Dave Hakstol

Flyers suffer OT preseason loss to Bruins, but see strong first impression from Brian Elliott

Flyers suffer OT preseason loss to Bruins, but see strong first impression from Brian Elliott

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BOSTON — The last time Flyers goaltender Brian Elliott started a game, things ended quickly and didn’t end well.

Starting for the Calgary Flames in Game 4 of a Western Conference first-round series last April against the Anaheim Ducks, Elliott gave up one soft goal on three shots and was pulled 5:38 into a 3-1 series-ending loss.

It was only preseason, but Elliott made a Flyers debut that helped him forget that lackluster performance and get off to a fresh start with his new team Thursday.

Elliott stopped all 18 shots he faced during his two periods on the ice in a 2-1 overtime loss to the Boston Bruins at TD Garden (see observations).

“Yeah, it felt pretty good,” Elliott said. “Just trying to see pucks and basically get acclimated in a game situation. We haven’t seen that in camp at all. So playing a game is fun, to get back in there, you forget how actually fun it is to play a game.”

The Flyers signed Elliott to a two-year, $5.5 million contract on July 1 for more than just fun. They want him to combine with Michal Neuvirth to give them the type of successful goaltending tandem they’ve lacked for a while.

Elliott, in turn, wants to prove they were wise to move on from Steve Mason and bring him in. Elliott had some highlights during his season with the Flames, including an 11-game winning streak and a 2.16 goals-against average and .927 save percentage over his last 21 games of the regular season. In the playoffs, he was a bust with an 0-3 record and .880 save percentage.

In addition to getting back into action, Elliott wanted to impress his new team.

“A little bit. You just want to play the same anyways, doesn’t matter what team you’re on or how long you’ve been with the guys,” he said. “But for sure when it’s your first time, you want to make a good impression. You only get one first impression, right. But it’s just a stepping stone, working towards that first game of the season here.”

The Flyers had several power plays early in the first period and Elliott wasn’t tested much until he gloved a shot from Bruins forward Anders Bjork on a 3-on-2 at 8:46.

After a television timeout, the Bruins put more pressure on the Flyers and Elliott remained sharp. He blocked away a point shot from Brandon Carlo and then gloved Bjork’s attempt on the rebound from the slot at 9:18.

Elliott made 10 saves in the first period.

During a power play early in the second period, Elliott had to be at his best as the Bruins kept the puck in the attacking zone for the first 90 seconds. Elliott made five saves during the penalty kill, including two difficult ones on Bruins center Patrice Bergeron from around the slot.

The Flyers' attack picked up the pace in the second half of the second period and took some of the heat off Elliott. He had earned the respite and then coach Dave Hakstol switched to Alex Lyon to start the third.

Hakstol has seen Elliott live up to the Flyers’ expectations so far in camp and in his preseason debut.

“I think he got in early and I just think I’ve seen every day at camp him kind of building his game,” Hakstol said. "I don’t think he tried to come in with a finished product on Day 1. I think he kind of started on the ground floor of building his game, obviously, after a good summer. And every day he seemed to ... kind of build his game. His last couple of days of practices have been really good, really clean and he carried that into the game tonight. So it’s a good start for him. It’s nice to see that.”

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

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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 numbers 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 Gostisbehere 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 captain Claude Giroux appears to embrace move to wing

Flyers captain Claude Giroux appears to embrace move to wing

VOORHEES, N.J. — Dave Hakstol brought up the idea on Monday and Claude Giroux appeared to embrace it.

The Flyers' captain switched to left wing during Tuesday’s practice on a line with Jakub Voracek at right wing and Sean Couturier in the middle.

“That’s funny because I was pretty much a winger all my life,” Giroux said. “I started playing center when I became a professional. It’s hard to complain when you’re playing with Jake and Coots.”

“I liked it,” Voracek said. “He (Giroux) is a very powerful guy, so he always skates into the space on the ice when there’s an opening. I think as a line we’ve been working pretty good. We understand each other. It’s one of the looks Hak might try in the preseason. I wouldn’t read too much into it, but I don’t know, if it’s long term, that means we’re playing good.” 

Over the years, Giroux has found a comfort zone creating a shot off the left half board, especially off the team’s power-play setup, and towards the end of Tuesday’s practice, Couturier was feeding Giroux one-timer after one-timer. 

“We did a lot of drills where I was coming down the left side there,” Giroux said. “I can see the ice pretty good from there because you have the puck on your good side. It was actually a lot of fun. It’s not like I'm against it or I’m not happy with it if it makes the team better. I know we have a lot of centermen. I’m up for the idea for sure.”

