Newcomers help streaking Flyers take down Maple Leafs

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Newcomers help streaking Flyers take down Maple Leafs

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TORONTO -- Jay Rosehill and Adam Hall went from being unwanted to being heroes.

All it took was tugging on that fabled orange and black Flyers jersey for the first time for the much-welcomed transformation to take place.

Making their respective Philadelphia debuts on Thursday night, these two New Kids on the Broad St. Block played a significant role in helping rekindle the Flyers' once-flickering postseason aspirations.

But it is an old familiar face that has provided cause for concern amid the upbeat mood in the Flyers dressing room.

Blueline pillar Kimmo Timonen limped toward the team bus while refusing to answer questions about the source or identity of his injury. Should he be out for an extended period, an already banged up defense corps will be even further hampered.

But, on this night, Hall wasn't thinking about such gloom and doom.

“Every game is a playoff game for us,” Hall said after the Flyers' 5-3 victory over the Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre (see Instant Replay). “I’ve only been here a day, but that’s certainly the mindset I’ve learned is in this room.”

With back-to-back wins over Canada’s Original Six franchises in the span of 24 hours, the Flyers have clawed their way to the .500 mark at 17-17-3. More importantly, thanks to those 5-3 victories over the Canadiens and Leafs respectively, the Flyers now have 37 points, leaving them just two behind the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils, who are in an eighth-place tie in the Eastern Conference.

Not allowing himself to become too giddy at his team’s sudden rise into playoff contention, coach Peter Laviolette did offer high praise regarding the work ethic of Rosehill and Hall, noting that “the new guys who came in tonight were terrific in that regard.”

Rosehill and Hall left their imprint on the game early in the first period when they sandwiched Maple Leafs forward Joffrey Lupul, who was the NHL’s First Star of a week ago. A wobbly Lupul left the game from the clean hit and didn’t return, leaving the Leafs without the services of their hottest player thanks to Rosehill and Hall.

Not bad for a couple of guys who had been discarded by their respective former teams earlier this week.

With the Leafs looking for retaliation for the hit on Lupul, Rosehill, acquired on Monday from the Anaheim Ducks in a deal that sent away Harry Zolnierczyk, dropped the gloves with former Toronto teammate Colton Orr midway through the period. Rosehill came out ahead in the bout after knocking Orr to the ice, not an easy thing to do to one of the toughest heavyweights in the league.

In an interesting twist, Rosehill often used to spend part of practice alongside fellow tough guy Mike Brown learning the art of fighting from Orr when all three were members of the Leafs from 2010-12.

“Colton and I are buddies,” Rosehill said. “I’m sure there are no hard feelings. He was just probably reacting to the hit on Lupul. You never want to see a guy hurt like that, but you have to finish your checks.”

Of course, the pupil teaching his pugilistic mentor a lesson wasn’t the end of the heroics for Rosehill, who seemed comfortable in his return to his old stomping grounds known as the Air Canada Centre.

At 15:53 of the second period, Rosehill deflected a Sean Couturier shot past Maple Leafs goalie James Reimer to put the Flyers up, 4-2. It was Rosehill’s first goal since Feb. 8, 2011 when he was a member of the Leafs.

Hall played a key role in the goal, which proved to be the game winner.

Claimed on waivers by the Flyers just one day earlier, Hall caused havoc with Reimer, nudging the stick of the Leafs goalie as he skated past him on the play. Reimer complained to the officials that Hall had interfered with him but the referees disagreed, claiming the Toronto goalie had been outside his crease at the time of contact.

Luke and Brayden Schenn, Jakub Voracek and Simon Gagne joined Rosehill in the scoring parade for the Flyers. It was the first time the Schenn brothers had scored in the same regular season NHL game while being teammates.

For Luke Schenn, it was his first taste of victory in Toronto since being dealt to the Flyers by the Leafs last summer for James van Riemsdyk.

“It’s nice,” he said. “It’s nothing personal. I had a good time while I was here. But yeah, it’s very satisfying to come back here and help the team get a big win.”

