Game of the Week preview: Flyers hope to outlast Capitals for East’s top seed

The last time the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers met in an NBC Game of the Week, the Flyers were smothered 7-0 in a game the Rangers clearly needed more than Philly. To at least some extent, it seemed like the Rangers took advantage of a Flyers team that didn’t have much on the line.

There was some concern that the April 3rd NBC Game of the Week (at 12:30 pm ET) would follow a similar script, but the Washington Capitals’ meteoric rise to the top spot in the East should give Philadelphia much more motivation. Sure, the Rangers still have more on the line since they are fighting for their playoff lives (more on that in the next post), but at least Philly has a delicious, dangling carrot to drive them to fight harder in this one.

The simplest way to look at the two-horse race for the East’s top seed is to point out that the Capitals have one more point, but the Flyers have one game in hand. A slightly deeper take would point out that Philly currently owns the non-shootout wins tiebreaker by one victory (43-42).

While that’s fine and dandy, those details only say so much regarding which team will prevail. Let’s take a look at both teams’ schedules and try to handicap the race for home ice advantage in the East.

Philadelphia’s remaining schedule

Home vs. Rangers (Sunday), @ Ottawa (Tuesday), @ Buffalo (Friday) and Home vs. Islanders (Saturday).

Two home vs. two away games.

One set of back-to-back contests.

Two matches against playoff contenders (Rangers and Sabres), two against cellar dwellers.

Additional thoughts: The Flyers will get a nice breather between Sunday afternoon’s game against the Rangers and Tuesday night’s contest against the Senators. They’ll get another nice break between that Ottawa contest and their back-to-back games, so they’re in a decent position to mop up points. It would certainly help their chances if the Senators and Islanders are in tank mode, rather than relishing the role of being spoilers, though. (The Islanders might resist the urge to tank since they’ll be going against their divisional rivals.)

Washington’s remaining schedule

Away vs. Toronto (Tuesday), home vs. Florida (Wednesday) and @ Florida (Saturday).

One home game vs. two away contests.

One set of back-to-back games.

One match against a playoff contender (Maple Leafs), two against the same cellar dweller (Panthers).

Additional thoughts: As slim as Toronto’s chances actually are, there’s a good chance they will go all-out in that Tuesday game against the Caps. Mix that hard working attitude with the game taking place in Toronto and it might be a tough draw for Washington. Luckily the Caps can beat up on the lowly Panthers, with a big break between the second half of a back-to-back on Wednesday and the final game of the season in Florida next Saturday.

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Overall, it’s really tough to gauge which team will end up with the top seed. Washington has a great chance to win both games against Florida and the Flyers’ game in hand might be slightly neutralized by an extra game against contenders. That being said, Philly does hold a small (but potentially crucial) tiebreaker, meaning Washington might need to finish with one more point to take the top spot.

If you weigh recent trends heavily, then you might want to know that the Caps have been hotter than the Flyers. Washington is 7-2-1 in their last 10 while Philadelphia is a lethargic 4-3-3 in their most recent 10 games. Will this lead change be a wake-up call for the Broadstreet Bullies, or is it too late?

For the second year in a row, Philly’s playoff position might not be decided until the final game of the season. This time around, they’re feeling a lot more comfortable, though.

Either way, these separate races give both the Rangers and Flyers a reason to care about Sunday’s game … making hockey fans the true winners.

Patrick thinks he can make immediate NHL jump with Flyers

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The New Jersey Devils opted for Nico Hischier over Nolan Patrick, but time will be the ultimate judge in that debate. The Philadelphia Flyers also might see their guy make a more immediate jump to the NHL.

Patrick made it clear: he wants to go straight from the 2017 NHL Draft to training camp to opening night in 2017-18.

“Yeah, I think after a good summer of training, that’s my goal,” Patrick said.

The second pick of the draft noted not just his size, but also his two-way acumen when explaining why he believes he’s ready for the immediate turnaround. Patrick also brings up an interesting point: he’s already experienced three years of junior. He didn’t come out and say it, but the implication would be that his development might stagnate against lesser competition.

MORE: Check out all 31 first-round picks here

CSN Philly’s Tim Panaccio got that same sense from Patrick in a one-on-one interview, and noted that the consensus is that he’ll make a difference from Game 1.

Scouts are unanimous in predicting Patrick will play this season in the NHL. He turns 19 during training camp.

One might read the decision to trade Brayden Schenn to the St. Louis Blues as the Flyers’ way of agreeing that Patrick is probably ready, yet GM Ron Hextall wouldn’t just come out and say it. While praising Patrick, Hextall noted that he’ll need to “get to work” and earn a spot.

The odds seem to be in Patrick’s favor, but perhaps it’s better to see him battle for it.

Either way, don’t expect a long wait.

After major changes, Bowman thinks Blackhawks are in ‘good spot’

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CHICAGO — Stan Bowman received a lot of kudos for getting the old Blackhawks defense together for another kick at the can.

But the way it played out, bringing back two aging veterans in Brian Campbell and Johnny Oduya was a mistake by the general manager. The magic just couldn’t be recreated, and Chicago was swept in the first round by the Nashville Predators.

Then came the offseason changes. Not just on the blue line, either. Brandon Saad is back, while Artemi Panarin is gone. Marian Hossa is gone, too — a huge loss for the ‘Hawks, even if he can be put on LTIR.

