Just hours into training camp, Flyers fans were already holding their breath regarding the status of star Claude Giroux, who quickly tweaked his groin during the very first practice session of camp. Luckily for Philadelphia, Giroux made a quick recovery and returned tonight. With his help, they were able to defeat the New York Rangers 4-2 at the Wells Fargo Center.
Giroux's return may have been the top story, but it was the team's second line that stood out most on the ice. The new Matt Read-Sean Couturier-Wayne Simmonds line scored two of the team's four goals - a Sean Couturier wrister that was deflected past Rangers goalie Cam Talbot in the first period, and a Wayne Simmonds deflection off a Matt Read shot in the second period. Nicklas Grossmann added a rare goal off a Jason Akeson feed, and Read closed out the scoring with an empty netter. The Flyers definitely iced a stronger team than the Rangers tonight so the win wasn't exactly unexpected, but it was an all-around solid performance from the Orange and Black across the board.
Ten more observations on the game:
- Claude Giroux made his first preseason appearance, and looked no worse for the wear. He finished with no points, but he was moving well all night, looked at home on the power play, and made some very slick passes that simply were not buried by his teammates. It's still great to see him back for a few games left before the end of the preseason, to help him to get back into a rhythm with his linemates prior to season start. He did look rusty on a few give-and-gos in the offensive zone, but that rust should disappear quickly.
- It seems like Mark Streit is often mentioned when running down the list of "bad Flyers contracts," mostly because he's older and signed to a long-term deal. Well, Streit was fantastic to close out the 2013-14 season, and he looks just as good so far in the preseason this year - both on the power play at the point and at even strength on the rush. He'll almost definitely be the Flyers' top scoring defenseman this season, and don't be shocked if he's the team's best defenseman, period.
- Samuel Morin had another solid all-around game tonight. If he was to make the team (still unlikely), Morin would be an immediate asset on the penalty kill, where he uses his size and long reach to great effect. Despite being a very good skater, Morin seems to slow the game down when the puck is on his stick, and is very deliberate with his passes. When he has the puck, it's a fantastic trait, but his reactions without the puck can be a bit slow as well.
- The Flyers' new second line of Matt Read, Sean Couturier and Wayne Simmonds definitely showcased their potential tonight. They scored two goals, one courtesy of a slick move on a rush by Couturier, and the other a result of sharp passing and a gorgeous deflection from Simmonds on a Read shot. Simmonds' grind-it-out game in the corners complemented the Read-Couturier pairing well tonight, and the Flyers' young center even looked solid carrying the puck into the offensive zone on his own, an area of his game that could use improvement.
- Zac Rinaldo had a surprisingly effective game tonight. Not only did the fourth line of Rinaldo, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Jason Akeson consistently generate pressure in the New York zone, Rinaldo even looked effective on the PK, as he found ways to harrass Ranger forwards along the boards all night long.
- At some point, the Flyers are going to have to decide what to do with Jason Akeson. He may not have the measurables that Ron Hextall seems to love, but Akeson simply knows where to go with the puck more often than not, which results in positive possession and scoring chances. However, with the top three lines seemingly locked in, Akeson would need to win a job on the 4th line, at wing. He looked great there tonight, even setting up Nicklas Grossmann for a goal, but Akeson does not fit the grinder style that the Flyers as an organization tend to prefer in a 4th line role. If he doesn't earn a spot, he could be kept as the 14th forward, or waived to the Phantoms. Unfortunately, he could then be claimed by any NHL team, which is certainly a risk.
- And yes, that was not a typo. Nicklas Grossmann scored a goal tonight. Expect his next goal to come sometime in 2015.
- Pierre-Edouard Bellemare very well may have earned himself a spot on the roster with his performance tonight. You can see why the front office was so impressed by the Frenchman - he has great speed but also the size and strength to hold on to the puck down low. Blair Jones has not played poorly in the preseason, but if you're looking for the Flyers to employ a more skilled 4th line this year, root for Bellemare to win the 4C role.
- Instead of Brayden Schenn, Vincent Lecavalier was used in Scott Hartnell's old spot on the first power play unit with Claude Giroux back in the lineup. It appears that Vinny will get the first shot at filling that coveted role. While Lecavalier brings the size to replace Hartnell, it remains to be seen whether he still has the physicality to hold his position in the slot. If not, I'm sure Schenn will be right there to replace him.
- Another fairly invisible game for RJ Umberger. The positive of his preseason is that he has not been noticeable in a bad way thus far; the flipside is that he hasn't been noticeable, period. It's still early, but Umberger has looked like a fourth liner this preseason.