Philadelphia Flyers

Voracek's hat trick helps Flyers to wild win over Pens

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Voracek's hat trick helps Flyers to wild win over Pens

BOX SCORE

PITTSBURGH -- Jakub Voracek got his first NHL hat trick.
 
Wayne Simmonds had a Gordie Howe hat trick -- a goal (two actually), an assist and a fight.
 
And North America got yet another wild, emotionally-taxing 6-5 Flyers' victory over the Penguins on Wednesday night at CONSOL Energy Center that seemed to resemble last year’s playoffs.
 
“The first two [games] -- even the games in our building,” coach Peter Laviolette said, “it carries a lot of emotion and a lot of energy. Great games for the players, the fans, for everybody. Good playoff-type atmosphere.”
 
This time, the Flyers took the seven goals and achievements against the Islanders and made them count for something the next time out.
 
Recall the Flyers routed Florida 7-1 in January, then got pasted the next night in Tampa.
 
“I couldn’t tell you what happened in this game, so many things happened,” said a drained Claude Giroux.
 
“Up and down. I don’t know if it’s fun to watch but it’s fun to play.”
 
Twice the Flyers had a two-goal lead in the final period and lost it, thanks primarily to a series of penalties that gave the Pens a continual 5-on-3 power play -- the most lethal in the Eastern Conference.
 
Ilya Bryzgalov took a 3-2 lead into that stanza and then Voracek gave him some breathing room at 18 seconds with his second goal.
 
Five minutes later, Tyler Kennedy made it a nail-biter until Simmonds led a rush up ice, shot it and it tipped off James Neal’s stick to regain the two-goal lead.
 
That should have been it -- 5-3 --  but consecutive penalties, including a four-minute high-sticking penalty to Mike Knuble gave the Penguins a 5-on-3 power play for a full two minutes.
 
Evgeni Malkin scored once, making it 5-4. Then, Max Talbot went off for a closed hand on the puck, keeping the 5-on-3 alive.
 
“It’s a new rule this year -- the puck was under me and I tried to put it out of there and on our first goal it kind of happened the same thing around their net,” Talbot said.
 
“But things happen fast. The crowd is screaming. These are calls people make and sometimes they won’t. I was obviously frustrated, but guys did a good job killing them.
 
“Usually, I’m on the ice. It was more stressful sitting in the penalty box. ... Our guys stepped up and did a great job killing the penalties.”
 
Pittsburgh appeared to have tied it again with 5:39 left to play, but the play was overturned for kicking the puck in the net, setting up a frantic finish.
 
Didn’t matter. Brandon Sutter tied it with a wraparound with 2:03 left to play.
 
That set up Voracek’s heroics with 1:31 left from an impossible angle in the right corner.
 
“Sometimes the bounces go in and sometimes it doesn’t,” he said. “It’s been a while. I think the last time I scored a hat trick was Triple-A back home, I can’t remember. It’s been a while.
 
“I got smothered by [Brooks] Orpik in the corner there. The puck came to me and I didn’t want to do something stupid with the puck, so I threw it on net. Tough angle for the goalie [Tomas Vokoun].”
 
The first period was reminiscent of last spring’s Game 1 playoff meeting against the Penguins here when the Flyers spotted Pittsburgh a 3-0 lead.
 
Danny Briere brought them back to 3-2 by the second period in what would become a 4-3 overtime win for the Flyers.
 
For all the talk the Flyers had about the momentum generated off their 7-0 rout of the Islanders, they came out lethargic.
 
Which is why coach Laviolette used his timeout 5:07 into the game. It was already 1-0 at that point on Matt Niskanen’s 56-footer.
 
“They came out hard and we were just lax everywhere, to be honest,” Laviolette said. “Faceoffs, forecheck, puck battles. We needed to wake up a bit.”
 
Harry Zolnierczyk picked up a boarding call behind the Pens' net, then got slammed to ice by Pens defenseman Deryk Engelland without a return call.
 
The resulting power play saw Malkin score twice. His first attempt, on review, was ruled no goal with Bryzgalov gloving the puck inside the right post.
 
His second attempt saw him at the same post alone -- no Luke Schenn -- as a puck rebounded off the boards for an easy 2-0 lead at 7:15.
 
That ended the Flyers' successful string of 21 consecutive penalty kills. By the way: Malkin stretched his league lead to 13 power-play points in this one.
 
Pittsburgh has the second-best power play in the NHL -- 27.4 percent.
 
“You can’t give them much space on the power play because they can counter on it,” Voracek said. “They have solid players over there.”
 
Midway into the period, the Pens were outshooting the Flyers, 12-2. By the period’s end, however, it was 15-13 in the Flyers' favor as they mounted a stunning comeback with two goals just one minute apart.
 
The Flyers' first goal came off a bizarre scrum at the net with the Flyers having a half-dozen attempts -- only two actual shots -- and Kris Letang pinned inside the net.
 
At one point, it appeared the puck crossed the line and Letang swiped it back out. When he did that, Nick Grossmann popped it back in at 11:49.
 
A minute later, Briere fed Simmonds, who rushed the net from the left boards to make it a 2-2 game.
 
