Bill Meltzer: Flyers Gameday: 1/12/15 vs. TB; Farm Report

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PREVIEW: FLYERS vs. LIGHTNING

Looking to close out a four-game homestand with three wins, Craig Berube’s Philadelphia Flyers (16-19-7) will take on Jon Cooper’s Tampa Bay Lightning (27-12-4) at the Wells Fargo Center on Monday evening. Game time is 7:00 p.m. EST. The game will be televised on CSN Philadelphia.

This is the third and final meeting of the season between the two teams.

The Lightning have won each of the first two games in regulation, taking a 4-3 decision in Tampa Bay on Oct. 30 and a 3-1 final in Philadelphia on Dec. 16.

The Flyers entire homestand has been played on an alternating-day basis. This game is the start of a busy week for the Flyers that will see the team play three games in the next four nights. Tampa is starting the front end of a back-to-back slate of road games. The Lighting last played on Friday and have had just one game in the last five nights. Flyers outlook

The Flyers have won just four games this season in which they’ve scored fewer than four regulation/overtime goals. On Saturday, Philly dropped a 3-1 decision to the Boston Bruins after trailing 1-0 through two periods.

Philadelphia held Boston to just 18 shots for the game and a mere 13 over the final 53 minutes after Steve Mason (five shots on five saves) left the game with an apparent right knee injury in the first period. However, the club suffered a few breakdowns that ended up in their net. Ray Emery stopped 10 of 13 shots in relief of Mason. The Flyers allowed one power play, one even strength and one shorthanded goal.

At the other end of the ice, Philly generated insufficient chances. The team could not get momentum from their first five power plays (0-for-5, shorthanded goal yielded) before Claude Giroux narrowed the deficit to 3-1 with a goal on the Flyers’ final power play. Jakub Voracek and Mark Streit received the assists.

A few hours after the Boston game, the NHL announced that Giroux and Voracek were both selected for the NHL All-Star Game. It is the third time Giroux has earned the honor; the first for Giroux.

Entering Monday’s game, Voracek leads the NHL Art Ross Trophy race with 50 points and tops the league with 34 assists. Voracek and Wayne Simmonds share the Flyers’ goal-scoring lead with 16 tallies. Simmonds paces the club with nine power play goals.

Giroux is tied for second in the NHL with 32 assists and is fourth in points with 46. Streit is tied for seventh among NHL defensemen this season with 28 overall scoring points (four goals, 24 assists). The veteran Swiss player is tied for 6th among NHL defensemen with 13 power play points, including his assist on Giroux’s goal against Boston.

Over their last 18 games overall, the Flyers are 8-6-4. For the season, Philly enjoys a 10-6-3 home record.

Mason is expected to miss up to two weeks with the injury he sustained in the Jan. 10 game against Boston. On Sunday, the Flyers recalled goaltender Rob Zepp from the AHL’s Lehigh Valley Phantoms. Defenseman Nicklas Grossmann (right shoulder) is expected to miss approximately three weeks from January 8. Lightning outlook

Tampa Bay leads the Eastern Conference with 58 points and are the highest scoring team in the NHL, averaging 3.23 goals per game. The Bolts have dominated the Flyers in recent years winning six in a row and nine of the last 10 head-to-head meetings.

The Lightning were not clicking on all cylinders and were a tired team when they last played the Flyers. Nevertheless, it was Tampa that found a way to win the game. That is what top teams do.

This time around, the Flyers will catch Tampa at a juncture where the club is well-rested and has played well in most of their recent games.

Tampa has points in nine of their last 10 games (7-1-2) with three straight wins heading into Monday’s tilt. The Lightning bring an 11-8-3 road record into the game. The Lighting have only played one game since Jan. 6 and four games thus far in January (3-1-0).

On Friday,the Lightning outshot the visiting Buffalo Sabres by a whopping 47-21 margin for the game, but the score was tied 1-1 until Steven Stamkos’ 22nd goal of the season put Tampa ahead to stay with 5:18 left in the game. Valtteri Filppula scored early in the first period before Buffalo’s Cody McCormick scored shorthanded in the opening minute of the second period to tie the game.

Victorious goaltender Ben Bishop stopped 20 of 21 shots against the Sabres. For the season, Bishop has a 21-6-2 record, 2.31 goals against average, .913 save percentage and one shutout.

On Sunday, the NHL announced that Stamkos (40 points) and team leading scorer Tyler Johnson (17 goals, 28 assists, 45 points) were selected for the All-Star Game. The deserving Nikita Kucherov (17 goals, 41 points, plus-26 rating) fell victim to the numbers game and was not selected. Highly touted rookie Jonathan Drouin (two goals, 17 points in 33 games) was chosen to participate in the Skills Competition.

