Bill Meltzer: Meltzer’s Musings: Injury Updates, Flyers Overpower Devils, Sanheim

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PRESEASON GAME 4: FLYERS POWER PAST DEVILS, 4-0

Easy wins are a rarity in the modern day National Hockey League, even in the preseason. Even when the final score is lopsided, there are usually stretches of play where the game is up for grabs before it finally gets put out of reach. Last night at the Wells Fargo Center, the Philadelphia Flyers had an easy game in a 4-0 win against the New Jersey Devils.

Power play goals by Brayden Schenn, Vincent Lecavalier and Shayne Gostisbehere and an even strength line rush goal by Scott Laughton led the way for Philadelphia. Laughton also collected a pair of assists to earn First Star honors. Steve Mason was not tested at all in facing eight shots in 29:55 before giving way to Robb Zepp (16 saves on 16 shots in 29:58).

The Flyers shredded New Jersey for three power play goals in the first period to grab a commanding lead. Philadelphia dominated the second period in all manpower situations, and New Jersey was fortunate to get to the locker room down “only” by four goals. In the third period, despite getting outshot by a 10-6 margin and having to kill a pair of penalties in the early minutes, Philadelphia remained in full control and slammed the door with barely a hint of resistance.

Last night’s lopsided preseason tilt was a combination of the Flyers outskating, outhustling and moving the puck at will against Pete DeBoer’s team; a rarity in matchups with New Jersey over the last two decades. The Devils actually had a decent lineup dressed for the game, but the vast majority of players were AWOL on the ice. Philly took full advantage.

The Flyers, who struck for four power play goals in Monday’s 5-4 split-squad win over Washington, once again moved the puck at well to repeatedly score man advantage goals.

Precise passing between Scott Laughton, eventual scorer Brayden Schenn and Andrew MacDonald led to a wide-open chance for Schenn. The fourth-year forward took a return feed from MacDonald and scored from just below the right circle at 4:51 of the first period.

The goal was Schenn’s second power play marker in as many preseason games. A little more than two minutes later, Vincent Lecavalier matched the feat with his second power play tally of the exhibition schedule.

On this sequence, the Flyers worked puck around the perimeter from Blair Jones to Mark Streit at the left point and over to Jakub Voracek at the right point. Voracek had plenty of room to skate the puck into the circle and wrist a shot at the net. Moving across the slot, Lecavalier deflected the disc past Cory Schneider (28 saves on 32 shots).

At 12:57 of the first period, Philly made it three-for-three on the power play. Gostisbehere, who was firing pucks on the net from all angle and pinching with impunity on the usually stingy Devils, displayed his impressive offensive talents on this play.

After a near Flyers goal get swept away from the crease, the Flyers retrieved the puck. Laughton passed to Jason Akeson, who sent a rather weak pass cross-ice toward Gostisbehere as the defenseman pinched into the right circle. The puck managed to reach its target and Gostisbehere blasted a shot past Schneider.

The second period was actually the Flyers’ best of the game. They had their skating legs going, while New Jersey did not; a reversal of roles from many games of recent years. Only some strong goaltending by Schneider limited the damage to one additional Philadelphia goal. The Flyers outshot the Devils by a 15-7 margin.

At 10:05, the Flyers cashed in on a two-on-one rush. Jones collected a turnover by Marek Zidlicky just inside at the right point and then feathered a pass beyond Zidlicky to Voracek in the neutral zone. This created the odd-man rush, with Laughton joining Voracek. As he carried the puck below the circle, Voracek made a cross-ice feed to Laughton, who just enough of the puck to stash it through a diving Schneider.

By this point, the outcome was already a foregone conclusion and there was still nearly half of a game to go on the clock. Philly did not help its own cause by having to kill off two late second-period penalties and two early third-period ones but they got through the manpower disadvantages with relatively little trouble. Actually, a shorthanded scoring chance for Taylor Leier outpaced any of the opportunities created by New Jersey. When he was needed, however, Zepp made all of the saves.

