Flyers

Despite loss to Kings, Flyers encouraged by newfound defensive identity

Despite loss to Kings, Flyers encouraged by newfound defensive identity

BOX SCORE

Prepare yourself.
 
This is the style of hockey Dave Hakstol wants his Flyers playing the remainder of the season.
 
It’s not overly exciting.
 
It’s defensive hockey. And it gives them a chance to get points every night.
 
One-man forecheck. Defensemen not pinching. Making quick judgments whether or not to commit to a battle on the wall near the blue line if the outcome is in doubt.
 
The downside, as the Flyers saw firsthand in Saturday’s 1-0 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Kings at the Wells Fargo Center, is your offense is greatly restrained.
 
“We’re trying to put more pressure and create more turnovers, but at the same time, guys are responsible defensively,” said checking line center Sean Couturier. “The 50/50 battles where you are hesitatant, you’re better off backing off and playing it safe. We limited turnovers and scoring chances that way.”
 
This style will earn the Flyers points.
 
That said, it was largely goalie Michal Neuvirth who earned this one point with a half-dozen incredible saves just to get the game into OT.
 
He had Jeff Carter, who scored the game winner at 2:35, talking to himself. Carter had eight of the 28 shots the Kings unloaded.
 
Conversely,  the Flyers focused on defense with 29 blocks versus just 17 shots on goalie Peter Budaj, who paled in comparison to Neuvirth in terms of scoring chances he faced.
 
“He played unbelievable; he made huge saves,” Mark Streit said of his goaltender. “He was already down and he still made saves. Helped us big time. That is what you need this time of year.
 
“Big goaltending. He was in charge and he was calm. Always in good positioning and not scrambling out there. I was impressed with his game.”
 
Neuvirth’s first huge moment came in the second period when Jakub Voracek turned the puck over coming out of his end directly to Dustin Brown in the slot. Neuvirth had a diving, outstretched glove snare of the shot. Brown skated past him and looked back in stunned disbelief.
 
He had a similar save on Tanner Pearson and even Carter in overtime. Making consecutive starts for the first time since early November, Neuvirth was rock solid in net and likely starts Monday against St. Louis, too.
 
He is 2-0-1 in this brief three-game stretch with a 0.99 goals against average and .958 save percentage.
 
“He had a calmness to his game today,” Hakstol said. “That’s an important aspect. Three or four big saves for us and a bunch of other pretty good ones.
 
“He went out and did his job. He was one of the group who went out and battled as hard as he could. He was a big part of us gaining one point.”

The Kings are a bigger, stronger, more physical bunch. They came at the Flyers hard in the opening period with a strong forecheck backed up by significant pressure outside the blue line. Not a trap, but certainly a full press that caused the Flyers repeated problems on the breakout.
 
“They play a hard, heavy style when you look at the makeup of their team,” Hakstol said. “They’re built that way. This time of year, there is less and less space.”
 
Through 40 minutes, what few times the Flyers had the puck in the Kings end they lacked for sustained puck possession and zone time.
 
Both teams traded scoring chances in the opening minutes of the second period as Tyler Taffoli ripped a shot off the crossbar and carom became a breakaway from Sean Couturier the other way with him smacking the left post.
 
Couturier’s breakaway was the Flyers' best scoring chance.
 
“A tight game, I don’t think they had more either but more shots,” Couturier said. “Scoring chances? It was pretty even and tight out there. Not a whole lot of space. Like a playoff game. At the end of the day, we have to find a way to win those games.
 
“We let a point slip but we can’t be down on ourselves. It’s a good team and veteran experience team. They’re a playoff team. We battled hard. It could have gone either way.”
 
His breakaway illustrated a problem the Flyers faced in this game – no follow shots.  It happened all afternoon.
 
The Flyers wasted a golden chance to break the scoreless tie early in the third period with a power play as they abused the puck with turnovers and poor choices on passes amid pressure.
 
“They always make you make an extra play,” Voracek noted. “That’s the way it is. We didn’t have many shots and a few quality chances. Coots hits the post. We couldn’t capitalize.”
 
Less offense and more defense equals more points for the Flyers right now.
 
“We want to jump into the play and create offense and be the fourth guy on the rush but at the same time, you don’t want to get caught out there,” Streit said.
 
“Same on the pinches. When you are not sure, just pull back. Play it safe ... We have to build on that.”

Andrew MacDonald out 4-6 weeks with lower-body injury

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AP Images

Andrew MacDonald out 4-6 weeks with lower-body injury

A roster spot for Samuel Morin appears to have opened up.

Andrew MacDonald will miss 4-6 weeks with a lower-body injury, Flyers general manager Ron Hextall announced Sunday. MacDonald will likely land on injured reserve.

The injury likely occurred midway through the third period against the Oilers on Saturday, when MacDonald blocked a Mark Letestu slap shot with 10:48 left in regulation and 1:44 left on an Edmonton power play.

