Flyers

Why Flyers' depth is really a mirage

Why Flyers' depth is really a mirage

Updated: 6:10 p.m.

VOORHEES, N.J. — Maybe there was a false sense of reality right from Wayne Simmonds' opening hat trick to the eight-goal outburst against the Washington Capitals in the home opener.

“Just remember, after eight games, the media was all giddy about our team,” Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said a month ago in Calgary. “We were like, ‘It’s a little early about getting too giddy about this team.’ We were a pretty good team then. Pretty good.”

Perhaps the giddiness (if that truly existed) was a result of having some giddyap to their game in that first month when the Flyers received contributions up and down their lineup while displaying an ability to transition out of their zone efficiently and effectively.

Offensively, the Flyers were ranked in the top five in goals per game, but the “O" was more of an oasis, the illusion of a balanced offensive attack.

Earlier this week when I asked certain Flyers about the team’s identity or lack thereof, head coach Dave Hakstol pointed directly to “depth” as that identifiable trait.

Coming out of training camp, that may have been the case. Oskar Lindblom, who many believed was NHL ready, was assigned to Lehigh Valley, while Samuel Morin was essentially the eighth defenseman when the season started. The Flyers had a certain degree of depth, but as we’ve discovered over the past six weeks, it’s not the organizational depth needed to carry them over an 82-game schedule.

Through those first 10 games, Jordan Weal had five points and was averaging nearly 14:26 a game. In the 23 games proceeding October, Weal has just five more points, averaging just 11:51.

Fourth-liners Taylor Leier and Scott Laughton have seen their ice time take a significant hit as well. Combined, they were logging over 25 minutes through the first month of the season to just under 21½ minutes in December. Some of that decrease in ice time has been Hakstol’s decision to take Leier off the penalty kill.

Laughton agreed a handful of the Flyers' supporting cast just haven’t been relied upon as much as they were during the opening weeks of the season.

“Yeah, I’m not sure. I guess it’s just the situation and you've got to know your role,” Laughton said. “That’s the biggest thing. I knew my role coming into the year was going to be this and you've got to stick with it. Even though you’re not playing the big minutes, I think it’s an important role to try and create momentum.”

However, it’s been the role players of the Flyers' opponents who have provided that momentum recently. On Tuesday night, the Penguins received a pair of goals from fourth-liners Ryan Reaves and Tom Kuhnhackl. Last week in Florida, the Panthers' Jared McCann and Derek MacKenzie chipped in with decisive goals.

Hakstol has been forced to shorten his bench to protect third-period leads and has resorted to double shifting some of his skilled players when trying to make up a third-period deficit.

From a forward standpoint, you have Sean Couturier, Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Simmonds and Valtteri Filppula earning the bulk of the playing time, and then there’s every other forward in one collective clump. Compare that to the NHL’s top team, the Lightning, who have a perfect balance with eight forwards averaging in the 16-20 minute range.

Sure, few teams have the luxury, but it wasn’t that long ago the Flyers were in that same boat. It just happened to be the last time they won a playoff series in 2012.

Only on defense has the Flyers' depth been tested through injury, as Hakstol has been forced to play 10 different blueliners, the same number they played with all of last season. Collectively that unit has a plus-10 rating, a respectable sum considering the injuries and suspension to Radko Gudas, plus the growing pains of a handful of rookies.

Depth has been an issue within this organization since the lockout in 2013. And unless the Flyers stage an impressive turnaround in the second half of this season, they’ll miss the postseason for the fourth time in the last six years.

Perhaps when Hextall starts to feel giddy about this team again will we truly know they have the depth to compete for a championship.

Roster move
The Flyers on Wednesday night called up forward Tyrell Goulbourne from AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley. He will be available for Thursday's game against the Islanders at the Wells Fargo Center.

The 6-foot, 200-pound winger was drafted by the Flyers in the third round of the 2013 draft and has spent parts of his last three seasons with the Phantoms.

In 34 games with Lehigh Valley this season, the 23-year-old has six goals, five assists and a plus-8 rating.

Panthers upset West-best Golden Knights in OT

uspresswire-panthers-aaron-ekblad.jpg
USA Today Images

Panthers upset West-best Golden Knights in OT

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Aaron Ekblad scored 40 seconds into overtime to lift the Panthers to a 4-3 victory over the Vegas Golden Knights on Friday night, spoiling former coach Gerard Gallant's return to Florida.

Ekblad grabbed a rebound in the high slot and fired it past Malcolm Subban to give Florida its second win in six games this month.

Aleksander Barkov scored his league-leading fifth short-handed goal of the season and had two assists, and Evgenii Dadonov and Jamie McGinn also scored for the Panthers. James Reimer stopped 33 shots.

