Bill Meltzer: Meltzer’s Musings: Flyers Rookies Blank Caps, Holmgren, Quick Hits

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ROOKIES GAME: FLYERS BLANK CAPS, 3-0

For the second straight year, the Philadelphia Flyers’ prospects stonewalled the Washington Capitals’ prospects in the annual Rookies’ Game between the two organizations. Last year, the visiting Flyers nipped the Caps, 1-0, on a goal by Taylor Leier. This time around, the host Flyers captured a 3-0 victory in front of a large crowd at the Skate Zone in Voorhees, NJ.

Second period goals scored 45 seconds apart by Petr Straka and Nicolas Aube-Kubel staked the Flyers to a 2-0 lead. Kevin Goumas added an empty net goal in the final half minute of the third period to seal the game. Goaltenders Anthony Stolarz and Martin Ouellete shared the shutout in a game in which the Flyers outshot the Capitals by a 32-23 margin.

Philadelphia controlled the game from the outset and went on to get the better of the territorial play and scoring chances for much of the game. Stolarz and Ouellete were rarely tested. The lion’s share of the odd-man rushes, including a pair of mini-breakaways for Straka, belonged to the Flyers.

Lehigh Valley Phantoms head coach Terry Murray was behind the bench for the Flyers side. He was understandably pleased with what he saw.

“It was just a good team game,” said Murray. “I really liked the pace of play, the intensity that everybody showed through the 60 minutes, and that’s the way I want to play the game in Allentown, and the way the Flyers organization wants to play hockey – fast, quick, get things going.”

Heading into the game, much of the focus was on the Flyers’ crop of defense prospects, including first-round draft picks Samuel Morin (2013 Draft) and Travis Sanheim (2014), dynamic offensive defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere, 2013 second-round pick Robert Hägg and recently signed 2014 draftee Jesper “Pit Bull” Pettersson. They did not disappoint.

All five of these players skate well and make a good first pass. Collectively, the group — which also included second-year pro Maxim Lamarache paired with Sanheim — had good communication and chemistry. Individually, each one brought something unique to the table.

Sanheim is the best skater of the group, although Gostisbehere isn’t too far behind. Sanheim retrieved pucks in a flash and showed quick recoveries when he turned over a couple of pucks. He narrowly missed a pair of goals, shooting just wide of the long side. Sanheim’s biggest individual highlight of the game was a first-period shift where he turned on the jets as he carried the puck himself, split the Capitals defense over the middle and forced Garrett Harr to take a hooking penalty.

Gostisbehere is far and away has the most dynamic puck skills of the lot, which stood out throughout rookie camp and yesterday’s game. Yesterday, he sprang Straka on a breakaway with a picturesque stretch pass. Gostisbehere also had several sequences of fancy stickhandling — almost a little too fancy on one occasion –and unleashed several bombs from the point. He was not credited with a point in the game but was in the thick of at least four scoring chances for the Flyers.

The 6-foot-7 Morin displayed the mean streak and physical game that are the hallmarks of his style of play. He engaged in a fight with former Rimouski Oceanic teammate Liam O’Brien and later went after Caps right winger Kevin Elgestal for hitting Straka from behind near the boards. Morin, who was paired with Gostisbehere, put his long reach to good use several times. He takes up so much space that, several times, he forced dump ins or simply shut down the rush.

It wasn’t a perfect game for Morin — or the others — but hockey isn’t a game of perfection. Morin was turned inside out on one rush, got drilled heavily on a clean hit by Madison Bowey that sent the giant Morin sprawling to the ice, and twice made low percentage plays in the offensive zone. What’s more important was that none of these sequences led to opposing scoring chances and the mistakes didn’t snowball.

Hägg was arguably the best of the Flyers’ defensemen in the first period of the game. He played virtually airtight defense in the early going and also snapped three of the Flyers’ 12 first period shots on goal. Thereafter, he had a fairly uneventful game but that is not a bad thing for a defenseman.

Pettersson showed the tenacious competitive drive and deceptive strength that helped get him drafted and signed this year by the Flyers. On one sequence, the 5-foot-8 defenseman eliminated a much bigger Capitals forward in the corner. Pettersson wasted no time in making intelligent passes when he had the puck on his stick. He also blocked a couple of shots. There are no frills to his game but, for someone known strictly as a defensive defenseman, Pettersson showed a heavy righthanded shot when he had an open lane.

The Flyers’ forwards also deserve credit for the role they played in the shutout win. On a teamwide basis, there was strong puck support and good gap control. Philly generated a solid forecheck and the Caps spent much of the day trying to get out of their own zone or to navigate the neutral zone.

