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4-3 OT Win in Minny, Ghost Injured. Mullen, WJC Wrap, AHL All-Stars, Alumni

January 8, 2016, 2:34 AM ET [630 Comments]
Bill Meltzer
Philadelphia Flyers Blogger •NHL.com • RSSArchiveCONTACT
WRAPUP: FLYERS EARN 4-3 WIN IN MINNY BUT LOSE GOSTISBEHERE

Unable to protect leads of 1-0 and 3-1, the Philadelphia Flyers bounced back to earn their seventh overtime win of the 2015-16 season as defeated the Minnesota Wild by a 4-3 score at the Xcel Energy center in St. Paul on Thursday night. A beautiful tic-tac-toe passing sequence ended with defenseman Michael Del Zotto scoring his second goal of the game to end the game with 37 seconds remaining in the extra frame and the trio of Del Zotto, Jakub Voracek and Claude Giroux out for a long shift.

Apart from Del Zotto's five-on-five and three-on-three tallies for his second and third goals of the season, the Flyers got full-strength goals from Sean Couturier (eighth) and Ryan White (fourth). Brayden Schenn notched a pair of assists, including a nifty play on the backhand off the line rush to set up Del Zotto's goal that gave the Flyers a 2-1 lead at 9:01 of the second period.

Just 52 seconds after Del Zotto's first goal, White extended the lead to 3-1. White arrived as a trailer to pot a long rebound by Chris VandeVelde. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare earned the secondary assist.

For the second straight game, the Flyers received offensive contributions from members of multiple line combinations. Philly took a short-lived 1-0 lead in the first period as the second line trio of Couturier, Schenn and Michael Raffl struck for a goal. Raffl retrieved a long-distance lob pass over defenseman Matt Dumba and gained the offenzive zone. With both Wild defensemen pursuing Raffl as he went behind the net, Couturier skated untouched into the slot to take a pass from Raffl and tuck it home.

Winning goaltender Steve Mason was brilliant at times -- especially in the third period and overtime -- in turning back 31 of 34 shots. Devan Dubnyk stopped 32 of 36 Flyers' offerings.

Minnesota got goals by Marco Scandella (fifth), Jason Zucker (11th) and Zach Parise (15th) -- one per regulation period -- as they erased 1-0 and 3-1 deficits to earn a point in the standings. The latter two goals were unassisted.

Scandella's goal at 14:41 was a heavily screened point shot that Mason was unable to track through two layers of traffic with teammate Radko Gudas out about 10 feet and Minnesota forward Mikael Granlund directly in front of him. Nino Niederreiter earned the lone assist.

The Flyers controlled much of the second period after a very sloppy start to the frame by both clubs. However, the speedy Zucker was able to narrow the gap back to one goal with 4:02 left in the period as he cashed in a Giroux turnover and zoomed off on a breakaway with Gudas in futile pursuit. Zucker made a sharp cut to his backhand and slid the puck through a moving Mason's pads.

Minnesota pressed heavily in the third period but were repeatedly stoned by Mason. Finally, a seemingly routine dump-in by Minnesota quickly turned in disaster for the Flyers. Mason stopped the puck behind the net for defenseman Nick Schultz and started to circle back out to his crease. Under no forechecking pressure, Schultz somehow banked the puck off Mason's leg and the puck went directly to a pouncing Parise directly in front of the cage. Parise tucked the puck into the cage before Mason could get back into net.

That was hardly the way long-time Wild defenseman Schultz -- still the franchise leader in games played and blocked shots -- wanted to remember his 998th career NHL game. Likewise, Moorhead, Minn. native VandeVelde, who had a contingent of family and friends make the 240-plus mile trek to St. Paul, would have preferred to skip the blood and stitches over and near his top lip that came from being struck by a puck in the first period. VandeVelde returned to the game in the middle frame.

The costliest blow of all, however, came at 16:03 of the first period. Minnesota center Mikko Koivu collided knee-to-knee with Flyers rookie defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere and the 16:03 mark. Koivu, playing despite leaving Tuesday's game and being briefly hospitalized as a result of a heavy crash into the end boards, made contact with Gostisbehere's right knee.