That forced Penguins coach Dan Bylsma to burn his timeout.
 
“Kimmo made a great play there on the blue line as he always does,” Simmonds said. “I yelled for Danny as he was about to shoot it. He found me down low and I just kind of walked the puck to the net.”
 
Incidentally, Simmonds and Tanner Glass would tangle soon after in what might have been the best fight of the season involving a Flyer.
 
“[Glass] was coming after Schenner [Brayden Schenn],” Simmonds said. “I thought Schenner made a solid hit there [on Matt Cooke]. Obviously, the refs didn’t like it.
 
“Two guys went after Schenner and I stepped in there and the two of us ended up fighting. But, it's all in the spirit of the game.”
 
The second period was one of continual hits and a few scoring chances with the game remaining tied until the final 1:32 when Craig Adams elbowed Voracek, giving the Flyers a power play.
 
Voracek, who had a career-high four assists against the Islanders on Monday, had three shots on Vokoun during that power play, connecting off a Simmonds' shot finally for his first goal in six games as the Flyers led for the first time, 3-2, with 9.9 seconds left in the period.
 
“Every time we play Pittsburgh it’s a big battle,” Giroux said. “We had a tough start there, came out flat but we found a way to get those goals back.”

In comfortable spot, Taylor Leier puts game on display to Flyers during preseason win

In comfortable spot, Taylor Leier puts game on display to Flyers during preseason win

BOX SCORE FROM ALLENTOWN | BOX SCORE FROM BROOKLYN

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — It’s a short bus ride to Allentown, but on Wednesday night, the Flyers preferred to ride a Leier jet.

Taylor Leier, 23, made a strong case to make the opening night roster by scoring a pair of power-play goals in a 3-2 preseason overtime win against the Islanders, to go along with his typical tenacious, aggressive play (see observations).

“These games mean a lot for a lot of guys. It felt good to be back in Allentown,” Leier said of the split-squad game at the PPL Center. “It’s a lot of familiar territory and familiar faces around the rink. I felt good coming into the game. You’re not going to feel good every night, but when you get those games when you feel good, and you know you feel good, you try to run with it.”

Leier brought elements of skill and touch with his two goals and a two-line lob pass over the defense that led to a quality scoring chance, to go along with a relentless, physical forecheck that has been a staple of his success.

“That’s what you love about Taylor. You know what you’re going to get from him,” coach Dave Hakstol said. “He’s the guy who knows and understands the detail of the game. He’s a pretty consistent performer in the role that you give him.”  

Leier’s comfort level in Lehigh Valley is a result of starting his season with the Phantoms over the past three years, where he has put up respectable AHL numbers, scoring 33 goals in his first two seasons. Leier would have likely increased that total much more last year in his third season if it weren't for a painful neck injury that limited him to 48 AHL games, and a brief 10-game stint with the Flyers. 

“Growing up, I was always a scorer,” said Leier, who registered 64 goals in his last two seasons with the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL. “It was an eye opener for me coming from junior to pro, that everyone was a superstar in junior. Everyone that’s here is good. You get put in certain situations, and when you get a break and you get to play in a more skilled position, you try to show what you can do. I’ve always been confident in my offensive abilities, but sometimes it’s a matter of when you get those opportunities.” 

Leier would seem to be an ideal candidate in a fourth-line role with the energy he brings and the potential to chip in with some occasional offense. Phantoms captain Colin McDonald feels as if it’s just a matter of time.

“The easy thing to say is it’s a number game,” McDonald said referring to why Leier has spent little time in the NHL. “It takes time and I’ve been telling him that. I didn’t get all of my NHL games until I was 28. Sometimes you lose sight of that because you’re drafted at 18, and it’s a young league. So you get frustrated after a couple of years and you haven’t gotten your chance, but you've just got to stick with it. He’s going to be in the NHL, there’s no doubt.” 

A hack job
Familiarize yourself with NHL rule 71.1 that states, “Any forceful or powerful chop with the stick on an opponent’s body, the opponent’s stick, or on or near the opponent’s hands that, in the judgement of the referee, is not an attempt to play the puck, shall be slashing.”

In 10 preseason games on Monday, there were 49 slashing penalties called. As the Flyers discovered Wednesday, it apparently doesn’t have to be forceful or even powerful to be considered a penalty. The Flyers were whistled for two slashing minors within the first two minutes of the game, which led to an easy Islanders tap-in 5-on-3 goal.

“You want to get pace of the game, and I was talking with some guys after the second (period), and I think we had played just five minutes of even strength,” defenseman Shayne Gostisbhere said. “It’s hard to get into the games. It’s just going to put more emphasis on special teams. When they blow the whistle and everyone’s like, ‘What just happened?' That’s not a penalty.” 

Slashing the roster
General manager Ron Hextall said there are "lots" of decisions that still have to be made before the season starts. He’ll make his biggest round of roster cuts Thursday morning following these split-squad games against the Islanders.

“These [games] are huge,” Hextall said. “I remember doing these myself, we all do. Whenever there’s something at stake playing for a team, you hope guys rise up, and that’s certainly what we’re looking for.”

