The Philadelphia Flyers opened their home preseason schedule in grand fashion on Tuesday night when they took down the New York Rangers, 4-3, in overtime. Travis Konecny scored the skate-off winner, capping off a strong showing from all of the kids.
Let’s get to the five storylines from Tuesday night’s overtime win against the Rangers.
Sam Morin took center stage on Tuesday night in South Philadelphia. He came away with two-thirds of the Gordie Howe Hat Trick while playing solid hockey all night long.
Let’s just get the fight out of the way. Morin laid a clean body check on a Rangers forward, with the glass rattling amplifying the rather usual hit, then was immediately jumped and challenged by Bobby Farnham. Morin had yet to fight this preseason, as he didn’t want to risk injury during meaningless games, but this time he had no choice as Farnham instigated the fight, and picked up an extra minor and 10-minute misconduct for his part.
Morin took care of Farnham with ease. He connected multiple times with haymakers, before eventually wrestling Farnham to the ground. It was a reminder to all players out there that you should not fight Sam Morin. Morin did his job. He stood up for himself while earning his team a power play in the process. That’s always a good thing.
That was just the beginning of Morin’s eventful first period, and his great game overall. After exiting the box later in the period, he got back on the ice and made another mark. This time with a goal. He picked up a pass from Giroux near the blue line and laced a wrist shot into the back of the net. It was nice to see some offense from the typically defensive-minded Morin.
Now that the two main headlines of Morin’s night are out of the way, we can get into the nitty gritty. There were at least six times throughout the night where Morin did something noteworthy, the most of any player in my personal notes.
Early in the game Morin used his speed – yes, the big man can skate – to cover for a backchecking Shayne Gostisbehere and break up a chance. Then of course there was the fight, followed by a nice play to stop a rush.
The lone blemish on Morin’s night occurred late in the first period, prior to his goal. While on the ice with Brandon Manning, not his usual defensive partner, he cheated towards the middle of the ice and got beat wide. Luckily, however, he recovered in time to disrupt Pavel Buchnevich and help force him wide.
After that, though, it was smooth sailing for Morin. He had another good play in the second period to completely tie up his man’s stick during a 1-on-1 in open ice, and then pinched up a few times to help out in the offensive zone. One of those times resulted in him in nearly all alone on Pavelec, but his backhander went wide.
Morin solidified his grip on a roster spot with a great performance on Tuesday night. He was scratched on Monday while Sanheim put on a show, which worried some. However, it only meant that he would get a chance on Tuesday, and perhaps on Thursday, to prove that he deserves his roster spot. And he did just that. Sanheim may knock down the door and break camp with the club, but Morin won’t be the one going back to Lehigh Valley.
Sanheim keeps pushing
Sanheim was on the third pair with Brandon Manning, but he played much more like a top-four defenseman. He played well at even strength, manned the point on the second power play unit, and was on the penalty kill as well. He led all Flyers in ice time as he continues to pass every test that’s thrown his way.
Like Morin, Sanheim had one play that he’d like to have back. Unfortunately for Sanheim, it resulted in a goal. While it wasn’t necessarily a giveaway, or even a turnover, Sanheim was tied up by a forechecker behind the net who was able to get free and send the puck in front for an eventual goal. He did recover decently as Brandon Manning over-pursued, and perhaps it wouldn’t have been a goal with a better defensive partner, but plays like that could be magnified as Sanheim battles to make the roster.
Besides that, however, Sanheim played very well. He had a few good breakout passes and wasn’t afraid to join the rush, per usual. In the second period he was active in the offensive zone and got in deep, but was aware enough to drop back when necessary and was able to break up a rush going the other way.
Early in the third period we saw some of his offensive chops as he pinched down, received a pass from Couturier, and deked around a defender to move into the slot for a wrist shot. He has some Shayne Gostisbehere in him, as well as some Ivan Provorov. He’s a good mix between the two.
Sanheim has looked fantastic over the last four games for the Flyers. There wasn’t an official time on ice tracker last Wednesday, but Sanheim played easily close to 20 minutes and followed that up with 20 more minutes on Thursday night in Boston. That’s over 40 minutes of hockey in 27 hours, with travel from Allentown to Boston in between. Sanheim did the same thing this week. He played 18:24 Monday night in New York, and then 22:01 on Tuesday at home. Over 40 minutes of hockey with no fatigue shown.
The push to make the roster continues for Sanheim after a handful of very solid games. Tuesday night was another test that the young defenseman passed en route to the NHL. He’ll have two more with the Flyers hosting the Bruins on Thursday night then Islanders on Sunday evening. He doesn’t want to head back to the AHL, and he shouldn’t.
The kids keep shining
On Tuesday night it was Mikhail Vorobyev who got a look as the third-line center, with Oskar Lindblom and Travis Konecny on his flanks. The kids line had a lot of good pressure throughout the night and Lindblom got his first marker on a sweet deflection goal in the third period.
