Who's next in net for the Flyers?

062513_steve-mason.jpg

Who's next in net for the Flyers?

Who replaces Ilya Bryzgalov in the Flyers' net is a bit muddled right now, especially given that the Flyers recently lost out on the Jonathan Bernier sweepstakes.
 
The former Kings goalie was traded to Toronto on Sunday.
 
That the Flyers were in fact pursuing Bernier tells you they were going to make it a competition for the No. 1 job next season -- if they got him.
 
Who comes next may result in Steve Mason being forced into the top role regardless. Or maybe not.
 
With Bryzgalov’s buyout, the Flyers now have an extra $5.67 million off the salary cap to find a far less expensive veteran free agent goalie.
 
Or they can pursue a trade with someone else, even though their options aren’t easy should they choose that route.
 
The obvious free agent candidates are Jose Theodore (who is 36); Ray Emery (30), whom the Flyers are fond of because of how well he played here before; and Tim Thomas (39), who -- despite his political outspokenness -- is viewed by the Flyers in a favorable light.
 
Thomas was a huge reason the Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011. Emery was not a huge factor in Chicago winning the Cup this year.
 
“I have ideas what I want to do,” general manager Paul Holmgren said during a new conference at Flyers Skate Zone.
 
“It’s going to be a crazy ride here in the next [several days] and first five days in July. We know we have needs. We have to work out how we can fill those needs.”
 
Holmgren quickly shot down suggestions about 34-year-old Roberto Luongo, citing complications.
 
If Vancouver buys Luongo out, however, then the Flyers have a shot at him in free agency. But the problem is Holmgren may not want to wait until July 5 to do that if something else presents itself right now.
 
Recall, Holmgren likes to make deals in advance of the NHL draft to corner the market, so to speak, without competition.
 
“I don’t see how that would work,” he said of Luongo. “Probably not an option. That’s not one of my ideas.”
 
What if Luongo is bought out?
 
“Who knows?" Holmgren replied. "I can’t speculate on other teams’ business.”
 
Here’s one possibility, in theory: Anaheim is still looking to move Bobby Ryan. The Flyers are still in the poker game there. Maybe the Ducks expand a trade to include Jonas Hiller.
 
It’s still more likely the Flyers go the free agent route.
 
Among all free agents, Phoenix’s Mike Smith, 31, is the most attractive free agent option, but it’s unlikely he will leave the Coyotes.
 
Smith is very close to Phoenix’s goalie coach guru, Sean Burke. Burke has children in college in Arizona and is not leaving the area. Smith wants to stay with Burke.
 
What remains to be seen is whether the Flyers really believe Bryzgalov’s backup, Mason, is ready to be a No. 1.
 
As good as Mason looked in seven games last season here, it would be a mistake to assume he’s ready to carry the mantle right now.
 
“I’m a big Steve Mason fan,” Holmgren said. “Moving forward, he is a very good young goalie in our league for his age, has a lot of experience. It was a short window watching him here, but he played well, even in the games he lost. Ideally, I’d like to get a guy who will work in tandem with him with the bulk going to Steve.”
 
Does he trust Mason as a No. 1?
 
“I trust him as one of the two goalies,” Holmgren replied.
 
Though there is no mistaking Bryzgalov’s personality and antics rubbed many -- but not all -- players the wrong way, Holmgren kept stressing Tuesday that this was a business decision and that the team needed money to get Claude Giroux re-signed long-term next season.
 
Giroux is expected to command as high as an $8 million salary cap hit.
 
“It was a very difficult business decision to make. But moving forward, it makes the most sense for us to start looking down the road and trying to keep other players in the fold, like Claude Giroux,” Holmgren said.
 
Holmgren would like Giroux signed this summer. Talks with agent Pat Brisson have already begun.
 
“We’ve had conversations,” Holmgren said. “We know where Claude stands on our team. His agent and I know where he stands in the league. It’s important for us to get Claude locked up in the very near future.”
 
Brisson said Tuesday night the two sides are still talking. Holmgren would like Giroux signed before free agency opens on July 5.
 
Brisson said he was “hopeful” a deal could be struck by then as well.