Early in November 2014, Gostisbehere tore the anterior cruciate ligament of his left knee and missed the remainder of his rookie season. This injury did not seem as serious at first glance but the prognosis will not become clear until the 22-year-old defenseman is re-evaluated. The Flyers only said it was a "lower-body injury" and that he would not return to Thursday's game.

Koivu was penalized on the play, receiving a tripping minor. Gostisbehere, the NHL's leading rookie scorer among defensemen, briefly returned to the game in the second period but left after his second shift and did not return. The fact that the player was at least able to attempt a return to the game suggests a lesser degree of severity than the partial ACL tear of last season.

With Gostisbehere lost at least for the rest of this game, the Flyers needed their other five defensemen to step up. Del Zotto's two goals, five shots and 27:07 of ice time were the most dramatic contribution from the Philadelphia blueline corps but others stepped us as well. Most notably, Evgeny Medvedev (one assist, plus-three at even strength, two nicely executed takeaways and 20:27 of ice time) helped fill some of the void after Medvedev was a healthy scratch in Tuesday's 4-3 win over the Montreal Canadiens.

With the win, the Flyers (17-15-7, 41 points) crept back within three points of the idle Boston Bruins for the lower wild card seed in the Eastern Conference. Boston plays the current higher wild-card seed, the New Jersey Devils (45 points) on Friday night. The Flyers host the New York Islanders on Saturday afternoon. Each of the Flyers' next nine games are against Eastern Conference opponents.

The Wild (21-11-8, 50 points) currently hold the upper wildcard seed in the Western Conference. However, the club is setting its sights on catching the second-place Chicago Blackhawks (54 points) and/or the third-place St. Louis Blues (52 points) in the Central Division race to earn an automatic playoff spot. Minnesota holds two games in hand on Chicago and three on the Blues.

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WJC WRAPUP: RECORD NUMBER OF FLYERS PROSPECTS

Flyers general manager Ron Hextall and scouting director Chris Pryor led the organization's contingent at the 2015-16 IIHF Under-20 World Championship in Helsinki, Finland. A franchise record seven Flyers affiliated prospects played in the tournament. While Hextall and the Flyers scouts naturally checked in on the play of the organization's prospects, they also focused on the standout contingent of players eligible for the 2016 NHL Draft as well as other organizations' prospects who could be potential trade targets down the road and players who slipped through the cracks of the 2014 and/or 2015 drafts without being selected.

On Wednesday morning -- hours before announcing the trade that sent Vincent Lecavalier and Luke Schenn to the Los Angeles Kings and brought young center Jordan Weal, a 2016 third-round pick and significant salary cap relief and roster breathing room to Philadelphia -- Hextall met with the media at the Skate Zone in Voorhees, NJ, to discuss his impressions of the tournament in general and on the seven Flyers' prospects in particular.

"First of all it’s a great experience for those kids. I think to play at that high a level and that big a stage, the experience for them is invaluable. So obviously, we’re happy to have as many guys as we had," said Hextall.

The GM added that making the World Junior Championship roster for a national team is a tremendous honor but it's not the be-all and end-all of whether a player will go on to play in the NHL or even the AHL. The Flyers have other prospects, most notably 2014 second-round pick Nicolas Aube-Kubel and 2015 free agent signee defenseman Philippe Myers, who are having strong junior campaigns but were not considered for the Canadian national team. 2015 fourth-round pick Mikhail Vorobyov (now playing in the KHL for Salavat Yulaev Ufa after going on a tear for Ufa's junor team) could be a candidate for the Russian WJC team next year.

"Certainly it’s nice to have seven players there. It doesn’t mean they’re all going to make it. It means that they’re top players right now in their age group for their countries. They all obviously have a lot of work to do. But like I said, it’s an invaluable experience. It is the direction we’re headed. Every game they play, every day they practice they get better. To play on that type of a stage, the experience.... those kids will never play under more pressure than that. It’s invaluable," Hexall said.

"That’s high stakes for those kids. Certainly the highest stakes they’ve ever played for. You come back, you understand the nuances of getting ready for a big game. Performing in a big game, performing under pressure. We were thrilled when we learned we had that many kids on the teams.’’

