New line combinations, new defensive pairings, no problem.
As Flyers coach Alain Vigneault tinkered with the preseason game-day personnel in an effort to see more from players on the bubble, the Flyers pulled off a 2-1 overtime win over the Boston Bruins on Monday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
The only defensive pairing that was consistent from previous preseason games was the top duo of Ryan Ellis and Ivan Provorov, who scored the winning goal in overtime. Offseason free-agent addition Keith Yandle was separated from his likely opening-night partner Justin Braun, who was inactive, and was paired with prospect Wyatte Wylie.
“We’re like all teams right now, a work in progress,” Vigneault said. “Still evaluating some of our players. Trying to get to see the chemistry between different D-men or different linemates. So we have one game tomorrow, then our last one on Friday in Washington. So we’re gonna continue the process of training camp and get in our rhythm and try to get our game in order.”
The contributions from the new defensive faces in Ellis and Yandle should encourage the Flyers going forward. In the first and second periods, Yandle attempted to tee up forwards James van Riemsdyk, Sean Couturier, Joel Farabee, and Jackson Cates for goals.
Yandle finally found success on the Flyers’ fourth power play of the night in the last minute of the second period — he registered an assist on a Couturier one-timer from the right face-off circle to tie the game 1-1.
“The previous couple power plays, I thought we were getting into a groove and getting different looks, different options,” Couturier said. “We weren’t able to capitalize, but we had a lot of chances. To finally get one late in the second was huge and good for the confidence of the power play, ‘cause I thought it’d be really good. Even if we scored one goal, we could’ve had two or three easily, I think.”
Yandle also put pressure on Bruins goaltender Jeremy Swayman, registering four shots on goal through three periods.
Ellis, known for his laser-like shot from the point, also flaunted his defensive prowess against the Bruins. Early in the second period, Ellis broke up a pass intended for right winger Jesper Froden, which ruined a scoring opportunity for Boston. His only downfall, however, was his residency in the penalty box. Ellis was sent to the box for two roughing minors through three periods, although one appeared to be a phantom call.
“I think it’s been good so far,” Provorov said of his partnership with Ellis. “He’s a great player. Can do everything well out there. I think we’ve been spending a lot of time together, trying to get the chemistry and I think it’s been working so far.”
After a dismal 2020-21 season that saw him post an .877 save percentage, Flyers goaltender Carter Hart commenced the 2021-22 preseason on a strong note. In his start on Sept. 28 against the New York Islanders, Hart stopped 17 of 18 shots on net through two periods, good enough for a .944 save percentage. The Flyers ultimately fell in overtime, 3-2, with Samuel Ersson in net.
Monday’s game against the Bruins marked Hart’s first full game of the preseason. As he was put to work by the Bruins’ B-teamers, Hart stopped 24 of 25 shots, posting a .960 save percentage. His best save came on a Bruins two-on-one rush when he made a glove save on winger Anton Blidh.
“He’s focused,” Vigneault said of Hart. “He’s assertive around his net, and he looks confident. Made a couple of key saves in the game when we were down by a goal there.”
The Bruins’ lone goal of the game came on a Jack Studnicka rebound off the post while the Flyers were shorthanded and there wasn’t much Hart could’ve done to stop it.
“I feel solid,” Hart said. “Practices have been good. Right now, just focusing on the little details and trying to be as prepared as I can for opening night.”
After missing development camp while recovering from offseason hip surgery, 2020 fifth-round pick Elliot Desnoyers made his preseason debut against the Bruins. With Sean Couturier dressing as the only veteran center, Desnoyers was given third-line responsibilities, centering van Riemsdyk and Nic Aubé-Kubel.
The 19-year-old finished the game with just one shot on goal, but it was a good opportunity. His chance to score came late in the first period when he put a one-timer wide of the net from just left of the crease. Desnoyers showed he wasn’t afraid to get physical, dropping the gloves with defenseman John Moore — marking his first-ever fight — in front of the Bruins’ net late in the second period.
“It was a part of my game that I wanted to show — not necessarily that I’m a fighter,” Desnoyers said. “It was actually my first fight. But just that I’m ready to do anything to get my team the W. I just felt like it was a good time, losing by one.”
On the second power-play unit, Desnoyers slotted in at the front of the net with Morgan Frost on the left side, Ryan Ellis on the right, Cam Atkinson in the slot, and Provorov at the point.
“They gave me some good opportunity,” Desnoyers said. “I’m still on the way back of playing. I’ve been working with an injury all summer, and I felt like I was doing really good, and I felt more and more comfortable as it goes.”
Desnoyers has spent the last three seasons playing in the QMJHL for the Moncton Wildcats (2018-2020) and the Halifax Mooseheads (2020-21). In just 27 games last season, Desnoyers registered 49 points (21 goals, 28 assists), including one four-goal game against the Cape Breton Eagles. Desnoyers is slated to return to Halifax for the 2021-22 season.
General manager Chuck Fletcher drafted Desnoyers when he sent the 202nd and 209th overall picks to the Nashville Predators for the 135th selection on the second day of the 2020 NHL draft.
Aubé-Kubel attacks the net
Last season, fourth-line winger Aubé-Kubel stood out for the wrong reasons — in 50 games, Aubé-Kubel led the team with 44 penalty minutes and finished with 12 points (three goals, nine assists). Going into the offseason, Aubé-Kubel said during training camp that he didn’t feel any extra motivation to train hard for the summer because of his disappointing 2020-21. However, Vigneault called Aubé-Kubel one of the team’s “best conditioned athletes” coming into camp.
On Monday night against the Bruins, the 25-year-old showed a spark playing on the third line with van Riemsdyk and Desnoyers. In the first period, Aubé-Kubel put three shots on goal while showing off his ability to drive to the net. He exhibited aggressive forechecking, too.
“I think Ku’s coming along,” Vigneault said. “He was skating well tonight. And when he does that, and he plays the body when he has the opportunity, made a big shot block in the third period, he’s an effective player.”
Through three periods, Aubé-Kubel finished with five shots on goal. Although he didn’t score on his attempts, he showed flashes of promise as he works to avoid a repeat of 2020-21.
The Flyers play the second of their back-to-back preseason games on Tuesday night when they head to Bridgeport, Conn., to face off against the New York Islanders. The game will take place at Webster Bank Arena, home to their AHL affiliate, the Bridgeport Islanders. The Islanders await the completion of their new stadium, UBS Arena in Elmont, N.Y., where the team will play their first home game on Nov. 20. The Flyers last played the Islanders on Sep. 28 at the Wells Fargo Center in their first game of the preseason. Flyers goaltender Martin Jones is expected to play between the pipes for the entire game. Vigneault said that Aubé-Kubel, Connor Bunnaman and potentially one more player from Monday night’s game will play a consecutive night in Bridgeport. The rest of the Flyers’ roster will have had Monday night off.