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Timonen, Giroux Named All-Stars

12 Jan

The Flyers will be well-represented in Ottawa at the end of the month. According to the team, Claude Giroux and Kimmo Timonen will be All-Stars. Matt Read and Sean Couturier will make the trip as well for the rookie game.

This is Timonen’s fifth All-Star nomination. He didn’t play in 2000 due to injury and hinted last Saturday that the same might happen this time around as well.

“It’s hard to say,” said Timonen who had just played against Ottawa despite a wrist injury that nearly kept him out of the lineup. “It’s hard to say no if you get chosen, but it’s one of those things where if you’ve got injuries, it’s time to heal your injuries at that time. When that time comes, I’m gonna really take a look at the situation, but it’s that time.”

Timonen has one goal and 24 assists on the year. He is also the keystone to the Flyers’ defensive corps. That became more obvious when he missed parts of two periods a week ago against Chicago.

For Giroux, the All-Star Game will be somewhat of a homecoming. Ottawa may be hundreds of miles away from Hearst, Ont., where Giroux was born, but it’s still in the same province. Giroux came in seventh among forwards in the fans vote and didn’t initially make the cut when the fans voted the starting six players.

“I don’t care if it’s top six, I just want to make the team,” said Giroux last week. “That would be pretty cool and to go back to back would be pretty cool. It’s in Ottawa where my friends are. It would be a pretty good experience.”

Giroux is second in the league in points, tied with Phil Kessel. Last year he had a goal and an assist in the All-Star Game in Raleigh, N.C.

Read is tied for first among rookies in goals. He has played on every line this season for the Flyers. Couturier has seven goals and six assists this season in 37 games. He has centered the fourth line during most of his action.

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With Gustafsson Up, Lilja Top Candidate To Sit

12 Jan

He waited and waited and played five games with the Phantoms. Finally, Erik Gustafsson gets the chance to pick up where he left off. On Nov. 5, his last game with the Flyers, he was a plus-6, played a career-high 23 minutes and got his first NHL point on an assist. Then he missed almost two months of action with a wrist injury.

The Flyers called Gustafsson up on Wednesday and sent Matt Walker down to the AHL. The team has been lacking something on the blue line, not that Walker was part of the problem. He hasn’t been able to crack the lineup.

But Andreas Lilja has and he may be the one, instead of rookie Marc-Andre Bourdon, to sit as a healthy scratch. Lilja has been steadily losing ice time to Bourdon, who continues to improve and has even contributed a couple points. He had a goal in Sunday’s loss to the Senators. He seems unlikely to sit with Gustafsson back in the fold.

Some have wondered if Gustafsson has been at full strength, whether he could even take a slapshot. But he was firing from the point at Citizens Bank Park. He said that he was ready even then, but was trying not to think about a comeback to the NHL.

It was a huge disappointment for Gustafsson to miss time. When he went down injured, he was clearly playing his best hockey at the NHL level.

“It was really frustrating at the start there,” said Gustafsson last Friday. “I tried to put that aside and then when I had to have the surgery I was trying to stay positive. It was for sure really frustrating, but I’m just gonna keep working hard right now. It feels pretty good right now and I hope I get another crack at it.”

He was a plus-2 with two shots on net in the Outdoor Classic against Hershey and wants to get back to his old form. He played another game after the Outdoor Classic and registered an assist. According to Gustafsson, his conditioning was the only thing that wasn’t 100 percent. Now it will be tested at the highest level.

Laviolette’s Top Five Flyers Wins

11 Jan

On Tuesday night, Peter Laviolette won his 100th game as head coach of the Flyers. In his first season, he led the team to an improbable run to the Stanley Cup Final and ever since has been the unquestioned man in charge. It appears as though the streak of having coaches around for less than three years will stop with Laviolette.

Here are five of his greatest wins since joining the franchise.

Tue, Dec 8, 2009  at NYI 6-2
The Flyers had lost three in a row when they hired Laviolette. They also hadn’t scored in more than two full games. There were growing pains for two more games, but the Flyers showed they comprehended Laviolette’s system in a 6-2 win over the team Laviolette got his first head coaching job with.

Sun, Apr 11, 2010  v. NYR 3-2 SO
These go in chronological order, but this might be the most important of all the Laviolette victories. It appeared as though the Flyers might have a whole summer to rehearse Laviolette’s system, but on the last day of the regular season, they beat the Rangers in a shootout to make the playoffs. From there, they went all the way to the Stanley Cup Final.

