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Meltzer: Opportunity Awaits

Konecny update, Mrazek settles in and more from Flyers practice on Wednesday

by Bill Meltzer @billmeltzer

The Flyers returned to practice on Wednesday, preparing for Thursday's meeting with the Columbus Blue Jackets at the Wells Fargo Center. For the Flyers, the game is an opportunity to, at bare minimum with a win, remain two points ahead (with a tiebreaker advantage) of the New Jersey Devils for third place in the Metropolitan Division and to continue to add a cushion to the current five-point advantage (plus tiebreaker edge) the Flyers have over lower wildcard team Columbus. 

"We've worked to be where we're at, but now we have to keep going," Flyers captain Claude Giroux said. 

Here are four storylines from Wednesday's practice leading into Thursday's tilt.

1. Good news on Konecny

The Flyers had some encouraging news to report on the status of top line right winger Travis Konecny, who was in discomfort with a lower-body issue for much of Tuesday's 3-2 overtime win over the Montreal Canadiens. Konecny is probable to play on Thursday, according to general manager Ron Hextall. 

Forward Jori Lehtera is dealing with an illness and did not practice on Wednesday. Otherwise, the Flyers had a full complement of players on the ice at the Skate Zone. 

2. Penalty-free streak

On Tuesday night, the Flyers became just the second team in National Hockey League history to go three full games without taking a penalty that left the team shorthanded. There have been emotional games of late - especially a fight-filled game on Sunday at Madison Square Garden against the Rangers - but the Flyers have avoided minor penalties. 

How have they done it? 

Part of it has been through keeping their feet moving and tracking their checks closely - which greatly reduces the risk of holding, hooking, slashing and tripping infractions - as well as by keeping their emotions in check. 

"The checking tightens up this time of year. You aren't going to go every game without taking a penalty, but our guys have been doing a good job of staying away from the situations that often leave you having to play shorthanded," Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said.

"If we have to kill two penalties or three penalties in a game, we can do that. But when you get into four, five or six, there starts to be a trickle-down [effect], even beyond the chances you give up. You take guys, especially ones who don't kill penalties, out of the rhythm of the game. You overtax some of your personnel. Sometimes, you can get away with it but it's not a way you're going to have success very often."

3. Mrazek's first practice

Newcomer Petr Mrazek arrived in Philadelphia on Tuesday morning with just enough time to get to the Wells Fargo Center, change into his gear and participate in the morning skate. He backed up rookie Alex Lyon in the game against Montreal. Lyon earned the win with 25 saves on 27 shots.

On Wednesday, Mrazek put in his first practice with his new team. 

"It's been a busy two days but it's very exciting to get going. I felt good out there today, for sure," Mrazek said. 

With only one full practice opportunity before Thursday, Mrazek will focus on keeping communications with his defensemen as simple and unambiguous as possible. There will be adjustments to make. For example, Mrazek is known as a rather aggressive puckhandling goalie who also likes to keep play moving when possible. In his early games with the Flyers, he may initially be a little more inclined to freeze the puck in front and venture less behind the net. 

4. Lindblom fits in quickly

Oskar Lindblom made his NHL debut and played a strong two-way game. He forechecked well, made some good defensive plays and had a couple scoring chances in one sequence although he finished the night without a point. 

"Oskar fit right right in, as we knew he would," Hakstol said. "He did some good things with his line, and he came close to making a few good plays happen for us."

Lindblom skated 15:11 across 18 shifts and had one shot on goal on four attempts. He played on a line with Scott Laughton (14:27 of ice time, four shots) and Michael Raffl (16:20 TOI).

"Oskar is a really smart player. First game looked really comfortable out there making plays. He is good along the boards and Raff's really good," Laughton said.

"Both big bodies and just a really smart player. He knows how to get to the front of the net, create traffic and get to loose pucks. So I had a really fun time playing with him and hopefully we can keep going forward."

Lindblom said that there was nothing that particularly surprised him on Thursday, adding that the Lehigh Valley Phantoms system under Scott Gordon is not all that different from the expectations Hakstol has for his forwards on the NHL team. Although he is not familiar yet with the Blue Jackets' tendencies, he said that he hoped to absorb as much as possible from the pre-scout meeting ahead of the game.

As for his NHL debut, Lindblom said the nervousness subsided quickly and he enjoyed the experience.

"It was fun. The guys helped a lot, talked to me a lot, so that's been a positive," Lindblom said.

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