Two players under Flyers entry-level contracts -- 2015 first-round pick Ivan Provorov and 2014 sixth-round pick Radel Fazleev -- won silver medals with Team Russia at this year's tournament.

Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL) defenseman Provorov played strong, sometimes even downright dominant, two-way hockey throughout most of the tournament. He also racked up eight assists along the way and was instrumental both in the Russians' dramatic comeback win in overtime over underdog Denmark in the quarterfinals and for getting the gold medal game to overtime when the Russians appeared to be fated to lose both games in regulation. He was also a tower of strength for his team as it successfully protected a one-goal lead against Team USA in the third period of the semifinals.

"He’s a very high level player. I think the impressive thing over there to play on that big of a stage and to make the same play in the last minute that you would make in the first minute is very impressive, especially for a kid at that age," Hextall said of Provorov.

“I think his level of poise, his understanding of the game, his reads all over the ice – offensively, defensively – they’re very good. So, he certainly was a top player over there. I think you could argue he was one of the top players in the whole tournament.’’

Naturally, the question arose about whether Provorov an inside track to earn a starting job in the NHL with the Flyers out of training camp in September 2016. Hextall did not bite, sticking instead to his mantra of patience and requiring prospects, no matter where they are drafted, to earn their spot with their performance among and against professional-grade players.

"They have to earn their way onto the team, just like every other young player. I think we've proven we're not (against) putting players in the minors with big salaries, even though we don't like doing that. But we're willing to do that if someone earns a spot. If these kids come in and earn a spot, they earn a spot. We're not going to go in a direction and say, 'Well, we're going young' and just put kids on the team because they're young. It's not good for the kids and not good for this franchise," Hextall said.

Fazleev, who is likely to join the Phantoms next year, plays an offensive role in the WHL at the top of the lineup for the Calgary Hitmen. The role he played for the Russian team at the WJC -- more a checking role with offensive production a secondary responsibility -- is more likely to reflect what will be asked of him at the professional level. The only question mark about Fazleev as a pro prospect is his feet: There is still significant room to improve his skating.

"His overall game is really strong," Hextall said. "I saw him in Calgary this year and that's where I saw the offensive part _ the QB on the power play, he makes plays. And even than he was playing a two-way game. He's playing solid defensive hockey in the tournament over there. He did make plays, he had chances. His work ethic is high end (as is) his commitment to the game and his commitment to the team. He's not a real flashy player, but there's a lot of substance there. We really like the way he plays."

Team Canada, which lost two games in the preliminary round and then exited in the medal round quarterfinals after a 6-5 regulation loss to eventual gold medalist Finland, has been heavily criticized for everything from its roster choices to the coaching job and preparation that Dave Lowry provided to the team. Hockey Canada head Tom Renney defensively denied any mistakes in the management of the team, instead putting most or all of the blame on the teenage players for under-achieving.

From a Flyers standpoint, the assignment of 2014 first-round pick Travis Sanheim to a sixth defenseman and offensive specialist role and 2015 first-rounder Travis Konecny spending much of the tournament on Canada's fourth line was perhaps a bit frustrating.

Sanheim is not nearly as bad defensively as some made him out to be, and he often sat for long stretches of game even after turning in quality shifts and making things happen offensively. Konency, who will also be age-eligible to play in next year's WJC, eventually received an ice-time boost but still remained outside the circle of the players in whom Lowry decided to sink or swim -- and eventually sank -- when all the chips were down.

For his part, Hextall was philosophical about Team Canada's usage of Sanheim and Konecny. Both players made timely contributions -- Konecny the game's first goal and Sanheim a game-tying assist in a seesaw third period -- of the quarterfinal game against Finland.

“You know what, it’s easy to say you’re disappointed. But those kids being there is no different than Sam Morin last year [as a seventh defenseman for gold-medalist Canada]. Those kids being there and being on Team Canada, playing under a microscope like that, is an experience that’s going to benefit them their whole career. So, do I wish they would have played a little more? Yeah. I do," Hextall said.

