Sestito scores twice to lift Flyers over Lightning

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Sestito scores twice to lift Flyers over Lightning

BOX SCORE

Tom Sestito had played all of 31 NHL games in his career. He had never scored a goal in 18 games as a Flyer and hadn’t hit the back of the net in more than two years.

But after Tuesday’s 2-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning, in which he scored both Flyer goals, Sestito joked that maybe he ought to ask coach Peter Laviolette about taking on some time on the team’s first line.

“Should have got the hat trick, though,” a smiling Sestito said. “I think one more shift.”

In a way, Sestito was emblematic of the Flyers’ effort against the Lightning, a notoriously dangerous team that has given the orange and black trouble in recent seasons. Instead of falling back on their heels, as they did just over a week ago in Tampa, the Flyers played a complete game, making every shift in every zone count.

Or, as Max Talbot put it: “Everybody contributed.” Even the on-again, off-again healthy scratch Sestito.

“Tonight, everybody really played a solid game,” Talbot said. “We played great defense, and by ‘playing great defense’ I don’t mean only in our defensive zone, I mean in all three zones. There was good gaps, good checks, good backchecks from our forwards.”

There were early chances by both sides and equally sharp responses by the two netminders. Few sharper, arguably, than Ilya Bryzgalov’s first-period stop on Lightning center Steven Stamkos.

The Wells Fargo Center was at its loudest, though, when Zac Rinaldo took on Tampa Bay’s B.J. Crombeen. It didn’t take long for the underdog Rinaldo -- three inches and 40 pounds lighter than Crombeen -- to knock the Lightning winger unconscious.

That contest must have inspired horror flick director Rob Zombie, in the building to observe Flyers fans in their natural habitat. Zombie is working on a film influenced by the Broad Street Bullies.

“It gave us a huge bolt of energy that came through the building and the fans and players, teammates, coaches -- everybody,” Laviolette said. “It was one of those ones that really can pick up a game, pick up a building.”

Sestito, who broke the scoreless tie at 4:25 of the second period, had scored all of two goals in his entire NHL career spanning back to 2007-08. He shocked the sellout crowd when he showed some skill in beating Lindback for his first goal, but he surprised his coaches and teammates when, with the same exact move in the third period, he beat Anders Lindback for a second time to give the Flyers the lead they would need to win.

“I think he was [surprised], too, by the look on his face,” Danny Briere said. “It’s good to see. It’s good to see different guys stepping up and being a part of it. It hasn’t been easy since the start for Tom, but finally having the chance to get in the lineup and scoring two big goals like that.”

Sestito, who has worked on that particular backhand-forehand move in practice, said he’ll keep attempting it in games “’til it stops working.”

Bryzgalov, once again, put in a stellar performance. He held the Lightning scoreless for almost 50 minutes, coming up big more than a few times and remaining calm and composed as he did so. It was only just after he was shook up when Tampa Bay center Cory Conacher collided with him that he gave up the lone Lightning goal to Benoit Puliot.

But thanks to Bryz -- and the defense in front of him -- that was all the Flyers allowed. And thanks to Sestito, the Flyers were able to answer back.

“It’s great that Tom chipped in like that,” Laviolette said. “He’s a big body that goes up and down the wing. He does a lot for our club. For him to get the two goals tonight, it’s got to make him feel good and make us feel good, as well.”

The Flyers weren’t able to capitalize on either of their power-play chances, but they kept the Lightning silent on all four of their opportunities, arguably the larger task. Stifling the Bolts in both the neutral zone and their defensive zone was something the team had practiced ahead of Tueday’s game, and clearly, that work paid off.

“They’re a dangerous group out there,” Laviolette said. “I thought our guys took time and space, the defensemen did an excellent job of sticks on pucks and eliminating gaps. We did a real good job of reloading coming back to our end, we blocked a lot of shots tonight and cleaned out the front of the net.

“There was still a lot of quality chances, there’s a talented group on the other side. When we needed it, Bryz was outstanding.”

NHL Notes: Chris Kreider, Rangers agree on four-year contract

NHL Notes: Chris Kreider, Rangers agree on four-year contract

NEW YORK -- The New York Rangers signed forward Chris Kreider to a four-year contract worth $18.5 million in a last-minute deal that helped the sides avoid arbitration.

General manager Jeff Gorton announced the agreement on Friday.

The deal will pay Kreider an average of $4.6 million and keep him with the team through 2020. It also includes a modified no-trade clause that prevents Kreider from being traded to 11 teams.

The 25-year-old Kreider was a restricted free agent.