Lindblom is able to pull off some nice moves and has a hell of a wrist shot as he showed last season in Sweden, but this was just a gritty, hard-working goal to get in the slot and get his stick on the puck just enough to take the lead in the third period. It was a long time coming for Lindblom, who put himself back into the conversation after a night off on Monday. The Swede had been battling hard and playing responsibly all preseason long and it was nice to see him finally get one.
Voroybev impressed in what was a one-game callup from the Phantoms for the Russian forward. He has been great when given the opportunity with the Flyers and should be fun to watch this season in Lehigh Valley.
We can’t go without talking about the other winger on this line, Travis Konecny. Konecny has caught my eye all preseason long but I have yet to write too much on him as he’s a lock for the roster. The players battling for roster spots are the main focus in the preseason, but Konecny deserves it after Tuesday night.
On a side note, although Konecny isn’t battling for a roster spot, and he isn’t (potentially) making a drastic position change like Giroux, he is getting a chance to play on his natural right wing side rather than the left wing, where he played last season. That could be having an impact on how well he has been playing this preseason.
Konecny’s first goal of the season wasn’t televised, but he has been creating scoring chances each and every game he’s played in. And he finally got one to go in overtime. He received the puck from Giroux, sped through the slot and got the second-chance goal for the overtime winner. Expect big things from Konecny this season.
While Lindblom got on the board, Nolan Patrick remains snakebitten. He hit another post on Tuesday night late in the game, but he continues to make solid plays and good decisions with the puck. It’s only a matter of time before the rookie will net his first goal. And oh yeah, he’s still a lock to make the roster.
A good fourth line?
Gone are the days where the Flyers have a goon on their fourth line: the Donald Brashears, the Jody Shelleys, the Tom Sestitos, the Zac Rinaldos, and the rest of the useless plugs. Even gone are the days where the Flyers have one-dimensional grinders on the fourth line, like last season with Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Chris VandeVelde. The Flyers should have a legitimately good fourth line this season. One that can score, play good defense, and most importantly not give you a heart attack when they’re on the ice in the third period.
The fourth line of Taylor Leier, Scott Laughton, and Michael Raffl was doing work against the Rangers. I tweeted during the game that Laughton and Raffl are what Dave Hakstol thought Bellemare and VandeVelde were, and the analogy makes a lot of sense. They both kill penalties, are tenacious on the forecheck, and cycled like hell with Leier.
The main highlight of the game for that line was the goal, as goals will always be the main highlight. Laughton and Raffl completed a give-and-go for the goal. While it was a nice play, it was likely a pass too many as Laughton had to reach back just enough to tap it home. He set up Raffl beautifully with the initial pass, and Raffl probably could’ve shot it to score himself.
Raffl came into camp on a mission and has been grinding the board battles all preseason long. Something took a toll on him late in the game on Tuesday night as he missed the latter half of the third period, but he was said to be healthy after the game. Hopefully it was something minor and he’ll be good to go for the season.
Laughton has come a long way in the past 12 months, and beyond. He was up and down with the Flyers as a center and wing two seasons ago, and was sent down to play with the Phantoms last season. Now he is back in good favor with the organization and is ready to secure his spot as the fourth-line center.
He came into camp seemingly in one of the battles for a roster spot, but he has quietly put together a great camp and preseason and will almost assuredly be on the fourth line to start the season.
Giroux gets another look at wing
It wasn’t just for practice. It wasn’t just for one game. Claude Giroux was back on the left wing for the second straight night against the New York Rangers.
The longtime centerman isn’t looking out of place on the left side. He is creating plays for center Sean Couturier and winger Jake Voracek, and the line had a few more great scoring chances on Tuesday night. Giroux is still going to be responsible defensively and drift towards the middle, much like he did on Monday and Tuesday nights, but being able to fluidly mix and match the rushes up and down the ice creates a good dynamic for that trio.
The experiment of Giroux at wing isn’t just focusing on that, it gives the players down in the lineup a chance to prove themselves and opens up a center position in the bottom-six.
It’s only been two games, but having Giroux on the wing definitely can’t be a bad thing for the Flyers. Whether it be something semi-permanent or used to throw a wrinkle into the gameplan, having flexibility in the lineup is always a good thing.
- Brian Elliott looks good. He stopped 25 of 28 shots he faced, including a few odd-man rushes and chances in close. The Flyers look set between the pipes…for now.
- The power play is still struggling, though both units created some scoring chances. The first unit played well with Lindblom in the middle, but missed Simmonds in front. The second unit had good puck movement but couldn’t get high-quality shots off.
- Robert Hagg had a few solid plays but was largely unnoticeable, which is a great thing for a defenseman like him. He shouldn’t be knocked off the roster by Sanheim.
- Brandon Manning didn’t play well on Tuesday night, but he is the ideal 7th defenseman. He can fill in when needed for a game or two.
- Andrew MacDonald struggled again, though he did have the primary assist on Lindblom’s goal. It’ll be tough to see him stick with the team for his “veteran presence” while Sanheim, Morin and Hagg are all playing well.
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