2013-14 Flyers evaluation: Defense


2013-14 Flyers evaluation: Defense

This is the second of three parts reviewing the Flyers roster from 2013-14. Previously: A look back at the goaltenders.

Flyers president (then general manager) Paul Holmgren sounded a lot like coach Craig Berube when speaking about his defense on breakup day.

It’s not about the speed of your players, he said, but the ability to pass the puck -- quickly and precisely.

Holmgren said things were fine on the blue line, admitted every team could use more speed as well as a No. 1 impact guy, and didn’t seem all that alarmed at how easily the Rangers made the Flyers look slow during the playoffs.

Defense was an issue last summer. And the summer before. And it remains an issue this summer, as well.

Many NHL clubs have pushed their young defensive prospects into the NHL ahead of schedule and allowed them to develop there.

Club chairman Ed Snider strongly hinted he wanted the Flyers to do that with Shayne Gostisbehere.

What was true last May remains true this May, too: The Flyers are the only NHL club without a single active drafted defenseman since the decade began playing regular minutes for them -- not someone else.

Which is why some people feel Gostisbehere has to play this fall regardless. 

Braydon Coburn
Age: Turns 29
82 GP; 5G, 4A, 17 Pts., minus-6, 22:26 MIN
Cap hit: $4.5 million
Offensively, Coburn saw his numbers continue to decline despite obvious mobility talents and a strong shot he seldom seems to use anymore. His output was a disappointing 17 points. His five goals were the most in four years, however. He played OK much of the regular season, but had a terrible playoffs (minus-6), as did most of the Flyers' defense. His mental lapses, at times, were a concern. He has two years left on his current contract and his name often comes up in trade discussions with clubs in Western Canada, where he was born and resides during the offseason. Coburn played most of the season with Kimmo Timonen, who has pretty much been his longtime partner during their seven-plus years here.

Hal Gill
Age: 39
Stats: 6 GP, no stats, 14:50 MIN
Unrestricted free agent
One of the true professionals in the game, Gill is a quiet leader in the room who served as a mentor for Erik Gustafsson and other young players. He was the ideal seventh man on defense and never complained about his role, even after sitting 44 consecutive games through the second half of the season. Nick Grossmann’s ankle injury forced Gill into the lineup during the playoffs, where his lack of speed was a decisive factor in two goals against during a painful Game 5 loss to the Rangers. The Flyers need younger legs moving forward. Gill is closer to retirement than being re-signed.

Nick Grossmann
78 GP, 1G, 13A, 14 Pts., minus-6; 19:06 MIN
Cap hit: $3.5 million
Grossmann was the second-leading shot blocker on the club with a career-high 174 -- the third time he has eclipsed his record. He was the first defenseman in the NHL this season to reach 100 hits (189) and 100 blocked shots. A right ankle (tendon) injury was costly in the playoffs, as he missed the final three games against the Rangers. Grossmann is tough as nails, but lacks speed. That said, his pairing with Mark Streit was very effective.

Erik Gustafsson
Age: 24
31 GP; 2G, 8A, 10 Pts., plus-7; 17:30 MIN
Status: Restricted free agent
Berube’s staff gave Gustafsson every opportunity this season to force himself into the lineup but the young Swede’s confidence with the puck seemed to wane this year, which is why he spent more time in the press box than on the ice. He's still the quickest defenseman the Flyers have and has very good skills in moving the puck up ice provided he doesn’t get boxed into double-teams. His performance against Pittsburgh in the playoffs a few years ago should have jump-started his continued development. That hasn’t happened -- the Flyers expect more of him. He should be re-signed. His cap hit this season was $1 million.

Andrew MacDonald
Age: 27
19 GP as a Flyer (82 overall); OG, 4A, 4 Pts., minus-3, 21:59 MIN
Cap hit: $5 million
MacDonald gave the Flyers more flexibility, speed and puck movement once he arrived, but his play against the Rangers in the playoffs took a severe nosedive. He was a minus player in four of the seven games. He led the NHL in blocked shots with a mind-boggling 242 during the regular season, though. Had 24 points in 63 games with the Islanders before being traded. A big factor is that he made Luke Schenn a better player, and the pairing was actually very sound most games. His new six-year, $30 million contract kicks in this fall.