"What happens in this type of deal is that both sides have stated positions and when the specter of 'arb' comes, it drives both sides closer," Matt Keator, Kreider's agent, said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "For us, the term was the right amount and for the team that amount was the right amount, so we were able to come together on both sides. 

"It worked out fine, and Chris loves New York and wants to be there."

Keator said both sides were ready to present their cases Friday morning before reaching an agreement.

Kreider had 21 goals and 22 assists in 79 games for New York and a plus-10 rating. He established career-highs in even-strength goals (16) and hits (177), and he tied his career-high in goals, set the previous season.

Kreider was one of six NHL players who registered at least 20 goals, 40 points, a plus-10 rating and 50 penalty minutes this past season. Alex Ovechkin, Jonathan Toews, Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand and James Neal were the others.

He ranked third on the team in power play goals (five), fourth in even strength goals, fifth in goals and even strength points (35), and tied for fifth in points. Kreider also led the Rangers in goals (15) and ranked second on the team in points (26) on the road this past season (see full story).

Sabres: Evander Kane charged with harassment at bar
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Buffalo police say Sabres forward Evander Kane has been charged with four counts of non-criminal harassment and one count of misdemeanor trespass after an incident at a city bar last month.

Police say the 24-year-old Kane surrendered to authorities Friday and was issued a court appearance ticket. Investigators say two women accused Kane of grabbing them at a bar on June 24.

According to the reports, one woman told police Kane threatened her inside the club and when outside, grabbed her throat. The second woman accused Kane of trying to force her from the bar.

Kane's attorney, Paul Cambria, says his client is innocent of all charges.

In March, prosecutors said there was no evidence to support a sexual assault charge against Kane stemming from a December incident. 

Kane has two years remaining on his contract.

Maple Leafs: No. 1 overall pick Auston Matthews signs 3-year deal
TORONTO -- The Toronto Maple Leafs signed No. 1 overall draft pick Auston Matthews to a three-year, entry-level contract Thursday with the maximum bonuses allowed.

Matthews had 24 goals and 22 assists in 36 games last season for the Zurich Lions in Switzerland and had nine points for the United States at the world hockey championship.

The 18-year-old from Scottsdale, Arizona, immediately became the face of the Maple Leafs' franchise when they selected him first in last month's draft. General manager Lou Lamoriello typically refuses to give bonuses to rookies, but agent Pat Brisson confirmed that Matthews' deal includes the maximum entry-level salary of $925,000 per year plus potential bonuses that could add up to an average annual value of $3,775,000.

"There were no issues at all getting it done with Lou [Lamoriello] and the Leafs," Brisson said. "Auston is thrilled (see full story)."

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Pascal Laberge brings more than just offense to Flyers’ system

Pascal Laberge brings more than just offense to Flyers’ system

VOORHEES, N.J. — Pascal Laberge has all the tangibles front office officials treasure in a prospect.

A willowy 6-foot-1 frame, slick and smooth skills with the puck and a scoring IQ well beyond his age of 18.

A true dream when it comes to offensive hockey.

It’s a package the Flyers liked and drafted this summer in the second round with the 36th overall pick.

But what the Flyers loved about Laberge was beyond the ice — and it's likely a reason they’ve already signed the Canadian forward to his entry-level contract (see story).

“If you look at Pascal’s story, he’s had a tough year as an individual, especially as a young kid,” Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said last week at the conclusion of development camp. “He persevered through. We loved his perseverance.”

Laberge and his family have suffered hardships and heartbreak (see story).

The game was his outlet.

“When I was at the rink, I was not thinking about what happened with my family,” Laberge said. “Thank God I play hockey because that would have been a harder year for me.”

It makes his 2015-16 season at the junior level that more impressive. Playing for Victoriaville of the QMHJL, Laberge recorded 23 goals and 45 assists for 68 points in 56 games.

Over a 10-game scoring streak from Jan. 23-Feb. 19, Laberge racked up 21 points on six goals and 15 assists. Earlier in the season, he tallied a point in nine straight games. He also competed in the World Juniors for the Canada U-18 team, posting a pair of goals and assists in seven games.

“It was a great experience,” Laberge said of the World Juniors. “I improved myself, played defensively. I had more defensive responsibilities, so that was fun, just to learn new things.”

Make no mistake, though, Laberge’s forte is depositing and facilitating the puck.

“Pascal has good size, good speed, he’s got good skills,” Hextall said. “He’s a highly skilled young player.”

He offers exactly what the Flyers needed in their system: forwards with size and playmaking ability. At 175 pounds, he’ll have room and time to become stronger.

