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.”

Panthers upset West-best Golden Knights in OT

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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.