Why Flyers need Samuel Morin now

Why Flyers need Samuel Morin now

VOORHEES, N.J. — We heard it again Tuesday night from Dave Hakstol: “Hard and heavy.”

“[The Ducks] are a heavy team, a hard team down low," Hakstol said. "They are going to get some pucks.”

So what exactly does hard and heavy mean? 

Here’s Brandon Manning’s definition: “With L.A., not only are they big, but they can skate as well. I think same thing with Anaheim. You look at their lineup and their back end, they’re physically strong. They win puck battles and that’s not always about size and presence, it’s about winning those battles.”  

Big. Hard. Heavy. Attributes more suited for Western Conference teams, who have tailored their lineups for the rugged Pacific and Central division style of play.

Even the Edmonton Oilers, who drafted high-end skill and speed for years, realized they needed some "hard and heavy" in their lineup, which explains the signings of 6-foot-3 Patrick Maroon and 6-4 Milan Lucic the past few seasons.

While the Flyers did a brilliant job eliminating Connor McDavid last Saturday, guess who provided the Oilers' only goal? Maroon, who physically dominated a smaller Nolan Patrick down in the corner.

From his perch on the bench, backup goalie Michal Neuvirth had this observation: "Anaheim is a big, heavy team, similar like Nashville. It seems like we’re having a tougher time against bigger teams.”

It may be a small sample size, but Neuvirth’s right and the Flyers' record indicates that: 2-0 against the East, 3-4 against the West. In fact, the Flyers have as many even-strength and shorthanded goals (11) in those two games against Washington and Florida as they do in the seven games against Western Conference opponents.

Jori Lehtera, having played three seasons in St. Louis, is well aware of the differences in styles.

"Our division now is like way more smaller guys," Lehtera said, "but more skill and speed. [Against the West], you have to be harder in the battles and you can't make easy mistakes." 

With a fresh Ryan Getzlaf returning to the lineup Tuesday, the Ducks were indeed bigger, harder and heavier, and from the opening period, it was rather obvious containing Anaheim’s top line of Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Rickard Rakell was going to be a monumental challenge for the Flyers. They had possession time and it was only a matter of time before the scoresheet reflected that.

Two goals, three assists and a plus-6 was the final tally on a team that crushed the Flyers, 6-2, at the Wells Fargo Center.

When the Flyers faced the Getzlaf-less Ducks for the first time Oct. 7, they were able to succeed in overtime with a more mobile, less imposing lineup. Defenseman Ivan Provorov almost singlehandedly shut down the Ducks' top line.

What the Flyers needed Tuesday night was a little bit of nasty. 

Paging, or texting these days, 6-6 Samuel Morin, that one player with size who has apparently drawn the short end of Hakstol’s stick.

While Morin made the Flyers’ opening night roster and stuck around for the four-game West Coast road trip, we still don’t know how his game translates to the NHL.

However, Morin’s stature, physicality and stick work could have been a disruptive force against the Ducks, or against any of these “hard and heavy” teams.

In fact, Morin’s desire to drop the gloves could have also come in handy after Kevin Bieksa leveled Radko Gudas with a hard right.

"The fight was a big thing for us,” Getzlaf said. “Sometimes it can get some momentum for you. Getting in there and building some momentum for our group and we built off of it.”

As much as the NHL has moved away from fighting and open-ice checks, the game of hockey is still played with a physical edge. The Flyers may have a handful of middleweight-division players who will get their hands dirty, but their only heavyweight is doing grunt work in the AHL.

And the best part of Morin’s game is he’s also capable of providing some skill with surprising mobility for a player of his size.

The Flyers should have seen this coming. In an unusual scheduling quirk, 23 of the team’s first 33 games come against the big, bad West.

If the Flyers were a Western Conference team (like they were during the expansion era), you would have to think Morin would be a mainstay on the 23-man roster.

Tuesday’s lackluster effort, coupled with the loss of Andrew MacDonald, forced Hakstol to play blue-line roulette once again.

Provorov started Tuesday's game with Robert Hagg, was paired with Gudas to start the third period and then teamed with Shayne Gostisbehere Wednesday.

