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Step aside Santa, Gritty Claus is here

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Gritty Claus?

Aw, yeah.

Everyone’s favorite sports mascot donned Santa’s garb on Thursday night Philadelphia. Gritty is nearly two months early, but as we’ve all become accustomed to by now, Gritty does what Gritty wants.

And so there Gritty Claus was, bringing the mistletoe, wrapping paper and those always-interesting hesitant smiles to some fearful faces of children.

Besides his mere presence, Gritty was the bearer of another gift on Thursday night.

NBCSN regular Kevin Jones turned 50 on Thursday and Gritty wasn’t about to miss the occasion.

It’s been quite the last couple of days for Gritty, whose popularity has now crossed over into the political spectrum.

The jumbotron flashed a graphic on Thursday of how many write-in votes Gritty received during Tuesday’s mid-terms.

NBC Sports Philadelphia had a run-down on Thursday:

• U.S. House, N.J. District 1 (two votes)
• Camden County Sheriff (two votes)
• Audubon Boro Board of Education (one vote)
• Cherry Hill Township Board of Education (one vote)
• Clementon Board of Education (two votes)
• Collingswood Board of Education (one vote)
• Haddon Township Board of Education (five votes)

Sheriff Gritty just feels right, doesn’t it?

The Flyers may or may not win the Stanley Cup in June. But they’ve most certainly won the 2018-19 hockey season.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Brady Tkachuk’s first NHL goal puts family in rare territory

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When a puck caromed off Brady Tkachuk‘s skate and into the Philadelphia Flyers net Wednesday night, the Ottawa Senators rookie etched his family name into some rare NHL history.

There have been several father-son duos to have played in the NHL, perhaps most notably Bobby and Brett Hull, who scored at will during their respective eras.

But in terms of fathers who had two sons play in the NHL, the list is small. Narrow it down to fathers who scored and had both their sons score NHL goals and, well, you get a handful of surnames.

Brady’s goal against the Flyers meant he, his brother Matthew (who plays for the Calgary Flames) and his retired father Keith, have all lit the lamp at the NHL level.

Few other families can make this claim.

Of course, the Howes are on the list. Gordie was one of the best to ever play the game, and his sons Mark and Marty also scored during their respective careers.

The Folignos, with father Mike and sons Nick and Marcus are another.

Peter, Paul and Yan Stastny have done it, too.

The Hextall family took this all one step further. Bryan Sr. scored a bevy of goals during his career while Bryan Jr., Dennis and even goaltender Ron (the Flyers general manager) have all found the scoresheet with a tick in the goal column.

The Patricks are the only family to have had a father (Lester), his sons (Lynn and Muzz) and his grandsons (Craig and Glenn) score in the NHL.

An honorable mention here as well to the Nolans. Ted and son Jordan have both scored in the NHL while son Brandon had one assist with the Carolina Hurricanes during his cup of coffee in the NHL.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

NHL on NBCSN Doubleheader: Rangers host Predators; Flyers visit Vegas

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NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with a doubleheader on Thursday. In the first game, the New York Rangers host the Nashville Predators at 7:30 p.m. ET. You can watch that game online by clicking here

The NHL season will begin at different ends of the spectrum for both the Rangers and the visiting Predators.

New York enters the season after tearing down parts of the organization over the second half of this past season. They finished last in the Metropolitan Division and began the fire sale while also subsequently firing head coach Alain Vigneault.

They return this season with Dan Quinn behind the bench, youth aplenty and a bevy of question marks often attached to a team that was forced into a rebuild.

The one constant for the Rangers will be in goal, where Henrik Lundqvist gets set to begin his 14th season with the Blueshirts. Lundqvist is coming off one of his worst seasons as a pro but remains the linchpin in the Rangers chances of winning games this season.

“I’ve been reflecting this summer and over the last few days and what I come back to is that I am consistently most successful when I’m confident in my game plan and stick with it,” Lundqvist said. “For me, it’s about getting back to my base and not changing too much because of what’s going on in front of me. I can’t tell you exactly why I’ve allowed those early goals, but if I face a big scoring chance right at the start, then I have to make that save. The group has to be ready, and that goes for me, too.”

On the other side of the center line will stand the Nashville Predators, fresh off a Game 7 defeat in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Expectations last season for the Preds were much loftier than their early-round exit dictated, but the team that won the Presidents’ Trophy last season enters this year as one of the best in the NHL once again.

They re-signed Ryan Ellis long-term to ensure their vaunted top-four on the back end remained the envy of the NHL and added Dan Hamhuis to provide further depth on the third pairing.

The Predators should be a force to be reckoned with once again this season, one confident enough in their offense — with the likes of Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson — that they felt they could afford to send highly-touted prospect Eeli Toilvanen down to the American Hockey League.

They also boast the Vezina winner from last season in Pekka Rinne, who will be looking to bounce back from a poor playoff performance where his save percentage dipped from .927 in the regular season to an abysmal .904 in the postseason.

On paper, the matchup looks poor for New York, but consider that the Rangers have won eight of their last 12 meetings with the Preds. Counterpoint: Nashville was the best road team in the NHL last season with a 25-9-7 record.

Nashville will be without forward Austin Watson, who was suspended 27 games by the NHL for “unacceptable off-ice conduct” after pleading no contest in a domestic assault incident.

