Bill Meltzer: Meltzer’s Musings: Flyers Top Rangers, Quick Hits

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PRESEASON GAME 7: FLYERS DISPATCH RANGERS, 4-2

Icing something close to their regular season lineup for the first time in the preseason, the Philadelphia Flyers defeated a New York Rangers “B” squad by a 4-2 score Tuesday night at the Wells Fargo Center. The Flyers improved their preseason record to 3-3-1.

Last night’s game was the fifth in six nights for Philadelphia (including a mixed-squad scrimmage with their Lehigh Valley farm team).

On Monday in New York, a Rangers “semi-A” squad doubled up a Flyers’ squad with few regular forwards in lineup, 6-3. The tables were turned last night.

Sean Couturier, Nicklas Grossmann, Wayne Simmonds, and Matt Read (empty net power play goal) tallied for the Flyers, while Mark Streit chipped in a pair of assists. Ray Emery went the distance in goal, stopping 24 of 26 shots.

For New York, Carl Hagelin opened the scoring with a shorthanded goal at 4:47 of the first period. In the opening minute of the third period, prospect Anthony Duclair narrowed a two-goal New York deficit to one. New York had a 5-on-3 power play in the third period with an opportunity to knot the score, but did not find an equalizer. Cam Talbot played the first two periods in goal, stopping 19 of 22 shots. Jason Missiaen was in net for the final period, stopping all seven shots he faced.

The biggest news of the night for the Flyers was that captain Claude Giroux played for the first time in the preseason after sustaining a lower-body injury on the first day of training camp. He showed a lot of energy early but was otherwise understandably rusty. Flyers head coach Craig Berube limited Giroux’s third period ice time so as not to push things too far in his first game.

Philadelphia’s powerplay — featuring Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Simmonds, Vincent Lecavalier and Streit on the top unit — generated good puck movement in four opportunities. However, Read’s empty net goal from the red line in the final 36 seconds of the game stood as the lone man advantage marker for the Flyers on this night.

Hagelin’s shorthanded goal came about after the Flyers’ second power play unit — Brayden Schenn, Sean Couturier, Jason Akeson, Matt Read and Michael Del Zotto — turned over a puck in the neutral zone. Dominic Moore fed a led pass to Hagelin, who went in alone and beat Emery up high from the slot to give the Rangers a quick 1-0 lead.

Midway through the first period, Grossmann (plus-one, two hits, three blocks) saved a goal for the Flyers by sweeping away a puck as it got past Emery and headed for the goal line. Shortly thereafter, Couturier scored off the line rush, moving left from the hash marks and snapping a shot past Talbot at 13:25. Simmonds earned the primary assist. Read, who had a three-point night, got the secondary helper.

The 1-1 score held until 7:46 of the middle stanza. Low-scoring defensive defenseman Grossmann, who scores about one to two goals per full season, hammered a point shot through traffic and into the net. Streit and Jason Akeson earned assists.

At 13:25 of the second period, Simmonds deflected home a shot by Read to extend Philly’s lead to 3-1. Streit triggered the entire sequence with a perfect pass to Read high in the offensive zone. Read’s wrist shot was low and easily deflected. Talbot had no chance once the puck re-directed.

The Rangers drew back within a goal at the 36-second mark of the third period. Duclair got away from Grossmann as he moved around behind the net and reemerged in the slot. Moore found him with a cross-ice feed and the sniping rookie hopeful tallied against the Flyers for the second straight night.

For much of the game, the Flyers’ most effective line was arguably the fourth line of Pierre-Edouard Bellemare centering Akeson and Zac Rinaldo. The Rangers had trouble coping with Bellemare’s speed and the line exhibited surprisingly good chemistry as a trio.

Bellemare generated no fewer than four prime scoring chances in the game with his speed and puck-carrying ability. Most notably, Bellemare stepped out of the penalty box in the latter stages of the second period (he had just finished serving a stick holding minor) to receive a lead pass from Rinaldo and speed off into the Rangers zone unimpeded. Talbot denied Bellemare’s shot.

The lone established Flyers regular skater who did not dress for last night’s game was defenseman Andrew MacDonald. Rookie hopeful Samuel Morin started in his place and had a rather strong all-around game in 18:04 of ice time.