Flyers Skate Update: Power play shakeup seems to be working

Flyers Skate Update: Power play shakeup seems to be working

VOORHEES, N.J. — They had taken another “0-for” on the power play on the road and lost a game in which they deserved to at least get a point.

Dave Hakstol had seen enough. Numbers don’t always tell a story. Yet, in the Flyers' case, they did: 4 for 42 on the power play over 12 games, including that 3-1 loss at Calgary.

The next morning in Edmonton, Hakstol met privately with Jakub Voracek to discuss, among other things, the power play. That night, Hakstol moved Voracek off the first unit power play and replaced him with Ivan Provorov.

He then told Shayne Gostisbehere to change his location on the power play on the half wall and let Provorov, the Russian rookie, worry about the blue line.

In the two games since, the power play is 3 for 6 and has the Flyers back up to ninth in the NHL after falling to 13th during that 12-game span of utter futility.

How the power play goes tonight against the Washington Capitals is critical if the Flyers have any shot of taking points away from the top club in the league.

“It’s a little bit different look,” Hakstol said. “We’re comfortable with either of the setups we have there. Whether it’s with Jake on the flank of the [Claude] Giroux unit or having Ghost there.

“Both are effective. Within the game, we can go back and forth with the other. We’ve had some pretty good play out of the other unit, regardless of the setup.”

Provorov has a very accurate point shot. Gostisbehere has the hardest shot of any on the top unit. The rest of the first unit – Giroux, Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds – hasn’t changed.

“We can’t score,” Provorov said bluntly. “We needed to change something up to spark the scoring. It definitely helped us. Now the two units have a different setup in the zone.

“Just a little different. It took us first game to get used to. We did pretty good in the second game [Vancouver].”

Ghost has never played the half-wall. He thinks this will help him snap a 32-game goal drought. He had three assists – two on the power play – against the Canucks on Sunday.

“It’s completely different,” Gostisbehere said. “I’ve always been at the top [blue line]. It’s definitely a different perspective from that view. I think I’ll get a lot more shots and plays that can be made.”

Voracek watches him when that unit is on the ice and offers advice after the shift.

“I have been talking to Jake a ton for pointers,” Gostisbehere said. “When I am out there, if you see something I could have done, please tell me. He is such an easy guy to talk to. He will give you the pointers right away.”

Hakstol said moving Ghost closer to the net has a payoff.

“He is in a pure one-timer side there if he gets himself in the right position,” Hakstol said. “But there is still some work we have to do there in terms of his overall positioning in that spot.

“He brings a different element than Jake does in that spot. Both of them were very, very effective in that spot. They just have different weapons.”

Even though there have been changes, Voracek still rotates back to the first unit if Provorov is on the ice the previous shift before the power play begins.

Because of Travis Konecny’s knee and ankle injuries, Sean Couturier’s second unit has changed the most. Mark Streit anchors from the point with Coots, Nick Cousins and Matt Read below the blue line and Voracek on the right-wall.

That unit has more player rotation on the ice than the top unit.

Hakstol doesn’t buy the argument the Flyers' power play crashed because it became too predictable. 

“In the game now, there’s not much hidden,” Hakstol said. “Everyone knows what the other team is trying to do, regardless of 5-on-5 or special teams.

“For us, it was a good time to make a small change that changes the look for our guys on the ice.”

Loose pucks
• A dozen players showed up for the optional morning skate at Skate Zone, more than half of what was expected. 

• Michal Neuvirth will start in goal tonight against Washington. 

• On Tuesday, Voracek got hit with a puck below the belt, during a tip drill in which Voracek tipped a shot into himself. “Feeling better,” he said today. 

• This morning was goalie Steve Mason’s turn to get hit. He took a point shot from Andrew MacDonald in the mask. Mason was temporarily shaken but no damage to either him or his mask.  

