Flyers' outdoor game vs. Pens different because of football stadium

Flyers' outdoor game vs. Pens different because of football stadium

VOORHEES, N.J. -- He grew up as a youngster in Judique, Nova Scotia, as a Toronto Blue Jays fan even though the Boston Red Sox were closer geographically.

“My brother was the Red Sox fan,” Andrew MacDonald said.

While hockey was his passion, MacDonald loved to watch baseball. Joe Carter’s walk-off home run in the 1993 World Series clinched it for Mac, then a 7-year-old.

“Didn’t see it for a while though because we only had two TV channels,” MacDonald laughed.

“Yeah, I was Blue Jays fan from Canada.”

On Saturday, the Flyers visit Heinz Field for an outdoor game against their most bitter rival, the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2017 Stadium Series.

MacDonald was a starter for the Islanders during the 2014 Stadium Series game held at the new Yankee Stadium against the Rangers. He likes outdoor games in baseball stadiums even though that is not where this game will take place.

“When I had been to New York, I had gone to a few Yankee games at Yankee Stadium,” MacDonald said Thursday after practice. “Obviously, I got to take in the experience of being a fan there. It’s a pretty great stadium. To be on the field, although it’s a different sport and setting, it was pretty special.”

Michal Neuvirth was the backup goalie for Washington in the 2011 Winter Classic held at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.

“It’s just as big as if you played inside for two points,” Neuvirth said. “I just backed up that game there but it was awesome. The big crowd and we won the game with Washington. A good feeling afterward.”

MacDonald said his experience at Yankee Stadium was similar.

“It was great,” he said of the Bronx affair. “Not everyone gets to play in one of those games, so it was special. Just being in that outdoor environment and the capacity of the crowd. Really like a center stage, special experience.”

In both previous Winter Classics involving the Flyers, they were held in baseball stadiums -- Fenway Park in 2010 and Citizens Bank Park two years later. Incidentally, Claude Giroux is the only Flyer to have played in both of the franchise's two Winter Classics.

This “Stadium Series” game will offer a different “look” for players and fans because it occurs in the Steelers’ football stadium.

“Obviously, the setup of the ice surface will be right in the middle of the field as a rectangular field as opposed to baseball where it’s kind of on a different angle,” MacDonald said.

“It’s good. We’ll get a good skate in. A family skate. Yeah, I hope [weather cooperates]. It might not be the best ice, but hopefully, it goes according to plan and go off without a hitch.”

Hot temperatures Friday followed by heavy rain on Saturday could make things difficult.

“Tough to say as to what to expect,” said Neuvirth, who will start in goal. “For me, I am going to prepare myself for 8 o’clock and play my game.”

The most unusual thing that players say affect them during outdoor games is not having fans on the glass. They’re far away in the stands.

Yet in a baseball stadium, some of those fans are a lot closer to the ice than the setup in a football stadium.

“Yeah, it was kind of unique and took a while to get used to,” MacDonald said. “There’s no fans on the glass. You are kind of isolated by yourself there on the middle of the field.

“It’s not until the TV timeout where you can look around and take it all in. It's almost a practice-type mentality when you are first on the ice and then you get acclimated.

“Obviously, once the puck drops you are ready to go and know what to do. It’s definitely a unique experience once you get going.”

When he played at Fenway Park as a freshman at Union College, Shayne Gostisbehere said his only regret was not taking time out to just stop and absorb what was happening around him.

He was so focused on the game against Harvard that day in 2012, he forgot to cherish the moment.

MacDonald said that is something NHL players sometimes forget to do, as well. Take it all in because it might never occur again.

“Everyone is a little different,” he said. “You do have to play it as if it’s like every other game. There is a little adjustment period there with the fans so far away.

“That being said, you have an opportunity to embrace the moment. At the same time, you have to focus on what we’re trying to accomplish out there. Try to get the win like any other time.”