The lone significant blemish on the 19-year-old Morin’s night was an undisciplined boarding penalty in the third period. The hit from behind on Danny Kristo was not only gratuitous but also left the Flyers shorthanded by two men while protecting a one-goal lead. Fortunately, Morin’s teammates stepped up on the ensuing penalty kill.

The Flyers hung on their 3-2 lead until the final minute of play. With Matt Bodie in the box for New York, coach Alain Vigneault pulled Missiaen for an extra attacker. Read sealed the win with his empty net goal at 19:24.

FLYERS LINEUP

10 Brayden Schenn – 28 Claude Giroux – 93 Jakub Voracek

18 R.J. Umberger – 40 Vincent Lecavalier – 12 Michael Raffl

24 Matt Read – 14 Sean Couturier – 17 Wayne Simmonds

36 Zac Rinaldo – 78 Pierre-Edouard Bellemare – 42 Jason Akeson

50 Samuel Morin – 5 Braydon Coburn

8 Nicklas Grossmann – 32 Mark Streit

15 Michael Del Zotto – 22 Luke Schenn

29 Ray Emery

[72 Rob Zepp]

************** QUICK HITS

* On the heels of an extremely busy slate of games, including three consecutive “official” game nights, the Flyers have a complete off-day today. Tomorrow, they conclude their preseason schedule with a road tilt against the Washington Capitals.

* The Flyers will hold practice at the Skate Zone in Voorhees, NJ, on Friday morning. Over the weekend, the club departs for a retreat and practices in Cape Cod in preparation for the regular season opener in Boston next Wednesday night.

* Berube said he may take 23 players to Cape Cod. Team officials have said they plan to carry seven defensemen into the season. If the Flyers carry 23 players for opening night, it means they will have 14 forwards. It appears that Blair Jones, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Jason Akeson are competing for the final two jobs presuming enforcer Jay Rosehill is likely to be the 14th forward on the depth chart.

* Over the course of training camp and the preseason, Akeson may have slipped from the leading candidate for the right wing spot on Vincent Lecavalier’s line to the odd man out in a three-way roster battle with Jones and Bellemare. Berube has frequently praised Jones and Bellemare during the preseason for their versatility, while he has measured his words carefully when asked about Akeson’s performances. One thing that works in Akeson’s favor is that he is subject to waivers if the Flyers want to send him to the Phantoms.

* Last night, skating on the fourth line at five-on-five and the second power play unit, Akeson played a strong overall game. Although he scored a goal in New York on Monday, last night’s effort

was superior. Akeson played a strong all-around game with numerous solid shifts among the 16 he skated over 12:44 of ice time. He probably needed that sort of step-up effort to stay in the running heading into the last preseason game.

* After last night’s game, Berube was asked to assess Bellemare’s performance and whether he has seen enough of the player to know what he’ll be getting if the player makes the team. Bellemare missed close to a week after sustaining a lower body injury in the split-squad preseason opener in London, Ontario. Berube did not coach that game, as he was with the portion of the split squad that played in Philadelphia on the same night.

Berube praised Bellemare’s play, focusing specifically on last night. Pressed for a broader context view, Berube added that believes he has a read on the French forward despite the limited view.

Said Berube, “I was impressed tonight. He worked hard, skated really well, smart, good on face-offs, killed off penalties. He was an overall good player tonight…. I have a good idea [what the team would be getting] because of his speed. I thought he was competitive, too.”

* Bellemare said after last night’s game that he felt his effort against the Rangers was his best of the preseason after playing what, in his opinion, was one of his worst games “for a long time” the previous night at Madison Square Garden.

* Bellemare was asked about the scoring chance he got off a Zac Rinaldo stretch pass immediately after Bellemare exited the penalty box. Bellemare hit the blueline with plenty of speed but then seemed uncertain of whether to make a move or shoot from higher in the zone. Talbot read it all the way and made the save fairly easily as Bellemare finally elected to pull the trigger.

Said Bellemare, “I called [for the puck]. But I wasn’t sure. The puck was jumpy. So I didn’t want to chance it, either. Like I appear to chance stuff. But [Rinaldo] makes me a great play. And I could maybe of have shot it a little faster so I would have got a better shot. But it’s a shot on the net.”