“On the other hand, I feel very fortunate for our organization that they got that experience on that stage and they both did some good things. I mean, Travis Konecny made the most of his ice time as the tournament went along, scored a big goal for them. And quite frankly, he played very well. He was noticeable every time he was on the ice.’’

Both Sanheim and Konecny are under NHL entry-level contracts to the Flyers that slid for the 2015-16 campaign to the WHL's Calgary Hitmen and the OHL's Ottawa 67s respectively. Following the tournament, Konecny was traded within the OHL from Ottawa (where he served as team captain) to the Sarnia Sting; a deeper club with a superior record. Sarnia is owned and coached by former Flyers defenseman and former development coach Derian Hatcher.

Neither of the two Swedish Flyers draftees at the WJC -- 2014 fifth-round pick Oskar Lindblom or 2015 third-round pick Felix Sandström -- are presently under NHL entry-level but both are players on whom the organization is high. Organizational sources have said the Flyers plan to talk with Lindblom after this season about coming over to North America next season, but are also willing to wait until the 2017-18 season if he feels he needs one extra year to feel ready. Both the 19-year-old Lindblom and the 18-year-old Sandström are members of SHL team Brynäs IF Gävle.

Lindblom had a good WJC tournament last year, including a game in which he registered a hat trick, and played among Sweden's top two lines again this year in conjunction with LA Kings prospect Adrian Kempe and Detroit Red Wings hopeful Axel Holmström.

Lindblom has significantly improved his skating (considered his biggest weakness in his draft year) and established himself as an NHL prospect with potential top-nine or even top-six upside. He plays a strong game along the boards and in front of the net but is also a responsible defensive forward. This year, Lindblom finished with six points (three goals, three assists) in seven WJC games.

"Oskar, I thought he had a really good tournament. His net-front presence and hands, tipping pucks, and his understanding of the game and finding the soft sports for scoring chances (was evident). He's a really, really good player. Our scouts did a hell of a job of finding him," Hextall said.

Last year, the Junior Crowns looked very strong in the preliminary round -- like a genuine gold medal threat, in fact -- but then folded their tents in the medal round. The same thing happened this year after an achingly narrow semifinal loss to archrival Finland. Much of the Swedish team barely went through the motions in the bronze medal game against speedy Team USA, especially on the defensive side of the puck.

Unfortunately, Sandström paid repeatedly for the sins of the team in front of him. The 18-year-old netminder was strafed for eight goals on 29 shots; many of which were close to unstoppable and several of which saw Sandström abandoned with multiple USA players nearby. The results were ugly, and he was left in to absorb the entire beating.

"Well, Felix, holy smokes! You might have been the good Lord to stop most of those goals. It was a tough game. Sweden was a very good team and I was surpised that happened to them," Hextall said.

"I looked at Felix and said, 'How many goals were even remotely stoppable?' Again, it's good experience for him. The one [preliminary round] game there he went in with 3 minutes left. I'm still not sure what happened to the other goalie, but he went in with a one-goal lead and made two huge saves for them, so I think the character of Felix showed up there and it'll be valuable for him....I thought for the most part, he played well."

Sandström spent most of the tournament backing up 19-year-old New York Islanders prospect Linus Söderström. The Flyers prospect, who spent an early season stint of getting several consecutive starts for Brynäs when veteran starter Bernhard Starkbaum went down with an injury but more recently has battled a flu bug and irregular SHL playing time, was spotted a WJC start against Denmark, seeing just nine routine shots for the entire game and stopping them all. For an undisclosed reason, he also was pressed into late-game relief for Söderström with 3:49 remaing in the third period of Sweden's 5-2 preliminary round win over Canada.

As with most every goaltending prospect in the world, Sandström will need multiple years of experience before being ready for the American Hockey League, much less consideration for an NHL job. He likely has the inside track to become Sweden's WJC starter next year, when the tournament returns to Canada.

The Flyers' final WJC participant this year was diminutive and physically frail but spirited and skilled Czech forward David Kase, whom they drafted in the fifth round of the 2015 NHL Draft. This was actually Kase's second Under-20 Worlds for Team Czech Republic and he served as an alternate captain. He is a shoo-in for the roster again next year.

