Flyers

Figuring out the Flyers: Defense Part II

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Figuring out the Flyers: Defense Part II

Note: This is the second piece of a two-part series. For Part I, click here.

As we discussed in Part I, if general manager Paul Holmgren does nothing else this summer, he simply must make improvements to the Flyers' blue line. They struggled in 2013, a shortened season during which 13 different players spent time on D for the Flyers.

Here’s a look at our second installment of players under contract, plus pending restricted free agents expected to be re-signed:

Oliver Lauridsen
Age: 24 
Games played: 15
Stats: two goals, one assist
Plus/minus: even
Average ice time: 15:08
Cap hit: restricted free agent this summer
 
His agent said it best: if only he had the meanness of Chris Pronger. He certainly has the size and reach, though he needs to pack more muscle onto that 6-foot-6, 220-pound frame -- 20 pounds would be ideal.
 
Lauridsen handled himself well under trying conditions over the final five weeks of the season when pressed into a starting role because of the team's continual injuries.
 
He scored a couple of goals, had some hilarious quotes about one of them, which was scored off of Bruins D-man Zdeno Chara, and gave the Flyers 15 minutes a night with 36 hits and 24 blocks in 15 games.
 
He’s only going to get better. He could be the team’s seventh man next season, yet the Flyers usually don’t like sitting younger players. He would likely benefit from expanded play with the Phantoms.
 
Like Erik Gustafsson, Lauridsen is an RFA this summer.
 
Brandon Manning
Age: 22
Games played: six
Stats: no goals, two assists
Plus/minus: plus-4
Average ice time: 14:48
Cap hit: restricted free agent this summer
 
Incomplete. Manning played six games in the final month of season because of injuries. He remains a call-up from the Phantoms. Also an RFA this summer.
 
Andrej Meszaros
Age: 27
Games played: 11
Stats: no goals, two assists
Plus/minus: minus-9
Average ice time: 18:27
Cap hit: $4 million (final year)
 
Meszaros was a physical wreck for the Flyers. His long-term durability is the No. 1 concern among all returning defensemen. Worse, he seems convinced he’s under a dark cloud. It can be dangerous if a player goes on the ice thinking he might get hurt.
 
The young Slovak defenseman has had one injury after another since being traded to the Flyers in July 2010. In the summer of 2011, Meszaros had right wrist surgery. In 2011-12, he missed the final 19 games recovering from surgery to remove disk fragments in his back.
 
Last August, while working out in Slovakia, Meszaros suffered a freak right Achilles tendon tear. He returned after the lockout and quickly suffered an AC joint injury to his left shoulder on Jan. 24.
 
That injury saw Meszaros miss the next 21 games though he did not have surgery.
 
Meszaros returned to the Flyers' lineup on March 9 at Boston and played seven games with two assists before being injured again. That’s three times he has injured his left shoulder, going back to 2009 when he was in Tampa.
 
How can the organization not be alarmed at his health? The Flyers say he will be fine, but that is looking at things through rose-colored glasses at this point.
 
Given his cap hit and injury history, it makes him very hard to trade.
 
Yet keeping Meszaros around and healthy is just as dicey at this point, too.
 
Luke Schenn
Age: 23
Games played: 47
Stats: three goals, eight assists
Plus/minus: plus-3
Average ice time: 21:51
Cap hit: $3.6 million for next three years
 
Schenn is not Pronger.
 
What he is, though, is a young, healthy (can’t say that about most of the Flyers' D-men), big blueliner who is going to get his hits and blocked shots but will forever remain a one-on-one liability in tight spaces.
 
Schenn had a very poor start, giving rise to fan outcry about the trade of James van Riemsdyk for him at the conclusion of last summer’s NHL draft in Pittsburgh.
 
These are the kind of deals that take several years to play out. For instance, remember the Flyers traded Ruslan Fedotenko et al., including picks to Tampa Bay the night before the 2002 draft in Toronto to get the Bolts’ top pick (Joni Pitkanen)?
 
Everyone said Flyers GM Bob Clarke had fleeced Jay Feaster.
 
All Fedotenko ever did was score two of the most dramatic Game 7 goals in Stanley Cup history to give the Bolts the Cup over Calgary in 2004. Point? These deals require time to evaluate.
 
Schenn picked up his game in the second half of the season and finished as the Flyers’ leader in hits (187) and blocked shots (102).
 
He’s best protected when playing with a mobile partner who can cover up for him. That was Timonen for much of the season, and then Lauridsen. Schenn won’t ever make up for his lack of speed, but his positional play should improve as he gets older.
 
Depending upon what happens this summer, Schenn’s partner could change again, but you can definitely ascertain there is a development curve with him.
 
Kimmo Timonen
Age: 38
Games played: 45
Stats: five goals, 24 assists
Plus/minus: plus-3
Average ice time: 21:45
Cap hit: $6 million (final year)
 
Much like Meszaros, the Flyers’ reigning blue-line veteran (he has 14 NHL seasons under his belt) represents a considerable health risk next season.
 