William Karlsson had a goal and an assist, and David Perron and James Neal also scored for Vegas. Subban finished with 22 saves (see full recap).

Pacioretty, Canadiens snap 3-game skid
WASHINGTON -- Max Pacioretty had two goals and an assist to help the Montreal Canadiens break a three-game losing streak with a 3-2 win over the Washington Capitals on Friday night.

Paul Byron also scored for the Canadiens. Antii Niemi, playing in place of Carey Price, who had been in goal for eight consecutive games, stopped 24 shots.

John Carlson and Lars Eller scored for the Capitals, and Philipp Grubauer finished with 22 saves.

Pacioretty, who has six goals in the last six games, scored Montreal's first goal at 7:08 in the second period and added an empty-netter with 1:18 remaining in the game (see full recap).

Ducks get upper hand on rival Kings again
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Ryan Kesler deflected home Francois Beauchemin's shot for the tiebreaking goal with 7:39 to play and the Anaheim Ducks won their second Freeway Faceoff in seven days, beating the struggling Los Angeles Kings 2-1 Friday night.

Adam Henrique scored early in the third period and John Gibson made 23 saves for the Ducks, who have won six of nine overall.

Rookie Alex Iafallo evened it for Los Angeles moments after Henrique's goal, but Kesler's long deflection sent the puck bouncing past Jonathan Quick. Anaheim then hung on in a frantic final minute to even the archrivals' season series at two games apiece.

Quick stopped 29 shots in the Kings' sixth consecutive loss, extending their longest skid of the season (see full recap).

Flyers have clear path to postseason but ...

Flyers have clear path to postseason but ...

It’s about to get real for the Philadelphia Flyers.

Real serious and potentially really hard. The Flyers have played the fewest divisional games of any team in the NHL.

That might be beneficial if the team located about 40 minutes off the shores of the Atlantic Ocean actually played in the Atlantic Division. The Flyers have hammered Atlantic teams this season: an 8-4-0 record including a win in Tampa and their most recent three-game series sweep of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Whereas the Atlantic houses a collection of domesticated poodles and Pomeranians, the Metropolitan Division is more a breeding ground for vicious Dobermans and pit bulls.

And the Flyers are about to enter the teeth of that beast.

Dave Hakstol’s club plays 19 of their remaining 37 games against the rock-solid Metropolitan, the only 8-team division in hockey without a legitimate doormat or two. 

“It’s good or bad depending on whether you’re winning or not,” general manager Ron Hextall said.“It’s great taking points from other teams and adding to your total. It does put a higher importance on those games for sure. Every game is important, but certain games are just a little more important. Your lows can’t be too low. That’s the bottom line.

“They’re divisional games. They’re huge games for us, especially with how tight it is with that wild card spot,” center Sean Couturier said. “We’ve got to step up and be ready for the challenge.”

Unfortunately for the Flyers, their sore spot over their past two-plus seasons has been their play against the Metropolitan elites — the teams they’re typically chasing in the standings.

4-4-1 vs. Capitals
3-5-2 vs. Rangers
3-6-1 vs. Penguins
2-3-4 vs. Blue Jackets

Collectively, that’s a 12-18-8 record in the Dave Hakstol era with just a 4-9-6 mark on the road. Interestingly, defenseman Brandon Manning believes roster formation has been part of the reason behind the success of the Flyers' opponents.  

“Credit to them, I think they’ve done a good job of getting better every year,” Manning said. “You look at what Pittsburgh does with their turnover and still finding a way to win. Columbus is so much better and you look at Jersey, which hasn’t been the greatest team the past couple of years, but this year they have a really good hockey team. I think credit to those teams for finding a way to get better.” 

And if there’s a direct path to the postseason, then winning these crucial divisional games has to be the way to get there. Since the formation of the NHL’s current four-division alignment in 2013-14, the Metropolitan has sent 17 teams to the playoffs and only once has a team reached the postseason without a winning record within the division — the Pittsburgh Penguins finished 9-17-4 in the Metro in 2014-15. 

The Capitals, Rangers and Blue Jackets also have the luxury of rostering a Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender in crucial divisional games, whereas, Hakstol will rely more on a platoon based on Elliott’s first-half workload and Neuvirth attempting to regain his early season form.  

“I haven’t studied the schedule that much in depth, but considering Moose started a stretch of 25 out of 30 games, that’s a real heavy workload,” Hakstol said. “I would expect the workload to be more spread out than that. We’ll find the best rhythm to be able and have both of them help our team.

“You need two goalies. I don’t care who you are,” Hextall said. “Look around the league. I said it before, there’s no Marty Brodeurs.”

Maybe not, but Saturday it all starts with Brodeur’s former team and with a back-to-back against the Devils and the Capitals this weekend. The Flyers' position within the division can change very drastically one direction or the other.