Kase, who attended the Flyers Development Camp in July and left a good impression with his enthusiasm despite speaking very little English, has twice been selected in the CHL Import Draft and twice elected to stay home. Unfortunately, he has ended up in a common conundrum: he's too advanced for the Czech junior league to be suitable but physically ready to receive regular ice time against grown men in the Czech Extraliga. He has spent time this season on loan to a Division One (minor league) club and fared well but, again, the caliber of play in the league is not very good.

Playing against suitably skilled under-20 opposition from other countries, Kase held his own at the WJC. He quickly has become a player many in the organization -- including Hextall -- are pulling for to add some desperately needed muscle to his small frame.

"David plays a real honest game. He's a little pitbull; he just needs to get a little bigger. Right now, he's a pitbull in a poodle's body," Hextall said.

"But we like the way he plays and competes. He's just a dog out there, [meaning] he hounds the puck.The skill level is there. He is a smart player. He stays on the right side of the puck. He needs to get stronger. For where we got him in the draft and his upside, we're very happy. He's a great kid and he just loves to play the game."

While Kase is a skilled player, he is not a Johnny Gaudreau or Danny Briere or on par with Konecny in pure skill. As such, unless he has a very late growth spurt or at least goes on a strict conditioning regimen that adds considerable muscle to his frame -- the average physical training standards of the Czech League are behind the Swedish, Finnish and North American circuits, which is another reason why Kase really didn't help his short-term cause by staying home an extra year -- Kase is most realistically on an AHL track at present at this very early stage of his development due mostly to his physical limitations.

However, as Hextall noted, Kase is a hard worker and yearns to succeed in the game, so he has at least a shot of advancement. The son of a coach, he is also a quick learner with a good feel for the game. His hockey brain enables him to make intelligent reads, often win the puck against bigger players and has the hands to put the puck where he wants it to go. Skating is also a non-issue and he plays a responsible game away from the puck.

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MULLEN FAMILY EAGER FOR SPECIAL SATURDAY

Flyers assistant coach Joe Mullen, a Hockey Hall of Fame inductee, is the father of two sons who have played professional hockey. Twenty-nine year old son, Patrick, is a defenseman and alternate captain with the AHL's Binghamton Senators. Older son Michael, 32, was a forward at the ECHL level whose playing career was prematurely cut short by post-concussion syndrome.

"Mike had a rough time with the concussions," the family patriarch said after a recent Flyers practice at the Skate Zone. "He went through what a lot of players do; the headaches, the mood swings and all that. He had to stop playing."

However, Mike Mullen's dream of a career in hockey never died. Hockey is too much in his blood and his soul. Apart from his father and brother, Mullen is the nephew of former NHL multi-time 20-goal scoring forward Brian Mullen and minor league forward Tom Mullen Jr. One generation earlier, the late Tom Mullen Sr. was a longtime member of the ice crew at Madison Square Garden. His sons, including Joe, grew up in rough-and-tumble Hell's Kitchen. Mike is also on the roll call of American Hockey League officials.

With the playing avenue closed to him, Mike elected to pursue training as a referee. Knowing the abuse that officials often receive at all levels of the game but especially at the developmental levels, Joe wanted to be sure Mike was prepared for all the challenges that come with donning the striped shirt.

"I've always known that the officials have the hardest job on the ice, so the only thing I asked him was if he was ready to totally commit to it, and give his all," Joe Mullen said. "Mike said he was and he has done that. I've only heard good things about his work and his work ethic."

On Saturday night, Mike Mullen will referee the Harvard vs. Quinnipiac game at Madison Square Garden: the same place where his grandfather used to work, where his father had many memorable games as a visiting player and his uncle Brian played four seasons (1987-88 to 1990-91) as a member of the Rangers.

The Flyers have an afternoon home game against the Islanders on Saturday. However, Joe Mullen said that he plans after the Flyers game to make his way to Manhattan to watch Mike officiate. Asked if having a son as a refeee gives himself a somewhat different perspective on the game, Mullen laughed.

