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What we learned: Flyers vs. Rangers, round two

Some observations for your morning...

NHL: Preseason-New York Rangers at Philadelphia Flyers Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

As preseason winds down, let’s have a look at some standout players and groupings from last night’s game against the Rangers.

1. Welcome back, Mikhail Vorobyev!

One of the big surprises prior to last night’s game was the news that center Mikhail Vorobyev had been recalled from the Phantoms to join the big club for this second matchup against New York. Vorobyev made it through the beginning part of camp, only to be sent down in last week’s massive eighteen player cut. Many expected to see him at some point in the regular season, but not so soon, still in the preseason.

And while this means, of course, that Vorobyev is no longer competing for an opening night roster spot with the Flyers, that doesn’t mean he let up at in his performance with the squad last night. Centering a line with Oskar Lindblom and Travis Konecny, he didn’t show quite as much flash, but he still kept pace with these two dominant forces. His major standout shown? His strength and confidence behind the net, bringing a distinct presence to an area which has been lacking it, of late.

2. Sam Morin makes some noise

Given the strong performances put up by some of his young defensive counterpoints, it would be easy to feel like Morin has been stagnating, or getting lost in the shuffle, even as he still play not-unimpressively. Last night, however, he took a big step up, to reintroduce himself into the mix, lest any had forgotten about him.

Though not a perfect showing — losing his man and allowing for a breakaway in the first period certainly made that clear — Morin recovered and still did what he does best. The hit he laid on Fontaine was clean and solid, but it stirred up the opposition’s emotions, drawing them in for a fight, and subsequently drew a penalty. And, not generally a high-volume goal scorer, last night he let loose a real laser from past the circles to open up the Flyers’ scoring. In short, he put together a solid game, working hard to solidify his place in the lineup.

3. Taylor Leier still making his case

As the preseason winds down, and the final roster decisions begin to solidify, Leier still finds himself very much in the balance. After a stellar performance last week in Allentown, he yanked attention back to himself, and has been working hard to hold onto that momentum, to keep the coaches’ eyes on him. He needed another stellar night against the Rangers to hope to do that, and he brought it. Sort of.

Leier had a solid night, showcasing his much praised speed and craftiness, and showed some real tenacity in the few shots on goal he generated, close to the net. But, on the whole, he was outshined by some of the other forwards mentioned in this list. He looked solid, had a more than decent night, but was this enough?

I’m hesitant to say for sure that the place in the lineup has slipped away entirely— surprises and upsets remain a distinct possibility— but the question still lingers of whether Leier has done quite enough to anchor himself to the Flyers’ regular season squad.

4. And what about Mike Vecchione?

If you recall, in yesterday’s observations, I talked about the scratches from Tuesday’s game. I emphasized that, with back to back games, we shouldn’t read too much into those scratches. But, with the second game in the two night series, that changed, as Mike Vecchione found himself out of the lineup for the second night in a row.

Though he’s had a relatively solid preseason — he’s been able to keep pace, but hasn’t been flashy — he also hasn’t been able to make any real waves with the organization. Add to that the fact that he’s waiver exempt this season, it makes him an ideal candidate to start the season with the Phantoms, and potentially earn call ups to the Flyers, as injury necessitates. I want to be clear: Vecchione certainly hasn’t done anything wrong this preseason, per se, he’s just been outshined and outplayed by the younger forward competition.

5. Someone help me, I’m feeling conflicted

The Giroux [back] on the wing experiment continued last night, as the Flyers redeployed the Giroux-Couturier-Voracek group as its first line. And I have to say, as much as I expected to, I didn’t hate it.

If Tuesday night’s game saw them still getting adjusted to the new structure at game speed, last night saw them looking more settled in. The chemistry between these three was clear, as well as the growing comfort in the new roles. This line was one of the most productive, in terms of creating offensive pressure and scoring chances, even if— much the same as we saw on Tuesday— they were unable to translate this directly into goals.

