Raffl clicks right away with Lecavalier, Simmonds

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Raffl clicks right away with Lecavalier, Simmonds

He had not gotten off the ice yet for his line change, when the puck was turned over at the blue line to Michael Raffl.

Without hesitation, the left winger darted into the Rangers' zone and found Vinny Lecavalier open in the right circle -- Lecavalier's favorite spot -- for a quick shot on Rangers goalie Marty Biron.

That is the essence of Raffl. Seemingly being in the right spot, knowing where his other winger is sitting. It’s a gift.

Same thing happened no less than four times on Monday night against Washington, as well. Raffl can find his linemates with the puck, whether it be a skill line with Lecavalier and Wayne Simmonds against the Caps, or on a checking line of Max Talbot and Chris VandeVelde during the Flyers' 3-2 exhibition loss to the Rangers at the Wells Fargo Center on Tuesday.

“It’s hard to explain, sometimes you play with somebody and you just can’t see them [on the ice],” Lecavalier said. “For some reason, sometimes there are lines that don’t click. You can’t see guys, you can’t find them.

“You always kind of look around and [think] where is he? But I thought with Simmer (Simmonds) and Raffl, we made some good plays. We connected right away. We talked on the ice. It makes for a lot easier game if you are always looking for each other.”

The Flyers, 1-2-1 in the preseason, will cut their roster down to 28 players on Wednesday before they head to Lake Placid for four quick days of training and team bonding.

Raffl is certain to be there. Right now, he has a slight edge on fellow wingers Tye McGinn and Jason Akeson for a roster spot.

Tuesday’s objective was to see what Raffl could do in a checking role with Talbot. One of the things the Flyers liked about Dan Cleary -- had he chose them over Detroit -- was Cleary’s ability to play up or down the lineup.

“Not that many open scoring chances for me,” Raffl said. “I think I can fit that role, too, and work hard in the corners. I didn’t play my best game tonight. That’s a challenge that I would take.”

Coach Peter Laviolette liked what he saw of Raffl in terms of versatility.

“It’s important to take a look at players in different situations,” Laviolette said. “There’s others who will end up with Vinny or times maybe [when it's Raffl] or someone else. It’s important to get a good feel for a player and strength he brings. His line was effective tonight.”

Flyers management wants a 13th forward who can play a little finesse and a little grind, and not be solely tied to one role. The question is whether Raffl can do that better than McGinn and Akeson at this point on the wing. Scott Laughton, also vying for a spot, is a center.

If the Flyers carry 14 forwards, two of those players will make the roster. If they carry just 13 forwards, then only one makes it.

Laughton is a natural center. The personnel staff feels he has to make the roster at that spot to develop at the NHL level.

Raffl, so far, is surprising people with the ease he fits on the ice for not having played any games in North America until Monday’s exhibition. Then again, he’s older.

The 24-year-old Austrian played eight years in Europe, the past two of which for Leksands IF in the Swedish Hockey League.

He scored 24 goals and amassed 46 points last season, which caught head of pro scouting Dave Brown’s eye. The Flyers signed him to a one-year deal last May.

“What he did last year, he scored a lot of points in [the] Swedish League,” said John Paddock, the Flyers’ director of player development. “They don’t score a lot of points in that league. Big rinks, slowed down, no one forechecks. It was impressive.”

Raffl has had a number of scoring chances in two exhibition games.

“He continues last night to do in the game what he has done in practice,” Paddock said. “He likes to shoot the puck. He didn’t look out of place playing with those guys.

“I talked to Simmer and he said he was easy to play with. He finds holes. He had chances early in the game. It was pretty impressive the first time playing together in four days.”

Raffl is a man of few words.

“It’s fun to get the opportunity to play with those kind of players,” he said. “There is a lot of responsibility with the puck but it was fun. I felt we had a lot of chances but I couldn’t bury it [against Washington].

“The ice is smaller, you recognize it all over the place. [It doesn't] really [hamper me]. I don’t think too much about it. It becomes part of the game.”

Craig Berube coached the 4-3 shootout loss to the Capitals.

