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.”

2016-17 Flyers evaluation: Part 2 of the forwards

2016-17 Flyers evaluation: Part 2 of the forwards

We conclude our series reviewing the Flyers' 2016-17 roster with the second part of evaluating the forwards. You can find Part 1 here, as well the goaltending here and defensemen here.

Matt Read
Age: Turns 31 on June 14
Stats: 63 GP; 10G, 9A, 19 Pts.; plus-3; 13:46
Cap hit: $3.625 million

No Flyers forward has been more disappointing than Read during his six seasons here. Signed out of college, he scored 24 goals and had 47 points his first season and hasn't come close to matching those numbers again. Read broke his right forearm late in the season and missed the final five games. He missed 11 games earlier in the season with an oblique injury. He has averaged fewer than 10 goals over the past three seasons, which doesn't cut it with his salary. Will undoubtedly be exposed in the expansion draft.

Brayden Schenn
Age: Turns 26 on Aug. 22
Stats: 79 GP; 25G, 30A, 55 Pts.; minus-13; 17:48
Cap hit: $5.125 million

Often criticized for not fitting in or not delivering enough offensively, Schenn has demonstrated continued improvement every season as a Flyer. He was four points under last season's point total, yet among all forwards except Wayne Simmonds, he was the closest Flyer to having a season as good or better than his previous season. Tied for the NHL lead in power-play goals (17). Has a long way to go at 5-on-5 in terms of goal production. After years of being tried at various positions under three head coaches, it appears the organization has finally settled on Schenn as a winger, not center. And like so many others on this team, coach Dave Hakstol used him all over the lineup. If GM Ron Hextall decides to break up his core this summer, Schenn offers the most possibilities for a trade given his offensive output at a young age.

Wayne Simmonds
Age: Turns 29 on Aug. 26
Stats: 82 GP; 31G, 23A, 54 Pts.; minus-18; 18:58
Cap hit: $3.975 million

Led the Flyers in goal scoring for the fourth consecutive season and was right behind Schenn in power-play goals with 16. Simmonds was unquestionably the club's MVP this season and many feel he should be wearing the "C," because he's often the guy on the ice intervening with the officials. He offers the most bang for your buck on the Flyers. By his own admission, Simmonds is the "bad" cop to Claude Giroux's "good" cop. He plays a hard, power forward game despite his skinny legs. If he were an NBA player, he'd be a shooting guard. Simmonds wears his heart on his jersey and sometimes avoided the media this season after games because he was fearful of saying something he would later regret. Every Flyers club has had at least one player who defines orange and black and Simmonds is this team's rep. Was very effective on Valtteri Filppula's line with Jordan Weal this season. Like Giroux, however, Simmonds can't afford to be a minus player next season.

Chris VandeVelde
Age: Turned 30 on March 15
Stats: 81 GP; 6G, 9A, 15 Pts.; minus-5; 11:33
Cap hit: UFA who earned $712,500

For whatever reason, VandeVelde was totally immune from being benched by Hakstol this past season while others suffered at the drop of a puck. It wasn't until the very last game that Hakstol sat him. The fact is, VandeVelde tended toward disappearing in many games this season and his overall effectiveness with Pierre-Edouard Bellemare on the penalty kill was muted because he simply didn't generate shorthanded chances like he had done in the past. Although he tied his career high with the Flyers in terms of points, it's unlikely the club re-signs him. The Flyers have too many grinders and need scoring at this point with others waiting in line. 

Jakub Voracek
Age: Turns 28 on Aug. 15
Stats: 82 GP; 20G, 41A, 61 Pts.; minus-24; 19:05 
Cap hit: $8.25 million

The only number fans are going to remember from Voracek's lost season is "minus-24." That was worst on the Flyers. Since signing that gargantuan, eight-year, $66 million contract in 2015, the Czech winger has had two poor seasons in succession. Everyone -- himself included -- assumed a bounce-back year this past season, and while Voracek had 20 goals and more points -- five more than 2015-16 -- he remained well short of what he should have provided for his salary. This truly was a season in which the Flyers' big guns -- Simmonds and Schenn being the exceptions -- came up fairly lame. Even more distressing, however, was Voracek's being bounced off the second power-play unit, and not finding a set line. Truth is, his best production came with Michael Raffl and Giroux -- 24 points. He had six goals playing right wing on Giroux's line and six playing there on Sean Couturier's line. Hakstol needs to find Voracek a permanent line.

Jordan Weal
Age: Turned 26 April 15
Stats: 23 GP; 8G, 4A, 12 Pts.; plus-4; 14:18 
Cap hit: UFA who earned $650,000

Weal was more or less a "throw-in" as part of the Luke Schenn-Vinny Lecavalier deal with L.A. in January 2016. He got his chance this season when Travis Konecny suffered his knee and ankle injury in February against St. Louis. The Flyers discovered that Weal can play. And play above his size, with grit and skill, and an attitude that resembles a pit bull gnarling on a puck. Weal could get a contract close to or right at $2 million from someone this summer if he elects free agency. Hextall says he wants to re-sign Weal but isn't sure when. Weal can't be exposed because he's a free agent. Yet under the expansion draft rules, Vegas will have a 48-hour window prior to the expansion draft to sign free agents. Weal would be a perfect player for Vegas GM George McPhee to sign and grow with an expansion club. If Hextall signs him before that window opens, he will have to protect Weal on June 21. If he waits, he is potentially competing with a lot of clubs. Filppula's line with him and Simmonds was very good in the second half. Hextall has no choice but to re-sign this kid. The Flyers are already lacking in the skill/creativeness department and Weal provides both. 

Dale Weise
Age: Turns 29 on Aug. 5
Stats: 64 GP; 8G, 7A, 15 Pts.; plus-1; 12:52 
Cap hit: $2.35 million

Essentially, Weise was signed last summer to replace Ryan White. Things began poorly for him -- a three-game suspension and no goals through the club's first 20 games. His game never picked up until late in the second half when Hextall admitted he was disappointed in the production he had gotten from him. That's when Weise came alive -- after sitting six straight games -- with some excellent play on Couturier's line with Schenn. Weise scored six goals with four assists (10 points) over his final 14 games. He was vocal and noticeably moody much of the second half because of his benchings (twice for multiple games) and lack of production. It didn't seem to have an impact in the room. The Flyers need more from him next season. Will be exposed in the expansion draft.

Report: Flyers sign 2015 draft pick Mikhail Vorobyov to entry-level contract

Report: Flyers sign 2015 draft pick Mikhail Vorobyov to entry-level contract

It appears another prospect has signed his entry-level contract with the Flyers.

Mikhail Vorobyov has now done so, according to a report by TVA Sports' Renaud Lavoie on Tuesday night. Fellow prospect Connor Bunnaman signed last Friday.

Vorobyov, a 20-year-old center selected by the Flyers in the fourth round of the 2015 draft, played in the KHL for parts of the past seasons. With Salavat Yulaev, the 6-foot-2, 207-pounder had three goals and eight assists in 44 games this season.

Vorobyov was on the final year of his KHL deal.

Playing for his native Russia in the World Junior Championships, Vorobyov opened eyes with 10 assists and a plus-6 rating in seven games.

At 20 years old, he's more than likely headed for AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley in 2017-18.