Sunday, November 27, 2016

Inside Access: Philadelphia Flyers vs. Calgary Flames

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Philadelphia Flyers vs. Calgary Flames
Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia
November 27, 2016
Game Time – 7:30 p.m.

Anthony Stolarz will be making his NHL debut tonight. He'll also become the first goaltender born in New Jersey to play in the League. The soon-to-be 23-year-old (January 20) was selected by the Flyers in the second round (45th overall) of the 2012 draft. His complete amateur and professional resume is offered through eliteprospects.

Future Starter?

Scouts put the 6-foot-6-inch netminder with the better Flyers' prospects, though all fans know that this organization hasn't developed an impact goalie (who stuck with the team) since it's current general manager (Ron Hextall) debuted between the pipes in 1986. The goal posts were referenced because that's the area hockeysfuture tags as one of Stolarz' weaknesses. Fans should watch his post-to-post work during games.

The butterfly style goalie's overall positional play in the American Hockey League has been solid. He debuted with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms in 2014-15 (31 games), followed by 47 AHL starts last season and eight more this season.

Sean Burke was the last goaltender to wear number 41 for Philadelphia, having done so in 2004. Andrej Meszaros wore number 41 for the longest period of time (2011-14) and center Blair Jones wore the number last (2015).

Game Time

Nerves weren't apparent during warmups, but that's what masks are for, right?

The Flyers are celebrating their milestone 50th season in the NHL and are going beyond the normally terrific pre-, in- and postgame presentations. An on-ice visual delight before Lauren Hart's evergreen solos showed segments of Flyers' history through various video games that were synced to each era. Then, Stolarz name and image and those of his other starting teammates were individually projected onto the ice.

First Period

D-man T.J. Brodie beat Stolarz on the short side to give Calgary a 1-0 lead at 7:42 in the first. Assists to Michael Backlund and Sam Bennett. Brodie's goal came on the Flames second shot of the game.

Exactly 10 minutes later (17:42) Michael Raffl tapped in a rebound of Jake Voracek's wraparound attempt. That was Raffl's fourth goal of the year. Assists to Voracek and Andrew MacDonald.

Second Period

Voracek scored his eighth goal at 52 seconds into the period. Claude Giroux and Wayne Simmonds got the assists.

At 7:20 into the frame Chris Vandevelde redirected a shot into the net. His fourth goal of the season was assisted by Roman Lyubimov. Moments later (7:44), Simmonds broke in from the blue line and lifted a shot past Flames goalie Chad Johnson, who had played well in recent games leading into this contest. That tally came on the Flyers 24th shot of the game. Assists to Nick Cousins and Michael Del Zotto. 

Through two-thirds of this game Stolarz hasn't been tested. Few rebound shots, if any, are recalled. But he's been good on the basics and therefore his outing is surely a success so far.

4-1 heading into the last frame of the game, unless the Flames mount a comeback and tie the Thanksgiving weekend post-turkey tilt.

Third Period

Matthew Tkachuck (6th of the season) tipped in a Dougie Hamilton shot at 8:05. Mark Giordano got the other assist. The power play goal narrowed the game's gap to two goals.

Lyubimov (2nd goal of the season) put a nice rebound shot past Johnson at 9:55. Assists to Del Zotto and Vandevelde.

A late-game highlight saw rookie Travis Konecny throw them with Tkachuk (the rookie who turns 19 on Dec 11), who was tossed from the game. Tkachuck's father (Keith) threw them on various occasions when he was in the League (1991-2010).

Konecny received a 2-minute minor for cross-checking. This was the second consecutive game where the 19-year old wasn't afraid to mix it up physically.

Alex Chiasson (4th of the season) shorthanded goal came at 18:10. Assists to Hamilton and Brodie. This last goal line breaker completed the scoring, as the Flyers won 5-3.

Stolarz stopped 29 shots in a generally well-played game. Philadelphia had 43 shots. Michal Neuvirth's presence on the injured reserve list means that Philadelphia's young goalie should get other opportunities to prove himself next month and possibly, early next year. 


Stolarz responded to media questions after the game:

Any thoughts there? (Regarding the start of the game)

“Kind of. Lot of thinking. They didn’t have any shots for a couple minutes there and didn’t want to give up that first goal. But you know, it happens and I guess you can say I got it out of the way early.”

It seemed like after that goal, you kind of settled in.

“Yeah, I think to the guys, I kind of settled in after that first goal. Calmed down a little bit. The jitters went away and was just able to go out there and play.”

How did it feel to get that ovation from the crowd at the end of the game there?

“It was great. It’s a very passionate city. Just being able to watch a couple games here and obviously back up a couple, it’s pretty exciting. Finally being able to play a game in front of this crowd there, one of the loudest crowds in the league. For them to give me an ovation like that, it means a lot.”

