Flyers

Pascal Laberge out to be 'the real me' following dark days from concussion

Pascal Laberge out to be 'the real me' following dark days from concussion

VOORHEES, N.J. — On a Saturday night in Victoriaville, Quebec, last October, the trajectory of Pascal Laberge’s third season in the QMJHL changed in a flash and not for the better.

Six minutes into the Tigres’ game against the Moncton Wildcats, Laberge was met by a thundering headshot from Zachary Malatesta as he gathered the puck at his own blue line.

Laberge lay barren on the ice while Victoriaville alternate captain James Phelan immediately jumped Malatesta, who was ejected and then suspended seven games.

“You try to avoid these concussions and when a player does a thing like that, it sure pisses you off a little bit,” Laberge said Friday at development camp at Flyers Skate Zone. “There’s always going to be some guys like that in hockey. It’s just that it happened to me.”

What happened to Laberge was a concussion that caused him to miss over a month before returning Nov. 25 for two games to only sit out another three games as symptoms returned.

Upon returning, Laberge labored to find the consistency and point production that led to the Flyers’ selecting him with the 36th overall pick in the 2016 NHL draft.

After his symptoms subsided enough for him to come back Dec. 8, the 19-year-old forward recorded seven points in eight games in the month. In January, he tallied six points in 10 games but was held pointless during six of those games. He finished the season with 32 points.

In 2015-16, his draft year, Laberge registered 68 points in 56 games for Victoriaville. His 32 points last season was one point more than his 2014-15 rookie campaign in the QMJHL. 

He ended last season with an assist in each of the Tigres’ final three games and scooped up two more in four games during Victoriaville’s first-round postseason exit to Chicoutimi.

Regaining confidence was a barricade for Laberge following his return from his concussion, especially when going toward the boards. “You’re kind of shy to go there,” he said. He often played looking over his shoulder and said it took about two months for him to fully recover.

“The first month,” he said, “I couldn’t wake up. I had to sleep all day.”

By now, Laberge’s story is well known. In summer 2015, his stepmother was diagnosed with metastatic cancer and his father, prostate cancer. His stepmother died in September 2015. His dad had his prostate removed that fall. All while he was trying to get drafted.

Laberge fell to the Flyers in the second round despite being rated 28th among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting Bureau. Some saw him as a late first-rounder.

One of the traits the Flyers liked about Laberge when they drafted him last summer was his perseverance, how he dealt with his family situation and also still produced on the ice.

Character is something general manager Ron Hextall values greatly. When he talks about prospects, chiefly in regards of development camp, character is one detail he preaches. 

How prospects deal with adversity — albeit on the ice or off it, both are true in Laberge’s case — can make them hungrier and better as a player and person, according to Hextall. 

Hextall offered a guess: Last season, on the ice, was a first for Laberge. A young, talented kid who didn’t have his way, who took a step back in his development and wasn’t a star.

For someone his age, he has been through a lot off the ice. Last season, the concussion was just “another tough time.” It’s getting him stronger, he said.

“Sometimes with my friends,” Laberge said, “I feel a little bit older than them.”

In his second development camp, Laberge claims he’s back to normal, feels good and his concussion issues are in the past. He understands how last season went means the timetable for his path to the NHL has been pushed back because of the lost time.

Laberge wants to get back to “the real me” in 2017-18. With one more year of junior eligibility, he, barring any miracles, will spend another season in Victoriaville.

While Hextall’s been adamant about keeping a few spots open for prospects to earn during training camp in September, it’s a long shot to consider Laberge to be in that competition.

“We didn’t like what he went through,” Hextall said Friday. “We didn’t like, at times, the level he was playing to, which wasn’t at the level he’s capable of. But … 

“You go through adversity like that as a young man, you learn from it. You become stronger. It’s like a team. Sometimes you have to lose to learn how to win.”

If there’s any one thing Laberge learned from last season, it’s … 

“Next time,” he said, “I’ll lift my head.”

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