Flyers

Flyers' NHL-leading scoring defense sparked by tweak in mindset

Flyers' NHL-leading scoring defense sparked by tweak in mindset

Heading into the Christmas break, there are some trends that speak positvely on the Flyers' defense, heading into what will shortly become the second half of the season.

Among them, is defensive scoring.

As of Thursday’s pre-Christmas finale against the Devils, the Flyers led the NHL in scoring by defensemen with 89 points.

Shayne Gostisbehere and the injured Mark Streit (left shoulder) each have16 points, followed by Ivan Provorov (15). Andrew MacDonald (11) and Radko Gudas (10) are also in double figure scoring.

It’s no accident.

The Flyers coaching staff asked their blueliners to be more offensive-minded in training camp this year, but only in tandem with the forwards doing a better job covering for them when they pinch.

“We talked about it in camp,” said coach Dave Hakstol. “Being available. You can’t force something back there. Just being part of the attack and being there to support the attack when the play is there, absolutely, go ahead and lead it.”

Foremost, Hakstol still wants his defensemen defending in their own zone and moving the puck up ice as their initial responsibilities.

Second, he wants a third forward high in the offensive zone covering any D-man on the pinch.

“The two have to work hand-in-hand,” Hakstol said. “If you are going to be aggressive offensively and defensively, everybody has to be on the same page working together.”

Among those still in the lineup, Ghost and Michael Del Zotto lead the defense with four goals. Streit, who could return after the Christmas break, has the most goals (5).

Obviously, the attack mode perfectly suits Gostisbehere’s offensive game.

“He [Hakstol] definitely wants to see us jumping up in the play more,” Gostisbehere said. “We’re definitely a five-man unit out there and not just forwards and defense. It is something that is working for us right now.

“It helps us a lot when you are making a pinch and know a forward has your back. It’s a big thing for us. They are sound positionally. We take care of each other out there. One dives in, one backs them up.”

Whereas in the past, this was a hit or miss part of the Flyers game, it has become commonplace every period to see the defense an active part of the Flyers rush off the breakout, even on set rotation plays in the offensive zone.

“When we have confidence knowing we have forwards coming back we can step down on the walls, keep pucks in, keep pucks alive, and they know we’re going to step up in those situations,” MacDonald said.

“It makes it easier for everyone when you are on the same page. It wasn’t anything like, ‘Hey we need to be better offensively.’ It wasn’t an opportunity to go for it. We can recover, just make sure it’s the right time and you are not taking a big chance.”

As an aside to all this, Provorov, the only rookie defenseman on the club, leads the entire team in ice time average at 21:01. That ice time is also highest among any rookie in the NHL, whether a forward or defenseman.

During the Flyers 10-game winning streak, he had games logging more than 24 minutes.

“It doesn’t matter how many I get,” Provorov said. “I had a really good summer and I am in really good shape.

“I will play as much as I need to or the coaches need me to. In junior, my average? A lot higher than 24 minutes and lots in the playoffs. But it’s different here in the NHL than there.”

Future Flyers Report: Did we overhype Oskar Lindblom?

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Aaron Bell/AP Images

Future Flyers Report: Did we overhype Oskar Lindblom?

Before this week begins, it’s time for our weekly check-in on the Flyers’ prospects playing in the AHL, overseas and at the junior and college levels.

In this edition, we’ll try to make sense of a highly-touted prospect not living up to his hype … and try to answer the question if we, the media, built him up too much.

Oskar Lindblom, LW, 21, 6-1/192, Lehigh Valley (AHL)
I think it’s a fair time to reflect on this question, because coming into this season, there was a ton of noise surrounding Lindblom’s move to North America. Many, including myself, expected Lindblom to crack the Flyers’ lineup immediately and he didn’t.

With prospects, it’s easy to get carried away sometimes. Especially when they dominate their respective leagues, and in Lindblom’s case, he dictated the SHL as a 20-year-old.

Through seven games with the Phantoms, Lindblom's offense has yet to blossom. He scooped up his first assist in the Phantoms' 4-3 win Saturday over Binghamton.

"He's playing hard," Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said of Lindblom last Thursday. "Is he to the level that he can play? No, he's not but that's going to come. …

"Everybody's talking about him. He comes here, there's all this hype. It's unfair, quite frankly, the expectations that some of these kids come in with."

Lindblom came overseas after he scored 61 points in 72 games, including postseason, last season with Brynäs IF. Add in international play, it was even more impressive.

There was a ton of interest around Lindblom during development camp in July. It was clear then he was strong enough to play in the NHL, even in a non-competitive camp. Then came the rookie camp. The strength was there, the compete level was there.

