Flyers

Giroux not the same after Laviolette's label

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Giroux not the same after Laviolette's label

Claude Giroux hasn’t been the same, and why do you think that is?

The money? No. Giroux is still playing out the final year of a three-year, $11.25-million deal. His eight-year, $66.2-million extension doesn’t kick in until next season.

The captaincy? No. Giroux has taken the honor very seriously, and has embraced his role as the face of a franchise.

It’s “The Label.” Don’t remember?

Immediately after the Flyers disposed of their cross-state rival Penguins in six games in the first round of the 2012 playoffs, Giroux went from rising superstar to the king of the NHL mountain. His former coach, Peter Laviolette, rolled out one of those medieval catapults at his postgame press conference and launched Giroux into a hockey stratosphere that has included The Great One and a select few who have been compared to Wayne Gretzky ever since.

“When the best player in the world comes up to you and tells you, ‘I don’t know who you plan on starting tonight, but I want that first shift.’ That says everything you need to know about Claude Giroux right there,” Laviolette said at the time.

As he stepped off the stage, Laviolette should have grabbed that pail of red paint used to touch up the goalposts and applied a big, fat bulls-eye onto Giroux’s chest. “The best player in the world” line raised eyebrows and dropped jaws everywhere from Western Pennsylvania to the coastline of British Columbia. It may have come across as a compliment from a head coach to his most-gifted player, but Laviolette’s bold proclamation unloaded a monumental amount of pressure on the shoulders of the Flyers’ best player that simply wasn't needed.

“With that comment, Laviolette tried to move Giroux into the same zip code and neighborhood as Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin,” Flyers analyst Al Morganti said. “As it turns out, Giroux is having trouble paying the higher taxes in terms of attention and tighter checking.”

Residency in that neighborhood can only be obtained by achievement, not inherited through opinion. Crosby, Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin all have Hart Trophies with the distinction as the league’s most valuable player. Crosby and Malkin have hoisted Lord Stanley’s Cup. While Laviolette lauded Giroux, his words were also a slap in the face to those who had the necessary credentials -- especially from the much-hated group down the turnpike.

“In hindsight, he (Laviolette) shouldn’t have said it, but I can understand his heart was in the right place at the time,” said Flyers analyst Rick Tocchet, who lives in Pittsburgh and has heard plenty of feedback and reaction from Penguins fans.

If you think Giroux has been oblivious to the backlash, check his Twitter account, where fans in the other 29 cities have taken a virtual sledge hammer to his reputation in the wake of Laviolette’s words. It all has an impact and it was almost immediate.

Since Laviolette’s declaration, the Flyers were upset by New Jersey in the next round. After scoring 14 points against the Penguins, Giroux was held to just three by the defensive-minded Devils. He was invisible in Games 2 and 3 of that series –- both losses -- and was suspended for the series-clinching Game 5 defeat following a borderline hit to New Jersey’s Dainius Zubrus.

The NHL’s awards ceremony that summer in Las Vegas only intensified Giroux’s superstar spotlight. Malkin was awarded the Hart, and the Los Angeles Kings -- with former Flyers Mike Richards and Jeff Carter -- were recognized as Stanley Cup champions. But that evening, it was Giroux who claimed the league’s popularity contest when he graced the cover of EA Sports' NHL 13 video game by receiving the majority of the 26 million fan votes that were cast on NHL.com. Suddenly, Giroux was elevated further –- from the league’s best player to the shelves of Best Buy.

It’s been a rough 2013 for Giroux. The Flyers failed to reach the postseason in his first year as captain, and he admitted recently that the capital “C” on his left shoulder can’t be mistaken for confidence.

“The confidence is not there,” Giroux told CSNPhilly.com's Tim Panaccio last week. “I don’t think it’s the hand -– the confidence is just not there. ... It’s a beautiful game. You need to enjoy it. It feels like I’m not enjoying it right now.”

Confidence wasn’t lacking when he requested to take that opening shift on April 22, 2012 when he leveled Crosby and proceeded to score the game’s first goal. Since that day, and over time, it has been stripped away. Now it's up to Giroux to get it back.

Flyers shuffle defensive pairings with Andrew MacDonald out

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AP Images

Flyers shuffle defensive pairings with Andrew MacDonald out

VOORHEES, N.J. — When Andrew MacDonald took the direct brunt of Mark Letestu’s blistering slap shot to the left knee in the third period of Saturday’s win over Edmonton, the Flyers' experience within their defensive corps also took a hit.

