scott laughton

Why Flyers' depth is really a mirage

Why Flyers' depth is really a mirage

Updated: 6:10 p.m.

VOORHEES, N.J. — Maybe there was a false sense of reality right from Wayne Simmonds' opening hat trick to the eight-goal outburst against the Washington Capitals in the home opener.

“Just remember, after eight games, the media was all giddy about our team,” Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said a month ago in Calgary. “We were like, ‘It’s a little early about getting too giddy about this team.’ We were a pretty good team then. Pretty good.”

Perhaps the giddiness (if that truly existed) was a result of having some giddyap to their game in that first month when the Flyers received contributions up and down their lineup while displaying an ability to transition out of their zone efficiently and effectively.

Offensively, the Flyers were ranked in the top five in goals per game, but the “O" was more of an oasis, the illusion of a balanced offensive attack.

Earlier this week when I asked certain Flyers about the team’s identity or lack thereof, head coach Dave Hakstol pointed directly to “depth” as that identifiable trait.

Coming out of training camp, that may have been the case. Oskar Lindblom, who many believed was NHL ready, was assigned to Lehigh Valley, while Samuel Morin was essentially the eighth defenseman when the season started. The Flyers had a certain degree of depth, but as we’ve discovered over the past six weeks, it’s not the organizational depth needed to carry them over an 82-game schedule.

Through those first 10 games, Jordan Weal had five points and was averaging nearly 14:26 a game. In the 23 games proceeding October, Weal has just five more points, averaging just 11:51.

Fourth-liners Taylor Leier and Scott Laughton have seen their ice time take a significant hit as well. Combined, they were logging over 25 minutes through the first month of the season to just under 21½ minutes in December. Some of that decrease in ice time has been Hakstol’s decision to take Leier off the penalty kill.

Laughton agreed a handful of the Flyers' supporting cast just haven’t been relied upon as much as they were during the opening weeks of the season.

“Yeah, I’m not sure. I guess it’s just the situation and you've got to know your role,” Laughton said. “That’s the biggest thing. I knew my role coming into the year was going to be this and you've got to stick with it. Even though you’re not playing the big minutes, I think it’s an important role to try and create momentum.”

However, it’s been the role players of the Flyers' opponents who have provided that momentum recently. On Tuesday night, the Penguins received a pair of goals from fourth-liners Ryan Reaves and Tom Kuhnhackl. Last week in Florida, the Panthers' Jared McCann and Derek MacKenzie chipped in with decisive goals.

Hakstol has been forced to shorten his bench to protect third-period leads and has resorted to double shifting some of his skilled players when trying to make up a third-period deficit.

From a forward standpoint, you have Sean Couturier, Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Simmonds and Valtteri Filppula earning the bulk of the playing time, and then there’s every other forward in one collective clump. Compare that to the NHL’s top team, the Lightning, who have a perfect balance with eight forwards averaging in the 16-20 minute range.

Sure, few teams have the luxury, but it wasn’t that long ago the Flyers were in that same boat. It just happened to be the last time they won a playoff series in 2012.

Only on defense has the Flyers' depth been tested through injury, as Hakstol has been forced to play 10 different blueliners, the same number they played with all of last season. Collectively that unit has a plus-10 rating, a respectable sum considering the injuries and suspension to Radko Gudas, plus the growing pains of a handful of rookies.

Depth has been an issue within this organization since the lockout in 2013. And unless the Flyers stage an impressive turnaround in the second half of this season, they’ll miss the postseason for the fourth time in the last six years.

Perhaps when Hextall starts to feel giddy about this team again will we truly know they have the depth to compete for a championship.

Roster move
The Flyers on Wednesday night called up forward Tyrell Goulbourne from AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley. He will be available for Thursday's game against the Islanders at the Wells Fargo Center.

The 6-foot, 200-pound winger was drafted by the Flyers in the third round of the 2013 draft and has spent parts of his last three seasons with the Phantoms.

In 34 games with Lehigh Valley this season, the 23-year-old has six goals, five assists and a plus-8 rating.

Flyers wake up too late from holiday slumber

Flyers wake up too late from holiday slumber

BOX SCORE

SUNRISE, Fla. — The Flyers picked up where they left off prior to the Christmas break Thursday night with their third straight defeat, a 3-2 loss to the Florida Panthers.

Panthers captain Derek MacKenzie scored his first goal of the season and the fifth shorthanded goal the Flyers have allowed this season as Florida won its fourth in a row.

Jared McCann and Jonathan Huberdeau also scored for the Panthers.

Scott Laughton scored his sixth goal of the season and is now one shy of matching his career high of seven he finished with in 2015-16.

Starting his 12th straight game, Brian Elliott stopped 24 of 27 shots. Elliott is 7-4-1 during this current stretch. 

Claude Giroux saw his point streak extended to six games with an assist.

The Flyers and Panthers will meet one final time on March 4 at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Florida.