MacDonald hobbled around on basically on one leg before being able to clear the puck and make it to the bench after 44 seconds. MacDonald blocked a game-high six shots Saturday.

“You just got to get up,” MacDonald said after the Flyers’ 2-1 win. “If you don’t get up, it’s 5-on-3. There are other opportunities that can arise from it. Do your best and try to hang in there. Wait for some help. Wait until you clear it. Everyone battles through it.

“You take a shot. You just get up, get back in there and help your guys.”

With MacDonald injured, the Flyers now have six defensemen. Brandon Manning has been a healthy scratch the past two games as Travis Sanheim drew back into the lineup.

The Flyers have yet to make a corresponding roster move, but considering Morin nearly made the team out of training camp and hung around for the four-game season-opening West Coast trip, it’s a safe assumption that Morin will find his way back to the NHL.

Morin had a goal and an assist for the Phantoms on Saturday night, an assist Friday night and points in all his three games in Lehigh Valley.

If Morin does come back up, the question is will he play?

The Flyers were reluctant to play three rookie defensemen on their season-opening trip and scratched both Sanheim and Morin for the season opener.

Things have changed now, though. MacDonald is third on the Flyers in ice time, averaging 19:36 while playing with Ivan Provorov, who will now find himself with a new partner.

Dave Hakstol could insert Manning into the lineup, which is a strong possibility. How Hakstol draws up his pairings remains to be seen, though it’s unlikely he’ll break up Shayne Gostisbehere and rookie Robert Hagg. It’s possible Provorov finds himself with Manning or Morin, or perhaps Radko Gudas. We’ll know more after Monday’s practice.

Calling up Morin is not Hextall’s only option. The Flyers also have T.J. Brennan in the AHL, who is a better fit as a seventh defenseman.

Scott Laughton credits longtime skating coach Dawn Braid for NHL rebirth

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USA Today Images

Scott Laughton credits longtime skating coach Dawn Braid for NHL rebirth

After spending nearly the entire 2016-17 campaign at Lehigh Valley, Flyers center Scott Laughton looks like a whole different player this season. But the demotion and time spent in the minor leagues aren’t the only reasons behind his NHL rebirth.

Laughton also became a far better skater.

Through eight games, Laughton has two goals and one assist with a plus-one rating – hardly the kind of numbers that typically garner a lot of attention. However, the former first-pick is centering a quality fourth line for the Flyers, a grouping that has been strong in its own end while also generating impressive offensive opportunities at the other. Laughton leads the club’s forwards in shorthanded time on ice as well, playing a huge role in a penalty-killing unit that’s managed to ward off all but one of the last 13 power plays it’s faced.

The difference is apparent, and Laughton knows it, too. Some of that comes with age and experience – he’s only 23, with 117 NHL games under his belt. Yet Laughton directs much of the credit for his growth on the ice to his longtime skating coach, Dawn Braid.

“Worked with the same skating coach I have been for the last six, seven years,” Laughton said Friday of his offseason regimen. “She actually just got hired with Arizona. She was a skating coach there.

“I've been working with her. I did a lot of tight edges, a lot of tight work, and I did a lot of crossovers to try and develop speed. I think everything kind of comes together though — your off-ice training combined with that — and just getting stronger as I get older. I'm getting older and coming into my body.”

A former figure skater, Braid was named the Coyotes' skating coach in August of 2016, become the NHL’s first full-time female coach in the process. From the sound of things, the hiring was long overdue.

Braid had built a following around the league, and from players vastly more acclaimed than Laughton.

“She works with (Islanders center and four-time All-Star) John Tavares and helped him,” Laughton said. “She's got (Stars center Jason Spezza). She's got a bunch of guys. A lot of guys go to her. She's like Barb Underhill in Toronto. They were partners.

“I've been skating with her since I was in first year of juniors, so I really like her.”

It sounds like Laughton is getting an education in more than how to be better on his skates. As Braid has worked with more NHL stars and teams, she’s began teaching more than just being quicker and more fluid on the ice.

There are applicable hockey lessons and techniques involved in their training.

“I think she's really incorporated puck work,” Laughton said. “It used to be no pucks. She watches game film and things like that, and sees what's going on in the game and tries to help you that way.”

Whatever Laughton is doing, it appears to be working. A year ago, he couldn’t crack the Flyers’ main roster, managing to appear in just two games. He finished with 19 goals, 20 assists and a plus-17 rating in 60 games for the Phantoms in 16-17, with an additional two goals and one assists in five playoff tilts. Despite finishing with a 39-33-10 record and missing the postseason, the big club never felt as though Laughton was needed.

It’s early into the 17-18 campaign, but it’s already difficult to imagine this Flyers squad without Laughton’s contributions – so give the assist to Baird on this one.