Flyers Close Out Preseason with 2-1 loss; Roster Decisions Ahead
With several roster spots hanging in the balance, the Flyers dropped a 2-1 decision to the Devils last night at Prudential Center in New Jersey. In finishing the preseason schedule with a 4-2-1 mark, questions still remain as to a couple of spots at forward, as well as who will be the team’s seventh defenseman.
Roster Definites – for the Moment
The roster will be cut to 23 players in the next couple of days – two goaltenders, 12 / 13 forwards, 7 / 8 defensemen. Here are the 21 players who, for the time being, would seem to have a roster spot locked up:
F – Scott Hartnell, Danny Briere, Jakub Voracek, James van Riemsdyk, Claude Giroux, Jaromir Jagr, Max Talbot, Matt Read, Wayne Simmonds, Jody Shelley (suspended), Blair Betts, Zac Rinaldo, Andreas Nodl (13)
D – Chris Pronger, Matt Carle, Kimmo Timonen, Braydon Coburn, Andrej Meszaros, Andreas Lilja (6)
G - Ilya Bryzgalov-Sergei Bobrovsky (2)
With 22 rostered players (including defenseman Oskars Bartulis and Ian Laperriere), Philadelphia has just over $175,000 in cap space.
It has already been well-established that Read has a forward spot locked up. The 25-year-old, who was signed as a free agent by Paul Holmgren this past spring, assisted on Hartnell’s power play tally in the first period last night. With two goals and seven points, Read tied Giroux for the club lead in points during exhibition play.
Brayden Schenn came into the preseason with his name penciled in the opening night lineup, but his evaluation ended prematurely as a shoulder injury kept him out of the final home-and-home set with the Devils. In three games before suffering an “upper body injury” (believed to be a shoulder), Schenn finished with no points, three shots on goal, and a -2 rating.
This is one of the early bubble decisions for Holmgren, made much more complicated by Schenn’s $3.1 million salary. Laperriere’s $1.5 million contract counts against Philadelphia’s cap hit for opening night before he can be sent to LTIR, so the Flyers cap compliancy may play into any thought process involving Schenn and the beginning of the season. While Holmgren left no doubt that Schenn will be with the team ultimately, he may have to be sent to Adirondack to begin the year – unless the Flyers move any other players in the interim.
With enforcer Shelley suspended for the first five games of the regular season, Rinaldo will open the year in the Flyers lineup. Though he’s not of heavyweight size, Rinaldo is really the only fighter the club will have around early in the campaign. He also showed surprising skill in scoring a goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs, and could provide a Dan Carcillo-like presence for the team when Shelley returns – if the Flyers have the roster (and cap) space for both.
6′ 5″, 228-pound Tom Sestito appeared to be battling for the spot and because of his size would have fit the role, but he also found himself suspended for a hit from behind. He was then demoted to the AHL.
Like Read, another youngster who may have played his way onto the roster is center Sean Couturier. The initial thinking was for the 18-year-old to see ice time against NHL competition, then be sent back to his junior club to get physically stronger. But the eighth-overall selection in this past summer’s draft did not look out of place at all during the preseason, and didn’t hurt his cause last night. He picked up four shots on goal in 19:24 of ice time, once again playing in all situations, including 4:37 on the PP and 2:46 on the PK. There is a scenario where Couturier could open the year in Philadelphia, then be sent back to Drummondville of the QMJHL at a later time. The Flyers would have up to 10 games to make that decision. If he plays in his 11th contest, he will be with the big club for the duration of the season. If Couturier sticks, it likely means that Nodl will not be on this team.
Harry Zolnierczyk had a strong training camp and was solid in each exhibition game, but the 24-year-old left winger is headed to Adirondack.
The last remaining opening on the team is the seventh defenseman spot, and the competition is between Bartulis, Erik Gustafsson, and Matt Walker.
Walker followed up an injury-plagued 2010-11 campaign by going through a rigorous training regimen, in which he came to camp in much better shape than last year. The 31-year-old played well in the exhibition games, and would bring a few positives to the blueline. The 6′ 4″, 215-pound rear guard provides toughness, as well as a right-handed shot to a defense corp that went much of last year without one. Walker played well in exhibition games, but a definite hindrance to Walker making the club is his bloated $1,7 million salary – something that is always a factor with the Flyers always at the upper cap limit.
Bartulis would seem to have the upper hand in this battle. Having been with the team last year before a season-ending shoulder injury knocked him out of the lineup, the Flyers love the way the 24-year-old handles himself. Plus he makes just $600,000, the least of the three.
