Future Flyers Report: Breakout week for trio of prospects

Ric Kruszynski/AP Images/Michigan Athletics

Future Flyers Report: Breakout week for trio of prospects

Before this week begins, it’s time for our weekly check-in on the Flyers’ prospects playing in the AHL, overseas and at the junior and college levels.

In this edition, we’ll take a look at two collegiate players who enjoyed breakout weekends, an update on the Flyers’ top goalie prospect and much more.

Tanner Laczynski, C, 20, 6-1/190, Ohio State (NCAA)
It was a quiet start for Laczynski, who stormed onto the scene in the first half of his freshman campaign in 2016-17 before cooling down, but the sophomore is heating up.

Laczynski had a pair of multi-point games over the weekend as Ohio State swept Robert Morris with a 5-3 win Friday night and a 3-1 victory Saturday. Laczynski has three straight multi-point games, racking up eight points over the three-game span.

On Saturday, Laczynski broke a 1-1 tie late in the third period with his first of two on the night — the second was an empty-netter to seal the victory. Friday, with the Buckeyes down 2-0, he scored his first marker of the season. He also had two helpers in the 5-3 win. Laczynski now has nine points in eight games for the team lead.

Cooper Marody, C, 20, 6-1/185, Michigan (NCAA)
Marody, one of two Flyers prospects playing for the Wolverines, had a breakout weekend against No. 15 Penn State with a pair of three-point contests. Michigan split the weekend series, losing, 5-4, in overtime Friday night and winning, 5-2, Saturday.

Friday, Marody tallied his first goal of the season and added two assists. Marody assisted on both of Dexter Dancs' two goals. It was Dancs’ first career multi-goal game. Marody’s first helper came with two Nittany Lions on him before making a sweet pass to Dancs. Marody then broke a 3-3 tie in the third, sniping PSU goalie Peyton Jones.

Then on Saturday, Marody picked up three assists — two primary and one secondary. The junior had just one point in his first four games before his six-point weekend. He now leads Michigan with seven points in six games, though it’s a bit inflated.

Oskar Lindblom, LW, 21, 6-1/192, Lehigh Valley (AHL)
It was only a matter of time before Lindblom would begin to heat up in North America, and it just so happened to be last week. The 21-year-old Swede had a five-point and a four-game point streak week after going pointless in his first six games of the season.

Lindblom netted his first marker of the campaign, a tap-in goal after driving hard toward the net, in the Phantoms' 5-2 win Friday night over Springfield. He also had an assist.

The 2014 fifth-round pick also picked up a goal and an assist in Lehigh Valley's 5-4 loss Saturday to the Wolf Pack. He now has multi-point games in back-to-back contests.

Quick hits
Mike Vecchione had an assist in each of the Phantoms’ three games last week. He’s now riding a seven-game point streak and has 10 points in 10 games this season.

Mikhail Vorobyev had two assists last week and now has four in his last six games. He’s still seeking his first AHL goal but has five assists in 10 games.

Philippe Myers returned Friday after missing two games with a lower-body injury. He had a goal and an assist Saturday in Lehigh Valley’s 5-4 loss to Hartford.

Alex Lyon made two starts. Lyon made 25 saves in the Phantoms’ 3-2 overtime win Wednesday over Springfield, but he allowed five goals on 31 shots Saturday.

Carter Hart is nearing a return from mono. The Everett goalie returned to practice last week but didn’t play. He could return this week. He’s played just two games this season as he's dealt with mono.

German Rubtsov had his second-ever two-goal game in the QMJHL on Saturday night during Chicoutimi's 8-2 win over the Blainville-Boisbriand.

Morgan Frost had a four-point weekend for Sault Ste. Marie, scoring a goal Friday and recording his second three-point game of the season — two goals and an assist.

Maksim Sushko's six-game point streak came to an end Sunday. Sushko had a goal Friday and an assist Saturday, however. He had 10 points during his six-game streak.

• Hamilton winger Matthew Strome scored his fifth goal of the season Sunday.

Isaac Ratcliffe had a goal and an assist in Guelph's 5-4 loss to Erie on Saturday.

• Kitchener captain Connor Bunnaman had a goal Friday and an assist Sunday. Bunnaman has 10 points in 13 games this season.

• It was another big week for Kelowna's Carsen Twarynski. Twarynski had two goals and an assist Friday and a goal Saturday. He has seven points in his last three games.