That really takes away from the $6 million contract extension Timonen signed in February, as well, because for the most part, he has been banged up at the end of every season he’s been a Flyer.
 
Sometimes, it’s bad. Before being shut down, he played 29 games with a bothersome right foot that turned out to a compression fracture likely suffered on Feb. 16 in Montreal.
 
No one doubts this former Iron Man’s integrity or desire never to be removed from a lineup, but the Flyers need to find a way to cut Timonen’s minutes and keep him healthy. His ice time was higher this year (21:46) than last (21:14).
 
Though he is noticeably a step or two slower, Timonen still won his fourth Barry Ashbee Trophy and finished tied for sixth in points among NHL defensemen.
 
Timonen has incurred seven injuries since 2008-09: a concussion, a chip fracture to his ankle, a broken toe, injuries to both feet that did not require surgery, a hip flexor and herniated disk surgery.
 
The Flyers need to identify a younger No. 1 to take his spot after next season. That has to happen this summer. They tried last summer and failed.

Flyers-Canucks observations: Losing streak reaches 5 straight

Flyers-Canucks observations: Losing streak reaches 5 straight

BOX SCORE

The last-place Flyers continue to lose ground in the Metropolitan Division as they suffered a 5-2 loss to the Vancouver Canucks at the Wells Fargo Center Tuesday. The loss was their fifth in a row and sixth in their last seven home games. 

The Canucks’ leading scorer, rookie Brock Boeser, scored twice as Vancouver ripped off four unanswered goals after falling behind 1-0.

Making his first start in 17 days, Michal Neuvirth surrendered four goals and was pulled at the 14:40 mark of the second period in favor of Brian Elliott. Elliott stopped all 13 shots he faced.

Vancouver’s power play was 2 for 3 as the Flyers have allowed five power-play goals over their last two games.

The Flyers’ record (8-9-4) dipped below the .500 mark for the first time this season. 

• From just inside the left circle, Jake Voracek ripped home a big shot that beat Jacob Markstrom glove side high in the third period. That seemed to wake up the Flyers, who had been sleepwalking through the previous 30 minutes.

• Dave Hakstol elected to switch up his second and third lines, pairing Michael Raffl with Nolan Patrick and Wayne Simmonds.

• The Flyers had another defensive breakdown, which led to a Canucks’ 2-on-1 opportunity. Robert Hagg stepped up to deliver a hit on Sven Baertschi, which allowined the Canucks to break out of their zone — a real problem area throughout this game.

• Travis Sanheim was called for a very minor slashing penalty during the second period, but anything with a stick near the hands will be called.

• On Vancouver’s power play in the second, the Canucks had a clean entry over the blue line after Taylor Leier had a shorthanded chance. Once again, the Sedin brothers teamed up. Brandon Manning stepped up in coverage, which allowed Boeser to slide into the slot unguarded and score an uncontested shot that Neuvirth had no shot to stop.

• The Flyers were actually outshooting the Canucks six and a half minutes into the second period, 24-12. Yet they trailed in the game, 3-1. Once again, the Canucks’ quality superseded the Flyers’ quantity of shots.  

• Not sure what Valtteri Filppula was looking for on the Flyers’ first power play of the second period as he flipped the puck out to the point with nobody home. That gave the Canucks a shorthanded chance.

• The Canucks extended their lead to 4-1 with their fourth straight goal. Neuvirth failed to corral a somewhat easy rebound and allowed Sven Baertschi to bat in the puck out of midair. At that point, Hakstol elected to replace Neuvirth with Elliott.

• Voracek had his second breakaway opportunity in the final period. This time, he cut back into the middle of the ice but he couldn’t finish the play as the Canucks’ defenseman tied him up.     

• Now that Raffl was moved off the fourth line, the unit doesn’t possess the same speed with Jori Lehtera at right wing. However, the line had good pressure early on in the game.

• Voracek seems to have more east-west speed with the puck than he does moving north-south. He didn’t quite have the burst on a potential breakaway as Canucks defenseman Alex Biega caught up with him and denied him of a quality scoring chance.

• The Flyers won 68 percent of their first period faceoffs. The biggest one came when Filppula won the draw in the offensive zone and allowed Ivan Provorov to make a move and throw the puck on net. The puck deflected off the right arm of Alex Biega and past goalie Markstrom for the Flyers’ only goal of the first period.

• I just don’t like Shayne Gostisbehere’s game over the past few weeks. Obviously, his lack of discipline cost the Flyers a potential win against the Flames, and he allowed Daniel Sedin to get behind him on Vancouver’s first goal. Credit Henrik Sedin, who threaded a one-handed pass to brother Daniel Sedin that allowed him to make a move on Neuvirth. The Flyers’ netminder had it covered but the puck hit the post, deflected off Neuvirth and rolled past the goal line.