Another key component in the Flyers' victory was young Sean Couturier.

After ending a 21-game scoreless streak on Wednesday versus Montreal, Couturier was one of the Flyers' best players against the Leafs.

Couturier assisted on two of the Flyers' goals, including a helper on Philadelphia’s second marker that is worthy of the highlight reels.

Busting down the left side, Couturier delivered a nifty feed perfectly through the legs of Toronto defenseman Carl Gunnarsson onto the stick of Jakub Voracek, who had an easy two-foot putt into the open net for his team-leading 16th goal of the season.

In the process, Couturier was probably breathing a sigh of relief that Wednesday’s trade deadline had come-and-gone without any transactions involving him. Given how many rumours there had been surrounding the promising forward, who could blame him for being glad it was over and done with.

“I tried not to think about the (trade) talk,” he said. “But you hear about it. It’s tough not to with social media being what it is.”

Despite the fact that newly acquired goalie Steve Mason was in the house, Laviolette opted to go with incumbent Ilya Bryzgalov, who was making his 21st consecutive start.

And, as has been the case so often in the past, it was a combination of Good Ilya and Bad Ilya.

After Gagne had put the Flyers up 1-0 just 79 seconds after the opening faceoff, Bryzgalov gave up a huge juicy rebound into the slot just two minutes later that the Leafs’ Nikolai Kulemin drained to tie the game 1-1. The Flyers goalie appeared as if he was trying to do his best Lionel Messi imitation, judging by the way he kicked the initial shot back into play.

At the same time, down the stretch, Bryzgalov made some huge saves just when the Flyers needed him the most.

Mason, meanwhile, was swarmed by a throng of reporters after the Flyers' morning skate at the ACC. A native of Oakville, which is just a 30-minute drive west of downtown Toronto, Mason, 24, was acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets on Wednesday for goalie Michael Leighton and a third-round pick in 2015.

“I’m not sure what my role is right now,” said Mason, a former Calder Trophy winner as the NHL’s rookie of the year. “I haven’t really been told.

“To me that’s not my main focus. My job is to come in here and become the goaltender the organization believes I can be, and that’s to be a No. 1 goaltender.

“I’m fully prepared to put the work in and I’m really excited to start doing it.”

“Excited” is a word that hasn’t really been associated with the Flyers for a while. But now, with the team close enough to have a sniff of a playoff spot, a victory in Winnipeg on Saturday would be yet another adrenalin boost heading into the final 10-game home stretch of the season.

Wayne Gretzky defends Connor McDavid's outburst over Brandon Manning

Wayne Gretzky defends Connor McDavid's outburst over Brandon Manning

PALM BEACH, Fla. — As the primary target of opponents over his Hall of Fame career, Wayne Gretzky can certainly empathize with the frustration of Oilers star Connor McDavid.

McDavid and Flyers defenseman Brandon Manning jostled all evening long in a 6-5 Edmonton loss. McDavid denounced the tactics of his opponent after the game, claiming Manning intentionally injured him last season; McDavid missed 37 games with a broken collarbone.

"I guess we can put the whole 'if he did it' thing to rest because what he said out there kind of confirmed that," said McDavid, who taunted Manning after scoring the second goal in the Oilers' loss.

"I think anybody who knows me or who has played with or against me along the road here, knows that I am not that kind of player," Manning said, according to a statement released by the Flyers. "I am not out there intentionally trying to hurt people. I'm a guy who plays the game hard and I take pride in that."

Gretzky didn't mind seeing that fire in McDavid, saying competitiveness is part of what makes the great ones great. And he said the targeting comes with the territory of being a superstar. It was something he and Mario Lemieux dealt with, too.

"And Connor, he's going to get tested every night, but this is not new for him," Gretzky said Friday at the NHL board of governors meetings. "He's been tested since he was a kid and then playing junior hockey and now in the NHL and he's always responded and done his part."

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 Jakub 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've 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.