“I thought we played a good team game for about 50 minutes. We got a little bit sloppy at times, mainly in the second period, but for the most part, it was a good effort,” said Murray.

Straka had three prime scoring chances in the game, finishing off the first goal of the game as he collected a Caps turnover and scored on the backhand against goaltender Vitek Vanacek at 15:10 of the second period. Forty-five seconds later, 2012 first-round pick Scott Laughton made a nice setup on a sequence that led to Aube-Kubel’s semi-wraparound goal. The goal was initially erroneously credited to Leier but then changed to Aube-Kubel with Leier receiving an assist.

Laughton is not a flashy player. He plays a fundamentally sound and gritty game with touches of opportunistic offense, which is what he displayed yesterday. It was hard to pinpoint any glaring mistakes and, while quiet offensively until the nice assist, he played an important part in helping the Flyers hold the Caps to just five shots in the third period.

Likewise, Leier and 2014 fifth-round pick Radel Fazleev showed good two-way awareness in this game. Aube-Kubel made a couple nice little chip passes and got to the net effectively as well as pressuring the puck. The fourth line combination of Goumas, Matt Hatch and Austin Fyten forechecked tenaciously and had the Caps pinned in deep several times. Fyten also fought Michal Cajvkovsky in the second period.

The trio of Nick Cousins, Straka and Brandon Alderson played together as a line with the Phantoms last season, and that experience was evident in yesterday’s game. Straka said after the game that there was an instant familiarity and comfort level where everyone knew where the other two would be.

On the Washington side, there really weren’t very many standouts. The forwards, including first-round draft picks Andre Burakovsky and Jakub Vrana, were largely at a loss for ways to create operating room for themselves. However, defenseman Bowey played a very physical and assertive game. Fellow defenseman Christian Djoos (who was the defense partner of Flyers 2012 draftee Fredric Larsson for three years in the Brynäs IF system) displayed a quick stick and good poise.

In addition to the three goals the team scored, the Flyers had two would-be tallies disallowed over the course of the game.

In the first period, a referee in the corner lost sight of an uncovered puck in the crease a moment before tryout forward Nikita Jevpalovs tucked the puck into the net. Later in the game, Jevpalovs and Fazleev had a 2-on-1 rush opportunity but Jevpalovs slid a pass just wide of his open linemate near the slot.

In the third period, Goumas appeared to score a goal — there was no clang of iron and the puck appeared to quickly go in and out of the net — but the official waved no-goal and play continued. Had replay been available, it would likely have ruled a good goal. Goumas later got an empty netter, so it evened out on the scoresheet.

Although Murray was happy with his team’s effort, the veteran coach cautioned that one game is meaningless in the bigger picture. He added that some guys will get a reality check when they try to compete with and against established NHL players.

Said Murray, “There’s a bunch of kids out there that have a good future, but you don’t want to get too far ahead. They have to get back on the ice here in a couple days and show that they can do it all over again. That’s what being a good pro is all about. It was just a good team game. I really liked the pace of play and the intensity that everybody showed through 60 minutes, and that’s the way I want to play the game.”

********* HOLMGREN TO BE HONORED AS LESTER PATRICK RECIPIENT

Yesterday, the National Hockey League and the Flyers announced that deputy NHL commissioner Bill Daly and Flyers club president Paul Holmgren will be the recipients of the 2014 Lester Patrick Trophy for outstanding service to hockey in the United States.

The recipients will be honored as part of the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony and Dinner on Thursday, December 4, in Minneapolis. Tickets to the event are already on sale and can be purchased at the United States Hockey Hall of Fame official website.

Apart from his lengthy career as an NHL player, assistant coach, head coach, scout, director of player personnel, assistant general manager, general manager and now team president, Holmgren has long been a strong voice for USA Hockey and an influential person in the national team.

At different junctures, Holmgren has also been an assistant coach, assistant and head GM for Team USA. Perhaps most notably, he was an assistant coach for the American team that captured the World Cup of Hockey in 1996 in a thrilling final series against Canada.

Something else that people may not know about Holmgren, because he never trumpets it publicly, is how devoted he is to giving young people access to the game of hockey. Additionally, in various capacities, Holmgren believes in providing second-chance opportunities to people on whom others have given up hope.

Holmgren has beaten some long odds in his own life — both professionally and personally — and conquered some vicious demons, and has been paying it forward for years by helping others. At the professional hockey level, this has been visible with people such as Ray Emery and Todd Fedoruk, but there have many instances that have nothing to do with the Flyers, Phantoms or pro hockey in general.