Fri, May 7, 2010  v. BOS 5-4 OT
On the brink of elimination, the Flyers fought back. They gave up a two-goal lead in the third period and allowed a game-tying goal in the final minute of regulation. But then Simon Gagne scored in overtime to keep the Flyers alive. In the interest of keeping this list to five, we’ll also put Game 7 here as well where the Flyers were down 3-0 in the first period and came all the way back to shock the Bruins. Game 4 gets the headlining note only because that’s where the comeback started.

Thu, Oct 7, 2010 at PIT 3-2
It was a gutsy move for Laviolette to start rookie Sergei Bobrovsky in a hostile environment, the opening of Consol Energy Center for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Bobrovsky made 29 saves against the Penguins and started the year off with a win.

Tue, Apr 26, 2011 at BUF 5-4 OT
Another elimination game for the Flyers and by the magical presence of Chris Pronger, who only took five shifts in the game when the Flyers were on the power play, they won in overtime to stay alive in the first round of the playoffs. Ville Leino, now a Sabre, scored in overtime to atone for Laviolette starting Michael Leighton. Leighton allowed three goals on eight shots before being pulled. Brian Boucher saved 24-of-25 in relief for the win.

Thu, Dec 29, 2011 at PIT 4-2
The month of December was grueling for the Flyers. Ten of their 13 games came on the road. While the start of the month was great, the Flyers had fallen off a bit, losing four of their last five games and had back-to-back losses coming into Pittsburgh. Laviolette had the team focused and not looking ahead to the Winter Classic. Former Penguins Max Talbot and Jaromir Jagr were each in the starting lineup and had a hand in the win.

Twitter Mailbag: Flyers At The Midway Point

10 Jan

From time to time, we reach into the Twitter machine and address some questions that Flyers fans have. With Tuesday night’s game sending the Flyers to the midway point of the year, this is a good time to take a step back and evaluate.

Here’s some of the best:

@ChristopheTaitt — i’m starting to think all the money the Flyers have in goalies is a waste! wasnt Bryz supposed to be stable goaltender?

Yes, he is. Although he said he knew what it would be like coming to Philly, I think he underestimated all the attention and definitely underestimated the microscope that the sports scene lives under. That said, I really think these last two games we’re seeing him play some really good hockey. Yeah, it’s tough to defend a guy who allowed five goals last game, but two of them were put in by his own teammates. I think we’re seeing a more confident Bryz. The question is whether he loses hope because of a loss that was really on his defense and not him.

@cubishboy — What’s the delay in calling Gus up?

I’m not entirely sure. He is physically ready, that much I know. He’s played five games since returning from a left wrist injury and has three assists in that time. In talking to him after the Outdoor Classic, he says he’s just waiting on the Flyers for a call. Andreas Lilja has been a liability on the back line, but he makes $737,500 and Gustafsson makes $900,000. It behooves the Flyers to use as little of their long-term injured reserve cap relief as possible

@RipVanEichwald — supposing bryz doesn’t turn his game around, are there any outs in his contract?

Right now, no. The school of thought exists that the next CBA might have a “get out of jail free” card to use on one contract. Even if the Flyers got that, they probably wouldn’t use it on Bryzgalov’s contract. The more likely scenario is that they use it on Chris Pronger, who has five years left on his deal after this season.

@Flyerdelphia — If they wanted to call up Leighton does he have to go thru re-entry waivers?

They don’t, but yes, he would.

@John_Devereaux — How realistic do u think getting Shea Weber or Ryan Suter would be? Or do they suck it up and bring up an Erik Gustafsson?

Paul Holmgren is becoming more and more unpredictable. Right now, I think the Flyers will keep with what they have. Come time for the trade deadline (Feb. 27) if the Nashville Predators don’t think they’re making a run, I think the Flyers could go after Shea Weber. To me, Weber looks like Pronger in 1999. I guess we’ll see what Holmgren thinks in late February.

@major78 — …Dave…Why all the turnovers lately? How did Ott shut down our #1 line?…What are the fixes?

Claude Giroux told reporters that it wasn’t so much what the Senators did to him, but rather his own uninspired play. Most of the turnovers lately have come in the Flyers’ own end. The fix is just to play more responsibly defensively. Some passes need to not be made.

@Estebomb — Can the Flyers throw Chris Pronger into a Batman type Lazarus Pit to revive him? What about a time machine?