Then came training camp and preseason. Lindblom started strong but fizzled out. The scoring didn't come as naturally as expected and while his skating was visibly improved, there were still times you could see additional work was needed in this atmosphere.

"Oskar did some good things (in preseason)," Hextall said. "Probably not quite at the level that we want him to get to or that he's hoping to. It was pretty obvious — not early but as we got along, that he wasn't quite ready for this level. That's OK. He didn't fail.”

As easy as it is to get carried away with prospects, it’s just as easy to overreact. Lindblom hasn’t quite performed as projected yet, but it’s easy to dismiss the rink and speed adjustment from playing in Sweden to North America. He remains a top prospect.

And on Saturday against the Devils, Lindblom started to show signs of the player people expected to see. He created chances, rung some posts and was strong on the puck.

Did we overhype Lindblom? I don’t think so. Did we place unfair expectations on him?

Yeah, perhaps we did.

2017 CIBC Canada Russia Series
Last week, Teams WHL, QMJHL and OHL revealed its rosters for this year’s series, which begins Nov. 6 and ends Nov. 16. Team Russia has yet to announce its roster.

Three Flyers prospects are confirmed for the series: Carter Hart (Everett, Team WHL), Pascal Laberge (Victoriaville, Team QMJHL) and Morgan Frost (Sault Ste. Marie, Team OHL). German Rubtsov is not on Team QMJHl but should be on Team Russia.

Hart remains out of action because of mono but appears to be getting closer to a return.

Laberge is enjoying a solid start to his 2017-18 campaign. In three games last week, Laberge, 19, had two assists. He now has 10 points in 10 games this season.

Rubtsov had a goal and two assists last week for Chicoutimi and has six points during his current six-game point streak. He scored his first of the season Saturday night.

Frost, the Flyers’ second 2017 first-round pick, continued to produce for the Greyhounds last week with a goal and three assists in three games. He has 14 points (four goals, 10 assists) in 14 games this season and is a plus-11.

Quick Hits
Mike Vecchione added two more assists last week with the Phantoms. He’s on a four-game assist streak and is a point-per-game play thus far (seven in seven).

Philippe Myers suffered an injury in the second period of the Phantoms’ 5-2 win over Bridgeport Friday night and missed Saturday’s game. There is no update on his status.

Nicolas Aube-Kubel had a two-point weekend, picking up an assist Friday and scoring Saturday night. He’s on a three-game point streak and has five in seven games.

Samuel Morin stuffed the stat sheet on Saturday night, with a goal, assist, three shots and six penalty minutes. He had an assist Friday and has points in three straight. Morin appears in line to be called up to the Flyers after Andrew MacDonald's injury.

• Though not considered a high-end prospect by any means, Danick Martel, 22, is worth mentioning. The 5-foot-8 winger is off to a torrid start with the Phantoms.

Martel had two goals and an assist Friday against Bridgeport. He has seven goals and 10 points in seven games, with three multi-point games, 23 shots and a plus-10 rating.

Wade Allison had a two-assist night in Western Michigan’s 6-4 loss to Michigan State. He has seven assists and nine points, with three multi-point games, in seven games.

• It was a big weekend for sophomore Tanner Laczynski, who had an assist Friday and three assists Saturday night as Ohio State swept Massachusetts.

Carsen Twarynski had a hat trick Saturday night in Kelowna’s 7-2 win over Portland. Watch all three goals here. Twarynski has six goals and 11 points in nine games.

• Guelph winger Isaac Ratcliffe had a two-goal game Saturday night in the Storm’s 2-1 win over Saginaw. He was pointless in two other games last week.

Maksim Sushko followed up a monster six-point weekend with a goal and an assist this past weekend for Owen Sound.

Wyatt Kalynuk recorded his first collegiate point, an assist, in No. 6 Wisconsin’s 4-0 win over Northern Michigan on Saturday night. Kalynuk has one point in seven games.

Matej Tomek stopped 20 of 21 shots in USHL Waterloo’s 4-1 win over Sioux City.

• A rare clunker from Felix Sandstrom last week. Sandstrom allowed five goals on 36 shots in Brynäs IF’s 5-4 loss to Rögle BK on Thursday.

Olle Lycksell had two goals last week for Linköping HC J20. He has five goals and 10 points in 13 games, one more point in the league than he had in 29 games last season.

Flyers Weekly Observations: Claude Giroux's redemption tour beats on

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USA Today Images

Flyers Weekly Observations: Claude Giroux's redemption tour beats on

It was a busy week on the ice for the team that calls South Philadelphia home.

And that busy week ended with plenty of positive vibes for the Flyers after a 2-1-0 showing.

They kicked things off with a commanding 5-1 victory over the visiting Florida Panthers on Tuesday night, followed that up with a tough 1-0 loss to the Nashville Predators on Thursday evening and wrapped up the week with a hard-earned 2-1 victory over the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday afternoon as the five-game homestand rolled on.

