On Sunday night in the Flyers’ 4-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins, winger Noah Cates channeled his inner James van Riemsdyk, the Flyers’ resident netfront presence, and scored twice on tipped pucks past goalie Louis Domingue.
After the game, interim coach Mike Yeo acknowledged the difficulty of scoring tipped goals and the level of hand-eye coordination they required. He specifically mentioned Cates’ first goal, a deflection off a defenseman Keith Yandle one-timer, as being particularly impressive.
However, the most impressive aspect of Cates’ goals was his fearlessness to get to the front of the net in the first place.
“If you’re not there, it’s gonna be real tough to tip it,” Yeo said. “If you want to score goals, it’s a good place to be.”
Yeo was familiar with Cates’ maturity level and his reputation as a responsible player before the 23-year-old joined the Flyers after Minnesota-Duluth was knocked out of the NCAA Tournament. However, just like any young player coming into the NHL, Yeo wasn’t sure how Cates’ offensive game would translate at the next level.
But in just 13 career NHL games, Cates has excelled offensively, registering five goals and four assists for nine points. However, Yeo said on any given shift, Cates doesn’t have the mindset that hemust score a goal. If he has a shift in the defensive zone, he’s focused on defending well. If he’s playing in the neutral zone, he’s set on winning his battles and getting the puck deep.
“I think it shows signs of maturity for a young player that he’s able to stay in that moment and do what’s required, and with that, it helps him get to his game and have offense,” Yeo said.
His savvy play stands out to his veteran teammates, including van Riemsdyk, who knows a thing or two about tipping the puck at the front of the net.
“He’s got really good hockey sense,” van Riemsdyk said. “I think he just knows how to play. Doesn’t matter the situation, it seems. So far, in his taste of the NHL, I think he’s acclimated really well as far as just knowing the little things that it takes to be a successful, productive player.”
Consistency for a change
Thanks to injury, personnel moves, and the Flyers’ lack of success this season, Yeo hasn’t had the luxury of keeping the same forward lines and defensive pairs together from game to game.
But for the first time since their games against the Washington Capitals on Feb. 26 and the Edmonton Oilers on March 3, the Flyers will roll the same lines and pairs against the Blackhawks as they did Sunday night in their win over the Penguins.
“It’s real good for the players to have a chance to generate some chemistry together,” Yeo said. “I think we’re seeing that with those young guys playing together. But not just them. Even last game, I thought we had a lot of good performance, both up front and on D.”
That sense of consistency also is valuable for veteran players such as van Riemsdyk, who is playing on the second line with newcomer Bobby Brink and winger-turned-center Joel Farabee. Brink is on the hunt for his first NHL goal — but has four assists in seven games — and Farabee still is looking to get in a groove after returning to the lineup from injury on Feb. 26. He has six goals and 10 assists in his last 27 games.
“This year’s been a little bit crazy in regards to that, whether it’s different injuries or different bodies moving out with trades and stuff like that,” van Riemsdyk said. “And that’s just kind of the situation that we’re in as a team, so we understand that. But always nice to kind of get a little more consistency with that to build some chemistry with the linemates.”
Goalie Felix Sandström (three games played, 3.29 goals against average, .915 save percentage) will start in net against the Blackhawks. Sandström, 25, seeks his first NHL win after making his debut against the San Jose Sharks on Dec. 30, 2021.