There are side effects to the Lazarus Pit. What if he comes out as Ra’s al Ghul? As for the time machine, the Flyers don’t have enough cap space for the DeLorean.

Jakub Voracek Finding Other Ways To Contribute

10 Jan

Jakub Voracek didn’t really know what to expect. He was traded to Philadelphia from Columbus, where the last year of his entry-level contract was marred by only one point in his final 16 games and coach Scott Arniel calling out the top-six forward for his conditioning, or, apparently, lack thereof.

“It was the worst time in my life in my NHL career,” said Voracek in early November. “Even though it was a tough situation, in [16] games if you are playing on the first or second line you have to be able to get more than one assist, secondary assist. I mean, somehow you’ve got to get it.

“It’s impossible to not have it, but really that time nothing went in and we didn’t play well as a team. I didn’t play well as a player, point-wise, and the season ended that way. But I did everything in the summer to [not] let it happen again.”

Recognizing the fresh start, Voracek went to Montreal to begin working on his conditioning and on his shot. He was one of the last ones to arrive at camp, but that’s no reflection of his work ethic. He wanted to be in top shape when he arrived.

Voracek came with high expectations in Columbus. He was drafted seventh overall in 2007, and the Blue Jackets were hoping for a 20-goal scorer, but he never seemed to pan out. Many there said that he had a problem with work ethic – but that hasn’t been an issue in Philadelphia.

“I think Jake is one of those guys who has been playing better and better and better as the season goes on,” said linemate Danny Briere. “I think when you go from one team to another, there’s a lot at first. You’re trying to get in as far as a system, teammates, how it works, new house, new place. There was a lot of work into that for him at first. Slowly, he’s starting to get more and more comfortable.”

Voracek has gotten comfortable on the second line. He’s gotten comfortable on the penalty kill. He’s gotten comfortable on the power play. The only thing he’s not comfortable doing, apparently, is shooting. And he knows it, too.

“I have a good shot, I just don’t use it,” said Voracek. “So many times I can shoot it and at the last second, the pass comes in my head. If I change it and I be a little more selfish — I don’t mean I won’t pass — but if the pass is not there and I’m not looking for it and I shoot it, that way I can be better at it. It will be better for me and the team.”

Voracek is eighth on the team with 82 shots taken. He has six goals, but two of which were game winners. On the surface, the total seems low, but his game this year has been finding his teammates. He already has 20 assists, nearly halfway through the season. His career-high is 34, and he’s on pace to beat that by seven. His first instinct is simply to pass.

“It’s tough,” said Voracek. “You have the puck, you have a clean shot, then you see a teammate back door or something. Just that little time, you stop thinking about it. Then when you want to shoot the puck, it’s too late.”

The pucks have only gone in a handful of times for Voracek this season, but he’s been effective in other ways. He sees time on both the penalty kill and the first unit on the power play.

“Well, I was prepared to play power play,” said Voracek. “I wasn’t prepared to play penalty kill. Regardless, I’m playing almost 20 minutes a night, which is great. Penalty kill, power play and when you see the coach trusts you, it’s a good sign.”

The knock in Columbus was against Voracek not living up to the hype. Here in Philadelphia he isn’t expected to be a star and, so far, he’s done everything the Flyers have asked of him.

“I always say if the team is playing well, the player is playing well,” said Voracek. “I think we’re playing very solid hockey games. We are four points out of first.

“It’s hard to say. The team’s playing well and I think I’m where I wanted to be. If the coach trusts you and has confidence in you, it’s always a great sign.”

Flyers’ Coburn Says NHLPA Didn’t Get Fair Shake

8 Jan

WELLS FARGO CENTER — The lockout year nearly killed the NHL. Now they’re back and, some say, better than ever. But in the eyes of the players, the NHL gave reason to believe it could happen again.

On Friday night, the league released a statement saying that the NHL players association declined to consent to the realignment plan and subsequent new playoff format that the NHL Board of Governors voted on in December. As a result, the league said, next year will function just as this year. Same divisions. Same conferences. Same playoff structure.

“We could have worked around it,” said Braydon Coburn, the Flyers player rep. “There was some good ideas there, but it’s tough when you have some suggestions and they just go over unheard.”

While the Flyers were practicing back on New Year’s Day, the NHLPA held a conference call to discuss the matter.

“The main thing is when it came out, different guys had things in question,” said Coburn. “Basically, guys had questions about what was going on, especially with what happens with travel and how many back-to-back games we were gonna be having and actually, how many times guys have to cross the border. That’s a big thing too. I don’t know if you guys know, late at night, there’s a certain [annoyance factor].”