"Yeah, a little bit," he said. "I'm gonna have to root for the zebras!"

Mullen was assigned to work the game by ECAC director of officiating Paul Stewart, a former NHL player and longtime referee. Stewart, who frequently advocates for former players to consider officiating careers and had a hand in the development of Dean Morton (the current lone NHL referee who also played in the league), wrote a related blog centered around Mike Mullen's quest to become a referee.

"Not everyone who plays is suited to officiate," Stewart said. "But Mike has all the tools to do it: the skating, the conditioning, the moxie, the coachability and the mental toughness. I told him the toughest team he'll see will be the Green Team -- in other words, the envious people who will say he's out there because of his last name. That's bullcrap. He is out there because he earned it. He earned it on his own merits and he's had the right attitude and commitment from day one. I'm proud of all my officials but Mike Mullen is the prototype for the kind of former player we need to do a better job of recruiting to the officiating side."

Said Joe Mullen, "It's a different side of the game, and it's a tough and thankless side. Whether Mike is playing or officiating or whatever he's doing, the only thing I ask is for him to be dedicated to it. I'm proud of him."

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TWO PHANTOMS NAMED TO AHL All-STAR GAME

Third-year pro center Nick Cousins and second-year pro goaltender Anthony Stolarz have been selected to represent the Lehigh Valley Phantoms at the 2015-16 American Hockey League All-Star Game on Feb. 1 in Syracuse, NY.

Cousins, 22, had a breakthrough AHL season last year and has carried it over into the 2015-16 campaign. Thus far, the center has posted 29 points (eight goals, 21 assists) in 28 games for the Phantoms. He spent a four-game NHL stint with the Flyers earlier this season, in addition to being with the big club for the final 11 games of the 2015-16 campaign.

Stolarz, 21, has been one of the AHL and the Flyers' organization's most improved players at any position. He has made dramatic progress from his rookie campaign to his second. In 23 games played to date, Stolarz has posted a 12-7-3 record, 2.18 goals against average and .925 save percentage.

The Phantoms (17-16-2-1) return to action on Friday, hosting the powerhouse Wilkes Barre/ Scranton Penguins (24-8-0-1) at the PPL Center in Allentown. Game time is 7:05 p.m. ET.

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FLYERS ALUMNI TEAM: UPCOMING GAME SCHEDULE

In addition to the upcoming Orange vs. Black Flyers Alumni Game at Santander Arena in Reading, PA on Feb. 5 -- an event that will bring together the decades as players from every era of franchise history participate -- the Flyers Alumni Team has a busy upcoming slate of games to continue the tradition of directly raising money for worthy charities, families in need and community-based organizations in the Delaware Valley.

During the 2015 calendar year, benefit games and associated events involving the Flyers Alumni Team raised more than a half-million dollars, with all net proceeds donated directly to the beneficiary groups. Following is a rundown of the next four events after the Reading game:

Feb. 20, 2016: 4th Annual Center for Autism Winter Classic (Ice Works, Aston, PA, 8:15 p.m.). Each year, the Flyers Alumni Team takes on the CFA Puzzlers to raise money for the work the Center does on behalf of autism education and support. Last year, the event raised $28,428.

Feb. 27, 2016: Checkmates IBD Benefit (University of Pennsylvania Class of 1923 Arena, Philadelphia, PA, 7:30 p.m.) The Flyers Alumni Team will once again raise money for the support of the department of gastroenterology and hepatology at Thomas Jefferson University.

March 12, 2016: Junior Achievement of Delaware Game (Fred Rust Ice Arena, University of Delaware, Newark, DE, TBA). Last season's game was a big hit, raising approximately $125,000.

April 3, 2016: 12th Annual Goals for Giving Benefit: The Power of the Game (Northeast Philadelphia Flyers Skate Zone, Philadelphia, PA, 1:30 p.m.): Last year's event alone raised over $107,000. Over the past 11 years, the NHS Goals for Giving Hockey Benefits have raised about $506,000 to directly support the programs and services.

HockeyBuzz will have more information about each of these events as they draw nearer, including ticket-purchase and donation information.
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