Philadelphia Flyers

Laughton still battling for crowded center spot

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Laughton still battling for crowded center spot

LAKE PLACID, N.Y. -- When the most recent waive of cuts arrived, Scott Laughton was nervous.

All along, the 19-year-old center has been on the short list of young players expected to have a real shot at making the Flyers’ roster out of camp. But he wasn’t pleased at all with how he played in his first two preseason games last week.

When he learned cuts would be coming, Laughton was concerned his name would be among the more than two dozen players to leave the team before this weekend’s trip to Lake Placid.

“I think it’s always in the back of your mind,” he said. “I think you’re always thinking about it. Definitely in London I didn’t play the way I wanted to, and kind of got better in Toronto, but still not to where it needs to be.

“But I’m excited for the opportunity here and just want to get in some games and show what I can do.”

Coach Peter Laviolette didn’t have quite the same read on Laughton’s play against the Maple Leafs, saying the young center played “well” but agreeing that he does need to progress a bit more before he’s truly NHL ready.

“I think that there’s still another gear that he can find in his game,” Laviolette said. “When he came in last year, he was flying. He had played in lots of games when our team was just getting off the mark from a lockout. So it’s a bit of a different scenario for him -- he comes in on equal ground with everybody else.”

At Friday’s practice, Laughton skated on a line with Zac Rinaldo and Jay Rosehill. He is still far from a lock to make the team -- and, in fact, would likely have to unseat Adam Hall in order to claim a spot at center. He won’t earn ice time over, say, Claude Giroux or Vinny Lecavalier or Sean Couturier.

He has three more chances during preseason to show his stuff, though, and his goal is to prove to the Flyers that he can pick up where he left off with the team last year, when he played five games at the beginning of the season and fit in seamlessly. This year, he can play nine games before the Flyers must decide whether to keep him around or send him back to the OHL.

Through it all, he said, he won’t be thinking about how or where he fits into the roster, or what’s being said about him. Instead, he’s choosing to remain concentrated only on what he can control.

“I focus on me,” Laughton said, “doing what I can every day. I think if I can play the way I can, I think I’ll be here for the year.”

It’s no secret that the Flyers have somewhat of a logjam at center. The only obvious vacancy on the team is at left wing, for which Laughton’s name was circulated earlier this summer. It’s not outrageous, the thinking went, for a center to move over to the wing. Laughton said he was “open to the challenge.”

Instead, however, the battle for the opening at wing appears to be down to two new faces: Michael Raffl and Chris VandeVelde. The Flyers are giving Laughton every opportunity to succeed at the position he's played his entire life.

“Right now we’re leaving him at center,” Laviolette said. “We want to see how he does at that position instead of putting him somewhere where he’s not comfortable and then sticking him in one of these exhibition games coming up. [General manager] Paul [Holmgren] and I have not talked about that. It may have kicked around a table real quick, but there hasn’t been discussion as to make that move at this point.

“He’s a centerman, that’s where we picked him and drafted him. He’s at a camp right now with an opportunity to make the Flyers. We want to put him in the best position we can to show what he can do.”

Laviolette said he’s looking forward to seeing how Laughton plays in next week's exhibition games against the New Jersey Devils and Washington Capitals, when the lineups will be mostly full of NHL players and not a heavier mix of veterans and minor-leaguers.

Until then, he agrees with Laughton's plans for the week ahead: staying focused.

“I think the best thing for him is to do what he’s doing," Laviolette said. "Keep his eye on the target and keep his nose down and work hard, and try to pick up what we’re saying, which he does.”

Flyers suffer OT preseason loss to Bruins, but see strong first impression from Brian Elliott

Flyers suffer OT preseason loss to Bruins, but see strong first impression from Brian Elliott

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BOSTON — The last time Flyers goaltender Brian Elliott started a game, things ended quickly and didn’t end well.

Starting for the Calgary Flames in Game 4 of a Western Conference first-round series last April against the Anaheim Ducks, Elliott gave up one soft goal on three shots and was pulled 5:38 into a 3-1 series-ending loss.

