Bill Meltzer: Meltzer’s Musings: Optional Skate, Lecavalier Update, Manning Recall, Mason



Heading into a Florida road trip that has often presented problems for the team over the years, the Philadelphia Flyers conducted an optional skate at the Skate Zone in Voorhees on Wednesday. The club then departed for a 2 p.m. charter flight to Tampa Bay.

Seven skaters participated: Vincent Lecavalier, Chris VandeVelde, Blair Jones, Jason Akeson, Zac Rinaldo, Shayne Gostisbehere and the just-recalled Brandon Manning.

Goaltender Steve Mason also took part. Vincent Lecavalier: Absent from the lineup for the last six games, Lecavalier noticeably pushed himself hard in the session, testing his left foot and ankle.

“I feel really good,” he said. “I haven’t done a lot of battles and stuff like that. I did a couple days ago, but haven’t since. Skating feels good, just skating around. Tight turns are getting better as well. My conditioning is getting a lot better than five days ago.”

Flyers head coach Craig Berube said that Lecavalier would take part in the morning skate in Tampa tomorrow and then a decision would be made about whether the player might be able to return. Berube stressed that it’s important Lecavalier put in some more work in board battles and other game-condition simulations before getting back in the lineup.

A longtime icon of Tampa hockey, Lecavalier admitted that going back there is still special for him in his second season as a Flyer. He added, however, that he has to keep the big picture in mind when determining his readiness to play. Lecavalier said he would talk to trainer Jim McCrossin and Berube before making a decision.

I asked Lecavalier how he has approached injury rehab from a mental preparation standpoint in terms of preparing to return to play. He said that he tries to watch the games intently, and notices there is sometimes more time to make plays than he realizes when he’s on the ice.

Lecavalier also said that he does a lot more video study of his own shifts than he did as a younger player, and that it has become a valuable part of his preparation regimen. Steve Mason: As he typically does, whether starting or not, Mason stepped out on the ice 25 minutes ahead of the official start time in order to work with goaltending coach Jeff Reese. Mason is a goaltender who tends to play the way he practices and he has put in a lot of extra time this week to work on a lot of different pieces of his game.

With Ray Emery playing so well in the early going and the team winning, Berube did not make a pretense of a goaltender switch for tomorrow night’s game. Mason, who is statistically off to a rough start this season, has tried to use the practice time as a springboard for playing well when he gets back in the lineup.

Mason said that he feels he can do a little more to get the results he got last season. The goaltender said that, for him, doing so starts with putting in productive practices. Chris VandeVelde: Berube extensively praised the forward’s performance in the last two games, apart from the goal he scored against Los Angeles (his second career NHL goal in 51 games) and a beautiful assist in Saturday’s game against Detroit. The coach said that VandeVelde has been using his size effectively and playing a hard game; two elements Berube says the Flyers “need as a team” and he would like to keep in the lineup. Blair Jones and Jason Akeson: Berube has not seemed happy with either player of late, and they’ve taken turns being healthy scratches. There was some grumbling in the Los Angeles game about Akeson trying a dangerous cross-ice pass at the defensive blueline with a 2-1 lead in the third period when he could have skated the puck out himself or otherwise made a safer play. Jones, however, has not played nearly as effectively in his four regular season games as he did in the preseason. Shayne Gostisbehere and Brandon Manning: Manning was recalled from Lehigh Valley earlier today so the Flyers would have seven defensemen available for the road trip. While Berube said he thinks Gostisbehere has played well under the circumstances in his first two NHL games, the coach said “it’s hard out there” for a player with so little pro experience to step right into the lineup against top-notch NHL teams.

Berube said there is a chance that Manning will play tomorrow in Tampa but no decision has been made yet. The coach explained that he likes the fact that Manning has a little more NHL experience and a lot more AHL experience than Gostisbehere. Manning is also a bit more of a physical player than the undersized Gostisbehere and has enough experience at this point to understand the process of simplifying his game.

Gostisbehere, who grew up a Panthers fan and hails from Margate, FL, is excited to return to his home state and for the opportunity to play (for the second time) in front of family and friends. He reiterated again that he does not feel like he’s earned ice time in game-on-the-line situations yet and wants to provide reliable, simple minutes in accordance with what Berube and Ron Hextall have asked him to do.

In assessing his first two NHL games, Gostisbehere said that he’s not happy that he’s been minus-one in each of the two games but feels like he is adjusting to the higher level of speed and puck pressure compared to the collegiate and even the AHL levels. He said he notices a need to make faster decisions and to get rid of the puck sooner.

For instance, in Tuesday night’s game, Gostisbehere got the puck back at the point. Thinking he had a lane, he attempted a shot. The Kings player closed in faster than Gostisbehere anticipated, blocking the shot. The rookie said if he had that same sort of play come up again, he might instead try a D-to-D pass. Zac Rinaldo: Rinaldo skated 9:41, including 1:25 of penalty killing time, in his return to the lineup on Tuesday after missing one game due to an upper body injury. He seeme just to be putting in some routine work on this day.

Berube said that, in order to beat Tampa Bay tomorrow night, the Flyers “need to have the right mentality, a defense-first mentality” to combat a loaded Bolts attack. Philly got swept in last year’s three-game season series against the Lightning and have often fared especially poorly on the road in Tampa.

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