Flyers

Flyers can still win with Claude Giroux, but youth is up against clock

Flyers can still win with Claude Giroux, but youth is up against clock

Ron Hextall sat at the press conference table and made his edict.

The kids are coming.

"Our young players, they've done enough," the general manager said Thursday at Flyers Skate Zone. "We'll continue to monitor some of them through the playoffs, but our young players are going to get a long look. We don't plan on going out and signing veterans on the back end. Our kids, it's time to give them a shot, and we're going to do that."

Those words should be momentous to Claude Giroux.

As the Flyers' captain heads into the offseason with a career low in goals for a full season and a third straight drop-off in points, many are pondering not only Giroux's future in orange and black, but also the club's future with him as its maestro.

The Flyers are now watching the playoffs for the third time in the last five seasons, while their core continues to climb the ladder in age. This group of Giroux, Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek, Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier has not won a postseason series since 2011-12.

It's clear time is ticking and the Flyers need more than what's here. Hextall won't make some sexy signing or big trade -- no outside ammunition because he's staying true to his mantra of building through the draft and the organization's youth.

"We're not going to put roadblocks in place where two years from now, we want to be able to sign Player X and we can't do it where Player X is a better fit than the guy we would have signed July 1 this year," Hextall said. "I think most of our moves at this point right now are going to come internally."

Which means Giroux's success and much of his legacy will be heavily reliant on how fast these prospects blossom into NHL difference-makers.

Yeah, no pressure, youngsters.

"I really think that we're not far off," Giroux said Tuesday.

The kids will dictate that.

Giroux can still win here. He's not getting traded. The plan is for the prospects to meet the core, and who says they can't?

There is a lot to like with the reinforcements on the horizon, players to augment the core and Giroux into his 30s. Travis Konecny and Jordan Weal are already here. Konecny, 20, has a full NHL season under his belt and we all know of the playmaking potential. Weal, who turns 25 on Saturday, showed his scoring ability with eight goals and four assists in 23 games as the Flyers went 6-2-0 when he lit the lamp. Oskar Lindblom, a 20-year-old wing prospect drafted in 2014, is looking more and more ready, putting up 60 points (25 goals, 35 assists) in 65 SHL games this season, including the playoffs.

"Oskar, he's had a great year," Hextall said. "He's in a really good league. He's a good hockey player. He's come a long way since his draft year. The Swedish Elite League is a very good league and he's done a good job.

"I hope he's here in September fighting for a spot along with a number of other guys."

And the area most plentiful for opportunity is on the blue line. We all know the names: Sam Morin, Robert Hagg, Travis Sanheim, Philippe Myers, just to name a few. A younger, faster, more versatile defense can only help as it gains experience. One of the biggest discrepancies from this season to last was the Flyers' allowing 2.82 goals per game compared to 2.56 in 2015-16.

Two spots have already opened up on the 2017-18 defense.

Yes, more youth will be surrounding Giroux and company as Hextall's prudence finally gives way to such.

"It's got to all happen together," Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said Thursday. "It's one of those things that as a group, the challenge of 82 games of consistency is in front of us. You have to have both the young guys in the lineup stepping up and adding that energy and that ability and some of that youthful enthusiasm, and that has to work in conjunction with your veterans that really, as a group and as a core, are entering into prime years.

"The strength of that core group is what ultimately will drive our team. I believe the two can happen in conjunction with each other. We've got to go out and do that job."

Obviously, none of this means everything will magically change in the Flyers' favor next season. A touted prospect doesn't translate to immediate success and a better team. The Flyers aren't jumping into Stanley Cup contention overnight.

Remember this, though: Giroux is only 29 years old. Never one to admit injury, it was evident Giroux was not himself during the 2016-17 season, whether it was lingering effects from his hip and abdominal surgeries or a separate issue.

"When you try to do something and you can't do it; your mind wants to do something but your body doesn't do it, it's frustrating," he said.

What couldn't he do?

"I think just a little bit of everything," Giroux said. "Like I said, it's frustrating. But you've got to keep working on your game, get stronger and faster. I'm very excited to have a whole summer to work out and really do what I want to do."

Giroux fuels on motivation. This past season might push him more than ever.

"I don't think G had a great year," Hextall said. "He's not on the decline. I know this: I'll be shocked next year if you guys don't ask me in January, 'Well, how has G turned this around?' He's a very driven athlete, he's very driven. I know he's going to train hard this year. We're going to make some minor tweaks in how he trains. He trains hard."

As Giroux trains, the Flyers will start to change, too.

"Two years ago, we were the 29th-oldest team in the league," Hextall said. "It depends on how you crunch the numbers. Last year, we were 17th. This year, I think we were 12th and next year I would project us to go into single digits. That matters, being young."

It matters greatly to Giroux. How fast the youth grows up will matter most.

Best of NHL: Blue Jackets shut out Rangers

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AP Images

Best of NHL: Blue Jackets shut out Rangers

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Sergei Bobrovsky made 36 saves for his 21st career shutout and Zach Werenski and Artemi Panarin scored in the Columbus Blue Jackets' 2-0 victory over the New York Rangers on Friday night.

New York ran into a hot goalie in Bobrovsky, the reigning Vezina Trophy winner who notched his second shutout of the season in powering Columbus to its third straight victory.

Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist was nearly as good against the increasingly aggressive Blue Jackets, stopping 40 shots on the night. The Rangers (11-8-1) lost their second straight following a six-game win streak.

After a scoreless first period in which both goalies made some slick, sprawling saves, Werenski found the back of the net with his sixth goal of the season 13:34 into the second.

