Flyers

Flyers season preview: Which team will we see?

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Flyers season preview: Which team will we see?

So which Flyers crew shows up Wednesday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs?

Will it be the one that has the potential to do some damage in the realigned Eastern Conference with newcomers Vinny Lecavalier, Mark Streit and Ray Emery?

Or will it be the one that lost five of seven preseason games and held a lead for less than 14 minutes?

Will it be a team that protects the slot or one that invite chaos in front of its goalies?

Most of all, will this look like an extension of last spring’s Flyers squad that won six of its final seven games and realizes a hot start is absolutely necessary, or will it be a carbon copy of last January's club that started off losing six of its first eight and never recovered?

For Peter Laviolette’s sake, this club needs to be decisively settled into a positive rhythm from the get-go.

“No question we want to get off to a good start,” Laviolette said. “When you put yourself behind the 8-ball, you are burying yourself and you have to dig out of a hole and that becomes difficult. … For us, it remains get off on the right foot, win hockey games, put yourself in position.”

A quick start would prove the preseason was a mirage forged out of the team having just one exhibition with a full, healthy roster.

“You want to have a great start,” Scott Hartnell said. “That is what everyone focuses on. Not just the first game, but the first five to 10 games. You want to get wins, get hot early, get a couple points, get the confidence going in the first part of the season.

“When you are winning games, points are gonna come. … We have to hit Wednesday running and have a quick start. It’s not going to be easy this year.”

Unlike the lockout restart, Hartnell is in shape, looking to turn the clock back two years ago when he had a career season with 37 goals and 67 points.

Thanks to a full-scale realignment, it will more difficult this season. Not just in the East overall, but in the new Metropolitan Division, which is the “old” Atlantic plus Carolina, Washington and Columbus.

That can be daunting for a club that failed to make the playoffs during the lockout-shortened season.

“I’m ready,” 15-year veteran defenseman Kimmo Timonen said. “I feel like I’ve been off a really long time. Too long. To have a year like that last year, sometimes, it’s good to settle down and see what we did wrong together -- everybody. Coaches, players, management, everybody.

“I hate to say it was good that we didn’t make the playoffs, but at least now everybody realizes we have to work even harder and make better decisions. Sometimes, you need [as a team] to go down to come back up again.”

So much is riding on team chemistry -- offensively and defensively -- for a club that seemed to lack both in exhibition play.

Streit was signed to move the puck efficiently and yet he struggled in the preseason, as did young Erik Gustafsson, who looked nervous in his own end.

Only Timonen and partner Braydon Coburn seemed relaxed.

You can’t emphasize enough how important it is for the Flyers to settle down in front of Emery and Steve Mason. A strong defense at the season’s start will allow the offense to catch up. 

“Defense is important everywhere,” Lecavalier said. “You got to be sharp defensively. In practices we do a lot of offense, which is very refreshing. You’re feeling good in the offensive zone.

“Protecting that puck, the difference from last year to this year for me is getting that puck in the offensive zone and keeping it. Not just being a one opportunity and you’re out. Cycle and do things like that.”

Emery figures to be No. 1 in goal. Whether he stays remains to be seen. Neither he nor Mason were sharp in exhibitions amid the chaos in front of them.

“It’s healthy to have competition,” club chairman Ed Snider said. “It’s great. These [players] both know each other, like each other. It’s not any negative type of competition. It works out well for us.”

Lecavalier will center Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds. The top line remains intact with Claude Giroux centering Hartnell and Jakub Voracek.

“Just play simple,” Voracek said. “Take care of the puck in our zone. Everything will come if you’re skating. Lanes open up.”

Lecavalier developed some chemistry in camp with Schenn and Simmonds.

“It’s all about feeling comfortable with the guys you play with and I feel comfortable,” Lecavalier said. “I played with everybody last year. So many [lines] I can’t remember.

“It changed one period to the next. Guy Boucher changed lines constantly. I didn’t have anyone consistently with me for the last few years except Teddy Purcell.”

Laviolette was encouraged with Lecavalier in exhibitions.

“He looks like he is in terrific shape,” Laviolette said. “He had Tampa Bay going in the right direction and then the injuries hit the club and hit him. He seems 100 percent healthy and motivated. He’s in shape, and he’s a talented guy.

“I still go back to the first couple times we played Tampa Bay last year. I was so impressed with the way he played the game. His competitiveness. The fact that he fought a couple of our guys. The way he was playing offensively.”

If Lecavalier ignites the offense, there should be a trickle-down effect. Voracek and Giroux were pretty much the only offense last season.

“We have a good balance of players here,” Laviolette said. “We have guys who can score and put up points. What teams do in the summer doesn’t matter as much as what they can build together as a group. The confidence they put into each other and play hockey games.

“Whether they are scoring or playing defense, winning is the name of the game. I think teams build that. That’s not put together in a summer. That doesn’t build a successful team or a championship team. It will come from the guys in this room … the identity and brand we bring on a consistent basis, that will be the difference between winning and losing.” 

Giroux seems recovered from a right hand injury via a freakish golf accident in August. He led the club with 48 points -- two more than Voracek, who led the team with 22 goals.

Giroux hopes his year carries over into something far more.

“I was playing with a lot of confidence,” Giroux said. “Any player who is playing with a lot of confidence can be a dangerous player. It’s about finding yourself and your game. You go on the ice and know what to do.

“It’s something I want to do, become a dangerous player offensively and defensively.  Jags [Jaromir Jagr] told me if I was going to be one of the best, I would have to also be the hardest working guy out there. I have had that on my mind [all offseason].”

With the Eagles in the tank, all eyes in South Philly shift to the Flyers this month.

General manager Paul Holmgren is a bit on edge as well.

“We need to be better,” Holmgren said. “The players know that. I am sure the coaches laid it out to them that it’s got to be better. I've addressed a couple individuals. In the last couple days, I think the players that we have realized it and picked it up a couple notches in practice.”

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.