In the late game, the Vegas Golden Knights will host the Philadelphia Flyers at 10:00 p.m. ET. You can watch that game online by clicking here

Can the Vegas magic continue?

That was one hell of an inaugural season for the Golden Knights, who reinvented what an expansion franchise can achieve after winning 51 games and reaching the Stanley Cup Final.

And those still thinking all that was a fluke can be reminded that Vegas only got better in the offseason, re-signing 43-goal man William Karlsson, and adding stars in Max Pacioretty and Paul Stastny.

A second-straight run at the Cup doesn’t feel like a pipe dream for these Golden Knights. There’s a good chance they could repeat their same success as last season, and even eclipse it if things fall into place.

The Golden Knights boast one of the best lines in the NHL with Jonathan Marchessault, Karlsson and Reilly Smith and can now watch Pacioretty and Stastny work together on the second line.

“If you need a goal, they’re on the ice,” Vegas general manager George McPhee said of his second line additions. “If you’reprotecting a lead, they’re on the ice. They can play power play, they can kill penalties, so there’s a lot of utility.”

Vegas will also be counting on Marc-Andre Fleury to once again shoulder the load after putting up career numbers last season. Fleury battled injury during the regular season before putting on a goaltending clinic in the first three rounds of the playoffs. His numbers tailed off against the Washington Capitals, who pipped Vegas to the Cup in five games.

In Philly, Gritty has been the talk of the town after the googly-eyed mascot made his debut a couple weeks ago.

The move to introduce the brilliant mascot wasn’t made to mask the Flyers’ chances this season. They made the playoffs last season — despite losing 10 straight at one point — and added James van Riemsdyk over the summer to help solidify their offense.

Claude Giroux enjoyed a resurgence playing out on the wing, amassing a career-high 102 points and 34 goals. The move also helped Sean Couturier, who was given an elite winger and that helped turn his season into a career year also, finishing with 31 goals.

Philly’s biggest question — as it has been for years — comes in the crease. They have the offensive capabilities with Giroux, Couturier, Wayne Simmonds and Jakub Voracek, and a solid backend, but need Brian Elliott and/or Michal Neuvirth to stand on their head this year. The Flyers claimed Calvin Pickard of waivers earlier this week as insurance.

The Flyers will be looking to 2017 second-overall pick Nolan Patrick to take the next step after recording 30 points in his rookie season.

The tools are there for Philly to improve on last season’s showing.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Building off a breakthrough: Travis Konecny

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Philadelphia Flyers.

The Flyers have a couple of players who could be restricted free agents in the summer of 2019. One of them in Konecny, who posted 24-23—47 in 81 games last season while averaging 14:54 of ice time. He was most productive with linemates Sean Couturier and Claude Giroux, chipping in 27 of his 47 points at 5-on-5 with those two. The top line chemistry was unmatched as all three produced career seasons.

That was a big difference from 2016-17 when he was mixing time with Couturier, Jake Voracek, Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn during a rookie season that produced 10 goals and 28 points in just over 14 minutes of ice time a night.

[2017-18 review | Under Pressure: JvR | 3 Questions]

He learned from those rookie year benchings, minimized his mistakes and took smarter risks. All of that combined for a breakout season and the trust of head coach Dave Hakstol that he can hold his own on the top line.

But how much of his success can be attributed to the seasons of Couturier and Giroux? Konecny wasn’t as productive during early and late seasons stints off the top line and the defensive side of his game also suffered away from those two. Which should probably tell Hakstol to keep the 21-year-old with them, seeing as how well they work together and that there could be more to his game that’s yet to be unlocked.

“I think I’ve narrowed my game to where it’s effective for me and the team,” Konecny said in March. “This is good for me, I’m learning a lot. Honestly, I’m trying to play as safe as I can and as smart as I can and gain the trust of the coaching staff. Things like good defense leads to good offense, everyone says it, and cliché, but it seems to be working. I was worried about making mistakes before earlier this season. As of right now, I’m playing with a confidence that if I can’t make a play this time, I’ll get a chance to make a play the next time.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Pittsburgh funeral home celebrates Flyers’ playoff exit with custom prayer cards

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Any time one of the Battle of Pennsylvania participants can get one up on the other, they celebrate having bragging rights loudly and proudly.

The Pittsburgh Penguins eliminated the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday in six games in their first-round matchup and as you can imagine, the Steel City faithful have been enjoying it. On top of winning back-to-back Stanley Cups, they’ve also been able to relish winning three of the last four series that these teams have played.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Adding to the chorus of chirps is the Patrick T. Lanigan Funeral Home and Crematory in East Pittsburgh, who said goodbye to the dearly departed Flyers in their own unique way with prayer cards.

Via Facebook:

Patrick T. Lanigan Funeral Home & Crematory

“Help us send our condolences to the Philadelphia Flyers and their fans, with these custom prayer cards memorializing their run in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Share for all of our friends in Philly!” read the caption of their Facebook post.

The Flyers have lost six times in the Stanley Cup Final since winning back-to-back titles in 1974 and 1975. The Penguins, meanwhile, have won five championships in six Final appearances since 1991, something that’s certainly never been lost on the city in their battles with Philadelphia over the years.

Now Flyers fans can root for their second favorite hockey team: “Anyone playing the Penguins.”

Stick-tap Benstonium

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.