• Wisconsin freshman defenseman Wyatt Kalynuk is still searching for his first collegiate goal after he twice lost goals because of scoring changes over the weekend. Instead, the lefty will have to settle with two two-assist games for the No. 6 Badgers.

• Marody’s teammate Brendan Warren registered his second goal of the season Saturday night in Michigan’s win over Penn State.

Kirill Ustimenko, a 2017 third-round pick, had a 15-save shutout Sunday. He now has stopped 51 of 53 shots in his last three games. Ustimenko this season has a 1.49 goals-against average and .928 save percentage with four shutouts.

Flyers in uncharted territory with lack of penalties

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Flyers in uncharted territory with lack of penalties

To the Broad Street Bullies of the 1970s, today’s brand of hockey is simply unrecognizable, and perhaps to some, even unacceptable.

When the Flyers take the ice Thursday against the Blue Jackets, the clock will be ticking on one of the most un-Bully-esque streaks in franchise history. 

The Flyers have somehow managed to play their last 215 minutes and 14 seconds without having to kill off a single penalty — a stretch of hockey that extends to the second period of a game against the Devils on Feb. 13 when Sean Couturier was whistled for tripping. 

Not only is the box an uninhabited area for the Flyers recently, but it’s also uncharted territory. They’re just the second team in NHL history to exhibit that kind of discipline since the league began keeping penalty records in 1977-78.

If this somehow continues, the guys at Comcast-Spectacor’s premium seating division could be looking at a prime opportunity to add a luxury suite at ice level. Fast food restaurant chain Jack in the Box would be the perfect sponsor.

The Flyers' penalty kill has also improved slightly by virtue of not having to kill penalties, from 30th in the league to now ranked 28th, still holding steady at 75 percent, but more importantly, their commitment to steer clear of the sin bin now has them ranked seventh in the NHL in the number of times they’ve been shorthanded.

The reasons behind their whistle-free work ethic can be attributed to a number of areas. 

For one, the Flyers have made the necessary adjustments to the league’s new slashing penalty, where a stick anywhere near the hands has resulted in a two-minute minor. Secondly, the entire team, and especially rookie Nolan Patrick, who went through a tough stretch earlier this month, has been very mindful of not committing high-sticking, hooking and other lazy infractions when chasing down the puck carrier.  

“I don’t think we’ve dominated puck possession over the last couple of games,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “But when we haven’t had it, we’ve worked hard to get it back the right way. At this time of year, it’s moving your feet, trying to get above plays and trying to check the right way.”

Secondly, as the season enters the drive towards the playoffs, NHL referees have shown a tendency to allow players to decide the outcome and not enforce the game as tightly as they did over the first three months of the season. In the first 30 games, the Flyers were forced to kill off an average of 3.4 power play opportunities per game. Over their last 30 contests, the number has been reduced significantly to 2.33.

More importantly, Dave Hakstol’s team is better equipped this season to play more effectively 5-on-5 and in all even strength situations, which was a point of emphasis after missing the playoffs a year ago. The Flyers' goal differential this season is plus-11 at even strength, whereas last season it was a minus-19.

“I think we’re doing a pretty good job 5-on-5,” defenseman Andrew MacDonald said. “I think you have to realize that most of the game is going to be played 5-on-5 and at even strength, and you have to generate in those situations throughout the rest of the year and into the playoffs.”

Even if the Flyers can’t maintain this unimaginable penalty-free pace, they clearly have more success and their penalty kill is much more efficient when they’re forced to kill off just a handful of penalties, as the chart below illustrates.

PK Attempts   Record     Kill %
2 or fewer        18-8-1        87.5%

3-4                      9-9-5         68.0%

5 or more          4-2-4         75.0%

In the 27 games where the Flyers have killed two or fewer power play opportunities, the success rate is nearly 88 percent, and they’re winning 67 percent of their games. They’ve been able to extend their energy throughout the 60-plus minutes while rolling four lines more consistently.

“If you have to kill three or more minor penalties, you’re at a little bit of risk, but you can get the job done,” Hakstol said. “When you get in the five, six range now you’re draining the bench, you’re draining energy, and you’re taking guys out of rhythm who aren’t killing penalties. There’s a lot of things that domino off of that.”

