Flyers

Taylor Leier promoted to Flyers' top line just 8 games after call-up

Taylor Leier promoted to Flyers' top line just 8 games after call-up

VOORHEES, N.J. — Eight games into his call-up, Taylor Leier is expected to make his first appearance with the Flyers’ top line Wednesday night in St. Louis.
 
This is the first of a three-game post-Christmas road trip out West.

The move was necessitated because Michael Raffl sustained an MCL sprain in his right knee against New Jersey right before the Christmas break and the Flyers need another left wing on Claude Giroux’s line.
 
Obviously, this is a decent promotion for the 22-year-old from Saskatoon, SK, who has been playing in a fourth-line role since joining the Flyers on Dec. 5 as a replacement for the injured Matt Read (oblique pull).
 
Leier will skate with Giroux and Jakub Voracek.
 
“It’s a big deal,” Leier admitted. “I’ll bring the same gameday mentality. I’m not going to play differently. Whatever line I play on, I will play the same, whether it’s with (Nick) Cousins or (Dale) Weise or G and Jake.
 
“If I get put up there, they are putting me up there for a reason and that’s to play my game. I’ll stick to my strengths. Bring speed. Those guys are world-class talents. It’ll be nice to play with them if I get the opportunity.”
 
Flyers coach Dave Hakstol feels Leier can handle the challenge he’ll be given on this three-game road trip, which also includes San Jose and Anaheim.
 
“He’s done a good job in a couple different roles,” Hakstol said. “He doesn’t seem to change his game. He’s a pretty intelligent two-way player, responsible defensively. Each and every night, he’s brought good pace and tenacity.”
 
Leier should get a nice bump in ice time, as well, from the 8:28 he averages now.
 
“I don’t see that as a problem,” he said. “I played a lot down in the American League. Every chance I get in practice or the gym, I’ve been working hard to keep up all my endurance I’ve built up. If I go up or down, I’m prepared for anything.”
 
Leier scored his first NHL goal on Dec. 17 in Dallas.
 
There will be another lineup change against the Blues, as well, as defenseman Nick Schultz returns on defense, paired with Shayne Gostisbehere.
 
Schultz has missed a career-high 22 games as a healthy scratch. Brandon Manning will sit this game out.
 
“I’ve had a couple [scratches] here and there but nothing to this extent,” the 34-year-old veteran blueliner said. “It’s tough. With all the games, not as much practice, you just try to stay in shape and ready as much as you can. It’s definitely mentally hard. Physically, you try to stay with it.”
 
When Hakstol makes these kinds of lineup changes, it’s usually only for a game or two to keep a guy in game shape, which Schultz clearly is not in right now.
 
“You’re not in the rhythm other guys are,” Schultz said. “Once you’re playing, you get into the rhythm of playing games. Game-like situations can’t simulate that, especially if you haven’t practiced a lot.”

Best of NHL: Senators snap 5-game skid in return home

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Best of NHL: Senators snap 5-game skid in return home

OTTAWA, Ontario -- Craig Anderson made 27 saves to stop his seven-game losing streak and the Ottawa Senators snapped their five-game skid Wednesday night with a 3-2 win over the New York Rangers.

Bobby Ryan, Cody Ceci and Zack Smith scored for the Senators (10-13-7), who returned home from a seven-game road trip and improved to 2-10-2 in their past 14 overall. It was only their second victory in regulation since Nov. 11, which was the last time Anderson had won.

Michael Grabner and Pavel Buchnevich scored for the Rangers (16-12-3), who dropped to 4-7-0 on the road. Henrik Lundqvist had 27 saves, becoming the 15th goalie in NHL history to reach 20,000 for his career.

Ottawa, which eliminated the Rangers in the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs last season, was coming off a 3-2 loss at last-place Buffalo on Tuesday night (see full recap).

Pitlick, Benn lift Stars over Islanders
NEW YORK -- Tyler Pitlick scored twice and Jamie Benn had a goal and two assists to lead the Dallas Stars to a 5-2 victory over the New York Islanders on Wednesday night.