The Flyers announced Sunday MacDonald will miss the next four to six weeks with a lower-body injury.

Now in his ninth NHL season, MacDonald has logged 481 games, and while Flyers fans may quickly write off his contributions and longevity in the league, he has averaged over 20 minutes of ice time in each of his previous eight seasons. MacDonald has earned the respect of his teammates, who voted before the season to name him as one of two new alternate captains.

“[MacDonald] is a pro,” said general manager Ron Hextall. “I hear there’s criticism. It’s unfair. I think everyone knows what his teammates think of him and what we think of him. He’s just persevered through whatever.”

“He’s a very good player,” Ivan Provorov, MacDonald's typical defensive partner, said. “We had a really good chemistry. We played a lot together last year and a little this year and it sucks that he’s out.”

Take MacDonald out of the equation and now the Flyers will be forced to lean on a very talented, but still inexperienced defense. According to hockey-reference.com, 57 active defensemen have more games played than the Flyers entire current six-man unit combined.

“He’s been the biggest part of our defense. He’s the most experienced guy that we have,” Radko Gudas said of MacDonald. “Losing him, it’s obviously tough for us, but it’s opportunity for some of the other guys to step up and show they’re capable of playing a big amount of minutes.”

Complicating MacDonald’s injury for head coach Dave Hakstol is losing a right-side defenseman. As a result, Hakstol elected to rearrange all three of his defense pairings during Monday’s practice, likely signaling what we'll see Tuesday against the visiting Anaheim Ducks:

• Provorov/Robert Hagg (98 combined games) — There may not be another top shutdown pair in the NHL with less experience than Provorov and Hagg, which is not to say they can’t handle the responsibilities. Provorov and Hagg were paired together for a couple of preseason games and a few shifts so far in the regular season. They’ll have a monumental task of containing the Ryan Getzlaf/Corey Perry duo.

“We’ll try and communicate as much as we can and talk before the game, probably talk today about some plays and I think we should be fine,” Provorov said.

• Shayne Gostisbehere/Gudas (427 combined games) — Interestingly, this pair has the most experience, yet according to Gostisbehere, the two guys have never played together. Gudas is expected to fill MacDonald’s role on the team’s top penalty-killing unit alongside with Provorov, and together, "Ghost" and Gudas compliment each other well. Gudas is a stay-at-home defenseman while Gostisbehere is active offensively.

“Obviously things are a little different now,” Gostisbehere said, “We just got to feel each other out right now. I’m sure there will be some growing pains. Hopefully our mistakes won’t be magnified too much. It’s a good fit. Obviously, Gudy’s a bit more defensive and is going to kill people. I’m the guy who’s a puck mover.”

• Brandon Manning/Travis Sanheim (150 combined games) — For two players who have been interchangeable over the first eight games, Tuesday will mark the first time Manning and Sanheim will have played together. Manning will stay on the left side as Sanheim transitions to the right. Actually, I’m intrigued to see Sanheim on the right once a spot opens up for Samuel Morin.

“I think it’s just personnel you have to be aware,” Manning said, “You got to be aware of guys who can skate and obviously other guys who can finish their checks and play you hard.”   

“There’s different roles that each unit has,” said head coach Dave Hakstol, “There’s a different rhythm back on the back end, than there certainly is up front.”

Now with a roster that has no reserves on defense, there’s a curiosity of which Phantom could have been promoted from Lehigh Valley. However, Hextall doesn’t anticipate recalling Morin or another defenseman to serve in a backup role at this time.

“We’re going to go with six right now,” Hextall said, “We’re at home and there’s no reason to call someone up to sit.”

On whether the Flyers will call up a seventh defenseman up before the next road trip begins Thursday in Ottawa, “I don’t know that," Hextall said. "We’ll approach it on a day-to-day basis. We’ll see how tomorrow goes and if we get banged up and whatnot. The one great thing about having your minor league team an hour away is you don’t have to cover yourself all the time.”  

Projected lines, pairings and goalies
Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
Jordan Weal-Valtteri Filppula-Wayne Simmonds
Jori Lehtera-Nolan Patrick-Travis Konecny
Taylor Leier-Scott Laughton-Michael Raffl/Dale Weise

Ivan Provorov-Robert Hagg
Shayne Gostisbehere-Radko Gudas
Brandon Manning-Travis Sanheim

Brian Elliott
Michal Neuvirth

Future Flyers Report: Did we overhype Oskar Lindblom?

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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 their 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.