The Lightning lineup is mostly healthy at present. The only reported injury of significance is to defenseman Radko Gudas, who remains on injured reserve after undergoing right knee surgery. Key team stat comparisons (NHL overall ranking)

Non-shootout goals per game: Flyers 2.64 (T-17th), Lightning 3.23 (1st)

Non-shootout goals against per game: Flyers 2.88 (23rd), Lightning 2.49 (T-10th)

Even strength Goals For/Against Ratio: Flyers 0.97 (20th), Lightning 1.37 (2nd)

Power play efficiency: Flyers 21.8% (T-5th), Lightning 18.2% (17th)

Penalty killing efficiency: Flyers 74.8% (29th), Lightning 82.2% (12th)

Faceoff percentage: Flyers 51.1% (11th), Lightning 49.8% (14th) Projected lineups (Subject to change, will be updated)

FLYERS

10 Brayden Schenn – 28 Claude Giroux – 93 Jakub Voracek

12 Michael Raffl – 49 Scott Laughton – 17 Wayne Simmonds

18 R.J. Umberger – 14 Sean Couturier – 24 Matt Read

76 Chris VandeVelde – 78 Pierre-Edouard Bellemare – 40 Vincent Lecavalier

5 Braydon Coburn – 55 Nick Schultz

47 Andrew MacDonald – 32 Mark Streit

15 Michael Del Zotto – 22 Luke Schenn

29 Ray Emery

[72 Rob Zepp]

Scratches: Zac Rinaldo (healthy), Carlo Colaiacovo (healthy), Nicklas Grossmann (shoulder), Steve Mason (right knee).

LIGHTNING

17 Alex Killorn – 91 Steven Stamkos – 14 Brett Connolly

18 Ondrej Palat – 9 Tyler Johnson – 86 Nikita Kucherov

13 Cedric Paquette – 51 Valtteri Filppula – 24 Ryan Callahan

27 Jonathan Drouin – 11 Brian Boyle – 10 Brenden Morrow

77 Victor Hedman – 6 Anton Strålman

5 Jason Garrison – 62 Andrej Sustr

89 Nikita Nesterov – 25 Matt Carle

30 Ben Bishop

[20 Evgeni Nabokov]

Scratches: Mark Barberio (healthy), J.T. Brown (healthy), Radko Gudas (IR, knee).

************* PHANTOMS UPDATE: LEHIGH VALLEY WINS FOURTH IN A ROW

The Lehigh Valley Phantoms swept a pair of weekend games in Newfoundland, downing the St. John’s IceCaps on Saturday by a 4-2 count and winning in blowout fashion on Sunday, 6-2. Lehigh Valley completed a five-game road trip with wins in each of the final four games. If the regular season ended today, the Phantoms (18-12-4-1) would hold the last Calder Cup playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

Lehigh Valley returns to action on Friday, hosting the Albany Devils at the PPL Center.

In Saturday’s win over St. John’s, Rob Zepp was spectacular in turning back 29 of 31 shots. He had to make a host of brilliant saves to nail down the win before learning of his recall to the Flyers due to Steve Mason’s injury.

Rookie defenseman Robert Hägg rejoined the Phantoms in Newfoundland for his first game since the World Junior Champions. He scored a center-point power play goal in the first period of Saturday’s game. Hägg had a new defensive partner for the game, being paired with AHL All-Star Game selection Brandon Manning. Hägg played left defense on the pair. Mark Alt remains sidelined with a broken hand.

The Hägg goal was supplemented later by a Brett Hextall goal, Andrew Gordon’s game-winning goal late in the third period and a Ryan White empty-netter to seal it.

Sunday’s game saw the Phantoms grab a 3-0 lead in the first period. The team never looked back in earning a 6-2 win.

Gordon scored his 10th goal of the season and had a two-point. Nick Cousins had a goal and two assists (all within the first period). Oliver Lauridsen scored his first goal of the season and earned a Gordie Howe Hat Trick on the day. Blair Jones and Jay Rosehill each tallied one goal. Jason Akeson, Taylor Leier and Austin Fyten chipped in two assists apiece.

Rookie goalie Anthony Stolarz stopped 21 of 23 shots in Sunday’s win over the IceCaps. With Zepp en route to Philadelphia and the logistics of bringing up Reading Royals goaltender Martin Ouellett and transporting him to Newfoundland inconvenient at best, the Phantoms recruited a local goaltender named Doug Pippy to dress as Stolarz’s backup for the afternoon. He wore number 32.