* At the Skate Zone in Voorhees, Bellemare’s stall in the dressing room is along “defensemen row” a few spots down from Nicklas Grossmann. Bellemare’s spot was occupied last year by Michael Raffl, who is now stationed along the opposite side where most of the forwards dress. After practice yesterday, the Paris-born Bellemare casually conversed in Swedish with Grossmann.

* Emery was asked about the importance of having gotten in a second preseason game under his belt — and a full game at that — after playing half of the split-squad game against Washington and then missing much of the last week with a minor lower-body injury. The veteran goaltender said he felt he needed the preseason action to regain his timing in various aspects of his game.

“There’s a bunch of things,” said Emery. “Trapping the puck. There’s a lot more traffic in a game than practice. You know, concentration. There’s a bunch of things where you have a checklist to work through, to get your feet under you and get comfortable in those situations.”

* Berube hinted after the game that the reason Morin was in the lineup again was to see how he’d play at the end of an extremely busy slate of games for the team in which he’d been dressed in back-to-back games. The coach said the team’s 2013 first-round draftee handled himself well, both last night and throughout training camp.

“Sammy has been good,” said Berube. “I thought he did some real good things again tonight, played a lot of games. We think that a game like tonight, he’s going to be tired and all but he fought through it tonight. He was aggressive and composed with the puck and physical.”

* After yesterday’s morning skate in Voorhees, Berube did not specifically want say when the next roster cuts will be made — some could come today — but said everything will be decided by the end of this week. The coach said that he saw no reason to take extra players along to Cape Cod for practices before the opening night roster officially has to be set.

* The Flyers extra skaters plus injured rookie Tyrell Goulbourne were in the pressbox last night during the game. Personal space is limited in the pressbox, which a tradeoff for the seating capacity it holds. Zack Stortini, who stands a little over 6-foot-4 and is built like a tank, uncomplainingly squeezed into the tight quarters next to his teammates.

* Stortini is almost certainly going to spend the season with the Phantoms barring an injury to Rosehill. However, some folks around the Flyers felt the comments that Rangers color commentator Joe Micheletti made on the air about the 29-year-old enforcer during Monday’s game were excessively disrespectful to Stortini, who is well-liked off the ice and respected by teammates for his work ethic and willingness to physically stand up for the team.

During warmups, Stortini apparently engaged in some trash-talking exchanges with Rangers players according to New York announcers Sam Rosen and Micheletti. In the first period, with the Flyers trailing 3-0 within the opening 10 minutes, Stortini challenged Rangers’ fourth line forward Tanner Glass (whom he has fought before). Glass complied and the two had an epically long fight. It was fairly even, but Glass deserved kudos for handling himself fine against a massive opponent who compiled 299 penalty minutes and led the AHL in fights last year.

Micheletti went on and on in trashing Stortini on the broadcast. The veteran commentator accused Stortini of running around trying to hurt people and said he did not feel Glass, as an NHL roster player, should have to fight a guy “who won’t play two NHL games in 10 years.”

Micheletti’s comments about Stortini trying to hurt Rangers players were, quite frankly, laughable. He was certainly out there to look for a fight to try and spark his listless team but he wasn’t recklessly running around trying to headhunt or prey on vulnerable opponents.

Additionally, Glass is known for being an agitating and aggressive player in his own right, and hardly has a squeaky clean reputation in the types of hits he delivers. Stortini challenging and fighting a willing fourth-line agitator like Glass in a 3-0 game isn’t quite the same thing as running Martin St. Louis simply to try and get noticed.

Glass enters this season with 18 career NHL goals in 377 games. Stortini, who has spent the last few seasons exclusively in the AHL, has 14 career NHL goals in 257 games played. Both are strictly fourth line players in the NHL, although Glass is more of an 11th forward and Stortini was a 12th/13th forward during his NHL time. Not really a huge gap where it would make no sense for Glass to drop the gloves, even if he will be on an NHL roster and Stortini in the AHL. In this game, at least, Stortini was a fourth line counterpart.

