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.

A healthy Nolan Patrick to Flyers? 'He won't let anybody down,' Brandon GM says

A healthy Nolan Patrick to Flyers? 'He won't let anybody down,' Brandon GM says

As he met with general manager Grant Armstrong, Nolan Patrick had just finished an injury-marred junior season.

The 18-year-old missed the WHL playoffs and was limited to 33 games because of two separate injuries. He underwent sports hernia surgery the offseason prior, a major impediment to his summer training. He never quite "caught up to the year," as Armstrong put it.

"I don't think he really ever got himself into a situation where he was 100 percent," the Brandon Wheat Kings GM said in a phone interview last week with CSNPhilly.com.

But none of that was about to crack Patrick's confidence.

"When we had our exit meetings, he told me he was going to play in the NHL," Armstrong said. "I wished him the best of luck and I expect that's where he'll be next year."

Where he could be is Philadelphia sporting Flyers orange. Patrick and Nico Hischier are the consensus top two picks for the June 23-24 NHL entry draft. The Flyers, of course, thanks to a stroke of good luck, will be happily sitting at No. 2 overall. The Devils will make Ron Hextall's decision much easier when they pick at No. 1.

The Canadian Patrick and Swiss-born Hischier are both centers. Coming into the season, Patrick was viewed as the draft's top dog, but his health and Hischier's rise have tightened the race.

Will the injuries cause apprehension?

"I think there's no concern at all," Armstrong said. "Injuries are a part of the game and I don't see it being an issue for Nolan at all. He trains well, he works hard at it and rehabs properly. I don't see it being an issue and currently, I think he's at 100 percent."

Despite the hampered summer and shortened season, Patrick showed why he's so heralded, compiling 46 points in 33 games for the Wheat Kings, his third year with the junior club. He scored 20 goals and collected 26 assists. Why that might not be mind-blowing is because Patrick had 102 points in 2015-16 on 41 goals and 61 assists for an astounding plus-51 rating. He went on to record 30 points (13 goals, 17 assists) in 21 playoff games, leading Brandon to its first WHL title in 20 years alongside current Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov.

Similar to Provorov, Patrick's hockey smarts belie his age.

"His presence on the ice, he just thinks the game, he puts himself in positions to be successful all the time," Armstrong said. "He's almost above the ice in his thinking aspect. He sees the game so well, he's a student of the game, he understands and puts himself in positions of success. That hasn't changed, it's only getting better for him.

"He's a difference-maker."

Armstrong joined the Wheat Kings last summer but had scouted and seen plenty of Patrick as Armstrong worked the previous four seasons for the WHL's Victoria Royals.

"He's a very elite player with a tremendous hockey sense," Armstrong said. "I think that's his biggest attribute is he thinks the game so well, he thinks it ahead of what's really happening on the ice a lot of the times. He's a player that's really starting to come into his own. 

"This next season will be a real opportunity for him to showcase his elite hockey sense and his athleticism and all the things that combine to make him a great player."

It appears Patrick, who has great size at 6-foot-3, 198 pounds, is ready to showcase those traits at the NHL level. His future club will ultimately decide that in training camp.

"We would like to think we know that, but until the kid comes in and shows you what he can do," Hextall said earlier this month. "You make an educated judgment and then you go from there. A player has to come in and prove that he's ready and at this age not many are, so we'll wait and see which way [the player] goes from there."

Armstrong said there's constant communication between Brandon and NHL teams throughout a season and that it escalates this time of year as the draft nears.

What about with the Flyers?

"The Flyers are a great organization and obviously we have ties to their GM," Armstrong said. "It's a good fit and they know what's going on.

"They're dialed into what's going on and they have all kinds of ways to communicate with people."

While Patrick may not jump off the charts with Connor McDavid-like scoring ability, he prides himself on being complete. Armstrong said Patrick models his game after Kings center Anze Kopitar, a two-time Stanley Cup champion and 2015-16 Selke Trophy winner as the NHL's top defensive forward.

It's the do-it-all mentality Armstrong believes was special, night in and night out.

"Just the way he makes small plays in a game that would set up a teammate," he said. "He plays a 200-foot game, he's coming back hard and supporting the D in the defensive zone. Switching to offense, he's quick and he does things that make him such a great player.

"I think everybody thinks that a No. 1 or 2 centerman is going to be completely focused on the offensive side, but no, he's very committed to the defensive side of the puck — I think that's one thing that's a little bit misunderstood about him. He's got such an ability to play in any situation — killing penalties, late in the game, taking big faceoffs, that's his game."

Armstrong extolled Patrick for making everyone around him better on the Wheat Kings.

If that's with the Flyers next, Armstrong believes you won't be disappointed.

"I think they just have to be patient and allow the player to grow. He won't let anybody down," Armstrong said. "I just think he's an elite talent with an elite sense for the game. At some point, he'll be a great two-way centerman in the league. He'll put up offensive numbers. They won't be in the elite category, but he'll be a guy that'll chip away at his game, he'll produce. You just have to take your time and be patient."