In Saturday’s Flyers’ gameday blog, I also reviewed the season-to-date for numerous prospect-aged Phantoms players. Here are their updated season stats through the completion of Sunday’s game.

FORWARDS

Nick Cousins (C): 35 GP, 9 G, 13 A, 22 PTS, 43 PIM, +3, 61 SOG

Taylor Leier (LW): 32 GP, 8 G, 9 A, 17 PTS, 2 PIM, -3, 55 SOG

Jason Akeson (RW): 18 GP, 8 G, 9 A, 17 PTS, 6 PIM, +2, 48 SOG

Petr Straka (RW): 33 GP, 8 G, 5 A, 13 PTS, 14 PIM, -3, 72 SOG

Brandon Alderson (F): 21 GP, 3 G, 2 A, 5 PTS, 32 PIM, -6, 33 SOG

DEFENSEMEN

Brandon Manning: 33 GP, 6 G, 17 A, 23 PTS, 84 PIM, +4, 99 SOG

Robert Hägg: 30 GP, 3 G, 11A, 14PTS, 28 PIM, +1, 63 SOG

Shayne Gostisbehere (injured): 5 GP, 0 G, 5 A, 5 PTS, 0 PIM, -1, 10 SOG

Mark Alt (injured): 19GP, 1G, 3A, 4PTS, 14 PIM, -3, 29 SOG

Oliver Lauridsen: 35 GP, 1 G, 2 A, 3 PTS, 68 PIM, +6, 31 SOG

Jesper Pettersson (healthy scratch over weekend): 25GP, 0G, 2 A, 2 PTS, 17 PIM, -3, 22 SOG

GOALTENDER

Anthony Stolarz: 15 GP, 6-6-1, 2.58 GAA, .923 SV%, 2 SO

********** PROSPECT UPDATES: EUROPE, CHL

EUROPEAN PRO Oskar Lindblom (W, SHL, 19 GP, 5 G, 5 A, 10 PTS, 10 PIM, +4, 30 SOG): The 18-year-old winger returned to Brynäs from a mostly successful World Junior Championship by scoring a power play goal in the team’s 4-2 win over Djurgården on Thursday. He did not record a point in Saturday’s 2-1 regulation road loss to Örebro. However, Lindblom saw frequent ice time late in the game when BIF was pressing in vain for a goal to tie the game. Valeri Vasiliev (D, KHL, 29 GP, 1 G, 2 A, 3 PTS, 13 PIM, +5, 18 SOG, 11:29 TOI): Vasiliev, a 20-year-old defensive defenseman, was traded on Christmas Day from Avangard Omsk (an Eastern Conference contending team where he struggled for ice time on a fairly deep roster) to the weaker Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod club in the Western Conference. To date, he has dressed in three games for Torpedo, averaging north of 19 minutes of ice time per game thus far. On Friday, Vasiliev skated 19:41 in a 5-2 road loss to SKA St. Petersburg. He was even on the day and was credited with one hit. For the season,he’s been credited with 32 hits.

CHL MAJOR JUNIOR (OHL, QMJHL, WHL)

FORWARDS Nicolas Aube-Kubel (W, QMJHL, 36GP , 17 G , 23 A, 40 PTS, 65 PIM,+2, 99 SOG): The Flyers’ second-round pick in the 2014 NHL Draft started out like gangbusters this season, hit a dry spell and some injury issues that seemed to affect him in November (three goals, eight points, minus-seven in 11 games) after a knee-to-knee collision with Quebec Remparts forward Adam Erne in a game on Nov. 9. He has come on again since December.

Aube-Kubel scored a goal in an otherwise quiet game for him in Val-d’Or’s 4-2 loss to Rimouski (Samuel Morin’s team) on Friday. The next night, he had one assist, four shots on goal, four credited hits, a minus-one rating and a game-ending unsuccessful shootout attempt in the team’s 4-3 shootout loss to Chicoutimi.

Aube-Kubel has two-way potential with good speed and hockey sense but still has room to become more consistent at both ends of the ice. He is currently 39th in the Quebec League in overall scoring. Likewise, while it is good to see a feisty streak in the somewhat undersized forward, he is not immune to some ill-timed and undisciplined penalties. These things should all come over time. The player will not turn 19 until May 10. Radel Fazleev (F, WHL, 42 GP, 13 G, 20 A, 33 PTS, 22 PIM, +7): The likable and hard-working Russian forward, whom the Flyers drafted in the sixth round of the 2014 NHL Draft has continued his slow but steady improvement. He is a versatile player with the potential to play any forward position and to adapt to either a more offensive-minded or defense-first role.

