"They're two great players with the puck, I try to dig it out and get it to them and get in an open area and they'll find me eventually."

And they found him Thursday night when it mattered most.

This time, Steve Mason bailed out by Flyers' teammates

This time, Steve Mason bailed out by Flyers' teammates

Steve Mason was not his sharpest Thursday night and he's the first to admit it.

"There's nights where you're not feeling as sharp as you'd like to," Mason said. "This is a situation the guys in front never quit. They earned the two points for sure."

Mason yielded five goals for the third time this season, but made enough saves to secure the Flyers' seventh straight win, a 6-5 victory over the Oilers at the Wells Fargo Center.

The win streak is the longest the Flyers have had since Dec. 2-15, 2011, when "Mr. Universe" Ilya Bryzgalov was their goaltender. Mason finished with 28 saves.

"The guys bailed me out," Mason said, "When your goalie is not making the saves that you need, but the guys keep battling in front, from a personal standpoint, it's huge to see."

Making his 16th start in the Flyers' last 17 games, Mason appeared to show signs of fatigue against Edmonton. He's started the last six games, winning all six.

His current six-game win streak is a career-high, and the five goals allowed Thursday is the first time he's allowed more than two goals during this current streak. 

Entering Thursday, Mason was 5-0 with a 1.74 goals-against average and .947 save percentage in his previous five starts, and 8-3-1 with a 2.11 GAA and .930 save percentage since Nov. 12. So Thursday is just a small blemish on Mason's impressive résumé of late.

"I didn't think he looked tired," Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said. "This win's a little bit indicative of the type of team we have. A couple nights ago, Mason was the best player. He picked up a lot of guys around him and tonight maybe wasn't his best.

"But it was pretty good. The guys battled hard. They picked up some of the slack. That's what it takes. Every guy's not going to be at their best every night.

"You'd like them to be, and I know the guys want to be at that level, but when one piece isn't working, the other part has to pick it up."

The Flyers' offensive outburst came two days after Mason stole two points against the Florida Panthers, and nine days after the goalie stole another two points against Boston.

Twice on Thursday the Flyers faced two-goal deficits, and both times they found a way to erase them. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it's the first time in Flyers' history they were able to win a game in which they were down two goals twice.

"Once we got it to 5-4," Mason said, "I tried to lock it down as best I could. There's nights where you're not feeling as sharp as you'd like to.  … Coming back in a couple of days, from a personal standpoint, I got to be more sharp."

After going falling behind 2-0, the Flyers tied it, 2-2, with three goals in 72 seconds in the second period, the quickest three-goal burst since Feb. 14, 2009, vs. the Islanders. 

Then, the Flyers fell behind 5-3 before Voracek sparked a three-goal third period with his 10th of the year at 6:31. Claude Giroux tallied his second of the game, and Michael Raffl pushed the Flyers to victory with his sixth of the season at 18:31 of the final stanza.

"It's a great feeling to come back from behind," Flyers rookie defenseman Ivan Provorov said. "You never want to be in that position, but that's the way it sometimes go. We stuck with it and came from behind and won the game. It's a great effort."

Of the five goals allowed Thursday, the first goal Mason allowed was the only one that can be pinned on the netminder. It was not a great goal to give up, on the second shot of the game, too. Afterward, he said the read was the backdoor play, but Leon Draisaitl slipped it through Mason's five-hole for his fifth goal in as many games.

"Some nights you can be better than the other nights," Provorov said. "And that's what the team's all about. We play for each other. If someone has a mistake, we all help him out and play for each other. That's why we win games."

"That's how you become a great team," Voracek, who tied a career-high with four points, said. "Mase playing the last six games the way he did, it wasn't his night.

"We came big for him. It's how you get into the playoffs, and it's how you have success in the playoffs. It's a good thing we won the game and get rolling now."