The Flyers returned to the Skate Zone on Monday for the first of three practice days in advance of Thursday night's game at the Wells Fargo Center against the Chicago Blackhawks. The main focus was to stay sharp over an extended break and, as Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol is fond of saying, "to put in a good workday."
Video: Coach on Manning, Gostisbehere and Hagg
Here are four storylines to follow as the week progresses:
A BRIEF RESPITE
The Flyers just came through a busy stretch of the season, which included seven games in 12 nights that concluded with Saturday's 5-4 home shootout loss to the Colorado Avalanche. The team is currently on a four-night schedule hiatus. When the schedule resumes on Thursday, the Flyers will begin another grueling stretch that will see the team play 21 times in a 45-night span, including multiple back-to-backs & 3-in-4 game gauntlets in that space leading up to the league-wide Christmas break.
As such, it is crucial to make efficient use of the available practice time and opportunities for rest.
"Every team goes through it at different times of the season," Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere said. "We have to make use of the time we have right now. We know Chicago is a tough team with a lot of firepower and they have a hot goalie [Corey Crawford]. So we have to come out ready for Thursday and go from there."
GHOST ON VERGE OF HISTORY?
"Ghost" has played 154 regular season games as a Flyer. He has produced 99 points to date. If he has one point within the next eight games, he will surpass Behn Wilson for the fastest to reach 100 career points among all defensemen who began their NHL career with Philadelphia. Hockey Hall of Famer Mark Howe, who played in the WHA and then joined the NHL with the Hartford Whalers before being traded to the Flyers, holds the franchise defenseman record (122 games) for the fastest to 100 points as a Flyer.
Wayne Simmonds said that the hard-shooting, elusive skating Gostisbehere is a unique talent among the players with whom he's been teammates.
"I can't really think of another guy I'd compare Ghost to as a player," Simmonds said. "But you can see what he brings to our hockey team in terms of the energy and his skill level."
Hakstol said, in absence of Andrew MacDonald and Radko, there had been internal discussion as to whether to play Gostisbehere on the right side of his current pairing with Brandon Manning or to keep him on the left side (where he's spent much of this season and had some of the best success of his still-young career). Ultimately, it was decided to have Manning play his off-side and keep Gostisbehere on the left.
PRAISE FOR LEHTERA
Jori Lehtera spent the first six games of the season as a healthy scratch. He initially got into the lineup, playing left wing, during a short-term injury absence for Jordan Weal. Later, when the still-sidelined Nolan Patrick went down, Lehtera moved back to his natural center position.
Although he did not have points to show for it, the Finnish center was among the Flyers' more effective forwards in the 2-0 road win last Thursday against his former St. Louis Blues teammates. He followed it up with another solid two-way effort on Saturday. While these have been two of his top performances to date, Hakstol believes Lehtera has been effective.
"I don't think I would limit it to [the last] two. I think Jori has played well. He obviously started at left wing when he came into the lineup, but with Nolan being out of the lineup he's moved to the middle where he's comfortable. He's done a very good job and he's jumped on the PP unit and done a good job - very good - at net front. Overall, he's been a positive player for us," Hakstol said.
On Monday, Hakstol said that Lehtera's steady play in the middle has had an ancillary benefit elsewhere in the lineup, even with Patrick sidelined: There has not been any thought or discussion about potentially breaking up the red hot top line trio of Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier and Jakub Voracek to have Giroux and Couturier center different lines.
TOUR OF DUTY AT PRACTICE
While Monday's practice was a regular November morning at the rink in many regards, it was a special day for another reason for many of the Flyers players, as well as members of the Flyers Alumni.
The Flyers are holding Military Appreciation Night on Saturday, Nov. 11 (Veterans Day).
In advance of the game, current Flyers Wayne Simmonds and Brian Elliott hosted a dozen members of the U.S. Airforce for an on-ice hockey clinic after Monday's practice. Also on hand were several Flyers teammates, including Taylor Leier and Matt Read. Flyers Alumni president Brad Marsh (who also serves the Flyers as the organization's Director of Community Development) and Bob "the Hound" Kelly (the Flyers Ambassador of Hockey) helped run the session on the ice.
Some of the Flyers players have military members in their families. For example, Elliott's wife, an American, is in the military. Read comes from a Canadian military family. As excited as the Air Force members were to be on an NHL rink with current and past Flyers players, the Flyers and Alumni on-hand were equally excited by their guests' presence.
"I think I asked more questions than they did," Elliott said. "It's important not just to say thank you for serving our country but also to listen to their experiences. Some of the people who were here just got back from being overseas. We may think we know what their experiences are like, or we may have family or friends that have served, but it's a different reality when it's first-hand."
These servicemen and women will also be attending the Flyers game on Saturday evening as special guests of Simmonds, who regularly hosts military members in his personal suite as a part of his "Wayne's Warriors" initiative.
"Usually, I get to meet the people after the game. This time, I got a chance to meet them ahead of the game, and that was great," Simmonds said.