Alexander Radulov and Remi Elie also scored for the Stars, who won their second straight after a three-game skid. Kari Lehtonen stopped 32 shots for his 300th career victory, and John Klingberg had two assists.

Anders Lee scored twice for the Islanders, who have lost five of seven (2-4-1), and John Tavares and Josh Bailey each had two assists. Jaroslav Halak, starting for the seventh time in nine games, was pulled near the midpoint of the second period after giving up four goals on 20 shots. Thomas Greiss came on and stopped six of the seven shots he faced (see full recap).

Sean Couturier proving he belongs in Selke Trophy conversation

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Sean Couturier proving he belongs in Selke Trophy conversation

VOORHEES, N.J. — By definition, the Frank J. Selke Memorial Trophy is awarded to the NHL forward who demonstrates the most skill in the defensive component of the game.

Since the day Sean Couturier arrived in the league as an 18-year-old rookie straight out of the June draft in 2011, the defensive element has always been part of his game. He was tasked with shutting down one of the league’s premier centers in Evgeni Malkin as a teenager and a fourth-line center. His commitment to defense was the primary reason the Flyers drafted Couturier eighth overall in 2011.

Of all the NHL’s major postseason awards presented in Las Vegas next summer, the Selke may be the one piece of hardware the Flyers have the greatest chance at claiming, as Couturier has refined his all-around game. The paradox of the award is how winners typically need respectable offensive numbers to receive serious consideration for what’s regarded as a defensive accolade.

The last 21 winners have all scored at least 20 goals, while 11 of the last 12 winners have racked up 50 or more points. Couturier has never reached either scoring plateau, which probably explains why he’s never finished higher than eighth in the voting. He’s currently on pace this season for 41 goals and 82 points.

“It would be a nice recognition,” Couturier said Wednesday. “Obviously, just getting your name thrown out there with those guys that are there every year, it’s kind of nice. It gives you that extra boost to kind of push yourself and try to be as good as you can.” 

This season, Couturier has proven he belongs in that elite conversation. Tuesday’s game against the Maple Leafs was a vintage Selke effort: winning faceoffs, including draws that led to goals, staying committed defensively while playing 1:35 of the final 2:12, preserving a one-goal lead.

Over his last 50 games dating back to last season, Couturier also owns an impressive plus-32 rating.

“I know some people don’t like the plus/minus. Five-on-five, if you’re in the plus, it's usually a good thing and you’re helping your team win," Couturier said. "My mentality is still the same: being solid, taking care of details and like I said, if you take care of details defensively, the offense will come and that’s always the thought process I’ve had.”

Another Selke measurable is faceoffs — an area in which Couturier has improved greatly over the past two years from a 48 percent success rate to winning 55 percent from the beginning of last season.

“It’s the one area of his game that he’s taken a lot of pride in,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “I think if you look at the numbers in both faceoff dots, he’s done a real good job, as well as the neutral zone."

For an award voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association, there’s almost no way to accurately assess the defensive play of 300-plus forwards without extensive video review, as most writers are solely covering the team in their city. So faceoffs, plus/minus, consistency on the penalty kill coupled with shorthanded goals can be areas that separate Selke candidates.

Currently, Boston’s Patrice Bergeron is the Selke gold standard as a four-time winner, and he’s finished first or second in voting in each of the past six seasons. Fair or not, Bergeron’s reputation alone will likely land him in the top three once again barring injury.

“When you look at (Anze) Kopitar, Bergeron and (Jonathan) Toews, I think Coots is up there with those guys,” Jakub Voracek said. “Without a doubt [Couturier is a Selke candidate]. He’s got 15 goals in 30 games. His stick is very good and he’s always one step ahead defensively. He doesn’t over-backcheck. He just knows what kind of responsibility that he has. You can see it on the PK, it’s really hard to get a puck through him. Those kind of players are very hard to find.”

Just ask the Flyers' organization. They haven’t had a Selke winner since Dave Poulin 30 years ago.