“He had some great chances, he missed the net three times in the first period for goals -- I thought they were real good opportunities,” Berube said of Raffl.

“He puts himself in the right position to score, that’s for sure. He shoots the puck well. I thought he was good, I thought overall he skated well and his first game over here, it’s not a lot of time and he’ll get better and better.”

Best of NHL: Bruins snap 4-game skid, beat Islanders, move into playoff position

Best of NHL: Bruins snap 4-game skid, beat Islanders, move into playoff position

NEW YORK -- Riley Nash scored twice and backup goalie Anton Khudobin made 18 saves as the Boston Bruins beat the New York Islanders 2-1 Saturday night, snapping a four-game losing streak.

Nash broke a 1-1 tie with his second goal of the contest at 4:12 of the third period, beating Islanders goalie Thomas Greiss from the slot for his seventh goal of the season. Dominic Moore assisted on the decisive goal, which lifted Boston two points ahead of the Islanders for the second wild card in the Eastern Conference.

John Tavares scored for New York and Greiss finished with 16 saves.

Tavares had a golden chance to knot the score with just over six minutes left in the third period but rang the puck off the crossbar with the Islanders on their sixth power play of the game (see full recap).

Eichel, Sabres slow Leafs' push to clinch playoff berth
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Jack Eichel scored twice and set up another goal in the Buffalo Sabres' 5-2 win that slowed the youth-laden Toronto Maple Leafs' late-season surge to clinch a playoff berth.

Ryan O'Reilly and Dmitry Kulikov each had a goal and assist, and Evander Kane also scored in a game the Sabres took control of by scoring three straight times in the second period. Robin Lehner stopped 32 shots, and the Sabres continued their home dominance over their cross-border rivals by improving to 18-2-1 against Toronto in their last 21 games at Buffalo.

The Maple Leafs' hold on third-place in the Atlantic Division dwindled in having a three-game winning streak end and losing in regulation for just the second time in their past 10 (7-2-1). With 85 points, Toronto has a one-point edge over Boston after the Bruins beat the New York Islanders.

Auston Matthews scored his 34th to tie Toronto's single-season rookie record set by Wendel Clark in 1985-86. Connor Brown also scored for Toronto (see full recap).

Marchessault's hat trick helps Panthers blow out Blackhawks
SUNRISE, Fla. -- Jonathan Marchessault scored his first career hat trick, James Reimer stopped 25 shots for his first shutout of the season and the Florida Panthers routed the Chicago Blackhawks 7-0 on Saturday night.

Jonathan Huberdeau had a goal and three assists, and Aleksander Barkov added a goal and two assists for Florida. Reilly Smith and Nick Bjugstad also scored to give the Panthers their largest margin of victory since an 8-0 win over Toronto on Feb. 5, 2008.

Marchessault had two goals in a 3-1 win over Arizona on Thursday. He has nine goals over his last nine games and leads the Panthers with 28.

Corey Crawford stopped 21 shots for the Blackhawks before being lifted at 4:59 of the third for Scott Darling, who allowed three goals on six shots.

Already leading 3-0, the Panthers poured in four goals in the third (see full recap).

Caps top Coyotes as Ovechkin reaches 30 goals for 12th straight season
WASHINGTON -- Alex Ovechkin recorded his 30th goal of the season and Daniel Winnik scored two goals, including the game-winner late in the third period, as the Washington Capitals overcame listless stretches to beat the lowly Arizona Coyotes 4-1 on Saturday night.

Ovechkin became the third player in league history to score 30-plus goals in each of his first 12 seasons, joining Mike Gartner (15) and Wayne Gretzky (13).

Winnik scored with 4:39 remaining, Justin Williams added another goal not long and Winnik sealed the Capitals' fourth consecutive victory with an empty-netter.

Braden Holtby made 28 saves for Washington, which has won five of six to reach an NHL-leading 106 points and keep pace atop the competitive Metropolitan Division. The Capitals are three points up on the Columbus Blue Jackets and Pittsburgh Penguins.

Mike Smith stopped 29 of the 32 shots he faced and Peter Holland scored the lone goal for Arizona (see full recap).