“I’m an offensive player, I’ve got a good shot,” Laberge said. “Even if I’m not that heavy, I like to play a physical game. I’m pretty sure in three years, I’ll be bigger and I’ll be able to play that kind of game.”

Laberge said he can play either forward position — he’s opened to both, although wing may be best for both him and the Flyers.

“I think it’s more of both positions,” he said. “I can play center and I can play as a winger. My coach last year thought that I was better as a wing, which I think I did — when I got to wing, I put more points on the board.

“Either position [the Flyers are] going to make me play, I’ll play it.”

Laberge enjoyed his first development camp. He bonded with fellow prospects and saw where he stood among the best before preparing for another junior season.

“It’s pretty fun to play with some older guys and compare yourself to these guys,” he said. “My goal is just to make a good impression and try and go as far as I can.”

His perseverance should only help.

For Brayden Schenn and Flyers, short-term deal could make sense

For Brayden Schenn and Flyers, short-term deal could make sense

The NHL is quickly heading toward its annual August dead period.

Teams have made their draft picks, had their rookie camps, signed free agents and made the most of their important trades.

But as a month of relative inactivity approaches ahead of September’s World Cup of Hockey, the Flyers and general manager Ron Hextall still have one piece of business to attend to: signing restricted free-agent forward Brayden Schenn to a new deal, preferably before an arbitration hearing scheduled for Monday (July 25).

Both sides have said there’s no rush and a deal will get done, but both sides surely want to avoid a hearing, which can get messy. For an example, see John LeClair’s hearing with the Flyers in the summer of 2000 when he was eventually awarded a record $7 million deal for one year by the arbitrator. The Flyers offered $5 million and then went on to argue LeClair’s weaknesses as a player during the hearing. That’s the last time a Flyer has gone through with an arbitration hearing.

No one wants to reach that point and these kinds of things often find a conclusion. Remember when Michael Del Zotto came to terms with the Flyers last year before a scheduled hearing? To further that point, the Washington Capitals agreed to a deal with Marcus Johanssen earlier this week just hours before a scheduled hearing.

After a career season, during which he had career highs in goals (26) and points (59) and found a home on Claude Giroux’s wing on the top line, Schenn deserves, and will get, a raise from the $2.75 million he earned last season.

How much of a raise remains to be seen, but it will be a healthy amount the Flyers have to fit in. Somewhere in the $4-5 million per year range makes sense and the Flyers currently have just over $5 million in cap space for this coming season.

But when talking term, it could be beneficial for both the 24-year-old and the Flyers to go for a shorter contract rather than a longer one.

Schenn has been plagued by inconsistency throughout his five seasons in Philadelphia, and last season marked the first time Schenn was able to score at a consistent rate. That was especially true after the All-Star break, when Schenn went off for 14 goals and 19 assists in 35 games to close the regular season.

For that reason, the Flyers should be hesitant to hand out a long-term deal. In reality, five or six years is too long of a deal for a player who has yet to prove he can make last year’s production happen on a season-to-season basis. While last season was a career year for Schenn, it’s also cracked the window open more for the Flyers to see if that’s what he’s truly capable of year by year.

And a short-term deal could be beneficial to Schenn, as well.

It’s understandable when a player is coming off a great season that he would want long-term security in his next deal. A chance at long-term security isn’t something that comes along often in the pro sports world. 

But, coming off last season, this is where Schenn could bet on himself. He could bet on himself for the next two or three seasons that he can duplicate that production, especially with the chemistry he formed with Giroux and Wayne Simmonds on the top line.

Per the NHL’s collective bargaining agreement, a player can’t reach unrestricted free-agent status until he’s 27 or has seven accrued seasons (on a roster for 30 games) in the league. The latter reason is why Steven Stamkos, 25, was slated to be UFA before re-signing with the Tampa Bay Lightning earlier this summer. Barring a catastrophic injury, Schenn would reach seven accrued seasons in the summer of 2018. He would turn 27 past that summer’s UFA filing deadline, so age wouldn’t work for him until the summer of 2019.

If he continues to consistently produce, he’ll be in position to cash in big time in a few seasons while still in the prime of his career.

Hextall has publicly stated he’s not a fan of long-term deals. And with Schenn’s historic inconsistency, this could be one of those instances in which one of those deals makes Hextall take a deep breath.

But if Schenn bets on himself for the next few seasons and succeeds, any cause for deep breaths will be gone and he’ll have proven he’s worth signing long term. And then he’ll be worth plenty of money, too.