As a player, Holmgren was one of the NHL’s first American-born power forwards. He worked his way up from the lowly — and often brutal — North American Hockey League to the WHA’s Minnesota Fighting Saints and then to the Flyers. He overcame a serious eye injury and other physical ailments to turn himself from strictly an enforcer and checker into a 30-goal scorer who made an NHL All-Star game.

“Homer” is also the answer to a trivia question: Who was the first American player to score a hat trick in the Stanley Cup Finals? As a member of the Rat Patrol line with Ken Linseman and rookie Brian Propp, Holmgren scored three goals in Game 2 of the 1980 Stanley Cup Finals against the New York Islanders.

Following his NHL career with the Flyers and Minnesota North Stars, Holmgren embarked on a coaching career with the Flyers and Hartford Whalers (for whom he eventually served the dual role of general manager and head coach). After his dismissal by Hartford and successfully conquering personal problems, Holmgren returned to the Flyers organization in 1997. He has been with the organization ever since.

After serving as general manager from the 2006-07 to 2013-14 seasons, which featured two trips to the Eastern Conference Finals and a trip the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals, Holmgren stepped aside for the handpicked Ron Hextall to succeed him as GM. On May 7, 2014, Holmgren was named club president.

********* QUICK HITS: SEPTEMBER 17

* After yesterday’s Rookie Game, Morin said that five or six Capitals players asked him before the game if he would fight them in the game. They wanted to make an impression on the Washington brass by dropping the gloves with the biggest man on the ice for either side; the 6-foot-7, 224-pound Morin. Ultimately, Morin obliged friend and former teammate O’Brien.

* Laughton has added about 15 pounds since 2012 Draft, but still looks to have room to add even more muscle in future offseasons. The player, who also worked out with a skating coach over the summer, said that he already feels noticeably stronger in the corners and in situations where he has to take one hand off his stick to fend off an opposing player.

* 2013 third-round pick Tyrell Goulbourne is now in Voorhees. He missed all of rookie camp and yesterday’s Rookies Game with an upper body injury suffered during the Western Hockey League preseason. Goulbourne was in the dressing room yesterday to congratulate teammates after the victory.

* Stolarz has come a very long way in the two years since he was drafted in the second round of the 2012 NHL Draft. Back then, he was extremely raw and also had a lot of filling out to do in order to handle the bumping and jostling around the net. His frame has really filled out in the last two years and he has come a long way in refining his angles and technique. With that said, there is still a long way to go before he is NHL ready.

Stolarz has come about halfway on an epic journey from where he was two years ago to where he needs to be in order to become an NHLer. Apart from his size, the best thing Stolarz has going for him is his smarts and positive attitude. He has a good head on his shoulders and has always seemed very eager to learn. Combined with his huge frame and natural athleticism, that’s half the battle.

* The Phantoms new home rink in Allentown, PA, the PPL Center, will officially hold 8,578 for hockey. The arena has already featured a couple of notable concert attractions: The Eagles and Tom Petty.

* Former Flyers goaltender Brian Boucher will serving as color commentator on about 20 games this season, juggling that between CSN pregame/postgame duties and coaching peewee hockey. Boosh has a good head for the game — not just from the goaltending perspective — and I have always thought he’d make a good broadcaster after his playing days.

* Today is officially an off-day for the Flyers but there may be some veterans who opt to skate or work out off the ice in Voorhees today. Training camp officially starts on Friday.

* Former Flyers defenseman Marc-Andre Bourdon celebrates his 25th birthday today. Best wishes go out to him as he continues his fight to battle back from post-concussion syndrome. If possible, Bourdon hopes to resume his hockey career again after going back to square one following his most recent concussion suffered during a comeback bid with the Phantoms last season.

* Flyers 2014 fifth-round pick Oskar Lindblom is in SHL action today for Brynäs IF in a home match against the Växjö Lakers. In his last game, Lindblom scored his first pro level goal.

* In KHL action earlier today, Flyers 2012 seventh-round pick Valeri Vasiliev skated 12:25 worth of ice time in Avangard Omsk’s 4-0 win over Amur Khabarovsk. He got into a fight with Mikhail Fisenko at 2:59 of the second period (see video here). Vasiliev was credited with two hits in the game. Former Flyers defenseman Erik Gustafsson logged 24:38 of ice time for Avangard.

* Earlier this summer, an imposter posing as former Flyers forward Danny Briere created a Twitter account in the player’s name. Sadly, this is hardly uncommon on the internet, and the imposters always get rooted out quickly. The real Danny Briere is now on Twitter with the handle @Danny48Briere.

This post originally appeared on www.hockeybuzz.com and we thank them for permission to rebroadcast it here.

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