• Earlier in the first period, “Ghost” lost track of Markus Granlund, who separated himself from the coverage and got off a shot to Neuvirth’s right. Gostisbehere looks like a different player depending which side of the ice he’s on. He’s obviously much more confident in the offensive zone, where he blasted a point shot off the post.

• The Flyers had a neutral zone turnover, were also on a defensive change and failed to get the puck deep when the Canucks scored their second goal just 19 seconds after their first one. Boeser took a big slap from the right circle that beat Neuvirth blocker side. Neuvirth appeared to be slightly off his angle.

• A solid opening minute from the Flyers’ first power-play unit that generated three shots on net. It appeared as if Simmonds took a cross check in the back on a Gostisbehere slap shot as he couldn’t locate the rebound. 

Lines, pairings and scratches

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

Defensemen
Ivan Provorov-Robert Hagg
Brandon Manning-Shayne Gostisbehere
Travis Sanheim-Mark Alt

Goalies
Michal Neuvirth
Brian Elliott

Best of NHL: Johnny Gaudreau extends point streak to 10 games

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Best of NHL: Johnny Gaudreau extends point streak to 10 games

WASHINGTON -- Johnny Gaudreau had a goal and an assist to extend his career-best point streak to 10 games and the Calgary Flames beat the Washington Capitals 4-1 on Monday night.

Gaudreau scored and assisted on Sean Monahan's goal, one of two on the power play for Calgary, which has won four of its past five. Mikael Backlund and captain Mark Giordano also scored for the Flames, who got 29 saves from Mike Smith.

Gaudreau, nicknamed "Johnny Hockey," has eight goals and 11 assists during his point streak. Led by the Carneys Point, New Jersey, native, the Flames are 7-3-0 in that time.

Lars Eller scored the only goal for the Capitals, who took five minor penalties and lost for the third time in four games. Braden Holtby allowed four goals on 39 shots.

The Flames came in feeling good after a comeback victory in Philadelphia and a 1950s-themed train ride to Washington. But the Capitals took a 1-0 lead just 62 seconds in when Jakub Vrana found Eller for his fourth goal of the season.

Calgary controlled much of the play from that point on, tying it on Gaudreau's goal 4:49 in and taking a lead on Monahan's power-play goal 5:22 into the second. Monahan had a goal and an assist after a power-play hat trick Saturday against the Flyers.

Washington's parade to the penalty box gave the Flames momentum and then their third goal at 4:38 of the second when Backlund buried a loose puck. Giordano's goal to make it 4-1 was effectively a third power-play goal as it came 1 second after ex-Flames forward Alex Chiasson's penalty expired (see full recap).

Blue Jackets edge Sabres for 4th straight win
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Sergei Bobrovsky made three of his 30 saves on a power play in the final two minutes, and the Columbus Blue Jackets beat the Buffalo Sabres 3-2 on Monday night for their fourth straight victory.

Rookie Pierre-Luc Dubois, Artemi Panarin and Boone Jenner scored for the Blue Jackets. Markus Nutivaara had two assists.

Buffalo dropped its sixth straight game. Evander Kane and Sam Reinhart scored for the Sabres, and Robin Lehner stopped 25 shots.

Bobrovsky made his biggest save when he slid across the crease to kick away a Ryan O'Reilly one-timer with 1:49 remaining. Bobrovsky got a piece of Kyle Okposo's shot off the rebound and the puck trickled across the goal line while Okposo fell into the net. Officials determined on replay that the goal did not count.

The Blue Jackets scored first for the fifth straight game when Dubois collected a loose puck in the slot and lifted a wrist shot over Lehner four minutes into the second period. Oliver Bjorkstrand set up Dubois' third goal of the season with a pass from behind the net.

Panarin scored his fifth on a high wrist shot from the right circle 5:47 into the third. Jenner added his third goal of the year on a play in front of the net midway through the period (see full recap).

Raanta, Coyotes end Maple Leafs' win streak
TORONTO -- Antti Raanta made 26 saves and the Arizona Coyotes ended the Toronto Maple Leafs' winning streak at six games with a 4-1 victory Monday night.

Brendan Perlini, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Max Domi and Tobias Rieder scored for the Coyotes (5-15-3), who have won three in a row for the first time this season.

Arizona rookie Clayton Keller had two assists to give him 20 points in 23 games.

James van Riemsdyk scored for the Maple Leafs (14-8-0).

Frederik Andersen had his shutout streak snapped at 1:41:28 when the Coyotes scored in the first period. Andersen, who made 28 saves, had blanked the opponent in back-to-back games.

Toronto star Auston Matthews, playing in his 100th career game, appeared to tie it 2-all with 3:50 to play but the goal was overturned after a replay review because of goalie interference by Zach Hyman (see full recap).