Travis Sanheim started out on the right side with Manning, saw time with Provorov in the third period, and has now shifted back to the left with Hagg on his right.

At this point, it seems Hakstol will try just about anything … that doesn’t include Morin.

“Right now, it’s about the group of six that are here,” Hakstol said. “I don’t really want to go too far beyond that. These guys have done a good job, and I’ll be honest with you, the group of six did a pretty good job in the first period last night. So right now, the focus is on the group of six that are right here.”

Perhaps Morin will get a hard and heavy look when “hard and heavy” is on the Flyers' schedule again.

Patrick back
Surprisingly, Nolan Patrick returned to the ice for Wednesday’s practice session a little more than 12 hours after Chris Wagner unloaded a shoulder-to-shoulder hit that appeared to have jolted Patrick’s head. Patrick left the game and never returned for precautionary reasons.

“It was good to have the group that we had, and he (Nolan) was part of that especially for a young guy coming off a night like that,” Hakstol said. “You want him back in practice the next day and being sharp and working at his game. I thought Nolan was doing that today.”

Starting in Ottawa?
Neuvirth was the first player off the ice Wednesday, which has been a good indication he’s scheduled to start Thursday’s game in Ottawa. 

Neuvirth has been rock solid in his three starts, not allowing more than two goals. Neuvirth currently leads all qualified NHL goaltenders with a 1.36 goals-against average and a .957 save percentage.

“Yeah, I mean, I’ve only played three games," Neuvirth said. "I don’t think it’s a big deal about the numbers. For me, it’s all about winning games. I’ve only won one hockey game, so it’s definitely going to be a big game for me tomorrow.”

Best of NHL: Blue Jackets shut out Rangers

AP Images

Best of NHL: Blue Jackets shut out Rangers

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Sergei Bobrovsky made 36 saves for his 21st career shutout and Zach Werenski and Artemi Panarin scored in the Columbus Blue Jackets' 2-0 victory over the New York Rangers on Friday night.

New York ran into a hot goalie in Bobrovsky, the reigning Vezina Trophy winner who notched his second shutout of the season in powering Columbus to its third straight victory.

Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist was nearly as good against the increasingly aggressive Blue Jackets, stopping 40 shots on the night. The Rangers (11-8-1) lost their second straight following a six-game win streak.

After a scoreless first period in which both goalies made some slick, sprawling saves, Werenski found the back of the net with his sixth goal of the season 13:34 into the second.

Brandon Dubinsky lost the handle of the puck in the slot, and Werenski picked it up just inside the right circle and beat Lundqvist with a one-timer.

Columbus (12-7-1) was the aggressor in the second frame, outshooting the Rangers 19-9, and kept up the pressure in the third.

Panarin scored his fourth goal of the season on a power play 7:14 into the third period, rocketing a slap shot from the high slot that ricocheted off the bar and in.

The Blue Jackets are 9-1-0 this season when allowing two goals or fewer (see full recap).

Red Wings’ 3rd-period goals enough to top Sabres
DETROIT -- Tomas Tatar scored a go-ahead goal midway through third period and the Detroit Red Wings went on to beat the Buffalo Sabres 3-1 on Friday night.

Detroit's Luke Glendening broke a scoreless tie late in the second period. Ryan O'Reilly pulled Buffalo into a 1-all tie 5:50 into the third.

Dylan Larkin scored late in the game and Jimmy Howard had 19 saves for the Red Wings. They have won consecutive games at home for the first time this season.

Buffalo's Robin Lehner stopped the first 20 shots he faced and finished with 30 saves.

The Sabres have lost four straight, one away from their longest losing streak of the season, but were thankful they didn't lose more than a game in Detroit.

Jack Eichel went to the dressing room late in the second period after coming off the ice slowly, keeping weight off his right skate following a collision with Glendening, and making a brief stop on the bench. Buffalo's standout center was cleared to return at the start of the third period.

After a scoreless first period with a combined 14 shots, Detroit outshot Buffalo 13-4 in the second and took control without that translating to a big lead (see full recap).

End to End: How to solve the Flyers' scoring woes

End to End: How to solve the Flyers' scoring woes

Throughout the season, we'll ask questions about the Flyers to our resident hockey analysts and see what they have to say.