No one expects Stortini to be a Flyer this season. He has tried to play the tough guy role to the hilt in the preseason and has taken several bad minor penalties in addition to his fights. In the bigger picture, the ever-increasing demand in the NHL for role players with diverse skill sets and the decreasing demand for single-purpose enforcers in the NHL — not to mention the presence of Rosehill on the Flyers roster — will mean that Stortini plies his trade in Allentown this year. There is a still a role for old-fashioned enforcers in the minors.

Everything should be put in its proper context. NHL announcers often chat with players before and after games, and if Stortini were an ex-Ranger, I doubt that Micheletti would have so snidely ripped a guy who is trying to make a living in hockey the hardest — and only — way possible for someone of his size and limited natural ability.

Lastly, let the record show that Micheletti’s comments about Stortini’s lack of NHL credentials were said of a player whose NHL staying power at one point actually exceeded his own. During his playing days as a defenseman, Micheletti dressed in 158 NHL games. Despite being in the AHL for the last few years, Stortini has 257 NHL games to his credit.

* A big part of the reason why the demand for enforcers has decreased so dramatically is the heavier and heavier emphasis on puck control and speed. These are areas that Berube, who was a renowned enforcer in his playing days (logging over 1,000 games in the NHL), heavily stresses. Simmonds was asked yesterday about the keys to playing Berube’s center-lock system successfully.

Said Simmonds, “Before you get the puck you normally have your head up, and you should know what play you’re making generally before you even get it. If we make those quick decisions, that should allow us to possess the puck even more. You hold onto it and the windows close for your passing decisions and things like that.”

* It is a very poorly kept “secret” that Simmonds, who has worn an A on his sweater throughout the preseason, will officially be named an alternate captain this season in replacement of the traded Scott Hartnell. It appears that veteran Mark Streit will get the other A in the absence of longtime defense leader Kimmo Timonen, who will miss most or all of the season while taking medication to treat blood clots in his lungs and right calf.

Berube was asked by Jay Greenberg last night what further growth potential he sees in power forward Simmonds, who is coming off a career year.

“I think growing as a leader, I think he has done that,” said Berube. “Simmer has always been an emotional leader for our hockey team. He has led by example. However, now I think he needs to take it to another level of leading by example, by leading by example on the ice. I think this will help him develop into a better player than he already is.”

********* BERUBE: TEAM HAS TO BE MENTALLY PREPARED FOR THE SEASON

After yesterday’s morning skate in Voorhees, Craig Berube made some pointed comments about what he wants to see from his club over the next week. He said they are physically ready for opening night but also need to be mentally ready. The coach made no bones about the fact he was unhappy with the lack of competitiveness many of his veteran players showed on Sunday night’s game in Newark and Monday’s tilt in New York.

He was happier with the effort in last night’s game. More importantly than winning a game with most of his NHL lineup against a Rangers skeleton crew, the coach said after the game that he was pleased with the overall competitiveness and focus. There were still areas that needed to be cleaned up heading into the preseason finale and then the regular season, but last night was a step in the right direction after unacceptable performances the previous two nights.

Yesterday morning, Berube said the club had not played a 200-foot game against either the Devils on Sunday or the Rangers on Monday. The Flyers turned over too many pucks, for one thing. The coach was also of the opinion that his club hadn’t been hungry enough for loose pucks, and hadn’t kept their feet moving. The coach warned that things such as poor gap control and other bad habits can easily creep into the regular season unless the players go out and play the game properly day-in and day-out.

Part of being mentally ready to play, said Berube, is realizing there will be fallout from fans and media when things don’t go well. He said his players must have the mental toughness to work through it and follow the right process for winning.

Said Berube, “Am I concerned? No. Listen, these guys need to get themselves mentally ready to go. Okay? And they’ve got to handle adversity better. Bottom line. Things always don’t come easy in this league. You’ve got to be able to work your way through it and handle it.”

The coach reiterated that while there isn’t too much to read into the preseason and that he dislikes the preseason schedule the team has had, there is no excuse for not competing. Berube said he wants his club’s identity to be that of a strong puck possession team and a solid team at five-on-five — and believes he has both the personnel and the means of getting better in those areas — but it will only work if everyone commits themselves to it.

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

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