The player, who turned 19 on Jan. 7, was snubbed by Team Russia both for the Subway Series and the World Junior Championships. This may have had as much to do with his stated desire to remain in North American hockey for the long haul as it did with the candidates who beat him out for third-line or fourth-line roles being better players for those roles.

Entering this season, Fazleev was known from an offensive standpoint as much more of a playmaker than a goal scorer (he described himself as such at the Flyers’ rookie camp in September). However, he has become more confident in shooting the puck as well as distributing iit. He had a good run in November in which he scored goals in four straight games and five of six while posting 10 of his 33 points for the season during that stretch.

This weekend, Fazleev did not record a point in Calgary’s 5-3 win over Lethbridge on Saturday. On Sunday, he notched a shorthanded goal (first of the season) on a top-shelf shot to open the scoring in a game the Hitmen lost 5-4 after leading 2-0 late in the second period. Tyrell Goulbourne (F, WHL, 35 GP, 14 G, 10 A, 24 PTS, 49 PIM, +5): The feisty overage Kelowna Rockets forward will turn 21 on January 26. The Flyers’ 2013 third-round pick turned down an AHL-only contract from the Flyers prior to rookie camp in the hopes of impressing enough to receive an entry-level deal. He was unable to participate in camp due to injury and got a late start to his WHL season.

Since his return to the Rockets, Goulbourne has made efforts to show that he can be a complete player at the WHL level, even though he has a reputation mostly as an agitator/fighter and aggressive hitter who is tenacious on the forecheck. Offensively, his upside is low. Overager stats always need to be taken with a grain of salt — and his are nothing eye-catching, anyway, which is to be expected because he’s not relied on primarily for scoring. However, he shows an ability to contribute in different ways at the WHL level, plays a little more under control than he did as a younger player and is one of the leaders of his team.

The Flyers have until June to sign Goulbourne before relinquishing his rights. While anything is possible and there is something to be said for getting more WHL ice time in a variety of situations as opposed to being an AHL/ECHL bubble player this year (I do not think he’d have beaten out Austin Fyten on the depth chart, let alone players higher in the lineup), there is also a risk in the perception that being a soon-to-be 21-year-old in a league of teenagers as opposed to a pro learning the ropes is a lesser degree of challenge.

DEFENSEMEN Samuel Morin (QMJHL, 14 GP, 3 G, 9 A, 12 PTS, 16 PIM, +6, 42 SOG): The Flyers’ 2013 first-round pick, who nearly earned an opening-night NHL roster spot with the Flyers before the organization decided not to deviate from its development plan for him, was set back by a broken jaw suffered in November. He lost a lot of weight and it has taken time to start rebuilding his strength and recovering his timing.

Morin served as the seventh defenseman for gold-medal winning Team Canada at the 2014-15 World Junior Championships. It was hard to judge his performance fairly based on his relatively sparse ice time, the fact that a tournament under IIHF rules is probably not best suited to his strengths (i.e., physical play is more likely to be penalized under the typical style of rule enforcement) and the fact that he’s been racing to try to get back up to full capacity after his injury. Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said that he thought Morin played fine under the circumstances — but admitted he’d have liked to see the player get more ice time — and that being part of a gold-medal winning team at the WJC was a valuable experience regardless.

Upon his return to Rimouski, Morin had a big game against Rouyn-Noranda (power play goal, one assist, three shots, one hit, plus-four, no penalties). In his next game, he played a strong defensive game against Val-d’Or and finished as a plus-two with one assist, zero penalties and one shot on goal. There was a bit of a scare in the game when, bent along the boards, the 6-foot-7 defenseman was on the receiving end of a check to the head. Fortunately, no harm was done.

The Flyers did not draft Morin in 2013 based on where they thought he’d be as a player in the short term. It has always been the much longer-term — perhaps even five or six years removed from draft day 2013 — by which the club envisions what the finished product will look like.

Morin still has critics, and they tend to be vocal. However, he has already improved in a variety of areas over the last couple years: His footwork and turning radius have gotten significantly better, (although he’s grown even taller and there is still room for further skating improvement. He is already a surprisingly good skater in a straight line. His shot has greatly improved and he makes a good first pass most of the time. His decision making is tracking the right way and he’s played much more under control while still being highly competitive.

Even so, Morin is still very much a work in progress. Patience is the key with all young players, but especially defensemen and most especially ones like Morin who have to grow into their frames and assemble all the raw materials. There will be times, both now and when he turns pro, where the growing pains will be there for all to see. He is going to make some glaring mistakes. He is going to need time to navigate his learning curve.