However, I still think Giroux is one of the four best forwards on this lineup, presently. That hasn’t changed. And I’m still a little hesitant about the idea of Couturier consistently being the one to center the first line. But, despite these concerns, I do appreciate the variability this offers, knowing that this line has some real chemistry and production potential, should an occasional changeup need to be made.

6. Scott Laughton draws attention

After a mostly quiet preseason, and some questions and concerns about what he will be able to bring to his return to the Flyers, Laughton began to quell these concerns, with last night’s performance. To start, he was able to bring some scoring to the fourth line (imagine that!) on a feed from Michael Raffl, reading the goaltender’s position and sticking with the puck, not overskating past the net. He also looked steady and consistent during his time on the penalty kill.

This was also part of a first look at what very well may be two thirds of the opening night fourth line, with the Laughton-Raffl pairing, and it was a good one. They showed some real chemistry, combining to bring a nice mix of physicality and scoring opportunities. It feels like a big change to have a dynamic presence— much less any real presence— on the ice with a fourth line, and it’s certainly a change I can get behind.

7. Sanheim still impressing

Are you tired of hearing me talk about how good Travis Sanheim has looked in these last few preseason games? I hope not. Because I’m not even close to being done.

Sanheim went without a goal last night, but still leads in goal-scoring for the team overall in the preseason. The puck battle he lost behind the net that lead to a turnover and a goal was rough, I won’t say it wasn’t. But I will say that he did well to contain his opposition until backup arrived, even if it didn’t help in the way that he hoped. So the recovery, on his end, was good, even if it didn’t, or couldn’t, change the ultimate result.

But he looked strong, otherwise, as he continued to show an eagerness to jump in on the rush and create controlled entries and scoring chances, in a variety of locations. After the earlier shakiness, it seems like Sanheim is really settling into his game, and he’s certainly holding our attention.

8. Veteran defensemen struggling

As we’re paying close attention to the impressive performances being put up by the young defensemen, attention has largely been shifted away from the veterans. And if you’re worried that, in looking elsewhere, you’ve missed something really major from them, well, you can put your worries aside. You haven’t.

Indeed, veterans like Brandon Manning and Andrew MacDonald have looked — last night especially — anywhere from flat to just outright bad. Manning, though largely avoiding major mistakes, has been overwhelmingly underwhelming. And MacDonald… well… how much do I really have to say? We got our first look of him skating backwards directly into his own goalie, so I guess you can say hockey season really is back.

What this means for Hagg, Morin, and Sanheim’s hopes of all making the team, it’s too soon to say. But it will be interesting to see how heavily management and the coaching staff weigh these lackluster performances from their veterans.

9. Overtime until we die

Legend has it that there was once a time when the Flyers could close out a game during regulation time (I suspect this was around the same time that they were able to score on the power play). Win or lose, sixty minutes was all it took. Three on three was a nice little treat we saw only once in awhile. And I got to bed on time.

But, since we’re on the topic, last night’s overtime was a real beauty. As they did in regulation, Giroux and Voracek kept the offensive pressure up, creating a few quality scoring chances that were only narrowly saved. And Konecny’s game winning goal? Oh baby, what a marvel. From the vision exhibited, to the mastery of the tough angle, to the confidence to try and bank it off Rangers goaltender Ondřej Pavelec, it was an impressive, all around show of strength. It seemed like a step up, in terms of confidence and production, and it will be interesting to see how much of this carries over into the regular season.

10. The only damn thing I know

There’s something that feels so final about the last week of preseason. The final stretch of home games is upon us. We’ve talked about the blackouts. We’ve talked about the less than exemplary away broadcasts. We’ve endured it all, and finally we’ve been rewarded. We’re finally back in Philly, and the CSN broadcasts are back on our TVs. All is right in the world, until the next thing goes bad. But for now, it’s good to be home.

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