All of which conserves energy and creates good habits as the Flyers inch closer towards the postseason.

It's time to give Dave Hakstol credit

It's time to give Dave Hakstol credit

It wasn't long ago when some fans filled the Wells Fargo Center with chants to fire Dave Hakstol.

Back on Nov. 28, the displeasure was bubbling amid a confounding 10-game losing streak. The Flyers were wrapping up a 3-1 defeat to the Sharks as the skid apathetically hit nine.

That's when the boo birds came out in full flock.

The scene, so ugly, forced Ron Hextall into the Flyers' dressing room postgame to deliver what felt like a state of the union address in front of cameras and recorders. Over the next handful of days, on multiple occasions, the general manager had to defend his head coach's job security, and at times vehemently.

Oh, how things have changed.

Since Dec. 4, when the free fall was halted, the Flyers have gone 23-8-3 with 49 points, third most in the NHL behind only the Bruins and Golden Knights. Hakstol's bunch has climbed into playoff position, sitting in third place of the Metropolitan Division and only three games behind the first-place Capitals. 

When the losing streak was at its worst, the Flyers were in dead last of the eight-team Metro. At the time, things looked troubling.

But give credit where credit is due. 

Hakstol deserves plenty of it this season, especially for his constant maneuvering of personnel, which has proved wise time and time again.

First, it was shifting Claude Giroux from center to left wing during training camp. That was not an easy decision when asking a player as decorated as Giroux, on the verge of turning 30, to make a position change. The result has been a career resurgence for the Flyers' captain. After 58 points (14 goals, 44 assists) and a minus-15 rating in 82 games last season, Giroux has 70 points (20 goals, 50 assists), tied for the NHL's second most, and a plus-15 mark through 60 games this season.

Not only has the move behooved Giroux, but it has also allowed for Sean Couturier's anticipated breakout. With Hakstol entrusting the 25-year-old to be his first-line center, the do-it-all Couturier is blossoming into the team's most valuable player, already shattering his career highs in goals (29), assists (31) and points (60).

This was all before the curtain even opened for the 2017-18 season.

To date, Hakstol's adjustments have only continued throughout the season — and they've worked. 

Despite topflight production early from his first line of Giroux, Couturier and Jakub Voracek, the Flyers struggled, so the third-year coach broke up the trio in order for more balance within the forwards group.

The split created room for Travis Konecny to eventually make his way onto the top unit — and so far, so good would be an understatement. The 20-year-old has discovered his first-round potential with 24 points (11 goals, 13 assists) in as many games since Dec. 28, a stretch in which the Flyers are 16-6-2.

To squeeze out even more ability, Hakstol has plugged in Konecny on the first 3-on-3 overtime grouping. In their last six games decided in OT, the Flyers are 6-0.

Meanwhile, Voracek hasn't missed a beat since joining the second line as he leads the league in assists with 55, the defensive pairing of Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere has paid dividends, while the team is currently riding a historic stretch of discipline

And, most recently, the important choice of filling Wayne Simmonds' first-unit power-play role saw immediate results. Hakstol on Tuesday used No. 2 overall pick Nolan Patrick, who wasted little time rewarding his coach with a man-advantage goal on the team's first chance.

"Hak, first of all, is a very good coach," Hextall reaffirmed on Nov. 29. "He's as hard a working person as I've ever seen in the game.

"We're a young team, we have a lot of young kids coming and we're going to get better. We're going to play better than we're currently playing."

Hextall may be the most prudent general manager in the game.

He sure wasn't about to overreact 26 games into a season — and you can see why that's not his nature. What Hextall adamantly believed is what has transpired — the Flyers are improving under Hakstol.

There's no denying that. 

They were 8-11-7 and scoring 2.69 goals per game with a minus-9 differential (79-70) when the losing streak was at 10. They've been one of hockey's best teams since then with 3.24 goals per game and a plus-20 differential (110-90).

Look at the broader picture: Through 60 games last season, the Flyers were 28-25-7 with 63 points and a minus-29 goal differential (179-150). This season, at the same juncture, the Flyers are 31-19-10 with 72 points and a plus-11 goal differential (180-169).

With two new goalies and no Simmonds (upper-body injury) for two to three weeks, Hakstol has bigger decisions ahead, ones he'll have to get right with a postseason berth in the balance.

But he's already done a lot right — and it's time he gets a little credit for it.