Bill Meltzer: Meltzer’s Musings: Wayne Watch, Fourth Line, Phantoms Roster, Quick Hits

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WAYNE WATCH: SIMMONDS RETURNS TO PRACTICE

According to numerous reports, Flyers assistant captain Wayne Simmonds returned to practice yesterday at the Charles Moore Arena in Orleans, Mass., where the team is renting ice time while preparing for opening night against the Boston Bruins on Wednesday.

The power forward was not yet prepared to publicly pronounce himself ready to play on Wednesay after spending much of the past week in a walking boot after taking a puck off his left foot in last Tuesday’s preseason game against the New York Rangers.

Nevertheless, the outlook appears considerably brighter than it did just one day earlier.

Simmonds participated fully in practice, then put in some extra high-tempo skating to test his foot. According to CSN Philly, the right winger spent about 75 minutes on the ice. If there are no significant setbacks on Tuesday, the chances of the team’s top power play goal scoring threat being ready to play against the Bruins seem higher than they did over the weekend. However, both the player and the team have pledged to be cautious if Simmonds is not fully ready.

********** FLYERS FOURTH LINE SHINED LATE IN PRESEASON

One of the objectives that general manager Ron Hextall sought to accomplish in the offseason was to upgrade his team’s ability to roll four lines at even strength. Last year during the postseason, one of the advantages the New York Rangers held during the preseason was that its fourth line trio of Dominic Moore, Brian Boyle and Derek Dorsett outpaced any fourth-line combination the Flyers could cobble together.

It is too early to tell whether the Flyers have significantly improved their fourth line. What is fair to say is that, in the final two games of the preseason, newcomer Pierre-Edouard Bellemare showed both speed and two-way competitiveness while centering the fourth line. He also showed instant chemistry with Jason Akeson and Zac Rinaldo.

Assuming Wayne Simmonds returns to the lineup for opening night, Flyers coach Craig Berube will have a decision to make: Does he scratch Akeson or Blair Jones?

Of the two, Jones is more of a traditional fourth line player, and also has both the size and two-way versatility to move around the lineup as needed. He also offers more grit than Akeson. On the other hand, Akeson has superior offensive creativity and, in tandem with Bellemare, might be able to provide a bit of an offensive spark when matched up against other team’s fourth lines and third defensive pairs.

Throughout the early weeks of the season, there will be a three-way competition between Jones, Bellemare and Akeson for two starting lineup spots when the rest of the forward lineup is healthy. At the very least, the Flyers would like to see their fourth line provide superior speed and puck possession to last year’s group. The trade off will be that it will be hard to match the faceoff prowess of the since-departed Adam Hall.

********* PHANTOMS FINALIZE OPENING NIGHT ROSTER

Lehigh Valley Phantoms head coach Terry Murray announced yesterday that the team will carry 22 players on its opening night roster. The roster breaks down as follows:

Forwards (13): Brandon Alderson, Nick Cousins, Austin Fyten, Andrew Gordon, Kevin Goumas, Brett Hextall, Scott Laughton, Taylor Leier, Darroll Powe, Jay Rosehill, Zack Stortini, Petr Straka and Chris VandeVelde.

Defensemen (7) : Mark Alt, Steven Delisle, Shayne Gostisbehere, Robert Hagg, Oliver Lauridsen, Brandon Manning and Jesper Pettersson.

Goaltenders (2): Anthony Stolarz and Rob Zepp.

Veteran netminder Zepp will enter the 2014-15 season as the team’s number one goaltender, with rookie Stolarz beginning the campaign as the backup. In cutting down the roster to 22 players, the team assigned rookie goaltender Martin Oullette and former Buffalo Sabres netminder Connor Knapp to the ECHL’s Reading Royals.

The Phantoms also assigned five position players to Reading: defenseman Maxim Lamarche and forwards Marcel Noebels, Matt Hatch, Andrew Johnston and Derek Mathers. None of the cuts were especially surprising.

********* QUICK HITS: OCTOBER 6

* Today in Flyers’ History: In what was truly the final game the Flyers played at the Spectrum, the NHL played its AHL farm team, the Philadelphia Phantoms, in an exhibition game. The AHL team played with a little more effort than the parent team (which seemed mainly focused on avoiding injury) and the Phantoms skated off with a 4-2 win.

* Flyers Alumni Birthdays: Early 1980s era forward Ross Fitzpatrick, a 1980 fourth-round pick who filled in for the Flyers in 20 regular season games over parts of four seasons, turns 54 today. Fitzpatrick’s longest and most productive stint with the big club came for Bob McCammon’s 1983-84 team, when he notched four goals and six points in 12 games. Today, Fitzpatrick serves as a college hockey scout for the Flyers after seven years as a pro scout for the organization.

Early 1990s forward Andre Faust turns 45 today. Signed as a free agent shortly before the 1992-93 season, Faust dressed in a total of 47 games for the Flyers over two seasons. Seeing time on various line combinations, including a short stint on Rod Brind’Amour’s line, Faust produced a combined 10 goals and 17 points.

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

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