Flyers-Blue Jackets 10 observations: Strong effort not enough to overcome Sergei Bobrovsky

Flyers-Blue Jackets 10 observations: Strong effort not enough to overcome Sergei Bobrovsky

From Winnipeg to Minnesota to Columbus, the Flyers' final long road trip made its third stop Saturday afternoon in Ohio against a rather imposing Blue Jackets team.

The Blue Jackets clinched a playoff berth earlier in the week and in this one, goalie Sergei Bobrovsky earned his seventh shutout with a 1-0 victory -- his 40th this season, which is a career-high and a Columbus franchise record (see game story).

Dave Hakstol's team played a ferocious game -- two in succession now -- and demonstrated the urgency needed, even though its playoff odds took another turn for the worse.

The overall impact on the wild card remained temporarily unknown because of the Bruins-Islanders game to be played later Saturday night, but regardless of who wins, the Flyers will fall eight points out of the wild card.

The Flyers end their four-game road trip Sunday night in Pittsburgh in the back end of the back-to-back, where Steve Mason is expected to start in net.

Here are 10 things I think, I think.
 
1. Nationwide Arena hasn't been kind to the Flyers, who are now 0-5-5 in the building since December 2008. To say the Blue Jackets own the Flyers would be an understatement given they've won 13 of the last 15 games going back to Dec. 21, 2013.
 
2. Hakstol dusted off Michal Neuvirth for the front end of this back-to-back. Neuvirth's only start before Saturday was March 9 in Toronto, when Hakstol came under criticism for using him instead of riding Mason, who was on a 3-0-1 hot streak at the time. Saturday was just Neuvirth's third appearance in March, including in relief at New Jersey on March 16. He's been understandably rusty, yet he was very good in this game.
 
3. Hakstol, as he often does after a win, stuck with the same lineup he used during Thursday's 3-1 victory in Minnesota, which meant that rookie Travis Konecny -- who played less than 10 minutes against the Wild -- was again buried on the fourth line. He finished with 12:17 against the Blue Jackets.
 
4. Hakstol has pulled his goalie many times in the past with almost two minutes left on the clock. Why did he wait until the final 48 seconds Saturday to pull Neuvirth? What did he have to lose with a playoff berth on the line?
 
5. There is little question the Flyers' trading of Bobrovsky ranks among their top five worst trades in club history orchestrated just because of the team's enormous monetary commitment to Ilya Bryzgalov, who is chasing bears in the woods of South Jersey these days. All "Bob" has done in Columbus is win a Vezina Trophy and is the favorite for the award again this season. He is also among the candidates this season for the Hart Trophy. Bobrovsky came into the game 7-1 against the Flyers all-time with a 1.85 goals-against average and .936 save percentage. Bobrovsky had three saves on Wayne Simmonds alone in a scoreless first period and finished with 36 overall.
 
6. Nick Foligno has always been a Flyers killer over his career. The talented winger came into play with 21 points (14 goals) in 28 career games against the orange and black. The flyers shut him down Saturday, as Foligno had just two shots in the game.
 
7. The Flyers' penalty kill units were active with their sticks and attacking the puck on Columbus from all sides -- not allowing the Jackets a good setup. Ian Laperriere's PK units improved toward the end of this trip. The Blue Jackets were 0 for 2.
 
8. An unfortunate break of the stick for Simmonds led to Columbus' only goal late in the second period off an Alex Wennberg redirection. If Simmonds had his stick, Kyle Quincey doesn't outreach him for the puck near the blue line. Instead, it's a shot on net that's deflected for the eventual game-winner.
 
9. The Flyers' second power-play unit with Jordan Weal and Konecny produced four shots in the closing minutes of that second period, but again Bobrovsky was the ultimate difference then and in the final eight seconds with a save on Jakub Voracek and subsequent rebound scrum in front. Joey Mullen's power play has collapsed at the end -- 3 for 43 during the month of March. It was 0 for 3 in this game.
 
10. No criticism of the Flyers in this one. They did everything they could to win. That's all you can ask against a goalie that outright owns you. Again, however, the level of desperation they showed in this and the Wild loss should have been exhibited over a month ago.