• It was an absolute brutal start for the Flyers’ Shayne Gostisbehere, who was whistled for an interference call just 36 seconds into the game. Vincent Trocheck collided with “Ghost,” who made it look like he lowered his shoulder to deliver contact. 

• Moments later, Elliott was whistled for tripping Aleksander Barkov on a breakaway attempt. Elliott tried to poke check the puck away from Barkov. You see goalies make that play without drawing a penalty and I’m not sure Elliott actually tripped Barkov.  

• The Flyers’ PK, which came into the game ranked 29th, did an excellent job of killing off 1:19 of 5-on-3 time. The Panthers had just one shot on net and another ring off the post, but the Flyers did a solid job of closing off the passing lanes.

• The Panthers struck first when McCann made a move around Wayne Simmonds and fired a snap shot from the high slot that beat Elliott low to the blocker side. Replays didn’t appear to show the puck was deflected. My biggest problem was how the Flyers just gave the Panthers a clean zone exit and allowed them to move freely in the neutral zone. 

• Not sure what got Andrew MacDonald so fired up that he practically jumped Panthers defenseman Mike Matheson. Perhaps it was a slashing infraction as both guys went to the box during the matching minors as MacDonald was whistled for roughing.

• There was an irresponsible high-sticking penalty from Nolan Patrick, as the rookie raised his stick and clipped Michael Haley when neither guy was playing the puck. Hard to understand why players hold their sticks up high when there’s simply no need. 

• The Flyers played a typical opening 20 minutes for a team that had a three-day Christmas vacation. They were outshot 13-5 and trailed 1-0. The skated much better once the penalties were served. 

• Head coach Dave Hakstol has threw his lines into a blender as he moved Laughton onto the second line and bumped Jordan Weal to the third line. Hakstol appeared to be trying to find any combination after a lackluster first period.

• The Flyers were saved by the Panthers’ ineptitude to stay onside in the opening minute of the second period. Florida was looking at a potential 3-on-1 if Barkov hadn’t stepped over the line prematurely.

• The Flyers’ power play has been charitable when giving the opposition shorthanded chances. That was the case again when Giroux moved the puck down the boards just inside the blue line. Florida’s Colton Sceviour retrieved it to spring a 2-on-1 rush the other way. Giroux couldn’t keep up with MacKenzie, who scored on the one-timer pass from Sceviour.

• In an effort to drum up some emotion, Michael Raffl dropped the gloves with Panthers defenseman Alex Petrovic. Give Raffl credit as he also drew a roughing penalty on Petrovic. The Flyers appeared lifeless in the first 30 minutes of the game.

• The Flyers couldn’t respond as the Panthers opened up a 3-0 lead when Matheson beat Robert Hagg to a loose puck to feed Nick Bjugstad. Bjugstad then fed Huberdeau for a perfectly-placed shot. Huberdeau also used Radko Gudas as a screen as Elliott was late to pick it up. The Panthers had two players in the zone to the Flyers’ four. Florida simply out-hustled the Flyers.

• Jake Voracek had an excellent opportunity to get a goal back when he broke in all alone on James Reimer. However, he couldn’t finish as it appeared Voracek was trying to go five-hole with his backhanded shot. Instead, he pulled it too much left and it deflected off Reimer’s pad.

• The Flyers finally got one back with 7:32 remaining in regulation after Aaron Ekblad broke his stick on a slap shot that sprung Travis Konecny. The Flyers capitalized as the trailer, Laughton, snapped off a perfect shot that beat Reimer just under the crossbar. 

• The Flyers’ power play broke through as well when Sean Couturier redirected Gostisbehere’s shot from the point to pull them within one.

Lineups, pairings and scratches

Forwards
Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Travis Konecny
Michael Raffl-Nolan Patrick-Jakub Voracek
Dale Weise-Valtteri Filppula-Wayne Simmonds
Taylor Leier-Scott Laughton-Jordan Weal

Defensemen
Ivan Provorov-Shayne Gostisbehere
Robert Hagg-Andrew MacDonald
Travis Sanheim-Radko Gudas

Goalies
Brian Elliott
Michal Neuvirth

Flyers-Maple Leafs observations: The win streak travels

Flyers-Maple Leafs observations: The win streak travels

BOX SCORE

The Flyers brought their recent road success back to the Wells Fargo Center, beating the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday night, 4-2, for their fourth consecutive victory.

Sean Couturier scored the game-winner with 2:55 remaining in regulation when he beat Frederik Andersen glove side top shelf.

Couturier matched a career high with his 15th goal of the season.

Claude Giroux, Travis Konecny and Scott Laughton also scored for the Flyers, who trailed, 2-1, entering the third period.

After surrendering the first goal of the game, Brian Elliott settled in and stopped 20 of 22 shots for his fourth straight win. Elliott has allowed two or fewer goals in each of those four starts.

