The first week of preseason is the fun one. Fans get a glimpse of the organization's young prospects, who are desperate to impress. Week two, however, is the more important part of the preseason schedule for the veterans. In a low-pressure environment, the goal for vets is to slowly ramp up the intensity while staying healthy for the upcoming season opener.
Unfortunately, avoiding injuries was not something the Flyers could do tonight.
The Rangers came away with a 3-2 overtime victory over Philadelphia, but a defeat in a meaningless game won't frighten fans too much. But they will be rightfully concerned after three key Flyers - Jakub Voracek, Michael Raffl and Matt Read - all suffered injuries during tonight's contest.
Raffl's injury is the most worrying, as he left the bench entirely in the third period and did not return. The injury itself was described by Ron Hextall as an "upper-body injury," a suitably vague explanation. Raffl, who had looked fantastic in camp and was poised to earn a larger role this year (especially on the power play), would be a big loss.
Matt Read and Jakub Voracek also were banged up. Read got caught up in a collision at center ice in the second period, and after showing a noticeable limp, missed quite a few shifts during the rest of the contest.
Voracek was tripped up by Rick Nash in overtime and fell hard on his arm, resulting in the Flyers' star having trouble making it back to his feet. By the end of the game, however, Voracek seemed more angry at the referees for missing Nash's trip than in pain from the fall, and he stated after the game that he was fine. Still, considering Sean Couturier moving from "totally fine" after a Jarret Stoll slash to "out with an upper-body injury," it's tough to blame Flyers fans for continuing to hold their collective breaths.
As for the game itself, the Flyers used a formula that became commonplace in the 2014-15 season - get dominated territorially by the opposition, and depend on Steve Mason's stellar netminding to bail them out. It nearly worked, as Mason looked every bit the Vezina Trophy contender that he was last year, and only a late game-tying tally from Chris Krieder pushed the game to a meaningful overtime.
The three-on-three overtime was unfortunately marred by missed calls that went New York's way. After missing the obvious trip on Voracek, the officials awarded Keith Yandle a penalty shot due to a Scott Laughton "hook" that looked much more like a perfectly-timed stick lift. Yandle, of course, then buried the ensuing penalty shot to clinch the victory for the Rangers.
In the end, the preseason outcome is insignificant compared to the statuses of Voracek, Raffl and Read. All three are expected to play a major scoring role for Philadelphia in 2015-16, and injuries that force one or more of the three players to miss extended time during the regular season would be devastating to a team already expected to finish near the playoff bubble. Hopefully, team doctors will have only good news to report over the next 24 hours.
Some other observations regarding the game:
- In terms of performance, the story of the game was Steve Mason, who faced a barrage of shots and nearly stole this game for the Flyers. It may be preseason, but Mason does not look like he'll need to play his way into shape - he's ready for opening night right now.
- The defense, on the other hand, was the disaster that so many have feared it will be. Granted, the Flyers were missing Michael Del Zotto and Evgeni Medvedev, but five of the six active defensemen tonight (only exception being Brandon Manning) are expected to play a major role this season. As a unit, they were a mess. There were good plays here and there, but the defense mostly struggled to initiate the breakout and failed miserably in rush coverage. They'll get reinforcements from Del Zotto and Medvedev in the regular season, but anyone hoping to be reassured by the preseason play of the defense came away terrified after tonight's game.
- Radko Gudas has been a major disappointment so far. While his career stats paint a picture of a defenseman with offensive instincts, Gudas has looked horrific with the puck on his stick in preseason. Rumors have surfaced that Luke Schenn may be on the trading block, but if the plan is to replace Schenn with Gudas, the organization may want to hold off until Gudas shows signs of improvement. And that's not impossible - don't forget that Nick Schultz was painful to watch during last year's preseason, and he became a steady contributor in the regular season. But it would still be nice to see something from Gudas before the puck drops next Thursday.
- Despite the fact that it was his turnover that caused the Yandle breakaway and penalty shot, Scott Laughton was impressive tonight. He played the entire game with jump in his step, and for the first time in preseason games, he resembled the hard-working forward that the coaches have praised at camp. And while the injuries from tonight could really test the Flyers, they also could open a door for Laughton to prove himself at the NHL level to start the year. At least tonight, he looked like a player up to the challenge.
- The power play, while a bit too focused on getting the perfect shots, looks close to regular season ready. Wayne Simmonds potted a goal in his office right in front of the net soon after an interference call in the second period, and puck movement was strong throughout. It doesn't seem like Dave Hakstol has made too many tweaks thus far to the man advantage structure, and it seems unlikely that any are really necessary.