FLYERS PREPARING FOR SPLIT-SQUAD PRESEASON OPENER
There is one day of practice remaining before the Philadelphia Flyers open their 2014 preseason schedule with split-squad games against the Toronto Maple Leafs in London, Ont., and at the Wells Fargo Center against the Washington Capitals. Later today, head coach Craig Berube will make final decisions on which players will stay in Philly and which will go to Canada.
Berube will coach Monday’s game at the Wells Fargo Center. Assistant coaches Ian Laperriere and Gord Murphy will run the bench together in London. Thereafter, Berube will fly up to Toronto for Tuesday’s rematch with the Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre.
Yesterday at the Skate Zone in Voorhees, NJ, a huge crowd turned out for the second day of training camp and for the taping of the annual “Meet the Flyers” season preview show for CSN Philadelphia. The practice order reversed, with Group B (the rookies and prospects) skating in the 10:15 a.m. session and Group A (the club’s main NHL roster plus several AHL veterans) going shortly after noon.
Today, the order will reverse again, with Group A skating at 10:15 in the morning and the rookies and prospects going at 12:15. As per usual, both sessions will start on the Flyers’ rink and then will move midway through to the Phantoms’ side.
The primary item of note during the first session was that, even with Flyers captain Claude Giroux’s injury that will sideline him until close to opening night of the regular season, the team had 2012 first-round pick Scott Laughton continue to skate with the prospects group. As was the case during rookie camp and the Rookies Game against Washington, Laughton centered a line with Taylor Leier and Nicolas Aube-Kubel as his linemates.
Berube has kept most of the same lines and defense pairs consistent throughout camp. The young line of Nick Cousins centering Petr Straka and Brandon Alderson — which will most likely continue to be a trio this season for the AHL’s Lehigh Valley Phantoms — has also stayed together.
The highlight of the first session was a side-by-side backward skating drill. Defensemen Shayne Gostibehere and Travis Sanheim, who may be the two best skaters in the farm system, went side-by-side. Both are very fleet and smooth on their skates but 2014 first-round pick Sanheim, who is only 18 years old, might very slightly be the more efficient skater. That is splitting hairs, however, like choosing between a Ferrari and a Porsche.
In the puckhandling and shooting areas, no one can touch Gostisbehere. He dazzles in those skills day after day. The reason why he will almost certainly will begin his first pro season at the American Hockey League level is that he has to work on adapting his play away from the puck to the pro level.
As Terry Murray pointed out on Tuesday, even the best puckhandlers in the sport will only have the puck on their stick for a relatively small fraction of their total time on the ice. With the puck on his stick, Gostisbehere already belongs in the NHL. When he doesn’t have the puck — or loses it — he has some adjustments to make, which is where coaching will come in this season. For one thing, he’s going to give up a lot of size and muscle to pro level forwards.
Murray reiterated on Tuesday that he does not want Gostisbehere to stifle his creativity or attacking mentality. However, the player can refine other parts of his game to make himself a well-rounded, dynamic player.
In the second session, Brayden Schenn moved from left wing to center on the top line in the absence of Giroux. Michael Raffl skated on the first line left wing. Jason Akeson slotted up from the fourth line to Vincent Lecavalier’s line. The rest of the lineup was pretty close to what the team featured on Friday:
Michael Raffl – Brayden Schenn – Jakub Voracek
Matt Read – Sean Couturier – Wayne Simmonds
R.J. Umberger – Vincent Lecavalier – Jason Akeson
Zac Rinaldo – Pierre-Edouard Bellemare – Darroll Powe
Jay Rosehill – Chris VandeVelde – Zack Stortini
Andrew MacDonald – Braydon Coburn
Nick Grossmann – Mark Streit
Michael Del Zotto – Luke Schenn
Nick Schultz – Brandon Manning
With one exception, the same lines and defense pairs should be featured in today’s Group A practice. The only discrepancy in the posted lines for today was defenseman Mark Alt being listed as Schultz’s partner for Sunday.
As would be expected, the passing and puckhandling on day two was a little bit crisper than the first day of camp. Berube said he was satisfied, given that it is still early in camp.
“The big group was better today. They executed better. More speed. The other group has been good throughout rookie camp and I kept those guys together through this,” said Berube. QUICK HITS
* Berube was asked about the experiment of having Akeson skate on Lecavalier’s line. Said the coach, “It’s always interested me to see Akeson, who passes the puck well, and obviously Vinny’s a finisher. ”
* Schenn has yo-yoed between center and wing (most left wing) throughout his first three pro seasons but the plan going into camp was to have him focus first on trying to win the left wing spot on the top line. That plan at least temporarily changed with Giroux’s injury. Berube said, “I think it’s good that Schenner gets reps in the middle, too. There’s probably a good chance he will play center at some point, so I think it’s good.”
* Earlier this week, enforcer Jay Rosehill surprisingly won the NHL squad’s fastest skater competition. Defenseman Nick Schultz placing second and top line right wing Jakub Voracek finishing third. It was a bit of a surprise that neither Braydon Coburn nor Matt Read worked their way into the top three. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Raffl are also excellent skaters.
* Rosehill winning the fastest skater competition reminded me that, during the mid-1990s, enforcer Shawn Antoski was arguably the fastest skating forward on the team (I would have given the nod to defenseman Kevin Haller as the best skater overall). Antoski challenged assistant coach Keith Acton — who was one of the NHL’s fastest-skating forwards in his playing days and not too far removed from his playing career at that point — to a skating race. The players had a lot of fun hyping and wagering on the big race. Antoski won.
* Claude Giroux was on hand at the Skate Zone yesterday. While he did not participate in any on-ice work one day after suffering a lower-body injury, he started off-ice rehab.
* Nicolas Aube-Kubel, who is nicknamed “Cubes” (as in ice cubes) by his teammates at camp, told the Flyers broadcasters that his last name should be pronounced like “Q-bell”. Someone else suggested that the sniping forward should ask for uniform number 47 so he can be “AK47.” Aube-Kubel is wearing number 73 at camp.
* Prior to the “Meet the Flyers” taping, Flyers PR director Zack Hill snapped a good side-by-side photograph of Flyers’ club president Paul Holmgren, chairman Ed Snider, general manager Ron Hextall and head coach Craig Berube. The Chief looks on with his long-perfected scowl. The others smile.
This post originally appeared on www.hockeybuzz.com and we thank them for permission to rebroadcast it here.