That’s what the Flyers signed up for when they drafted him, with a vision of a finished product of a huge and intimating NHL shutdown defenseman. The offensive part may or may not come over time at the pro level but the overall game is going to be the key. Travis Sanheim (WHL, 40 GP, 10 G, 26 A, 36 PTS, +10, 32 PIM): The Flyers’ 2014 first-round pick has opened a lot of people’s eyes over the last calendar year. He did not make Team Canada’s World Junior Championship roster after being invited to their December camp, but that was pretty much expected.

It is exceptionally hard for an 18-year-old defenseman to make the Canadian WJC team. Haydn Fleury didn’t make it, either, this year. Sanheim, if healthy, will be a virtual shoo-in for the squad next year. Sanheim also played in the Subway Series for Team WHL, being relegated to a third-pairing role that will grow next year. These are all steps in a process.

In WHL action for the Calgary Hitmen this season, Sanheim has continued to build on the promising second half he had last season and then carried over into an impressive Under-18 World Championships for Canada. At one point prior to attending Canada’s WJC camp, he went on an offensive tear that saw him post 12 points in six games while playing a strong game in his own end of the ice as well. Since returning from the WJC camp, he’s cooled off a bit offensively but remains a solid two-way defensemen.

There is still plenty of room for improvement with Sanheim, as exciting of a prospect as he has become in the last year. First of all, he still needs to add considerable muscle to his rail-thin 6-foot-3 frame. He’ll never be known as a physical player (although he’s been a little feistier this year than he was a season ago) but he’ll need to get stronger to compete.

Sanheim is excellent at jumping into the rush on the weak side. That is where many of his 10 goals this season have come and he can also finish in close one-on-one. However, he can still stand to work on his point shot. He shoots muffins much of the time but does get enough movement on the puck to create some havoc if he gets a well-timed screen or the rebound squirts out into the slot.

Skating-wise, Sanheim is already NHL caliber. He has a silky smooth stride and good wheels in general. When caught up ice, he has the speed to recover. Like all young defensemen, Sanheim will make some mistakes with and without the puck. More often than not, he bounces right back. Sanheim makes crisp breakout passes and usually makes good reads on the forecheck while showing above-average poise under pressure.

Another promising early sign with Sanheim is his adaptability to different types of defense partners and roles within the lineup. Some of his downturns in points, both last season and this season, were as much about decreased offensive chances in his assignments as it was about a dropoff in his performance.

Sanheim makes a lot of smart but subtle plays with the puck and when defending attackers. He is good, for example, at getting good stick position on his check or in shielding the puck just long enough for a supporting forward to arrive and help chip the puck out of the defensive zone. He seems to have a pretty high hockey IQ for a defenseman his age.

On the day the Flyers drafted him, Flyers scouting director Chris Pryor responded affirmatively to a question on whether the organization sees Sanheim as a potential 4-S blueline prospect: Size, speed, skill and smarts. Such defensemen are coveted but tough to find.

As with Morin, Sanheim is very much a work in progress. Don’t expect him to emerge overnight into an impact NHL defenseman — and don’t expect him to play in the NHL next year — but the projections a few years down the line are very promising. He could even wind up being the best of the lot in the Flyers’ current crop of prospects.

Even if Sanheim “only” someday becomes a reliable puck-moving defenseman who is usually sound in his own end of the ice, the Flyers will have a good NHL player. He is already on that track. Meanwhile, his ceiling is well north of that.

COLLEGIATE PLAYERS

During the NHL All-Star break, I am planning to write an update focused on the Flyers’ prospects playing collegiate hockey this season, with a primary focus on UND senior forward Michael Parks, Cornell junior defenseman Reece Willcox and Bowling Green freshman defenseman Mark Friedman. For now, here’s a quick statistical rundown of all the Flyers-drafted collegiate players. Michael Parks (SR, F, North Dakota): 21 GP, 6 G, 14 A, 20 PTS, 24 PIM, +8 Mark Friedman (FR, D, Bowling Green) 20 GP, 2 G, 7 A, 9 PTS, 39 PIM, +5 David Drake (FR, D, UConn): 17 GP, 1 G, 3 A, 4 PTS, 6 PIM, -2 Reece Willcox (JR, D, Cornell): 15 GP, 1 G, 1 A, 2 PTS, 6 PIM, +1 Terrance Amorosa (FR, D, Clarkson): 8 GP, 0 G, 1 A, 1 PT, 6 PIM, -2 Nick Luukko (SR, D, Vermont): 21 GP, 2 G, 6 A, 8 PTS, 4 PIM, +9 Merrick Madsen (FR, G, Harvard): 0 GP

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