There’s plenty to get to, so, now that the ink is dry, let’s dive right into the week that was for the Flyers.

• In the days and weeks leading up to this season, there were a plethora of questions surrounding the Flyers, and to some extents, there still are as the season is still in its infancy, just eight games in. But the captain is already answering all the questions about him, and there were a lot of them. Claude Giroux played a key role again this week for the Flyers, scoring two goals — a breakaway snipe Tuesday past Roberto Luongo and a power-play slam dunk past Cam Talbot to open the scoring Saturday.

Giroux's tally against the Oilers was his fifth of the season. For comparison’s sake, Giroux didn’t record his fifth goal last season until Nov. 29, the 24th game of the season. Two things are noticeable when it comes to Giroux. Yes, the move to left wing alongside Sean Couturier and Jake Voracek is paying dividends and providing energy, not just for Giroux, but also as a whole for the line, which continues to produce. Couturier scored his fourth of the season Tuesday and Voracek, while still scoreless, is tied for third in the league with 10 assists.

But much more importantly for Giroux, he’s clearly healthy again, which wasn’t the case most of the last season as the effects from hip surgery lingered and anchored him. The fact of the matter is, in many ways, Giroux is still the engine of the Flyers’ offense and the cog that makes it go. The puck is still on his stick a ton and opposing teams still key in on him. It comes as no surprise a healthy, producing Giroux is igniting a Flyers offense that is averaging 3.50 goals. As the captain goes, so do the Flyers. So far, better than so good.

• You can say what you want about Andrew MacDonald and his play and his contract. But that’s a different conversation for a different day. There’s no doubting MacDonald is one tough hombre after blocking a debilitating slap shot off the knee Saturday and fighting through it to continue killing a penalty in the third period. If you’re still wondering why MacDonald wears an “A” on his sweater during road games, wonder no more. He’s a tough, valued veteran who has the respect of the locker room thanks to plays like that. The Flyers announced Sunday he will miss 4-6 weeks with a lower-body injury, presumably from that play. If you’re one of the ones behind a keyboard celebrating his injury on Twitter, grow up.

• There’s really not much shame in the loss to Nashville on Thursday. The defending Western Conference champion Predators, just as good as they were last year when they came within two wins of the Stanley Cup, just smothered the Flyers. And when the Flyers did have chances, Pekka Rinne was there between the pipes to snuff them out. His third-period pad save on Couturier, who had just pulled off a nifty maneuver in the slot, was a dandy that kept the Preds on top. A loss is a loss and it’s frustrating, but the Flyers hung with one of the most complete teams in the league twice in the span of nine days.

• Wayne Simmonds just continues to do Wayne Simmonds things. On Thursday against the Preds, Simmonds took an errant stick to the mouth as he was observing the action on the bench. He left but later returned to the game. Of course, he was right back in the lineup Saturday afternoon, albeit with a mouth protector attached to his helmet.

And of course, he scored Saturday’s game-winner with 2:15 left in regulation off a lovely feed from Valtteri Filppula. Simmonds admitted afterward he was losing pucks in his feet due to the impaired vision from the mouth protector and he would have to get some dead teeth extracted soon. That last part sounds just awful, by the way.

But as far as toughness and results on the ice from Simmonds, it’s gotten to the point where we expect nothing less. No surprise, but he now leads the Flyers with six goals on the young season.

• It was the best and worst this week for prized rookie Nolan Patrick. On Tuesday, he wowed the Panthers, his Flyers teammates and the entire Wells Fargo Center with a dazzling, through-the-legs drop pass to Dale Weise, who then promptly deposited the Flyers’ fourth goal of the evening in the victory over the Panthers (see video). Seriously, what an unreal pass that was. That was uncanny awareness and hockey sense and incredible skill. And remember, he’s just 19 years old.

We got a reminder Saturday afternoon that he is just 19 and the lumps will come along with the highlight reel plays. During the second period against Edmonton, Patrick found himself with the puck in the corner in the defensive zone. He hesitated, perhaps mesmerized by the broken stick on the ice in front of him, and was quickly surrounded by the Oilers’ Patrick Maroon, who picked the rook’s pocket, drove toward the net and beat Brian Elliott to knot the game at 1-1.

A tough learning experience for Patrick, but the teenager will learn from it and get better. It’s the kind of thing you just naturally have to expect from a 19-year-old just eight games into his NHL career.

Coming up this week: Tuesday vs. Anaheim (7 p.m./NBCSP), Thursday at Ottawa (7:30 p.m./NBCSP), Saturday at Toronto (7 p.m./NBCSP+).