Brandon Dubinsky lost the handle of the puck in the slot, and Werenski picked it up just inside the right circle and beat Lundqvist with a one-timer.

Columbus (12-7-1) was the aggressor in the second frame, outshooting the Rangers 19-9, and kept up the pressure in the third.

Panarin scored his fourth goal of the season on a power play 7:14 into the third period, rocketing a slap shot from the high slot that ricocheted off the bar and in.

The Blue Jackets are 9-1-0 this season when allowing two goals or fewer (see full recap).

Red Wings’ 3rd-period goals enough to top Sabres
DETROIT -- Tomas Tatar scored a go-ahead goal midway through third period and the Detroit Red Wings went on to beat the Buffalo Sabres 3-1 on Friday night.

Detroit's Luke Glendening broke a scoreless tie late in the second period. Ryan O'Reilly pulled Buffalo into a 1-all tie 5:50 into the third.

Dylan Larkin scored late in the game and Jimmy Howard had 19 saves for the Red Wings. They have won consecutive games at home for the first time this season.

Buffalo's Robin Lehner stopped the first 20 shots he faced and finished with 30 saves.

The Sabres have lost four straight, one away from their longest losing streak of the season, but were thankful they didn't lose more than a game in Detroit.

Jack Eichel went to the dressing room late in the second period after coming off the ice slowly, keeping weight off his right skate following a collision with Glendening, and making a brief stop on the bench. Buffalo's standout center was cleared to return at the start of the third period.

After a scoreless first period with a combined 14 shots, Detroit outshot Buffalo 13-4 in the second and took control without that translating to a big lead (see full recap).

End to End: How to solve the Flyers' scoring woes

End to End: How to solve the Flyers' scoring woes

Throughout the season, we'll ask questions about the Flyers to our resident hockey analysts and see what they have to say.

Going End to End today are NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com producers/reporters Tom Dougherty and Jordan Hall.

The topic: How to solve the Flyers' scoring woes.

Dougherty
If Thursday night's 3-2 shootout loss in Winnipeg confirmed anything, it's the Flyers cannot break up their top line. They might not be able to score much, but their only scoring is coming from Sean Couturier, Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek.

The Couturier line accounts for 48 percent of the Flyers' offense, or 25 goals. Factor the defense and top line together, and that's 59 percent, as the blue line has produced six tallies this season.

Of the 21 goals the Flyers have scored that do not come from the top line or blue line, 12 have come from two players, Wayne Simmonds and Valtteri Filppula. Simmonds hasn't scored in 11 games, and Filppula has one goal in his past nine games.

Two lines have stayed intact since Day 1 — the Couturier line and the fourth line of Scott Laughton, Taylor Leier and Michael Raffl. Head coach Dave Hakstol has been hesitant about breaking up his fourth line, and rightfully so. Laughton, Leier and Raffl have chemistry, and they're almost always cycling in the offensive zone.

Nolan Patrick just returned after missing three weeks because of a "suspected" concussion and played sparingly against the Jets. He should help the Flyers' scoring woes, but he won't solve them. I think it's time to break up the fourth line, and based on the Winnipeg game, it looks like a possibility Hakstol is considering.

Here's why. Raffl played on the second power-play unit against the Jets, which was a first this season. Perhaps Hakstol didn't want to throw Patrick back into the fire and watched the rookie's minutes.

Breaking up lines Nos. 2, 3 and 4 is the best course of action. Travis Konecny is struggling with confidence, Jordan Weal hasn't been great, and those are two players the Flyers need to get going. It's time to end the Dale Weise in the top-nine experiment.

With what the Flyers have, here is what I would do:

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

Hall
There's no need to panic if you're the Flyers.

First, you finally have a no-doubt-about-it top line. Voracek, Couturier and Giroux have blended beautifully and are doing damage, as the Flyers entered Friday one of only three teams in the NHL with a trio of players over 20 points each. Don't break that up just because there's an imbalance below it. 

And second, it's a long season. Ups and downs are common and things can change quickly. Just look at last season. The Flyers ripped off 10 straight wins and scored the NHL's second-most goals through the first two months of 2016-17. As we all know, they didn't make the postseason and finished as a bottom-third goal-scoring club.

The Flyers simply need to continue experimenting with their middle six and see what eventually works best. A little patience was going to be required when you're relying on a 19-year-old rookie in Patrick, a 20-year-old still finding himself at this level in Konecny and a 25-year-old facing his first full NHL season in Weal.

And let's not forget, the defense is exceptionally young with two rookies (Robert Hagg and Travis Sanheim), a 20-year-old leader (Ivan Provorov) and a third-year player coming off a sophomore slump (Shayne Gostisbehere).

But back to the forwards. 

If you recall, a stretch from Oct. 10-17 featured Filppula centering Weal and Simmonds on the second line, with Patrick centering Konecny and Weise on the third unit. It resulted in a pretty productive three-game span in which the Flyers picked up two wins and outscored the opposition 18-9.

I really liked the dynamic of that middle six. And the Flyers can now return to it with Patrick suiting up. He will be eased back into heavier minutes, but he can make a difference when healthy and comfortable. Patrick and Konecny can still play plenty of minutes on the third line with less pressure and potentially more favorable matchups.

We've seen Weal and Simmonds work well together, and Filppula adds smarts and steadiness down the middle.

But the important thing to remember is the Flyers are only 19 games into an 82-game grind. Scoring can come and go at times, and there's no reason it can't come down the line.

So, here's what I like best for the Flyers right now:

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