With regular-season hockey a mere two weeks away, Flyers fans have turned their attention to the team’s preparation under new coach Dave Hakstol.
Here are five observations from the Flyers’ 5-3 win against the Isles:
1. Impressions: Yevgeni Medvedev
In his NHL debut, 33-year-old Russian defenseman Yevgeni Medvedev played a decent game, showing both positive and negative aspects of his game. Though he will need time to adjust to the smaller NHL ice surface and to the more physical NHL style, he looked very comfortable at times. He played with Michael Del Zotto; Medvedev knows very little English, so he and Del Zotto tried to go over a few basic words before the game. Hopefully that is something he will be able to pick up during training camp since communicating, especially as a defenseman, is crucial in a game setting. Medvedev looked very comfortable in the offensive zone and even drove to the net on occasion. Though he looked a little rusty in the defensive zone at times, he showed creativity on the back-check and in the neutral zone. He took a blast from the blueline that led to the Vinny Lecavalier goal; it’s good to see he is not afraid to shoot and will do so without hesitation.
2. Raffl Fitting In
It is nice to see the top-line trio of Michael Raffl, Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek having time to gel in training camp and in the preseason. Last year Claude Giroux was injured at the beginning of training camp, which did not allow the team to try out different linemates for the left wing spot on the top line with Giroux and Voracek. It was debatable whether Raffl deserved the spot last year, and the Flyers ended up using many players in that left wing slot throughout last season. However, headed into this season, Raffl seems like the natural fit and has done enough and proven himself enough to truly deserve it. He scored the first goal of the preseason game tonight, a beautiful re-direction in the slot from Voracek on the power-play. If Raffl can stay healthy this season, he should be able to reach the 25-goal mark.
3. Umberger-Lecavalier-Gagner Line
R.J. Umberger and Vinny Lecavalier had brutal seasons last year, filled with uninspired play, injuries and general disappointment. The two were on the same line tonight, along with newly-acquired Sam Gagner. Lecavalier has said that he is in the best shape of his life after working hard with a new trainer over the summer. He looked like a much more high-energy player and was rewarded with a goal. He was part of the play rather than trailing the play, which he did for most of last season. Umberger was hurt for most of last season and had the worst statistical season of his career. Beyond the numbers, he looked like a completely different player; he was slow, wasn’t skating hard on every shift and wasn’t capable of keeping plays alive and driving the play. Even though he didn’t have a particularly good game tonight, he definitely looked faster and healthier. He has said he is in the best health of his life, and he does look like a different player. Once he gets his timing down he should return to his old form as an effective two-way winger.
Sam Gagner had a decent season last year but was traded from the Coyotes to the Flyers this summer, and he was insulted on his way out; Arizona general manager Don Maloney was quoted as saying that the Coyotes didn’t feel Gagner could play center at the NHL level. This was a ridiculous comment, especially since Gagner had a great second half last season (he finished the year with 41 points: 15 goals, 26 assists). However, since he was acquired it has been reiterated many times that he will most likely not even have to play center for the Flyers. The Flyers are very deep at center, so general manager Ron Hextall and head coach Dave Hakstol have planned to use him on the wing. Though it’s unknown exactly where he will end up in the lineup this season, he has started training camp on the right side with Umberger and Lecavalier. Even though fans should expect good things from Gagner this season, he did not look like himself tonight. He had a chance and a shot here and there but seemed out of the play and did not generate as many shots and opportunities as he normally does. However, fans shouldn’t worry about him for this season.
4. Michal Neuvirth’s Flyers Debut
The Flyers signed Michal Neuvirth to a two-year contract this summer for an average annual value of $1.625 million. Neuvirth played 27 games with the Sabres last season, going 6-17 with a .918 save percentage and a 2.99 GAA; though you would never know it based on the stats, Neuvirth played decently for the last-place Sabres. He also played 5 games for the Islanders last year and went 1-3 with an .881 save percentage and a 2.94 GAA. Neuvirth was the backup goalie for the Washington Capitals for many years. In the 2010-2011 season he played 48 games, going 27-12 with a .914 save percentage and a 2.45 GAA, and in the 2011-2012 season he went 13-13 in 38 games with a .903 save percentage and a 2.82 GAA. Neuvirth looked extremely rusty in tonight’s match-up. He not only gave up multiple soft goals to an Islanders roster filled mainly with bottom-six forwards and AHL players but also looked very iffy on many shots and was often out of position. Neuvirth is expected to help share the load with starting goaltender Steve Mason this year, but he will have to shake off a lot of rust. It is still incredibly early, though, so it’s hard to jump to any conclusions at this point.
5. First-Round Talent
The Flyers drafted defenseman Ivan Provorov with the number seven overall pick in this year’s draft and moved up in the draft to select Travis Konecny with the 24th overall pick. Both players looked excellent in tonight’s game, especially Konecny, who was the star of the game. The puck seems to follow Konecny, and he scored a nice back-hand goal when the puck came back to him even after he made an errant pass. He looked great on most shifts tonight but will most likely return to the OHL this season because the Flyers want the team’s prospects to develop and because the Flyers are already deep at center. Flyers fans can expect great things from Konecny, though. Provorov, who will also most likely not start the season with the big club, looked very poised and calm with and without the puck, especially for an 18-year-old seeing his first NHL action. It looks like Provorov will be a mainstay on the Flyers’ defense for many years, even if it doesn’t happen this season.
At the end of the day, there is only so much one can take away from a pre-season game, especially the first of the preseason and especially since it is a split-squad game. It’s also important to keep in mind that the Flyers played against the less talented squad of Islanders tonight; John Tavares and co. played in the game that took place in Brooklyn. However, this is the first Flyers action of the season, so it is the first chance to truly make any kind of evaluation of players, line combinations and of the team as a whole. The penalty kill is something the Flyers desperately need to address this season after finishing 27th in penalty kill percentage last year. Four of the six top Flyers’ penalty killers were in this game (Giroux, Raffl, Chris Vandevelde, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare), so it wasn’t too encouraging to see the Flyers give up a power-play goal. However, Neuvirth looked rusty throughout the game and especially so on that power-play goal, so it might not be a direct product of the PK effort. Even though preseason games don’t count, the Flyers have struggled in the preseason the past few years and have then gotten off to slow starts at the beginning of the regular season, so hopefully the Flyers will be able to straighten things out and find some team success before the regular season officially begins on October 8. No matter what, a win is a win, so it’s nice to see the Flyers come away with a win tonight.
Featured image via @NHLFlyers on Twitter