Which player can the Flyers least afford to lose?

Which player can the Flyers least afford to lose?

When Sean Couturier briefly left Friday’s game in Columbus, his absence ignited a conversation around the NBC Sports Philadelphia newsroom which led to the Hot Take question: Which player could the Flyers least afford to lose to injury? In other words, which Flyer is the most indispensable to the team’s overall success? Here's my ranking, starting at the top, of the players the Flyers can least afford to lose. Let the debate begin.

1. Michal Neuvirth 
This may come as a surprise considering that just a few weeks ago, Neuvirth was serving in a reserve role behind Brian Elliott who was the clear-cut No. 1 in net. Since stepping in as a starter, Neuvirth has promptly delivered with a .950 save percentage and a 1.93 goals against. The reason Neuvirth falls under the heading as most indispensable is rather simple: the drop-off from Neuvirth to Alex Lyon is significantly steep. Lyon struggled in his two starts adapting to the NHL’s level of pace and skill, and right now, Lyon’s not a viable option to handle the No. 1 job over an extended period. Without Neuvirth, Lyon and Phantoms goalie Dustin Tokarski, who has 34 games of NHL experience plus five playoff games with the Montreal Canadiens, would serve as the Flyers' 1-2 punch in net. 

2. Ivan Provorov 
The Flyers' shutdown defenseman logs more than three minutes of ice time more than the next Flyers defenseman, and his playing partner, Shayne Gostisbehere, has elevated his game (both offensively and defensively) since he’s been paired with Provorov. Andrew MacDonald’s flaws weren’t quite as exposed playing side-by-side with Provorov prior to the switch. While Provorov hasn’t quite been his steady self over the past several weeks and his puck handling at times can be adventurous, you can’t disregard his importance because his work along the boards and his ability to separate the player from the puck is unquestionably the best among the Flyers' blueliners. If the Flyers lost Provorov, rookie Robert Hägg or MacDonald would likely join Gostisbehere on the top pairing, with Radko Gudas moving up to the second pairing and Mark Alt becoming a regular contributor again.

3. Sean Couturier 
The Flyers' No. 1 center has logged some monster minutes this season. Among forwards, only Kings captain Anze Kopitar has been on the ice more than Couturier, who also ranks fourth in average ice time. Couturier plays a vital role in all situations and will likely be a finalist for the Selke Trophy as the league’s top defensive forward, not to mention, he’s also on pace to score a mind-blowing 41 goals this season. When Couturier registers a point, the Flyers' record is 23-4-9 this season. Few players can drive to the net with and without the puck as effectively as Couturier. Senators coach Guy Boucher recently called him a “buy-in guy,” who will essentially do anything that is asked of him and then some. It's difficult to envision how the Flyers would adapt without Couturier. I can't see Nolan Patrick, Scott Laughton or Valtteri Filppula stepping into his role as the No. 1 center, so moving Claude Giroux to the middle and Jake Voracek to left wing on the first line would likely make the most sense.

4. Jakub Voracek 
When healthy, Voracek makes an entire line better, no matter who he’s with. While Voracek commits his share of turnovers and giveaways, his ability to carry the puck into the offensive zone is such an important part of the team’s puck possession metrics. He started the season with Giroux and Couturier before Dave Hakstol was forced to break up that trio in a desperate attempt to snap the Flyers' 10-game winless streak. His numbers have remained consistent regardless of who he has played with, and while he’s not a primary scoring option, the Flyers' power play funnels in Voracek’s direction with his league-leading 25 power play assists. No one Flyer can step into Voracek’s role and do precisely what he does on a nightly basis.

5. Claude Giroux 
Hard to believe that the Flyers' leading scorer and the NHL’s fourth-leading scorer would be fifth on this list, but it speaks more to the depth of the Flyers than it does to Giroux himself. Without Giroux, Couturier would not be enjoying the career season he’s had, and even Travis Konecny for that matter. Giroux is back playing in the 20-minute range after an injury-plagued season, and like Couturier and Voracek, redistributing those minutes would not come easily. There are the intangibles to Giroux’s game that are hard to quantify. Giroux's absence would create several holes — the ability to create offense with his vision and hockey IQ, his leadership, and the importance of winning crucial faceoffs. At 58.5 percent, Giroux ranks third in the NHL in faceoff percentage. 

Devils' Hall wastes no time in overtime

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Devils' Hall wastes no time in overtime

PITTSBURGH -- Taylor Hall beat Matt Murray on a breakaway 27 seconds into overtime to lift the New Jersey Devils to a 4-3 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday night.

Hall was all alone when Nico Hischier found him with a long lead pass. Hall then slipped the puck between Murray's legs for his 33rd goal of the season as New Jersey picked up two vital points in the race for one of the two wild-card spots in the Eastern Conference.

Hall added two assists for New Jersey. Hischier finished with a goal and an assist, and Blake Coleman and Will Butcher also scored for the Devils. Keith Kincaid made 40 stops for the Devils, who finished a season-high six-game road trip 4-2.