For Gustafsson, his hockey sense, mobility, and ability to move the puck out of the zone quickly with a good first pass are among his best attributes.
“He looks really solid out there,” Peter Laviolette said after Monday’s game with the New York Rangers. ”This might be his best game so far in camp. His head is up all the time, the puck seems to be on the stick, he moves it efficiently. He gets out of trouble in quick areas. He helps to make plays.”
Last night, he was on the ice for 22:40, with 5:13 of PP time and 1:07 on the PK. His $900,000 contract is just over half of what Walker earns, and not a significant amount more than Bartulis.
The final determination will likely be money-driven, so expect Bartulis to claim the opening. But depending on what Holmgren does with his remaining forward spots, it may be a savvy approach to carry an extra defenseman – especially with the uncertainty regarding Pronger’s health, and the fact that he saw action in just one preseason tilt. The team could keep both Bartulis and Gustafsson for the total of Walker’s deal, so in the event that eight blueliners becomes a reality, that is the probable scenario.
Good news in Goal
For the first time in a number of years, there are no giant question marks when looking at the Flyers goaltending situation. Bryzgalov had a solid preseason and got better with each passing game, and is settling into the starting role nicely. He is one of the brightest hopes for a great season with the team’s changing face.
Bobrovsky was absolutely fantastic in the exhibition season. In three games played, “Bob” posted a 2-0 record, a microscopic 0.40 goals-against average, a .984 save percentage, along with the first shutout in a Flyer uniform.
Power Play Positives
The Hartnell goal was scored on the power play, the third straight contest in which Philadelphia potted a man advantage tally. Over those last three games, the power play – which was a weak spot for the club last year, finishing 19th in the NHL rankings with a paltry 16.6% – was successful on six of 17 opportunities (a 35% clip).
The line of Giroux, Jagr, and Simmonds has had a great deal to do with the improvement.
The chemistry exhibited between Giroux and Jagr has many in the Flyers organization excited about the upcoming season, and it’s done the same for the players themselves. Jagr has described Giroux as “The Little Genius” and “Little Mario Lemieux” with his shifty moves and wizardry in the passing department. In Thursday’s win, the two hooked up on the game-winning power play goal midway through the third period, when Giroux found Jagr with a perfect back door pass. Jagr was so anxious to jam the puck past Martin Brodeur that he broke his stick on the goal post on his follow through.
Simmonds plays the role of the big body on the opposing goaltender’s doorstep, an aspect that was lacking from the team if Hartnell was not on the ice for the man advantage. He also scored a PP goal Thursday, ramming a Giroux rebound past Brodeur.
Whether Simmonds will see much PP time with Giroux-Jagr in the regular season depends upon van Riemsdyk, who has been out with a “lower body injury” and is questionable for Thursday’s opener, who is slated to be on the left side of the line.
There were many positives looking ahead for this Flyers club, but the PP unit may just be one of the biggest causes for optimism when seeking reasons for why this team should succeed.
Pronger Keeps His Word
After Thursday night’s 2-1 victory over the Devils at Wells Fargo Center, Pronger said he was not going to accompany the team to New Jersey for the exhibition finale on Saturday. ”Put it on my tombstone that I won’t go to Newark for a preseason game,” the captain said after the game.
He held to his promise. Pronger did not make the trip to face the Devils yesterday, so he got into a grand total of one game during the exhibition season.
Pronger started off slowly in Thursday’s game – his first since off-season back surgery – but did get better as the contest progressed. In his first game action since Game One of the Eastern Conference SemiFinals against the Bruins, he saw 19:35 of ice time, recording an assist and a blocked shot in 26 shifts.
The 36-year-old rear guard, who the club desperately needs to remain healthy this season, is expected to be in the lineup this coming Thursday when the Flyers visit Boston on opening night.
Taking a Flyer: Other veterans not to play in Saturday’s game were Jagr, Briere, and Timonen…forwards Ben Holmstrom, Mike Testwuide, and Eric Wellwood, who were all in the early waves of training camp roster cuts, played Saturday. Holmstrom logged 11:03 of ice time – 2:02 of which was on the penalty kill and 20 seconds on the PP – and did not register a shot on goal. Testwuide played 11:06 and assisted on Hartnell’s PP marker. Wellwood was on for 15:09, finishing with a shot on goal and a -1 rating…the Flyers won just 23 of 49 faceoff draws.
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