End to End: Is it really a 2-player race atop the NHL draft?

End to End: Is it really a 2-player race atop the NHL draft?

Throughout the offseason, we'll ask questions about the Flyers to our resident hockey analysts and see what they have to say.
 
Going End to End today are CSNPhilly.com producers/reporters Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone.
 
The topic: Is it really a two-player race atop the NHL draft?
 
Dougherty
Maybe it's because the Flyers have the No. 2 pick and we tend to put the top prospects under an unfair microscope in years that do not include bona fide picks atop the draft.
 
Maybe it is as simple as whoever the New Jersey Devils do not draft.
 
Maybe we're overthinking this. Maybe we're not.
 
These are the questions that Flyers general manager Ron Hextall and his staff are asking themselves in the weeks leading up to the June 23-24 NHL entry draft in Chicago.
 
It appears to be a two-player draft, or at least that is what we've talked ourselves into. All the chatter has been around Brandon center Nolan Patrick and Halifax center Nico Hischier.
 
"I would say it's pretty accurate," Devils director of amateur scouting Paul Castron recently told the team's website. "They're both excellent players. … I think the media maybe has it that way, but I think there are other players that could come into play as well."
 
I am on the record saying the Flyers should get an immediate impact player at No. 2 in either Patrick or Hischier, unlike the last time they picked in this slot in 2007.
 
So, I believe the Flyers will be coming away from Chicago with either Patrick or Hischier, but I also don't believe it is as much of a slam dunk as we've made it out.
 
By many accounts, it is not a projected deep draft class. ESPN's Corey Pronman recently told TSN Radio 1040 he doesn't believe the two are "completely clear of the pack."
 
"The last time we had a draft like this — say 2012," Pronman said. "I think many scouts had Alex Galchenyuk, Filip Forsberg, Ryan Murray, Griffin Reinhart, Morgan Rielly … it all depended on which teams were picking where. I think this is another one of those years.
 
"I do think Hischier and Patrick are the likely No. 1 and 2, but if somebody else snuck into there, I wouldn't really be surprised."
 
There also doesn't appear much separation between Patrick and Hischier themselves. Hischier has been trending up, while questions remain about Patrick's durability.
 
While both the Devils and Flyers have publicly downplayed injury concerns about Patrick, we don't know what goes on behind closed doors. If New Jersey decides to draft Hischier with No. 1, I could see a scenario in which the Flyers opt to go another route than Patrick.
 
In early May, Hextall said with "any young player who has had injuries, you do background checks." What if the Flyers find something in those background checks they don't like?
 
Therefore, I don't think we're overthinking it too much to take a look at other top prospects in this class, such as Windsor center Gabriel Vilardi, Portland center Cody Glass or Owen Sound center Nick Suzuki. Because I do think there is a legitimate possibility the No. 2 pick could be someone other than Nolan Patrick or Nico Hischier.

Hall
The Flyers, in an overly advantageous position, should not get cute here. 

Depth at center is so vital to any organization. The Flyers have been lacking just that and it has shown the past three seasons.

With this draft, a high-end center is falling into their lap at the No. 2 pick. From all indications, Patrick and Hischier are at the head of the class.

Sure, the Flyers should do their homework, and they will. They'll be thorough in their scouting and preparation leading up to June 23.

To me, though, this is pretty simple. The Flyers' decision will essentially be made by the Devils' choice at No. 1 — and that's the odd convenience of the second overall selection.

Unless Hischier goes to New Jersey and alarms sound on Patrick's health, the Flyers need to make the obvious call and add one of these two centers.

Paone
Let's break this question down into simplest terms.

Could the Flyers take someone other than Patrick or Hischier at No. 2 come June 23 in Chicago? Of course, they could.

As Tom mentioned above, Vilardi, Glass and Suzuki are all up there at the head of this class with the projected top two, though seen by many as a slight level down from Patrick and Hischier.

A lot of times, decisions like these come down to team preference of a certain player. But don't expect Hextall to make that preference known until he steps to the podium to announce the Flyers' pick on draft night.

But could and should are two very different questions.

Should the Flyers take someone other than Patrick or Hischier at No. 2?

Nope.

Let's be honest, the Flyers fell backward into this No. 2 pick. And with that, they have the chance to select a potential stalwart forward with a strong knack for putting the puck in the net, which both Patrick and Hischier possess. And each should be able to show that off in the NHL sooner rather than later. Remember this: The Flyers' "Big 4" of Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn, Jakub Voracek and Claude Giroux scored 90 of the Flyers' 212 goals last season. That accounts for 42.5 percent. Immediate scoring help is needed and both Patrick and Hischier should have the ability to bring that to the table.

Yes, the questions about Patrick's durability are legitimate. And yes, Hischier is trending even further upward.

But, to me, this goes back again to simplest terms.

The Flyers should pick whomever New Jersey doesn't out of Patrick and Hischier.