Loose pucks
• Flyers forward Jakub Voracek left the ice early Thursday with a slight limp. He was not available after practice but general manager Ron Hextall confirmed Voracek is fine and will play Saturday. The Flyers' leading scorer was hit with a deflected puck earlier this week in practice in his groin area but played without incident during Wednesday's game against Washington. 

• The Flyers left for Pittsburgh this afternoon.

Flyers skate update: Matt Read's 400th game; Andrew MacDonald scratched

Flyers skate update: Matt Read's 400th game; Andrew MacDonald scratched

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Matt Read did not have to worry about being an NHL draft bust.

He did not impress scouts enough to be drafted at all while playing collegiate hockey at Bemidji State in Minnesota. Instead, the Flyers' winger had to make the NHL the hard way — as a free agent.

“Out of college, I signed with the Flyers and was just doing everything I could to get an opportunity to make the team,” Read, 30, recalled after the team’s morning skate before the Flyers take on the Vancouver Canucks.

His hard work and determination were rewarded here as he drew into the Flyers lineup for his 400th NHL career game.

“If you told me as a 12-year-old self I was playing 400 games in the NHL, I’d be pretty happy, obviously,” Read said. “I don’t have enough words to describe (what the accomplishment means.) Every day in the NHL is a blessing, I guess. You show up every day, work hard and have fun. As a kid, I wanted to be a professional hockey player, and I get to live it out everyday, which is amazing.”

Read originally signed as a free agent with the Flyers in 2011. Unlike many other NHLers, he has played his entire career with the same organization.

“The opportunity to play for the same team for six years is almost unheard of in the National Hockey League these days, so (I) take advantage of it and enjoy it,” Read said.

What has enabled him to stick?

“I don’t know,” he said. “I’m just showing up at the rink every day to work hard, have fun, be a team guy and do as much as I can to make this team better.”

Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said he has a “solid level of trust” in Read.

“There’s a lot of different pathways towards the NHL,” Hakstol said. “I think what you see in that guys that are able to hit a milestone like 400 is, there’s a level of dedication and consistency in terms of work habits to get there. Obviously, Matt has demonstrated those. It’s a hell of a milestone. (But) probably first and foremost on his mind, I would think, tonight is playing a good hockey game and helping our team.”

MacDonald gets night off
Flyers defenseman Andrew MacDonald received the night off as Hakstol made him a healthy scratch. The move was somewhat surprising, because MacDonald has played every game since he was scratched Nov. 19 against Tampa Bay.

Hakstol said MacDonald needed a rest. As a result, Brandon Manning was shifted to the right side from the left and paired with Ivan Provorov.

According to the coach, Manning has not had trouble switching sides this season.

“He’s done a pretty good job,” Hakstol said. “If you look at it, particularly this year, he’s been pretty efficient in making that transition. Is it easy? No.”

Neuvy gets the nod again
Hakstol did not think goaltender Michal Neuvirth needed a rest. He got the nod for his fourth straight start and sixth in the last seven games overall.

“He’s been the guy that’s been in a rhythm for us and he’s done a pretty good job and he’ll go back tonight,” Hakstol said.

Neuvirth was not complaining about the heavy workload.

“It’s good to be playing,” Neuvirth said. “The more I play, the more comfortable I feel. It’s been good.”

He also prepared to be comfortable with the risk of added fatigue.

“It is what it is — you’ve gotta be ready anytime, any day,” Neuvirth said. “It’s a good opportunity for me and it’s gonna be a good challenge.”

Former Flyers coach enshrined
Late former Flyers coach Pat Quinn has been honored with a life-sized statue outside the home of the Canucks. The monument, funded by a group of Quinn’s friends and business partners, was unveiled over the weekend.

Quinn began his coaching career with the Flyers in 1977-78 before holding coaching and managing positions with the AHL Phantoms and four other NHL clubs, including the Canucks. He guided the Flyers to a 35-game unbeaten streak — a record for North American sports — in 1979-80, when they reached the Stanley Cup finals.

Loose pucks
• The Flyers’ .667 winning percentage in Vancouver ranks as their best in any current NHL city. 