How did it feel going up against Chad Johnson, the guy whose been lights out, and you kind of bested him?

“Obviously looking at the stats the past couple games, he’s on a little bit of a roll, but I think I owe a lot of credit to the guys in front of me. They did a great job of blocking shots and clearing any rebounds that I gave up.”

Couple saves there late in the first period.   Was that the period when you felt like you found your stride?

“Obviously, a player like that you kind of get into it. The biggest thing I thought was the traffic in front. It’s a lot different compared to the American League. Guys are a lot bigger. Plays happen a lot faster. So for me, once I was able to fight through that and make a couple of saves, I kind of got on a roll.”

Self-Assessment. Did it go as well as you could have thought tonight?

“I think, for me, going out there and just giving the team a chance to win. I didn’t care if I gave up one, two, three, four, six, you know what I mean. Well, obviously you don’t want to give up six, but I think the biggest thing for me was just getting the win. I just want to go out there, stop the puck and do my job. The guys in front of me did theirs. They did a great job with clearing shots, blocking them. Getting a 4-1 lead kind of helps you relax a little bit.”

Did that help you, put some goals on the board and gave you little bit of a cushion?

“Yeah, I think so. I was able to settle in and not press a little bit. Just relax and play my game.”

What did Mason say?

“He said congrats. It was been a long time coming. Mason has been a great support for the past couple weeks. Really helping me with things. Obviously being a big goalie, like me, I am able to watch him and kind of pick up a few things from him. He’s been a big mentor for me.”

Your hometown is not that far from here. How many friends and family did you have at the game tonight?

“I probably had about 30, 40 friends and family in the arena. A lot of my buddies were buying tickets and coming down. Like I said, it was exciting to share a moment with them. Right now after this, I am going to go see my family and it’s going to be a great experience for all of us.”

How many notifications on your phone? How many texts have you gotten?

“I haven’t even looked yet. I haven’t had the chance to get changed.”

What do you think you will remember most about tonight?

“I think definitely winning. To be able to win your first start, it’s huge. It kind of gets you little more comfortable. In my premiere in the American League, I don’t think I won in the first 5 games, so you kind of press a little bit. It’s in the back of your head, when are you going to win one, when are you going to win one?  So to be able to win this game, the first one, it’s huge for me and my confidence.”

Was the crowd wooing at you or what?

“Oh, I have no idea, but it’s pretty cool that they were able to make some noise. Got everyone fired up and kind of fired up our team a little bit.”

I think a lot of guys probably get a kick out of playing in somebody’s debut. Do you get the sense they were pulling a little bit extra for you, 26 games you sat on the bench?

“I think so. The guys were talking before the game about how they just want to go out there and work. With the team being in a little bit of a skid here, we want to go out there and play a complete 60 minutes. Tonight, we did a very good job of that. Obviously, myself, looking back, I would like to have 1 and 3 back. A little sloppiness of me, but I think our team played fantastic tonight.”

Those first 10 minutes, they only let 2 shots on goal. Do you think that was kind of an extra effort for you?
“You just got to stay sharp mentally. That’s the biggest thing. You don’t want to start thinking too much. For me, I kind of just continued to focus on just stopping that next shot. That first one goes in. It’s little bit of a downer but the biggest thing is my maturity over the last few years, I have been able to put that in the back of my head. Go out there, forget about it and just worry about the next shot.”

You come from the middle of the state, were you a Devils’ fan growing up?

“I was a Devils fan growing up. My parents were from North Jersey. Once I got drafted by the Flyers, that all changed. I am proud to be wearing that jersey and able to play.”

Were there any goalies you looked up to as a kid?

“Martin Brodeur, for sure. Obviously, his style was a little different than what I play, but playing the puck, I kind of idolized him in that regard. Being able to have him to look up to as a guide is a huge key piece in today’s game.  A goalie being able to play the puck and I just try to take that from him.”

Head coach Dave Hakstol replied to two media questions about Stolarz in the post-game presser:

As far as NHL debuts go can you talk about what you liked about Stolarz’s game?

“He worked his way and he settled in. There are some real good saves during the sixty minutes. It can be tough when that first one goes in. So if there is one thing that I like I really like his poise and presents and focus just to worry about the next save, and that is exactly what he did all night long. So, heck of a night for the young man.”

How conducive was that energy for sixty minutes? You said keeping your foot on the gas, two young goalies debut, those things happening at the same time. That seemed to be conducive.

“Yeah I have no question the guys were playing hard for Stolly. It is a special night for a young guy to get his first start in the National Hockey League. Along with that there is a lot more to it. We are coming off of a couple of pretty good performances where we have nothing to show for it. Pretty good wasn’t going to be good enough tonight. I think we came pretty close to playing a full sixty minute hard hockey game.”


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