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What we learned: Flyers vs. Islanders preseason opener

Some observations for your morning

NHL: Preseason-Philadelphia Flyers at New York Islanders Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The Flyers’ preseason kicked off yesterday, and with it came our first major chance to get acquainted and reacquainted with the prospects and still-on-the-bubble veterans. The Flyers dominated early, taking a two goal lead in the second period, and then subsequently giving up two unanswered goals in regulation, and a third to seal an Islanders overtime win. And while the game likely didn’t go exactly how the Flyers would have hoped, it served as a useful evaluative tool, and some people and things certainly stood out.

1. Oskar Lindblom seals his readiness

Coming into training camp— and July’s development camp, even— Lindblom was seen as one of the frontrunners among the forward group to snatch up a roster spot for the regular season, and with good reason. He has presented little short of a complete game, and he emphasized this completeness in yesterday’s meeting against the Isles. Beyond the obvious factors of offensive production— he generated five shots on goal for the afternoon— he also flashed his much talked about improved skating, as well as his strength on the boards. His game was not— and will likely never be— terribly flashy, but it certainly turned heads. We saw him putting in the work, and while it did not lead to points on the board this time, this is exactly the type of effort we want to be seeing out of him.

2. Power play construction

Beyond being the first chance to have a look at the new players, the start of the preseason also made for the chance to see new assistant coach Kris Knoblauch in his Flyers debut. Taking over duties as the power play coach, he has had the opportunity to make some changes to the system, and that he did. During yesterday’s game, we saw him employing the statistically more effective four forwards-one defenseman unit structure. It’s a big shift, but one that has the potential to be effective, to breath new life into a power play unit that was middling, at best, last season.

Still settling in, we’re left to wonder what the extended results of this power play restructuring might look like. But we had a bit of a taste, which brings us to...

3. Power play efficacy

So to answer the question of “how effective was the Flyers’ power play in their first preseason game?” I’d say not terribly. After going 0/4 for the game, it’s hard to say that the results of the change were there.

Now, to be fair, both units were bringing offensive pressure and putting shots on net, and part of their inefficiency was due to strong goaltending on the part of the Islanders. And, if there’s ever a time when you might be okay with the power play not really working, it’s now. Would we have liked to see them convert on at least one attempt? Absolutely. But it’s still early, and the changes are new, and the effects aren’t going to be immediate. It’s worth seeing where the weaknesses are, and where they go from here.

4. Alex Lyon was in good form

Stepping in for the injured Anthony Stolarz, Lyon will likely take over the role of starting goaltender for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms for the 2017-2018 season. This one will be a make or break season for him— with a Flyers prospect pipeline loaded with goaltending talent, and a contract that expires after this season, Lyon will have to prove that he deserves to remain a part of this organization. And he’s off to a good start.

Lyon faced a number of tough shots throughout the two periods he played, but he remained controlled and consistent, propelling himself head and shoulders above Leland Irving. In this admittedly small sample, he has shown his merits, and that he is worthy of the promotion he received, inadvertently as it may have come.

5. Jori Lehtera might be good?

When Lehtera was dealt to Philadelphia in the draft night trade for Brayden Schenn, there was a fair deal of speculation about what exactly the Flyers were getting in him. Yesterday’s game provided the first look at his style of play with the Flyers, and it came with some mixed results. During the first period, he was part of a rush that put huge offensive pressure on Islanders goaltender Kristers Gudļevskis, but Lehtera was unable to capitalize on an open net.

But he redeemed himself in the second period, when, taking a feed from Michael Raffl, he lost a skate blade but was still able to score for a shorthanded goal. So, in Sunday’s game, we met two Lehteras— one who looks a little shaky and ineffective, and another who leans toward the mold of flashy playmaker. Of course, one game is not enough to gain a full picture of the what he may offer to the Flyers, and so the question remains: which version of Lehtera will be here to stay?

6. Michael Raffl is good!

If Raffl was on the bubble before yesterday’s game, it would be hard to say that this is still the case, after the performance he gave. Putting on weight over the offseason, Raffl presented this new form against the Islanders, and he did so with force. He looked solid during his time on the penalty kill. He dealt the pass that facilitated the Lehtera shorthanded breakaway goal. He brought an even greater physicality to his game. In short, after spending the last six weeks of the 2016-2017 season recovering from a knee injury, Raffl came into this preseason seemingly eager to show that he put the work in during the offseason, and to make sure no one’s forgotten about him.

7. Cole Bardreau, noted pest and favorite to name-drop, is just that

You may feel like you’ve been hearing this name a lot recently, and that’s because, well, you have. Flyers staff have been dropping Bardreau’s name left and right, even if he has not been one of the hotter commodities coming into training camp. This trend continued, as Bardreau’s name was brought up frequently in the game commentary, but not for any truly spectacular reasons. His game was comparatively quiet, and outside of delivering a few hits, he was unable to contribute much in terms of offensive production. He avoided making any costly mistakes, but he didn’t exactly dazzle, either. And maybe the Flyers are seeing something in him that we haven’t yet— but after yesterday’s game, we aren’t much closer to discerning what that is.

8. Veteran defenders looked as good as you’d expect

With these first few games meant mostly to determine who may claim open roster spots, all eyes were locked on the young prospects looking to claim them. With so much attention paid to the prospects, it would be easy to overlook the performances by some of the comparative veterans— that is, players with at least a year of NHL experience— like Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere. If your attentions were elsewhere, I’ll fill you in: they looked good. Gostisbehere looked to be back to old form, confident and comfortable putting shots on net. And Provorov, while not presenting as flashy, showed some fancy footwork, and quietly performed nearly flawlessly. They were pictures of solidity and consistency, showing that they can not only play their own games effectively, but also provide the necessary balance to the sometimes volatile rookie performances.

9. Morin and Hagg still probably ahead in the pecking order

With what’s most likely to be two spots open to rookie defensemen on the opening night roster, a lot of attention has been paid to the depth chart at this position. To this point, Sam Morin and Robert Hagg have been sitting comfortably at the top of this list, as favorites to earn these spots. Based on the amount of time spent in the organization, and that these two both received some regular season playing time with Flyers, they were virtually assumed to be locks. And even with Travis Sanheim and Philippe Myers breathing down their necks, Morin and Hagg seem to have held firm.

If there were any questions of the solidity of their positions in the prospect hierarchies, Morin and Hagg virtually quelled them in this game against the Islanders. We didn’t hear their names much— aside from Morin delivering a few big hits— but they quietly had solid games, and most of all, avoided making any major and costly mistakes.

But is it still early? Yes. Could one of these two absolutely implode and lose their spot, slip down in the ranking? Sure, I guess. But, if nothing else, what we saw in yesterday’s game was that there’s a reason these two are the favorites to make the roster. Sanheim and Myers may well have higher ceilings, but they still have some growing to do

10. The only damn thing I know

If you caught a broadcast of the game, maybe you heard Coatsy screaming in your ear about the only damn thing he knows. THE ONLY DAMN THING HE KNOWS. Apparently it has something to do with what CCM stands for. I’m not really sure. I for one was watching the action on the ice. Apparently it’s a very important bit of information. Worth having a lot of feelings about. Or something.

(CCM stands for “Canada Cycle & Motor,” in case you were wondering)

The only damn thing I know? Flyers hockey is back, it is sadness, but it is still a true delight. Welcome back.