Apart from the impressive outings for Laughton and Gostisbehere, the Flyers also got solid performances from Samuel Morin and Leier. As was quite evident throughout the team’s rookie camp and its dominant Rookies Game win over Washington, the Flyers have their most promising overall crop of prospects in the system — especially on the blueline — that they’ve had in many years.

********* FLYERS SIGN SANHEIM TO ENTRY-LEVEL CONTRACT

Earlier this week, the Flyers sent 2014 first-round Draft pick Travis Sanheim back to the Western Hockey League’s Calgary Hitmen. However, Sanheim did not leave emptyhanded. Yesterday, the Flyers announced that they had signed Sanheim to an entry-level NHL contract.

The first year of the three-season deal will slide this season and is also eligible to slide in 2015-16 if Sanheim does not make the NHL squad out of training camp next season.

Sanheim had a very impressive first NHL training camp, Rookies Game and a solid NHL preseason debut on Monday against the Capitals. He shows remarkable poise with and without the puck for an 18-year-old: Sanheim makes a precise first pass, retrieves pucks with excellent efficiency, takes intelligent checking routes and makes quick recoveries when he makes a mistake. In terms of skating ability, Sanheim is well above-average.

There are still many areas of Sanheim’s game that need refinement and experience. He could stand to improve his shot. He’s not immune from making some bad reads, from which he has to rely on his speed to recover. Most of all he needs to fill out his tall but very lanky frame.

All of this is normal for an 18-year-old defenseman. The bottom line with Sanheim is that there are magnificent tools with which to work. Combined with what appears to be solid hockey sense and a good work ethic, and Sanheim is a player who has the chance to someday become an impact two-way defenseman in the NHL.

On the day the Flyers drafted Sanheim, Flyers scouting director Chris Pryor said “it’s fair to say” that Sanheim has the potential to become the sort of Four-S (size, skill, skating and sense) defenseman that every NHL team covets but is hard to find.

Along with the likes of Morin, Gostisbehere and Robert Hägg, Sanheim gives the Flyers their strongest hope for reversing a longstanding inability for the organization to produce homegrown defensemen. In a salary cap-driven era in which contracts for veteran defensemen are outrageously inflated leaguewide, having a couple productive young defensemen on their entry-level or second contracts is a huge plus.

Additionally, there are numerous other young defensemen within the Flyers system at various stages of development who have displayed promise. This includes players such as

Mark Alt and rookie Jesper Pettersson at the pro level, KHL defenseman Valeri Vasiliev and collegiate players like Cornell junior Reece Willcox and Bowling Green freshman Mark Friedman.

Sanheim and sixth-round 2014 draftee Radel Fazleev could both be in the Calgary Hitmen lineup tonight. The club hosts the Medicine Hat Tigers in a regular season WHL game. Game time is 9:00 PM EDT.

********* QUICK HITS: SEPTEMBER 26

* QMJHL: Flyers 2014 second-round pick Nicolas Aube-Kubel had two-thirds of a Gordie Howe hat trick as he had an assist and a fight in the Val-d’Or Foreurs’ 6-3 loss last night to the Victoriaville Tigers.

* SHL: Flyers 2014 fifth-round pick Oskar Lindblom and the rest of Brynäs IF Gävle are in road action today against two-time defending SHL champion Skellefteå AIK.

* Tomorrow night’s “Battle on Hamilton” mixed-squad scrimmage at the new PPL Center in Allentown, PA is a sellout. The game will feature players from both the Flyers and Lehigh Valley Phantoms rosters. Puck drop is 5 p.m. EDT.

* Flyers Alumni birthdays: Now a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning, defenseman Matt Carle celebrates his 30th birthday today. Mid-1990s Phantoms standout Craig Darby, who dressed in 12 NHL games with the Flyers over parts of the 1996-97 and 1998-99 seasons (two goals, six points) turns 42.

* Today in Flyers History: On Sept. 26, 2000, the Flyers acquired tough guy defenseman Chris McAllister from the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for prospect Regan Kelly.

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

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