Going End to End today are producers/reporters Tom Dougherty and Jordan Hall.

The topic: How to solve the Flyers' scoring woes.

If Thursday night's 3-2 shootout loss in Winnipeg confirmed anything, it's the Flyers cannot break up their top line. They might not be able to score much, but their only scoring is coming from Sean Couturier, Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek.

The Couturier line accounts for 48 percent of the Flyers' offense, or 25 goals. Factor the defense and top line together, and that's 59 percent, as the blue line has produced six tallies this season.

Of the 21 goals the Flyers have scored that do not come from the top line or blue line, 12 have come from two players, Wayne Simmonds and Valtteri Filppula. Simmonds hasn't scored in 11 games, and Filppula has one goal in his past nine games.

Two lines have stayed intact since Day 1 — the Couturier line and the fourth line of Scott Laughton, Taylor Leier and Michael Raffl. Head coach Dave Hakstol has been hesitant about breaking up his fourth line, and rightfully so. Laughton, Leier and Raffl have chemistry, and they're almost always cycling in the offensive zone.

Nolan Patrick just returned after missing three weeks because of a "suspected" concussion and played sparingly against the Jets. He should help the Flyers' scoring woes, but he won't solve them. I think it's time to break up the fourth line, and based on the Winnipeg game, it looks like a possibility Hakstol is considering.

Here's why. Raffl played on the second power-play unit against the Jets, which was a first this season. Perhaps Hakstol didn't want to throw Patrick back into the fire and watched the rookie's minutes.

Breaking up lines Nos. 2, 3 and 4 is the best course of action. Travis Konecny is struggling with confidence, Jordan Weal hasn't been great, and those are two players the Flyers need to get going. It's time to end the Dale Weise in the top-nine experiment.

With what the Flyers have, here is what I would do:

Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
Travis Konecny-Nolan Patrick-Wayne Simmonds
Jordan Weal-Valtteri Filppula-Michael Raffl
Taylor Leier-Scott Laughton-Dale Weise

There's no need to panic if you're the Flyers.

First, you finally have a no-doubt-about-it top line. Voracek, Couturier and Giroux have blended beautifully and are doing damage, as the Flyers entered Friday one of only three teams in the NHL with a trio of players over 20 points each. Don't break that up just because there's an imbalance below it. 

And second, it's a long season. Ups and downs are common and things can change quickly. Just look at last season. The Flyers ripped off 10 straight wins and scored the NHL's second-most goals through the first two months of 2016-17. As we all know, they didn't make the postseason and finished as a bottom-third goal-scoring club.

The Flyers simply need to continue experimenting with their middle six and see what eventually works best. A little patience was going to be required when you're relying on a 19-year-old rookie in Patrick, a 20-year-old still finding himself at this level in Konecny and a 25-year-old facing his first full NHL season in Weal.

And let's not forget, the defense is exceptionally young with two rookies (Robert Hagg and Travis Sanheim), a 20-year-old leader (Ivan Provorov) and a third-year player coming off a sophomore slump (Shayne Gostisbehere).

But back to the forwards. 

If you recall, a stretch from Oct. 10-17 featured Filppula centering Weal and Simmonds on the second line, with Patrick centering Konecny and Weise on the third unit. It resulted in a pretty productive three-game span in which the Flyers picked up two wins and outscored the opposition 18-9.

I really liked the dynamic of that middle six. And the Flyers can now return to it with Patrick suiting up. He will be eased back into heavier minutes, but he can make a difference when healthy and comfortable. Patrick and Konecny can still play plenty of minutes on the third line with less pressure and potentially more favorable matchups.

We've seen Weal and Simmonds work well together, and Filppula adds smarts and steadiness down the middle.

But the important thing to remember is the Flyers are only 19 games into an 82-game grind. Scoring can come and go at times, and there's no reason it can't come down the line.

So, here's what I like best for the Flyers right now:

Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
Jordan Weal-Valtteri Filppula-Wayne Simmonds
Travis Konecny-Nolan Patrick-Dale Weise
Taylor Leier-Scott Laughton-Michael Raffl