It was only preseason, but Elliott made a Flyers debut that helped him forget that lackluster performance and get off to a fresh start with his new team Thursday.

Elliott stopped all 18 shots he faced during his two periods on the ice in a 2-1 overtime loss to the Boston Bruins at TD Garden (see observations).

“Yeah, it felt pretty good,” Elliott said. “Just trying to see pucks and basically get acclimated in a game situation. We haven’t seen that in camp at all. So playing a game is fun, to get back in there, you forget how actually fun it is to play a game.”

The Flyers signed Elliott to a two-year, $5.5 million contract on July 1 for more than just fun. They want him to combine with Michal Neuvirth to give them the type of successful goaltending tandem they’ve lacked for a while.

Elliott, in turn, wants to prove they were wise to move on from Steve Mason and bring him in. Elliott had some highlights during his season with the Flames, including an 11-game winning streak and a 2.16 goals-against average and .927 save percentage over his last 21 games of the regular season. In the playoffs, he was a bust with an 0-3 record and .880 save percentage.

In addition to getting back into action, Elliott wanted to impress his new team.

“A little bit. You just want to play the same anyways, doesn’t matter what team you’re on or how long you’ve been with the guys,” he said. “But for sure when it’s your first time, you want to make a good impression. You only get one first impression, right. But it’s just a stepping stone, working towards that first game of the season here.”

The Flyers had several power plays early in the first period and Elliott wasn’t tested much until he gloved a shot from Bruins forward Anders Bjork on a 3-on-2 at 8:46.

After a television timeout, the Bruins put more pressure on the Flyers and Elliott remained sharp. He blocked away a point shot from Brandon Carlo and then gloved Bjork’s attempt on the rebound from the slot at 9:18.

Elliott made 10 saves in the first period.

During a power play early in the second period, Elliott had to be at his best as the Bruins kept the puck in the attacking zone for the first 90 seconds. Elliott made five saves during the penalty kill, including two difficult ones on Bruins center Patrice Bergeron from around the slot.

The Flyers' attack picked up the pace in the second half of the second period and took some of the heat off Elliott. He had earned the respite and then coach Dave Hakstol switched to Alex Lyon to start the third.

Hakstol has seen Elliott live up to the Flyers’ expectations so far in camp and in his preseason debut.

“I think he got in early and I just think I’ve seen every day at camp him kind of building his game,” Hakstol said. "I don’t think he tried to come in with a finished product on Day 1. I think he kind of started on the ground floor of building his game, obviously, after a good summer. And every day he seemed to ... kind of build his game. His last couple of days of practices have been really good, really clean and he carried that into the game tonight. So it’s a good start for him. It’s nice to see that.”

Flyers-Bruins preseason observations: Power play goes 0 for 9 in OT loss

Flyers-Bruins preseason observations: Power play goes 0 for 9 in OT loss

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BOSTON — It's still early in preseason, so the Flyers have a lot of time to iron out their power-play problems.

And they have a lot of problems.

Even with their most veteran-laden lineup of the preseason on the ice against the Boston Bruins on Thursday, the Flyers went 0 for 9 on the power play and lost, 2-1, in overtime at TD Garden.

Assistant coach Kris Knoblauch had most of the Flyers’ weapons but the man-advantage didn’t score, didn’t threaten and did little to build momentum.

Rookie defenseman Travis Sanheim scored a 4-on-4 goal at 4:57 of the third period to make it 1-0. The Bruins answered at 6:39 with a goal by defenseman Paul Postma to tie it 1-1. Kenny Agostino scored the game-winner 3:20 into overtime, as the Flyers fell to 1-1-2 in preseason action.

On to the observations:

• The loss and the power-play struggles aside, the Flyers avoided one potential nightmare. Second-year forward Travis Konecny had to leave the game after just 18 seconds of first-period play. But he returned to action later in the period.

Konecny was hit late and high at the red line away from the puck by Bruins rookie forward Jesse Gabrielle just before the whistle came 18 seconds into the game. Konecny returned with a little more than four minutes remaining in the first period.