• Despite outshooting their opponents in 15 of 20 games dating to Jan. 1, the Flyers are 5-8-2 in the 15 contests.

Scratches: Defensemen Andrew MacDonald and Nick Schultz

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 open crucial Western Canada trip with loss to Flames

Flyers open crucial Western Canada trip with loss to Flames

BOX SCORE

CALGARY, Alberta — It’s become an all-too-familiar theme for Dave Hakstol’s Flyers.
 
Play a very strong, physical and sound road game in all areas of defensive play. Outshoot your opponent, out-chance them and still lose.
 
This time it was 3-1 to the Flames at the Scotiabank Saddledome, as the Flyers began a crucial three-game Western Canada trip in which they need points (see Instant Replay).
 
They left the points on the ice because their erratic power play abandoned them once again.
 
It was a 1-1 game in the opening period and then the Flyers got a gift from the hockey gods.
 
Alex Chiasson speared Nick Cousins in his left side near the bench long after a whistle and was ejected with a five-minute major (see feature highlight). CSN Flyers analyst Al Morganti quipped that Cousins has been poked harder on Facebook.
 
Anyway, pathetic doesn’t fully describe how brutal the Flyers looked on the ensuing power play. Plus, they had a 5-on-3 for a full two minutes.
 
“Yeah, we didn’t score. I hit the post, Cousins had an open net,” Mark Streit said. “We had a few good looks but it wasn’t enough for a five-minute power play and 5-on-3. A lot of times, it bites you in the ass and it did tonight.”
 
The Flames iced the puck 11 times and the Flyers had one turnover and two shots from Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds during the entire 5-on-3. Cousins had a final shot as the second power play ended.
 
“That’s one pivotal point of the game where we could have pushed the game back our direction,” Hakstol said. “We didn’t win enough puck battles on our power play, which is a strength of ours. Tonight, we didn’t win many of those on the five-minute or even on the 5-on-3.”

True to form, the Flyers dominated with puck possession in the second period and had some decent scoring chances — two on another power play — but got nothing out of it.
 
Naturally, the Flames had one extended shift and made the most of it as they got a goal from T.J. Brodie above the circles. The puck probably hit someone given the bodies in front of Michal Neuvirth.
 
“They had net-front presence and got the puck through,” said Andrew MacDonald, adding the puck never touched him. “Neuvy couldn’t see it.”
 
So instead of being ahead after two, the Flyers trailed, 2-1.
 
They ended up outshooting the Flames, 34-23, and out-chancing them, as well.
 
“It’s really frustrating because we played a really solid, sound game and generated some chances,” MacDonald said. “Give their goalie (Brian Elliott) credit. Any time you have a 5-on-3 and don’t score, most times it doesn’t end up in your favor and that’s how the game works out.”
 
You can blindly pick just about any Flyers player on the roster and come up with one that is going through a goal drought. That’s this team.  

Cousins was one of them. No goals in 10 games. Nothing compared to Shayne Gostisbehere (none in 30 now), but Cousins has been chomping at the bit for a goal.
 
He got it, too, just 1:30 into play after Matt Read stripped Dennis Wideman of the puck in front of his own net.
 
Read didn’t have a shot, but Cousins did and he gave him a splendid backhand feed for Cousins to bury it at the right post.
 
“Raffy (Michael Raffl) dumped the puck in and we got it in on the forecheck,” Cousins said. “Their D sort of turned the puck over to Reader and he was alone there and went in on his backhand.
 
“I was fortunate enough to be sitting there in the blue crease and it came right to me. It was a big goal and a pretty good road period for us.”
 
The lead was short-lived as Calgary tied it on a faceoff. Dougie Hamilton drove the puck from the point where Mikael Backlund redirected it over to Matthew Tkachuk in the left slot before Neuvirth could react.
 
“I think we have to get our power play going here a little bit,” Cousins said. “I think guys are getting a little angry at each other when we're not scoring and not setting it up, but they are doing a good job of killing. If we get that figured out, we'll be fine.”