VandeVelde remains despite limited NHL success

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VandeVelde remains despite limited NHL success

LAKE PLACID, N.Y. -- On Thursday afternoon, the Flyers’ training camp roster shrunk to 27.

Gone was rookie Sam Morin, the defenseman selected 11th overall at last June’s draft that impressed so many coaches and fans after just a couple preseason games. Tye McGinn, the forward whose name was on the short list of players expected to have a real shot at making it on to the team, was sent away, too.

But after all of the 32 cuts made before the Flyers arrived in Lake Placid, 26-year-old center Chris VandeVelde, who was signed to a minor-league contract last week, still remained.

Even VandeVelde himself was a bit taken aback when he learned he’d be staying with the team for the next leg of camp.

“You’re always surprised a little bit,” he said. “But I’ve worked hard over the offseason. I gave myself a fair shot. I played pretty good in two preseason games and I’m here, so it’s good.”

Coach Peter Laviolette, it turns out, liked a lot of what he saw from the 6-foot-2, 190-pound grinder.

“I thought the scrimmage, the first scrimmage, I really liked him,” Laviolette said. “I thought he did a lot of good things in practice. He moves well, he skates well. He has some experience in the NHL. He serves different roles here. We're going to continue to look at him."

He did look strong in that game, spending a fair amount of time on the penalty kill, but VandeVelde has largely struggled at the NHL level. Since being drafted in the fourth round by the Edmonton Oilers in 2005, VandeVelde has played in just 28 NHL games -- and has only registered three points.

Though he was never able to fit in with the Oilers, even last year when the team was thin at center, VandeVelde considers the NHL experience he does have to be helpful, and possibly something that can help him as he competes for a roster spot.

“It was very valuable,” he said. “And hopefully I can carry it over here.”

Assistant general manager Ron Hextall is responsible for bringing VandeVelde onto the Flyers’ radar. His son, Brett, played hockey with VandeVelde at the University of North Dakota, and it was Ron Hextall who finally got in touch with VandeVelde earlier this summer, after his three-year deal with Edmonton expired and he became an unrestricted free agent.

VandeVelde says he could see himself fitting in on the Flyers as a third- or fourth-liner, and he hopes to continue to show the team’s coaches he’d make a reliable role player. He said he aims to show the coaches he is “skating hard and working hard,” and that he can “be consistent and reliable and outwork [his] opponent.”

“I think I’ve done that thus far,” he said.

The issue, of course, is that he struggled to do so while in Edmonton. In the 11 games in which he suited up in 2013, he was on the ice for four even-strength goals against. On the penalty kill, things were even worse -- in only about 11 minutes of ice time, VandeVelde was around for three opponents’ goals.

All that said, sometimes a change of scenery is all a player needs to be successful. And VandeVelde believes he has an understanding of what it takes to flourish with the Flyers.

“I know what they like,” he said. “It’s a pretty blue-collar team. They like hard work, and that’s what I’ll do.”

Best of NHL: Trocheck's last-second goal lifts Panthers past Blues

Best of NHL: Trocheck's last-second goal lifts Panthers past Blues

ST. LOUIS -- Vincent Trocheck scored with just under 5 seconds remaining to lift the Florida Panthers to a 2-1 victory over the St. Louis Blues on Monday night.

Jonathan Marchessault also scored and James Reimer stopped 26 shots to help the Panthers complete a 5-0 road trip -- their first perfect trip of at least that many games in franchise history.

Reimer has won five straight decisions and has not lost in regulation since Jan. 7 against Boston, going 6-0-1 since.

The Panthers moved into a tie with Boston for third place in the Atlantic Division, but have the edge because they have a game in hand on the Bruins.

Kyle Brodziak, playing for the second time after missing 10 games due to a broken foot, scored for the Blues and Jake Allen finished with 31 saves. St. Louis lost its second straight since winning six in a row (see full recap).

Coyotes use three-goal 1st period to beat Ducks
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Radim Vrbata capped Arizona's three-goal first period and the Coyotes held on for 3-2 victory over the Anaheim Ducks on Monday night.