Lineup
F:
Schenn-Giroux-Simmonds
Weise-Couturier-Voracek
Raffl-Cousins-Read
VandeVelde-Bellemare-Lyubimov

D: Provorov-Manning
Gostisbehere-Streit
Del Zotto-Gudas

G: Neuvirth

Flyers-Capitals 5 things: Washington on ridiculous roll into Wells Fargo Center

Flyers-Capitals 5 things: Washington on ridiculous roll into Wells Fargo Center

Flyers (28-24-7) vs. Capitals (39-12-7)
8 p.m. on NBCSN, CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

After finding some offense to finish up a 1-2-0 road trip, the Flyers return home for a not-so-glorious welcome when they host the NHL-leading Washington Capitals on Wednesday night at the Wells Fargo Center.

We’ll get into that and more with five things to know:

1. Capping things off
What’s the Flyers’ reward for salvaging the final game of a road swing through Canada? A date with the Capitals, who are the NHL’s hottest team since New Year’s Eve, and by a landslide.

Just how dominant has Washington been?

Dating back to Dec. 31, the Capitals are 19-3-2 and have scored an incomprehensible 104 goals in those 24 games. That’s 4.33 goals per game, while yielding only 50 markers over that stretch.

Meanwhile, the Flyers have scored an NHL-low 40 goals since New Year’s Eve and allowed 62 for an Eastern Conference-worst goal differential of minus-22.

Washington, coming off its first back-to-back defeats since Dec. 27-29, has lost three straight games only once this season.

2. A Ghost sighting
On Sunday, for the first time in close to four months, we saw the Shayne Gostisbehere from the Calder Memorial Trophy (top rookie) runner-up season last year.

The sophomore blueliner delivered his first three-point game of his career to ignite the Flyers to a 3-2 win over the Canucks.

Although Gostisbehere has made it clear he’s focused on his defensive game, the Flyers are a different animal when he’s generating offensive chances at 5-on-5 and the power play.

“He had his confidence and a little bit of swagger,” Wayne Simmonds said of Gostisbehere’s performance Sunday.

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

3. Good cage match
This one makes for an intriguing goalie matchup between Michal Neuvirth and Braden Holtby, who were once battling for the net in Washington.

Holtby is having another stud season after winning the 2015-16 Vezina Trophy (top goalie). Among all netminders, he is tied for first in goals-against average (2.01) and shutouts (seven), while he hasn’t been beaten in regulation since Dec. 27.

The 27-year-old blanked the Flyers twice in the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs and stopped 149 of 154 shots over the first-round series that the Capitals won in six games.

Neuvirth hasn’t been too shabby himself, starting eight of the Flyers’ last 10 games. Aside from a bad showing in a 6-3 loss to the Oilers, Neuvirth has not surrendered more than two goals in any other outing during that span.

A 2006 second-round pick of Washington, Neuvirth was brilliant last postseason against his former club, making 103 saves on 105 shots faced to get the Flyers two victories.

4. Keep an eye on ...
Flyers: Pierre-Edouard Bellemare can be crucial in these types of games. The fourth-line forward often sees work against the opposition’s top offensive threats and is the Flyers’ most important piece to the penalty kill. Bellemare has played 16-plus minutes in both meetings with the Capitals this season, while the PK is 15 for 17 in February and tied for the NHL’s third-fewest goals against this month.

Capitals: T.J. Oshie is such an underrated asset for Washington. The right winger, who played his college hockey at North Dakota under Flyers coach Dave Hakstol, leads the NHL with a 22.8 shooting percentage, a big reason why the Capitals are scoring 3.34 goals per game, good for second most in hockey. Oshie has 26 points (13 goals, 13 assists) in his past 22 games and is a plus-24 on the season.

5. This and that
• Neuvirth has just two career regular-season matchups against the Capitals, going 1-0-0 with a 2.44 goals-against average and .914 save percentage.

• Holtby is 6-4-7 with a 2.71 goals-against average and .911 save percentage in 18 lifetime matchups with the Flyers.

• The Flyers are three points out of the Eastern Conference’s second wild-card spot, trailing the Panthers, Bruins and Islanders, all of whom have 66 points.

• Simmonds has four goals in his last five games.

• Claude Giroux has two points (one goal, one assist) in his previous 10 games.

• Washington ranks first in the NHL with a plus-69 goal differential.

• Jordan Weal (upper-body injury) is expected to miss his second straight game.