SAN JOSE, Calif. — Flyers coach Dave Hakstol kidded that he hadn’t yet sent a thank-you note to the NHL schedule-makers for having his team play the first four games on the road, including the home openers for San Jose, Los Angeles, and Nashville.
The Flyers opened their season in San Jose on Wednesday and will play in Los Angeles on Thursday and in Anaheim on Saturday. The trip ends Tuesday in Nashville.
“It’s huge for us,” right winger Wayne Simmonds said Wednesday after the morning skate in San Jose. “… The whole California road trip is probably one of the hardest of the year for any team that’s going to come through these parts. For us, we have to go on a game-by-game basis, and even shorter — go period by period. We just want to make sure we’re on our game and doing the little things right and everyone is playing for one another.”
Playing in opponents’ home openers will delay the starts of those games.
“We have to come out and watch a couple ceremonies and all that,” Simmonds said. “We just have to keep our eye on the prize and stay focused and know what we really came here for.”
“It’s different,” right winger Jake Voracek said about playing in another team’s home opener. “After warm-ups, you go to the locker room and instead of sitting for 18 minutes, you sit for 30. It’s tougher for the young guys because they want to kind of get those first few shifts out of the way as soon as possible.”
The Flyers had three rookies in their lineup Wednesday: Nolan Patrick, who made his NHL debut, Taylor Leier, and Robert Hagg.
Goalie Brian Elliott made his Flyers debut, but rookie defensemen Samuel Morin and Travis Sanheim were not in the lineup against the Sharks.
“As long as we have eight defensemen here, we’re going to have two pretty good defensemen out of the lineup,” coach Dave Hakstol said before the game.
Added Hakstol: “Whoever is out of the lineup, it’s their job to do the extra work and make sure they’re ready to play if called upon tomorrow — whether it’s a veteran or a guy looking to play their first game.”
Here was the Flyers’ lineup Wednesday:
- Sean Couturier centered Claude Giroux and Voracek.
- Patrick centered Jordan Weal and Simmonds.
- Val Filppula centered Dale Weise and Travis Konecny.
- Scott Laughton centered Leier and Michael Raffl.
- Defense: Ivan Provorov and Andrew MacDonald; Radko Gudas and Brandon Manning; Shayne Gostisbehere and Hagg.
- Goalie: Elliott.
In addition to Morin and Sanheim, Jori Lehtera was a healthy scratch.
Hakstol was asked if there was a concern about being too young on the blue line, and if perhaps that was why Sanheim and Morin sat out the opener.
“Everybody that’s here, they wouldn’t be here if we didn’t think they could help us in an NHL game; yet it goes without saying that experience does matter,” Hakstol said. “We’re going to have at least three guys under the age of 24 years old in the lineup [on defense], and putting that mix together is all a part of it. No question. The heat gets turned up a couple of notches tonight from where it’s been in preseason. The young guys, when they’re in, will handle it well. The veterans players have to do a good job of leading and doing their part when they’re in because there will be nights when they’re out as well.”
After the morning skate, Simmonds didn’t sound as if he planned to protest during Wednesday’s national anthem. “We’re trying to get the focus off the kneeling and the focus on what is actually going on in this world in the United States, which is the police brutality and unfair treatment of African Americans,” he said.
Goalie Michal Neuvirth is expected to start Thursday in Los Angeles, and it wouldn’t be surprising if either Morin or Sanheim also played against the Kings. The Kings will pay tribute to the victims and heroes from the Las Vegas shootings, including the recognition of one of the team’s employees, Christiana Duarte, who died in the incident. She was in her first year as a Kings fan-service associate. Kings players will wear a “CD” sticker on their helmets in her honor. … Dean Lombardi, recently hired by Flyers GM Ron Hextall to assist him on projects, was at Wednesday’s game with the team’s brass. …The Flyers entered the night 22-19-8 in openers in franchise history.