Konecny looked himself when he nearly scored in the final minute of the first period, but his redirection of a Sanheim pass on a 3-on-2 went wide of the Boston net.

Gabrielle, trying to make the Bruins as a bottom-six forward, should hear from the NHL department of player safety, although Konecny’s return might’ve gotten Gabrielle off the hook.

• Goaltender Brian Elliott made his Flyers preseason debut and made 18 saves on 18 shots through two periods before Alex Lyon replaced him at the start of the third (see story). Lyon made nine saves, including one on Anton Blidh on a 2-on-1 late in the third period and one on Zach Senyshyn on another 2-on-1 in overtime to preserve the 1-1 tie.

• Sanheim was strong at both ends throughout the game, getting active on offense even before the game. He made a big play to break up a 2-on-1 with a Flyers power play late in the second period. Sanheim could make it difficult for the Flyers to pick among their three rookies for two spots on defense. Of course if Brandon Manning isn’t ready to start the season, there could be three spots available.

• Despite practicing as a left winger on Tuesday, captain Claude Giroux made his preseason debut at center between Oskar Lindblom and Jakub Voracek.

Giroux looked himself throughout the night, both 5-on-5 and on special teams. Early in the second period he canceled out a Boston power play by drawing a holding penalty on Bruins defenseman Postma during a race to the puck in the Boston end. He was also in the box for Sanheim’s goal and just exiting the box when Postma scored for Boston.

Coach Dave Hakstol said Thursday morning he would like to test Giroux out on the wing during a game later in the preseason.

• Voracek made his preseason debut and had his skating legs early as he won a race with Bruins forward Blidh into the Boston zone and drew a slashing penalty with a drive to the net.

• The Flyers dodged a miscommunication in the first period shortly after the Gabrielle penalty expired. When Konecny’s linemates Michael Raffl and Sean Couturier jumped on the ice for their shift, no one jumped over the bench with them and the Flyers played with four skaters for about 10-12 seconds. The puck changed possession a couple times in safe areas of the ice. And one could say the strategy worked because during the next shift, Voracek drew a penalty.

• Flyers forward Colin McDonald nearly joined Konecny on the sidelines near the three-minute mark. Off a faceoff win, Andrew MacDonald’s slap shot hit his teammate. McDonald hobbled to the bench. The Flyers didn’t need any more friendly fire considering they were already without Konecny.

• Lindblom joined Giroux and Voracek on the Flyers’ first line and that carried over to the power play, where Lindblom was part of the first unit along with Giroux, Voracek, Ivan Provorov and Wayne Simmonds until late in the second period. After the Flyers' power play had gone 0 for 5, Hakstrol switched Lindblom with Valtteri Filppula and that seemed to jump-start the man advantage. The Flyers didn’t score but put more pressure on Tuukka Rask during their sixth power play.

• Thursday morning the Flyers reduced their roster by 18 players. Forwards Connor Bunnaman (Kitchener — OHL), Pascal Laberge (Victoriaville — QMJHL), Ivan Kosorenkov (Victoriaville — QMJHL), German Rubtsov (Chicoutimi — QMJHL), and goaltender Carter Hart (Everett — WHL) were returned to their junior teams.

Then the Flyers assigned forwards Nicolas Aube-Kubel, Radel Fazleev, Tyrell Goulbourne, Danick Martel, Carsen Twarynski, Mikhail Vorobyev; defensemen James de Haas, Mark Friedman, Maxim Lamarche, Phil Myers, Reece Willcox; and goaltenders Leland Irving and John Muse to AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley (more on moves here).

Here’s a look at how the Flyers lined up to start the game:

Oskar Lindblom-Claude Giroux-Jakub Voracek
Michael Raffl-Sean Couturier-Travis Konecny
Jordan Weal-Nolan Patrick-Wayne Simmonds
Taylor Leier-Valtteri Filppula-Colin McDonald

Travis Sanheim-Radko Gudas
Sam Morin-Andrew MacDonald
Ivan Provorov-Robert Hagg