Christian Dvorak and Jakob Chychrun also scored for Arizona, and starting goalie Mike Smith had 27 saves before leaving about 4 1/2 minutes into the third period after a collision in the net. Marek Langhamer helped kill a power play after being pressed into action for his NHL debut and stopped six of the seven shots he faced.

The Coyotes have won four of their last six.

Langhamer gave up Ryan Getzlaf's second goal of the night with 26.8 seconds to play, but thwarted two quality shots in the final seconds.

Jonathan Bernier gave up three goals on six shots in the first period for the Ducks. John Gibson came on to start the second and stopped all 14 shots he faced (see full recap).

Playing with 'swagger,' Gostisbehere flashes glimpse of rookie self vs. Canucks

Playing with 'swagger,' Gostisbehere flashes glimpse of rookie self vs. Canucks

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – The Flyers’ “Ghost” headed home Monday on a high note — for a change.

Defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere recorded three assists for the first three-point night of his NHL career Sunday as the Flyers edged the Vancouver Canucks 3-2 in the final game of a three-game Western Canada road trip (see story). In one night, he matched his offensive output of his previous 10 games played. 

He was a healthy scratch for three games in the meantime. On many other occasions, he has struggled while dealing with the NHL’s proverbial sophomore jinx following a standout rookie season. 

“It’s been a while coming,” Gostisbehere said. “It’s good to get some points, but I thought it was more important to get two points for our team.”

The win moved the Flyers (28-24-7) within a point of the eighth and final playoff spot, currently held by Toronto, in the Eastern Conference. With considerable thanks to Gostisbehere, the club’s much maligned power play scored on two of three man-advantage opportunities. 

“He played great,” Wayne Simmonds said of Gostisbehere. “He had his confidence and a little bit of swagger.”

Gostisbehere’s first assist enabled the Flyers to get off to a quick start offensively as Simmonds deflected in his point shot only 1:11 into the game. On the Flyers’ second goal, Gostisbehere head-manned the puck to Sean Couturier on a rush. Jakub Voracek easily put Couturier’s big rebound into a gaping net with Canucks goaltender Ryan Miller caught out of position.

One minute and 27 seconds later, Brayden Schenn took Gostisbehere’s pass and put in a shot from the slot. Altogether, Gostisbehere’s assists enabled the Flyers to build an insurmountable 3-0 lead in the game’s first 23 minutes.

“Ghost has had his ups and downs this year, but he's a heck of a player and has unbeliveable skill,” Simmonds said. “He can be a catalyst offensively for us, that’s for sure.”

Gostisbehere now has four goals and 18 assists on the season. Until Sunday, the 23-year-old had seemed like an apparition of his former self. 

He had a less-than-ideal recovery period from offseason hip (labrum) and abdominal surgeries, due to his participation with Team North America in the World Cup. Then he suffered a facial cut in the Flyers’ season opener and took a bruise on his right hand in December.

He also struggled defensively to the point where he was scratched — for the first time in his NHL career — in November and was later benched and pulled out of the lineup again. Heading into Sunday’s game, he had a woeful minus-22 mark, but he was only on the ice for one Canucks' goal.

He helped the Flyers shut out the Canucks in the first and third periods. 

“We don’t like how they came back, but we held the lead and, like I said, we got the two points,” Gostisbehere said.

Ghost’s offensive showing evoked memories of his seemingly other-worldly 2015-16 season. In 64 games last season, he notched 17 goals, the most by an NHL rookie defenseman since Dion Phaneuf, then with Calgary, who scored 20 over a full 82-game schedule in 2005-06. Gostisbehere also enjoyed a historic 15-game point streak in 2015-16, the longest ever for a first-year rearguard, and he was a runnerup for the league’s Rookie of the Year award.

His return to form Sunday bodes well as the Flyers face two Metropolitan Division rivals this week, first Washington at home on Wednesday and then the Penguins in Pittsburgh on Saturday in an outdoor game that will pack plenty of hype and pressure. 

After those games, the Flyers face a more compressed schedule than they have lately. The Feb.12-27 portion of their calendar contains only five games. But starting Feb. 28, they will play their final 21 games of the regular season over 41 days as they push to make the playoffs.

“We definitely know we’re a playoff team, for sure,” Gostisbehere said. “It shows. It’s a big test for us (this) week, playing these really good teams.”