Luke Schenn
Age: 24
79 GP, 4G, 8 A, 12 Pts., even, 16:32 MIN
Cap hit: $3.6 million
Schenn led the club with 260 hits. He has to learn to stay closer to the crease, however, as he still tends to get caught outside the dots where he lacks the lateral speed to recover at the net. MacDonald’s arrival allowed him to do what he does best: Hit and block shots (113 blocks). He was far more relaxed once MacDonald arrived and was the Flyers' most consistent defensemen in the playoffs. Both he and brother Brayden, a restricted free agent this summer, could be packaged in a deal somewhere for a more mobile, faster defenseman. He's not a lock to return.

Mark Streit
Age: 36
Stats: 82 GP, 10G, 34 A, 44 Pts., plus-3, 20:38 MIN
Cap hit: $5.25 million
Streit showed flashes of outstanding play this season and then would have a series of games in which he was a turnover machine. He has a strong skating ability and can eat up more minutes (20:38 average) if Timonen retires. He was signed to bolster the power play, but had just 15 power-play points (four goals, 11 assists) and should be able to get 20-15 points there. His overall stats, however, were strong and he improved the Flyers' defense. 

Kimmo Timonen
Stats: 77 GP, 6G, 29 A, 35 Pts., plus-5, 20:19 MIN
Status: Unrestricted free agent
Timonen won his fifth Barry Ashbee Trophy, and deservedly so. Had a remarkably healthy season without the usual back injuries, and participated in the Olympics. He has lost a couple steps but is still a fine skater. He was ninth in the NHL with 19 power-play assists, and seemed to be rejuvenated by his selection to Team Finland at the Sochi Olympics, where he picked up a bronze medal. Timonen’s point production has gone steadily down as he’s gotten older. He’s no longer a $6 million defenseman, yet the Flyers would consider resigning him for half that much in a reduced role. His minutes this year were reduced by one minute a game. The Rangers' speed made him and others on the blue line look slow in the playoffs. He may retire; re-signing may hinge on cap hit and on whether to keep a younger player around instead.

Previously: A look back at the goaltenders.
Next: A look back at the forwards.

Blue Jackets tighten grip for 10th straight win

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Blue Jackets tighten grip for 10th straight win

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 33 shots for his fifth shutout of the season, Cam Atkinson had a goal and an assist, and the Columbus Blue Jackets shut out the Florida Panthers 4-0 on Thursday night for their 10th straight win.

Pierre-Luc Dubois had two assists for the Blue Jackets, who improved to 42-28-5 and joined Philadelphia (1984-86) and Pittsburgh (2010-13) as the only NHL franchises to record 10-game win streaks in consecutive seasons.

The shutout was the 24th of Bobrovsky's career and his seventh straight win. Sonny Milano, Seth Jones and Thomas Vanek -- into an empty net -- also scored for Columbus, which moved into a second-place tie in the Metropolitan Division with idle Pittsburgh, each with 89 points.

Florida dropped to 37-28-7. With 10 games left in the season, the Panthers remained a point behind the idle New Jersey Devils for a playoff spot (see full recap).

Maple Leafs top Predators in Matthews’ return
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Auston Matthews had a goal in his return from a shoulder injury that sidelined him for 10 games and the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Nashville Predators 5-2 on Thursday night.

The Predators had been 14-0-1 since their previous regulation loss on Feb. 17.

James van Riemsdyk and Mitchell Marner each had a goal and an assist, and William Nylander and Jake Gardiner also scored for Toronto, which has won five of six.

Morgan Rielly had three assists for the Maple Leafs, and Tyler Bozak had two. Frederik Andersen stopped 23 shots.

Viktor Arvidsson and Scott Hartnell scored for Nashville. Pekka Rinne had 23 saves (see full recap).