So the forward group is going to look quite different next season.

The blue line could look very different, though. Oduya and Campbell are both unrestricted free agents and may not be back. Trevor van Riemsdyk was lost in the expansion draft. And last but not least, Niklas Hjalmarsson is a Coyote now, traded to Arizona for d-man Connor Murphy.

In other words, of the six defensemen who lost to the Predators, only Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are still under contract in Chicago.

“A lot of stuff going on,” Bowman said Friday at United Center. “Sometimes, change is good. You have to make some tough decisions. But at the same time, we’re really excited about our team next year.”

Much will be expected of Murphy, a 24-year-old who’s been toiling in Arizona anonymity since being drafted 20th overall in 2011.

“Connor’s a little bit of a different player (than Hjalmarsson),” said Bowman. “Obviously, he’s a bit bigger, he plays probably a more physical game. But he’s a good skater and he’s six years younger. It’s really hard to find young defensemen like that. He’s got a great contract, too. He’s a guy we’re going to have for a long time.”

Michal Kempny and Gustav Forsling will also be expected to take on bigger roles in 2017-18.

“It’s up to them to take hold of it, but I think the opportunity is going to be there for them,” said Bowman. “It’s time to give these guys a chance to grow and take on bigger responsibilities.”

Speaking of young defensemen, the Blackhawks added another to their stable Friday, drafting Henri Jokiharju with the 29th overall pick.

“Henri’s a player we’ve been high on all year,” said Bowman. “A right-shot defenseman. Those are a commodity in today’s game. It’s hard to find them. He plays a modern style of hockey. Great skill-set, good skater, can handle the puck, make plays. I guess what you would term the modern-day defenseman.”

As for Bowman, he believes his big moves have been made. He promised changes, and changes he delivered.

“I think we’re in a good spot,” he said.

Related: Blackhawks sign Czech defenseman Jan Rutta

Penguins spend big to get bigger, land Reaves from Blues

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Pittsburgh Penguins GM Jim Rutherford said he wanted to add some snarl to protect stars such as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. You won’t find many – if any – forces more intimidating than Ryan Reaves.

That’s who the Penguins reportedly acquired in a trade from the St. Louis Blues, who suddenly became very busy toward the end of the 2017 NHL Draft’s first round on Friday.

MORE: Blues acquire Brayden Schenn for Jori Lehtera, picks

Moments ago, Gary Bettman announced the details of the move.

Penguins receive: Reaves, 51st pick of 2017

Blues receive: Oskar Sundqvist, 31st pick of 2017

Penguins’ perspective

Rutherford believed that the NHL was allowing teams to take liberties with star players, particularly Crosby and Malkin. Even after winning consecutive Stanley Cups, it was clearly something important to him.

Rutherford reiterated that thought after the move.

One can debate how much an enforcer such as Reaves really “deters” such behavior, especially since he won’t be on the ice with star players in most close situations. There’s little denying that he’s a fearsome fighter, with six in 2016-17 and as many as 10 in a single season.

Reaves carries a $1.125 million cap hit that expires after 2017-18.

A busy night for Doug Armstrong

Moments ago, the Blues drafted Kim Klostin with the 31st pick, grabbing a player some expected to go much earlier in the first round.

They also acquired Oskar Sundqvist, the 81st pick of the 2012 NHL Draft. The 23-year-old was unable to score a point in 10 games with the Penguins last season, but he was productive in the AHL, scoring 20 goals and 46 points.

Blues GM Doug Armstrong absorbed some serious criticism for protecting Reaves instead of David Perron, but now both players are gone. One would assume that’s likely by design, although it’s also possible that the Penguins simply provided an offer he couldn’t refuse.

Armstrong made another big splash by sending Jori Lehtera and draft picks to the Philadelphia Flyers for Brayden Schenn. Getting the 31st pick was helpful for the Blues after they sent the 27th choice to Philly.

Flyers send Schenn to Blues, take on Lehtera’s contract

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Flyers GM Ron Hextall made a big splash at the end of the draft’s first round on Friday night, sending forward Brayden Schenn to St. Louis in exchange for Jori Lehtera, the 27th overall pick and a conditional first-round pick in 2018.

Schenn, 25, is coming off two pretty productive years with the Flyers, in which he scored 26 and 25 goals. He just wrapped the first of a four-year, $20.5 million deal — one that carries a $5.125M cap hit.

It’s a big get for the Blues, who now boast Schenn, Vladimir Tarasenko, Jaden Schwartz, Robby Fabbri, Paul Stastny and Alex Steen at forward.

That hit is largely why Lehtera is on his way to Philly. Coming off a “bad” season in which he struggled with injury and healthy scratches, there was speculation he’d be made available at the expansion draft — which he was — and when he wasn’t selected by Vegas, the likelihood of a trade was high.

Lehtera makes $4.7 million annually, through 2019.

With the 27th overall selection, the Flyers took Sault Ste. Marie center Morgan Frost. Frost finished fourth on the Greyhounds in scoring this year and had a strong playoff, with five goals and 11 points in 11 games. It was the second center Philly scored in the first round, having previously selected Nolan Patrick with the No. 2 overall selection.

And here are the conditions around that ’18 pick: