Bill Meltzer: Meltzer’s Musings: Preseason Finale Wrapup, Simmonds, Morin and More

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FLYERS DROP PRESEASON FINALE TO CAPS IN SHOOTOUT, 3-2

The Philadelphia Flyers ended the 2014-15 preseason with a 3-3-2 record after losing a 3-2 road decision via shootout to the Washington Capitals on Thursday night. The Flyers held a territorial advantage for much of the game but could neither build upon their one-goal lead nor nail down the game late in the third period.

Philadelphia had several chances to put the game away on the power play but were unable to pot a goal. The Capitals tied the game with 61 seconds left in regulation, survived a 4-on-3 penalty kill in overtime and then prevailed in the postgame skills competition at which the Washington team excels while the Flyers habitually struggle.

Mark Streit and Jason Akeson scored even strength for the Flyers. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Nicklas Grossmann were credited with assists on the Streit goal on a slap shot from up high that went in through a screen in front. Zac Rinaldo earned the lone helper on Akeson’s goal. Steve Mason stopped 18 of 20 shots in regulation and one of three shots in the shootout.

For Washington, Andre Burakovsky tied the score midway through the second period only for Akeson to put the Flyers ahead 2-1 just 31 seconds later. Eric Fehr potted the tying goal at 18:59 of the third period after Braydon Coburn blocked a shot and the puck went directly to Fehr in the slot. Nicklas Bäckström and Evgeny Kuznetsov scored in the first and third rounds of the shootout to win the game for Washington.

Capitals goaltender Justin Peters took first-star honors for the game. Peters stopped 19 of 21 shots in regulation and then turned away all six shots he saw in overtime before denying Jakub Voracek and Akeson in the skills competition.

The Flyers went 0-for-5 on the power play in this game, including three power plays in the third period and one in overtime. Washington went 0-for-3 on the man advantage.

Philadelphia concluded the preseason with a 3-0-0 record on home ice, 0-3-1 on the road and a neutral site (London, Ont.) split-squad loss via shootout. Washington has one preseason match left. The regular season opens for the Flyers next Wednesday in Boston. The following night, the Flyers open their home schedule with a game against the New Jersey Devils.

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 – 41 Blair Jones

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

47 Andrew MacDonald – 5 Braydon Coburn

8 Nicklas Grossmann – 32 Mark Streit

15 Michael Del Zotto – 22 Luke Schenn

35 Steve Mason

[29 Ray Emery]

************ SIMMONDS DAY-TO-DAY WITH LOWER BODY INJURY

Flyers assistant captain Wayne Simmonds did not make the trip with the team to Washington. Earlier in the day, the team announced that he was day-to-day with a lower-body injury. His status for opening night is uncertain at this point but the player will make the team’s planned preparatory trip to Cape Cod over the weekend.

Simmonds had a strong game in Tuesday’s 4-2 win over the New York Rangers and seemed fine after the game. The Flyers had an off-day on Wednesday. As such, it is not entirely clear when the player’s condition worsened. Blair Jones started in Simmonds’ spot on Sean Couturier’s line in the Flyers’ preseason finale.

************** NO NEED TO RUSH MORIN

Flyers 2013 first-round draft pick Samuel Morin was not in the lineup for the team’s preseason final preseason game. It remains to be seen if the Flyers will keep Morin on hand for a 10-game trial or return him to his junior team, the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Rimouski Oceanic.

Throughout the summer and into training camp, Flyers general manager Ron Hextall frequently repeated a mantra that the team would not rush its prospects — especially its core of promising defensemen — into the NHL. Hextall appears to prefer erring on the side of caution in player development, saying that no player has ever been ruined by being brought along too patiently but plenty have been ruined by being fast-tracked to the NHL before they were ready.

The last thing the Flyers can afford is a repeat of the Luca Sbisa debacle of 2008-09, which was a veritable case study on how NOT to develop a teenage defenseman. Sbisa, the Flyers’ first round pick in the 2008 Draft, made the big team after a solid training camp.

Sbisa did not look out of place early in the regular season. As a result, the Flyers kept him on beyond his 10-game trial, burning through the first year of his entry-level contract in the process. As the season progressed, the 18-year-old Sbisa predictably hit the wall and began to struggle. His ice time and confidence decreased markedly.

After Sbisa appeared in 39 regular season games, the Flyers returned him to his junior team (the WHL’s Lethbridge Hurricanes) for the rest of the season. In the summer, Sbisa was traded to Anaheim in the blockbuster trade that brought Chris Pronger to Philadelphia.

It is hard to say exactly how much Sbisa’s development was set back by being rushed to the NHL and then sent back to the WHL (even after his contract could no longer slide). What is clear is that the Flyers put too much on his shoulders too soon because he was physically mature and did not look out of place in September and October.

Following his trade to Anaheim, Sbisa actually ended up getting returned yet again to the WHL because it again became evident he wasn’t quite ready for the NHL. That had to be a crushing blow to the player.

Eventually, Sbisa finally did crack the NHL as a full-time player. However, he has not become anything close to the two-way impact defenseman he was once projected to be. Now a member of the Vancouver Canucks, the 24-year-old Sbisa is trying to get his career back on course.

Sbisa’s story is hardly unique. I’s exactly the type of situation that Hextall has said over and over that he does not want to see happen with the Flyers’ current (and future) prospect crop.

Right now, Morin’s situation is eerily similar to where Sbisa was at the end of 2008 training camp. The 6-foot-7 behemoth already packs 224 pounds on his frame. He has done a lot of good things in training camp and the preseason. Morin has done well enough, in fact that head coach Craig Berube is clearly tempted to push for the 19-year-old’s inclusion on the opening night roster.

After Thursday’s morning skate in Voorhees, Berube talked to the media about how much Morin has impressed him.

“I think sometimes you look at a guy in development camp and you look at certain little things about him, and you go, ‘Ah, maybe he’s not ready,'” Berube said. “Even in some of the practices I was wondering if he was ready, but when you get into the game itself, he plays. He can play. A lot of guys are like that. He’s a big guy. He moves well. He’s intense. He seems to sustain that throughout a game. He doesn’t drop off. He doesn’t get tired. It’s impressive. But in saying that, he’s got a lot of stuff to work on for sure … like a lot of young guys do.”

Indeed, there have been signs of rawness in aspects of Morin’s game and areas where he clearly could still use more development. If Morin were to play in the NHL this season — even if he’s eased into a relatively limited role — chances are high that he would struggle with consistency as the year progressed.

It wouldn’t be the end of the world for Morin’s development if he got a 10-game look-see with the big club. However, in the long term, the most prudent course seems to be to give him an extra season in the Quebec League and to take his shot at playing for Canada at the World Junior Championships. The one thing the Flyers absolutely should NOT do is risk another Sbisa scenario. Even if Morin gets an NHL trial this season and handles it well, he should still go back to Rimouski for his own good.

A complicating factor in this whole scenario is the fact that several of the veterans on the Flyers’ NHL defense corps did not have good preseasons. Thus far, they have done little to erase the perception that the lack of bonafide top end players on the blueline is the team’s Achilles heel.

Nevertheless, the fact that rookie defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere significantly outplayed some of the veterans in camp and still got sent to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms — mainly for developmental reasons and secondarily because of the contracts of veterans — suggests that Hextall intends to carry through the plan he talked about all summer.

Gostisbehere is two years older, more polished in his skill set and has more big-game experience than Morin (who is, admittedly, a different style of player). If the organizational logic holds that “Ghost” can use some time in the AHL to adjust his play away from the puck — a step that I think is a wise move — the same thing should apply to Morin as well.

I’d also hasten to add that 19-year-old Robert Hägg is also being handled conservatively this season. This is a player who had a season-plus of pro level experience in the Swedish Hockey League, two World Junior Championship tourneys to his credit and performed fairly well in 10 AHL games at the end of last season.

Hägg had a decent training camp for the Flyers’ in September and did not look to be in hopelessly over his head in the two NHL preaseason games he played. Nevertheless, there was never a serious thought given — nor should there have been — to the Swede cracking the NHL roster right now.

There is no doubt that Morin has handled himself well for the most part in the preseason. Even so, chances are still very strong that the organization will opt to take the same sort of prudent course this season that they are taking with Gostisbehere and Hägg.

Last but not least, in regard to the rumor Bob McKenzie reported last night that the Flyers are shopping Luke Schenn or Nicklas Grossmann in an effort to “make room” for Morin, I simply don’t see that happening this season. As widely respected as McKenzie is, this particular rumor simply doesn’t add up.

You don’t make room for a player you intend to dress in 10 games at the maximum. You don’t gamble on a cornerstone prospect whose NHL readiness right now is somewhat debatable but who’s long-term upside as a potential shutdown defenseman with some two-way skills is not.

A year ago, the organization pledged to nurture Morin’s development patiently when the Flyers drafted him 11th overall. He actually had a pretty good NHL training camp a year ago, too, but it became evident that he needed (and benefited from) going back to Rimouski. A good rookie camp and a series of encouraging preseason performances should not be enough to alter that long-term plan.

********* QUICK HITS: OCTOBER 3

* The Flyers have signed 2014 second-round pick Nicolas Aube-Kubel to an entry-level NHL contract. The deal will slide for the 2014-15 season, as Aube-Kubel has already been returned to the QMJHL’s Val-d’Or Foreurs.

* Flyers Alum birthday: Defenseman Bruno Gervais turns 29 today. After spending the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season with the Flyers and the 2013-14 campaign in the AHL with the Phantoms, Gervais rejoined best friend and former Flyers teammate Max Talbot by signing a contract this summer with the Colorado Avalanche organization.

* Best of luck to former Bridgeport Sound Tigers left winger Dmitry Antipin, who has officially signed a tryout contract with the Reading Royals (the Flyers’ ECHL affiliate). Antipin billeted with former NHL player/referee Paul Stewart, who referred to the young man as his “blindside son” in a blog he wrote for HockeyBuzz on March 14. Last season, Antipin played well in a couple of AHL games against the Phantoms. He also possesses a sinewy 6-foot-3 frame.

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

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