Flyers

Flyers-Blackhawks: 5 things you need to know

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Flyers-Blackhawks: 5 things you need to know

And so it continues.

The Flyers (35-25-7) host the Chicago Blackhawks (39-15-14) in the third game of a 12-game stretch against teams in playoff position.

Puck drop is set for 7:30 p.m. (NBCSN) at the Wells Fargo Center.

Here are five things you need to know:

1. Level elite
CBC’s Elliotte Friedman pens a column each week called “30 Thoughts.” It is one of the best reads of the week for hockey fans. In this week’s piece, Friedman praises the Flyers for the contracts of Sean Couturier and Matt Read, while also titling Couturier an “elite shutdown player.”

High praise from a well-respected media member, and how can anyone disagree with him after this weekend's sweep of the Penguins?

Couturier marvelously shut down Sidney Crosby, who was pointless in both games (only the second time in 47 regular-season games against the Flyers Crosby went pointless in back-to-back games).

At 21, Couturier's offensive game still hasn't peaked, but he has proven since he entered the league he is a strong defensive forward. He proved Saturday and Sunday he's among the league's best.

The Flyers will need Couturier against Chicago, the defending Stanley Cup champions. The Blackhawks score goals and a lot of them. They lead the NHL in scoring, potting 3.32 goals per game. The Hawks tallied seven in their win over the Flyers on Dec. 11.

Couturier will have his hands full but he's capable of handling the challenge.

2. MVP watch
Claude Giroux had a terrible start to the season -- so bad some Flyers fans questioned his captaincy. He went the first 15 games without a goal and the first five without a point.

That feels like years ago, because Giroux is now among the top scorers in the league. With 69 points, Giroux is tied for fourth in the NHL with Tyler Seguin and Kyle Okposo.

Since Dec. 11, Giroux has the most points in the NHL -- 49 in 38 games. He has 23 points in his last 15 games. He had four in the weekend sweep of the Pens.

Giroux has more points than Patrick Kane (68), Alex Ovechkin (68), Corey Perry (67) and Evgeni Malkin (66).

The 26-year-old has carried the Flyers from in the basement after a franchise-worst start to second place in the Metropolitan Division.

He won't win the Hart Memorial Trophy, but you can bet he will be a finalist.

3. Remember me?
Everyone remembers Patrick Sharp in Philadelphia. He's the guy who netted the Flyers Matt Ellison. Pretty obvious who won that exchange.

Sharp: 218 goals since being traded to Chicago in 2005; two Stanley Cups (2010, 2013); one All-Star appearance; one NHL All-Star MVP; 2014 gold medalist with Team Canada.

Ellison: Seven career games with the Flyers.

Everyone knows that was a bad move, even Bobby Clarke.

Sharp is one of the game's finest goal scorers and he's at it again this year. The 32-year-old has 29 goals and five multi-goal games -- including two hat tricks -- this season. His 65 points are tied for 14th in points with San Jose's Joe Thornton.

When the Blackhawks scored seven against the Flyers earlier in the year, seven different players scored. Sharp was one of them, but he also contributed to two other goals. He finished with a goal and two assists.

The good news? He hasn't scored in six games, but that probably means he gets three tonight. The Flyers have to play tight defense when he's on the ice.

4. Special teams
One of the biggest reasons the Flyers swept the Penguins this weekend was the play of their special teams. The Flyers were 3 for 7 on the power play against a penalty kill in Pittsburgh that entered the weekend as the top unit in the league and left as the third-best.

But more impressively, the Flyers were 9 for 9 on the penalty kill against the NHL's top power play. The Penguins weren't able to get anything going on the man advantage. A lot of that had to do with Couturier and Read, but the entire units were dominant.

Since Feb. 1, the Flyers have killed 87.0 percent of their opponents' power plays.

They'll have another huge test tonight as Chicago enters as the third-best PP in the league, scoring at a 20.8 percent clip.

5. This and that
• The Flyers are 9-2-1 since the start of February and 31-15-6 since Nov. 9.

• Chicago will play its second game at the Wells Fargo Center since winning the 2010 Stanley Cup here. The Flyers beat the Blackhawks, 5-4, on Jan. 5, 2012 -- the last time Chicago was in town.

• Somewhat shockingly, the Blackhawks enter tonight's game in third place in the Central Division. They were atop the NHL in points for most of the season.

• The Blackhawks' 106 road goals are the most in the league, their 88 second-period goals are second to Anaheim and their 77 third-period goals are second to Boston.

• Flyers milestone watch: Vinny Lecavalier needs two goals for 400 in his career; Jakub Voracek needs three for 100 in his career; and Luke Schenn needs three points for 100 in his career.

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

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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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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.