Grubauer, Capitals shut out Red Wings
DETROIT -- Philipp Grubauer made 39 saves for his third shutout of the season, and Brett Connolly scored the game's only goal on a third-period breakaway to lift the Washington Capitals to a 1-0 victory over the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday night.

The Capitals have won six of seven and lead Pittsburgh and Columbus by four points atop the Metropolitan Division as the regular season winds down. Washington has turned increasingly to Grubauer of late after Braden Holtby struggled in February and at the beginning of March. Holtby wasn't available Thursday because of an injury coach Barry Trotz described as a tweak.

The Capitals took the lead with 13:19 remaining in the game after Detroit defenseman Xavier Ouellet couldn't control the puck near Washington's blue line. Connolly and teammate Jakub Vrana went the other way on a two-man breakaway, and Connolly beat Jimmy Howard with a wrist shot to the glove side. It was his 15th goal of the season.

The Red Wings had a goal called back for goalie interference in the first period -- replays showed Tyler Bertuzzi appearing to make contact with Grubauer in front of the net. Detroit squandered a great opportunity in the second when the Red Wings had a two-man advantage for the full 2:00.

Andreas Athanasiou had a breakaway in the third, but couldn't beat Grubauer. Athanasiou had another chance in the final minutes, but his shot deflected wide as Grubauer tried unsuccessfully to grab it with his glove.

Detroit has lost 11 of 12 (see full recap).

Dave Hakstol shows who he can trust in Flyers' win over Rangers

Dave Hakstol shows who he can trust in Flyers' win over Rangers


Who can I trust?

That’s the underlying question Dave Hakstol is attempting to answer almost nightly as the Flyers inch their way toward a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

It was no different in the Flyers' frantic 4-3 win over the Rangers Thursday at the Wells Fargo Center (see observations).

“We were sporadic. The first three or four minutes of the game, we weren’t sharp or crisp,” Hakstol said. “Honestly, we got back on our heels in the last part of the third period. There are things that we obviously have to clean up.”

The cleanup crew Hakstol is looking for must possess a trustworthiness factor that makes each player dependable during crunch time. Against the Rangers, the Flyers' coach was forced to lean heavily on a handful of guys who weren’t even on Hakstol’s roster during the first half of the season.

Matt Read replaced Travis Konecny (who scored two goals) on the top line, and was counted on defensively where Konecny came up short in the previous two periods. Read played 13:52 to Konecny’s 12:29.

“He wasn’t taking care of the puck very well,” Hakstol said of Konecny. “Individuals have got to be better at this time of year and how we manage the puck and the mentality that we’re going to do things with.”

“It’s just part of buying in and doing things for the team” Konecny said. “I have no problem with it. It’s a matter of getting the two points. If that’s the way we’ve got to win, then we’ve got to do that every time.”

The 21-year-old Oskar Lindblom scored the eventual game-winning goal on the opening shift of the third period, and the second-line winger was consistently shifted until the final four minutes of regulation.  

“Everybody’s different. It depends on the player,” Hakstol said. “Oskar is a guy that has come in and fit into the structural part of our game very well if you watch Oskar’s game. He’s just very intelligent in terms of playing within a system. He always finds a way to be on the right side of the puck.”

And then there’s goaltender Alex Lyon, who stepped up following his strong performance in relief of Petr Mrazek Tuesday night in Detroit. 

When the defense in front of him broke down, Lyon answered the call and preserved the Flyers' lead throughout times in the second period and even during a spotty third period.

“I was actually thinking about it before the game today,” Lyon said. “Every game is so different, and you feel different. Circumstances are different, the team is different every day, so I think the best guys are those who can adjust to that, so I try and take a page out of their book.”

And with his 33-save performance, Lyon has put himself in position to start Sunday’s game in Pittsburgh.

If there’s a doghouse for those who perform poorly, then consider this to be Hakstol’s safe house. They may not be the Flyers' best guys, but as of now, they’re the reliable ones.

Or as Hakstol is looking for — those who play on the right side of the puck.