One trip to cover the Western Canadian teams would certainly benefit the players instead of going back and forth between the U.S. and Edmonton or Calgary or Vancouver or Winnipeg. But there is an even bigger issue.

Under the proposed realignment there would be two conferences of eight teams and two conferences of seven teams. Come March and April, that could mean a playoff spot depending on which conference a team is in.

“If you’re in a seven-team conference, you have a 14-percent better chance of making the playoffs than the teams in the eight-team conferences,” said Coburn. “I think there was a little bit of unfairness. That was one of the main sticking points that we wanted to try to keep working around with that issue.”

The NHL made it seem as though it was the NHLPA that wasn’t willing to cooperate.

“It is unfortunate that the NHLPA has unreasonably refused to approve a plan that an overwhelming majority of our clubs voted to support, and that has received such widespread support from our fans and other members of the hockey community, including players,” said NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly in a press release. “We have now spent the better part of four weeks attempting to satisfy the NHLPA’s purported concerns with the plan with no success. Because we have already been forced to delay, and as a result are already late in beginning the process of preparing next season’s schedule, we have no choice but to abandon our intention to implement the realignment plan and modified playoff format for next season.

“We believe the union acted unreasonably in violation of the league’s rights. We intend to evaluate all of our available legal options and to pursue adequate remedies, as appropriate.”

Strong language from both sides insinuates that the first punch may have been thrown in the impending expiration of the collective bargaining agreement. The response from the NHL and their decision to make next season follow the same guidelines as the current season gave fans a reason to worry. But Coburn says he’s not so sure the two are connected.

“I don’t think so,” said Coburn. “I really don’t know what to say to that. We had legit concerns and we brought them up and we said we wanted to keep talking about it and keep expanding on their idea and that obviously — they just went back to what we had this year.”

At this point, there isn’t enough reason to start freaking out about a potential second lockout, but the first punch may have been thrown. The two sides haven’t come to blows quite yet, but if this keeps up…

Gustafsson Ready If Flyers Need Him

6 Jan

CITIZENS BANK PARK — If the Flyers so need him, he’s ready. Erik Gustafsson played his fourth game after rehabbing a left wrist injury of his own and Kimmo Timonen’s left wrist injury might give the Flyers good reason to call him up.

But so far, they haven’t told him anything.

“I’ve played four games now,” said Gustafsson. “The first two games were a little rusty to be honest with you. Last game I thought I played pretty well and then [Friday night] I felt pretty good out there with such an exciting event. You get a lot of energy from that and all the boys were playing well. I don’t know if I played well, but it feels good to win.”

The Phantoms won 4-3 in overtime over the Hershey bears in dramatic fashion. They tied the game with 20.8 seconds left when Gustafsson fed Eric Wellwood for a shot from the right wing that eventually found its way to Phantoms captain Ben Holmstrom in the slot. He deposited the puck behind Braden Holtby for his 10th goal of the year.

Then, less than a minute into overtime, Shane Harper scored on a breakaway.

“It’s unbelievable. The crowd was unbelievable,” said Gustafsson. “The atmosphere was great. To be honest with you, this was probably the best win of my life and it felt great. To be part of that, not only the last minute and the way we won it, just with these guys it was a great feeling. I’ll remember this for the rest of my life.”

And in all the excitement, the wrist is only an afterthought. It feels fine and Gustafsson is ready to get back to NHL action. That could happen as soon as Saturday if Timonen can’t go.

“To be honest with you I try to not think about it as much,” said Gustafsson. “If it happens, it happens and I’m ready to go for sure. The wrist holds up really good so if it happens, I’ll be really happy.”

It was a huge disappointment for Gustafsson to miss time. When he went down injured, he was clearly playing his best hockey at the NHL level. On Nov. 5, his last game with the Flyers, he was a plus-6, played a career-high 23 minutes and got his first NHL point on an assist.

“It was really frustrating at the start there,” said Gustafsson. “I tried to put that aside and then when I had to have the surgery I was trying to stay positive. It was for sure really frustrating, but I’m just gonna keep working hard right now. It feels pretty good right now and I hope I get another crack at it.”

He was a plus-2 with two shots on net in the Outdoor Classic against Hershey and wants to get back to his old form. While he says the conditioning might not completely be there, he’s ready for the call. Whenever that may be.