Patrick's progress
Prior to Wednesday’s game, Hextall said he liked what he had seen so far from No. 2 overall pick Nolan Patrick, but was looking for a little bit more.

“He’s shown the type of player he is,” Hextall said. “He’s a smart player. He’s got good poise. He typically makes the right plays, typically is in the right position, so he’s done a lot of the things we expected, but he’s got to do some things here."

Following his first preseason point — the assist on Gostisbehere’s overtime winner (see video) — Patrick concurred with the GM’s assessment.

“I think there’s a lot more I’m capable of," he said. "I think I’m just getting back into it here. I think I’ve played three games after not playing for a while, so I’m just getting back into it. If I play Thursday, I’m going to try and take another step.”

Flyers-Islanders preseason observations: Nolan Patrick finds Shayne Gostisbehere for OT winner

Flyers-Islanders preseason observations: Nolan Patrick finds Shayne Gostisbehere for OT winner

BOX SCORE FROM ALLENTOWN | BOX SCORE FROM BROOKLYN

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — It would have been more appropriate if the PPL Center would have just dropped the "L" from its name in a penalty-filled contest Wednesday, as the Flyers' power play proved to be a little bit better than the Islanders' in a 3-2 overtime, split-squad preseason victory.

Shayne Gostisbehere ripped home a one-timer from Nolan Patrick on a 2-on-1 just 53 seconds into the overtime period. The Islanders pulled goaltender Christopher Gibson in the final 1:30 of regulation, resulting in a game-tying 6-on-5 goal as the extra attacker Anders Lee poked one across with 24 seconds remaining.

• The two teams combined for 11 power-play opportunities as the first three goals were scored with the man advantage. Playing in familiar surroundings, Taylor Leier provided the damage for the Flyers as he scored the team’s first two goals — both in the second period, as he played with a relentless forecheck for much of the night (see story).

• Michal Neuvirth backstopped the Flyers for the first 40 minutes and turned in a very solid preseason debut as he proceeded to stop 16 of the 17 shots he faced. The lone goal Neuvirth surrendered came on Mathew Barzal’s wide-open power-play one-timer. It was Barzal’s second goal against the Flyers this preseason. The 16th overall selection in the 2015 draft, Barzal came through last Sunday with the Islanders' game-tying goal by catching Travis Sanheim flat-footed in the third period at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

• As he did in Long Island, Leland Irving took over in net in the third period but didn’t have to concern himself with the lethal John Tavares, who scored the game-winner Sunday. Irving had a relatively quiet night until the final two minutes of regulation.

• The Flyers crawled out of the gates offensively. It took them 12:30 into the first period to record their first shot on net, which came during their second power-play opportunity. They followed that up with another slow start in the second period in which they failed to register a shot over the first 6:30. 

• An impressive element to Oskar Lindblom’s game has been his ability to backcheck and his commitment to defense in his own end. With a reputation as a two-way player in the Swedish Hockey League, Lindblom made two solid defensive plays in the first period, and his pursuit and retrieval of the puck led to one of Leier’s second-period goals.

• One infraction the referees have been really cracking down on during the preseason is Rule 76.4, as the league attempts to curb cheating on faceoffs. Islanders forward Josh Ho-Sang was nailed twice in this game, resulting in a pair of Flyers power plays. 

• Defenseman Sam Morin showed a degree of discipline and maturity that perhaps wasn’t present during the start of his professional career. Morin refused to engage with Islanders winger Ross Johnston, who dropped his gloves with Morin backed up against the glass. Johnston was whistled for roughing, giving the Flyers a power play.

• More disruptive than Morin’s fists has been his stick. While killing a Sanheim crosschecking minor, Morin utilized his 6-foot-6 frame and his extra long stick to disrupt a pass three different times on one shift. If Morin can maintain poise and stay in position, he can be a real force on the penalty kill.

• The NHL is also looking to eliminate slashing penalties. The Flyers were whistled for three slashing calls in the first 10 minutes. As a result, Barzal easily converted a 5-on-3 one-timer for the game’s first goal.

• Solid and steady would be the description so far for Flyers 2013 second-round pick Robert Hagg in his quest to make the opening night roster. Hagg hasn’t been rattled and has shown in two preseason games to make the right plays in his own zone.

Lines and pairings
Dale Weise-Jori Lehtera-Matt Read
Oskar Lindblom-Nolan Patrick-Nicolas Aube-Kubel
Taylor Leier-Corban Knight-Pascal Laberge
Carsen Twarynski-German Rubtsov-Colin McDonald

Sam Morin-Mark Alt
Shayne Gostisbehere-Robert Hagg
Brandon Manning-Travis Sanheim

The other game
Despite goals from Travis Konecny and T.J. Brennan, the Flyers' other squad fell to the Islanders, 3-2, in Brooklyn.

Boston bound?
Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, Jakub Voracek, Valtteri Filppula, Radko Gudas, Ivan Provorov, Andrew MacDonald and Brian Elliott were the Flyers' regulars that did not suit up in either Allentown or Brooklyn on Wednesday night. Hextall said most of the guys listed above, but not all, will play against the Bruins Thursday at TD Garden.