VOORHEES, N.J. – While the Flyers’ power play was a respectable 15th in the NHL last season, hardly any of the credit goes to their second unit.
In fact, unofficially, the backup gang contributed only one – yes, just one – goal with the man advantage for the entire season.
Which is one of the reasons why general manager Ron Hextall went out and brought back James van Riemsdyk from Toronto in the offseason and signed him to a five-year, $35-million contract.
The move gives the Flyers more depth on the power play.
Now they can platoon/alternate van Riemsdyk and power-play specialist Wayne Simmonds in that critical slot role to create traffic in front of opposing goaltenders.
The Flyers have been experimenting with different looks. At Sunday’s practice at the Skate Zone, coach Dave Hakstol had rookie Mikhail Vorobyev joining the usual group of Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek, Shayne Gostisbehere and Simmonds on the first unit and van Riemsdyk with Nolan Patrick, Travis Konecny, Ivan Provorov and Jordan Weal on the second.
“James is good on the power play and good around the net,’’ Hextall said. “That’s an element we felt like we needed. Our first power play last year took the bulk of the minutes. Hopefully this year there’s a little bit more sharing and our second unit can produce.’’
The Flyers have been experimenting with different looks as well. Coach Dave Hakstol has put his top five-on-five defense pairing – Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov – on the No. 1 unit at times during the preseason.
“Maybe we can spread it out and get two really good units going,’’ Gostisbehere said. “I think it (a viable second unit) helps us for other teams, they have to prepare for them as well and not just for the one big unit.’’
Simmonds was hurt for almost the entire season last year but hopes to get back to good health and finishing among the league leaders in power-play goals again.
“It (balance) adds another dimension to our team,’’ he said. “Whether I am on the second unit or he (JVR) is on the second unit, I think it gives us the potential to field two pretty good units on the power play.’’
Of particular concern right now is the status of backup goaltender Michal Neuvirth, who is dealing with another groin problem.
Hextall didn’t sound too optimistic about Neuvirth being ready for the season opener, which is just 10 days away.
“It’s not days, that’s kind of where we’re at right now,’’ Hextall said. “I don’t know for sure (about the opener) but I doubt it.’’
Hextall indicated he believes No. 1 goaltender Brian Elliott (coming off core muscle and hip clean-out surgeries) will be ready for Vegas on Oct. 4.
“There’s no reason not to believe,’’ Hextall said. “He’s going to hopefully play a couple (preseason) games here.’’
Sean Couturier, who’s been out from game action since suffering a knee injury in an August charity game in Canada, hopes to get into one of the last three preseason games.
“He just has soreness,’’ Hextall said. “We expect that he will probably play a preseason game.’’
Defenseman Travis Sanheim also is recovering from a week off due to a lower-body injury. Hextall said he’s “on track,’’ meaning he should be ready for some action before the preseason ends.
Hextall also mentioned that Simmonds, who has yet to play in the preseason due to offseason surgery on his pelvis, will get into a preseason game but not Monday night’s home game against Boston.
The GM confirmed Andrew MacDonald (lower-body injury) will play in at least one of the final preseason games.