The second part of the experiment involves Sean Couturier and whether this type of move could also open up his untapped offensive side. The Flyers' best defensive center, Couturier has consistently scored between 34 and 39 points in each of the past four seasons, but has failed to take the next step to prove he can evolve into a top-six role. Needless to say, the seventh-year center embraced playing with two highly-skilled linemates.

Especially Giroux.

“It’s been six years we’ve been here and we’ve never really played with each other," Couturier said. "We’ve kind of played with everyone else but each other. Me and G have some good chemistry. The little odd shifts here and there we’d have together we’d seem to create something and get some scoring chances, so hopefully, we can make this work.” 

Giroux grew accustomed to playing right wing when he first entered the NHL under head coaches John Stevens and later Peter Laviolette. With Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Danny Briere occupying the center spots, Giroux still found a way to thrive offensively as he scored 76 points to lead the Flyers in 2010-11, while also taking the second-most faceoffs on the team that season.  

“I think breakouts, when you’re on the right side for me, it’s easier to handle the puck and kind of chip it out and make a play, but offensively on the left side it’s a lot better," Giroux said. "When you come into the zone you got Coots going to the net and Jake on the weak side, I think it’s pretty exciting when you see that.” 

The decision to switch Giroux to wing also comes two days after Nolan Patrick turned in a solid effort in his preseason debut against the Islanders. If Patrick, who turned 19 years old on Tuesday, is to make the opening night roster in San Jose, California, it’s expected Hakstol will be forced to make some adjustments and rearrange some of his veterans up and down the lineup. So far in camp, Patrick, Valtteri Filppula, Couturier and Scott Laughton are the only ones who have not moved from their center positions.   

“I wouldn’t connect the dots to that (Patrick making the team) quite yet,” Hakstol said. “I think that’s too early of a connection to make. I think it’s obvious that we have a number of players that are good centermen. Jori Lehtera has jumped over to the left side for the first few practices and the first preseason game. Today, this gave us an opportunity to have Jori back up the middle, so no, I wouldn’t draw the connection directly towards Nolan Patrick at this point in time.” 

Giroux would not be the first established veteran to transition from center to wing later in his career, as the Flyers' captain mentioned Sharks forwards Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton, two established centers who have also transitioned to the wing over the past few years in San Jose.

“They take faceoffs on their strong side and it's tough when you take faceoffs all game against the guy who’s on his strong side. It’s tough," Giroux said. "Maybe I’m not going to play one more shift on the wing, but that’s up to the coach, but I really liked it today.”  

We’ll see if the next experimental phase comes during Wednesday’s split-squad exhibition against the Islanders. With Hakstol coaching the team in Allentown, Pennsylvania, he would probably want to see firsthand how that line operates.

Health check
Wayne Simmonds missed his second straight day of practice Tuesday, suggesting that Monday’s absence was more than what Hakstol has termed “a maintenance day.” Players are rarely given days off during camp, but the Flyers would not elaborate any further regarding Simmonds' status. A team spokesperson said Simmonds is scheduled to skate with the team Wednesday morning, however, it’s not known whether he will play in one of the Flyers' split-squad games against the Islanders.

On the blue line
Sam Morin and Robert Hagg, the Flyers' top-two picks from the 2013 draft class, appear to have separated themselves even further from their fellow rookie prospects. Travis Sanheim was moved to the afternoon group and AHL veteran T.J. Brennan was brought over to the morning practice with the NHL regulars. 

“It was nice to play with these guys at a little bit higher pace,” Brennan said. “Who knows what they’re thinking, but I’m just trying to give them the best I got and hopefully they get a good impression.”

Coming off an All-Star season with the Phantoms in 2016-17, the Willingboro, New Jersey, native and lifelong Flyers fan hasn’t played in the NHL since suiting up with the Toronto Maple Leafs in April 2016. 

“I’ve just learned to focus that energy in different spots,” Brennan said. “This time a year ago there was a little more anxiety involved. Now I think throughout the entire organization they have an idea of who I am, how I play and maybe how I can fit in.”  

Lines and pairings
Forwards
Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
Oskar Lindblom-Nolan Patrick-Travis Konecny
Jordan Weal-Valtteri Filppula-Dale Weise
Michael Raffl-Jori Lehtera-Matt Read
Colin McDonald-Scott Laughton-Taylor Leier

Defensemen
Ivan Provorov-Andrew MacDonald
Shayne Gostisbehere-Robert Hagg
Sam Morin-T.J. Brennan
Brandon Manning-Radko Gudas