Sidney Crosby scored his 25th of the season for Pittsburgh. Brian Dumolin and Phil Kessel scored in the third period as the Penguins erased a two-goal deficit. Murray finished with 30 saves as the Penguins lost for just the second time in their last 17 home games.

New Jersey's drive to end a six-year playoff drought has stalled since the All-Star break. A lopsided loss in San Jose dropped the Devils to just 13-12 since Jan. 30 and skated onto the ice at PPG Paints Arena with a tenuous grasp on the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference (see full recap).

Bruins win on Pastrnak’s last-second goal
DALLAS -- David Pastrnak broke a tie with 12 seconds left and the Boston Bruins scored three straight goals in the third period to rally past the fading Dallas Stars 3-2 on Friday night.

A scramble followed a faceoff in the Dallas end, and Brad Marchand passed to Pastrnak in front. While falling down, he put the puck past Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen.

Tuukka Rask made a season-high 40 saves for the Bruins. Marchand scored Boston's first goal and also assisted on a short-handed goal by Tim Schaller that tied it midway through the third period.

The second-place Bruins won for the first time in three games (1-0-2) to move within four points of Atlantic Division leader Tampa Bay. Boston has already clinched a playoff berth.

The Stars are winless in their last seven games (0-5-2). They remained four points behind Colorado for the second Western Conference wild card (see full recap).

Berglund, Blues push win streak to 4
ST. LOUIS -- Patrik Berglund scored twice and the surging St. Louis Blues beat the Vancouver Canucks 4-1 on Friday night for their fourth consecutive victory.

Vladimir Tarasenko and Dmitrij Jaskin also scored for St. Louis. Jake Allen made 19 saves in his eighth straight start as the Blues won for the sixth time in seven games.

Sam Gagner scored for Vancouver, which has lost eight of nine. Anders Nilsson stopped 21 shots.

The Blues swept the season series and have won their last five games against the Canucks.

Tarasenko extended the lead to 3-1 just 14 seconds into the third period, slipping Jaden Schwartz's pass between Nilsson's legs. Tarasenko missed the previous two games with an upper-body injury.

Jaskin's sixth goal of the season with 2:29 left sealed it for St. Louis (see full recap).

5 crucial developments behind Flyers' playoff push

5 crucial developments behind Flyers' playoff push

With seven games to go, the Flyers are in playoff position.

They sit in the Eastern Conference's top wild-card spot, four points ahead of the next-closest team, while also lurking just one point out of third place and two out of second in the Metropolitan Division.

You would have been hard-pressed to envision such a scenario back when the Flyers had lost 10 straight games and were in dead last of the Metro on Dec. 2.

But, through the streaks — both good and bad — here the Flyers are.

So how did they get here?

Let's look at five keys:

1. Giroux, period
The revitalization has been astounding. 

Claude Giroux's precipitous turnaround is the biggest reason the Flyers find themselves smelling postseason hockey again.

At age 30 and coming off a career low in goals for a full season and a third straight drop-off in scoring, the Flyers' captain has buried those 14 markers and 58 points in the past. This season, he has 26 goals and an NHL-high 64 assists, while reaching the 90-point plateau for the second time in his career. 

When the regular season is over, he will very likely own new career highs in goals, assists and points.

Tip your hat to the guy.

2. Do-it-all Coots
Sean Couturier has done yeoman's work in his breakout year.

Obviously the team-best 30 goals are nice, but he does so much more for this team.

He plays the third-most minutes (21:38) among all NHL forwards, leads the Flyers in PK time by a landslide and his plus-26 rating is top 10 in the league.

3. The kid is here
With a greater role, Travis Konecny has made a crucial jump in Year 2.

Since Dec. 28, the 21-year-old has put up 34 points (18 goals, 16 assists) and a plus-17 rating in 38 games, a stretch in which the Flyers are 22-12-4.

And since Jan. 20, Konecny has the same number of goals (16) as Alex Ovechkin and Nathan MacKinnon.

4. Defensive leaders
While the Flyers have stomached inconsistency and change on defense, Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere have served as two pillars.

Imagine if one of the two got hurt? Or if Provorov endured a sophomore slump and Gostisbehere didn't rebound from his own last season?

Who knows where the Flyers would be.

Provorov and Gostisbehere are first and third, respectively, in minutes per game on the team, while both have netted 13 goals with "Ghost" leading all NHL blueliners in power-play tallies (seven) and man-advantage points (29).

It's not just offense, either. Provorov is ultra steady and Gostisbehere has improved in his own end.

5. Lookin' like No. 2
Nolan Patrick's numbers don't jump off the page, but his evolvement from the start of the season to now is one of the bigger storylines of this season.

Following an underwhelming first 40 games (with an injury mixed in), the second overall pick now looks supremely comfortable and makes a clear impact, even when he's not scoring.

The 19-year-old is playing well centering Jakub Voracek and Oskar Lindblom on the second line and showed tons of power-play potential filling in for an injured Wayne Simmonds.

Patrick has 16 points (seven goals, nine assists) in his last 26 games after recording nine (three goals, six assists) in his first 40.

He's been a different player.