The Maple Leafs were forced to play without superstar Auston Matthews, who was out with an upper-body injury. Prior to Tuesday night, the Leafs were a perfect 5-0 in games Matthews had missed. 

• In the opening minutes of the first period, Leo Komarov got behind Radko Gudas. William Nylander’s pass was a little too far in front of Komarov, who would have had a wide-open look at Elliott. 

Gudas, who returned to the lineup after a 10-game suspension, had some early mixups with defensive partner Travis Sanheim. That is to be expected after a long layoff.

“It’s unbelievable, it feels great,” Gudas said at the first intermission. “I’ve had this date circled on the calendar. I’m looking forward to getting the two points and doing everything I can to help the boys out.”

• The Leafs had another excellent scoring chance after Nolan Patrick won a defensive faceoff. The Flyers got caught up along the boards when the Leafs gained control of the puck and James van Riemsdyk was able to maneuver in front of Patrick for a dangerous chance that went just wide of the net. If Patrick isn’t contributing offensively, he can still be responsible and protect the ice in his own end.

• Jordan Weal’s been playing better than Konecny lately and has been bumped up to the third line with Patrick and Dale Weise. Early on, Weal had a nice move but couldn’t extend his backhand shot around Andersen for the goal. Weal had an early burst in the first period.

• The Flyers ran a set play off the faceoff as Couturier backhanded the puck to the top of the circle and Giroux one-timed for a shot. It looked like Andersen wasn’t anticipating it and was slow to react. The goal was Giroux’s 13th of the season and he is now one shy of his 2016-17 total.

• Just 27 seconds later, the Leafs scored in transition when Patrick Marleau came down the left wing and snapped a shot past Elliott. The puck seemed to catch Elliott under his right arm. Elliott was square to the shot but it somehow trickled underneath his blocker for a goal he would certainly like to have back. 

• The Maple Leafs got away with a clear tripping as Komarov got his stick in the skates of Shayne Gostisbehere, who stumbled and then fell to the ice. Not sure what the referee was looking at, but if called the Flyers would have had a 5-on-3 power play for about 1:25. It was Komarov with a wicked boarding play on “Ghost” the last time these two teams faced each other on Oct. 28.    

• It’s always interesting to see the different methods that Ivan Provorov utilizes to play defense in his zone. Late in the opening period, Provorov dug his left shoulder into the rib cage of high-flying Mitch Marner in an effort to slow him down and separate him from the puck. 

• The Flyers opened up the second period with a sustained shift of around a minute with the line of Michael Raffl, Valtteri Filppula and Jakub Voracek doing the dirty work down low. The Flyers were able to generate four shots on Andersen. In fact, the Flyers outshot the Leafs, 7-0, in just the first three minutes of the second period.

• Elliott flashed some quick reflexes off a double deflection after Dominic Moore got a stick on the slap shot that went off Provorov. Elliott was quick to snag it with his glove. Minutes earlier, Nazem Kadri’s snap shot deflected off the left post.

• Gudas made a poor pass to Couturier, which led to a turnover. As the Leafs regrouped, Josh Leivo got behind Gudas on a clear breakaway when Elliott made his best save of the night to get enough of the glove on the puck and keep the game tied at 1-1. Gudas struggled in his first game back.

• Following a Voracek tripping penalty, the Leafs capitalized on their first power play of the game. Defenseman Morgan Reilly wristed a shot that JVR was able to deflect up and over Elliott. That was the first power-play goal allowed in five games after the Flyers’ PK was a perfect 6 for 6 on the recent three-game road trip.

• In the opening minute of the third period, Giroux had a grade-A opportunity. Couturier took a shot low that Andersen extended his pad on to create a perfect rebound opportunity for Giroux, who cut across the crease. Andersen was able to turn aside Giroux’s chance as well.

• After outshooting the Leafs by a wide margin, the Flyers finally tied the game up at 2-2 on a sequence that all started when Andersen hesitated on what he wanted to do with the puck from his net. As he tried to pass it out, the puck hit off Konecny and stayed in the offensive zone. Eventually, Konecny launched a shot that went off two Leafs players and past Andersen. For Konecny, he’ll take any goal he can get with just two over his last 20 games.

• After giving up that first goal, Elliott was locked in. The Leafs had a centering pass from behind the goal line right to Connor Brown, who got off a point-blank shot. Elliott seemed to read it perfectly and made a dangerous play look rather easy.

Lineups, pairings and scratches

Forwards
Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Wayne Simmonds
Michael Raffl-Valtteri Filppula-Jakub Voracek
Jordan Weal-Nolan Patrick-Dale Weise
Taylor Leier-Scott Laughton-Travis Konecny

Defensemen
Ivan Provorov-Andrew MacDonald
Robert Hagg-Shayne Gostisbehere
Travis Sanheim-Radko Gudas

Goalies
Brian Elliott
Alex Lyon

Scratches: Forward Jori Lehtera (healthy) and defenseman Mark Alt (healthy).