Taylor Leier

Michael Raffl rejuvenated playing with Flyers' dynamic fourth line

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Michael Raffl rejuvenated playing with Flyers' dynamic fourth line

VOORHEES, N.J. — Don't think for one minute Michael Raffl isn't having fun.

The fifth-year Flyers forward is without a single point through 15 games and sees the shortest ice time on the team at 10:14 a night, a career low.

For a guy that scored 21 goals in 2014-15 and was at times featured in a top-line role alongside Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek, remaining his jovial self would seem like a challenge.

Raffl, though, has no reason to slouch. The good-humored Austrian is simply having a different type of fun. He's now on the highly praised, new-look fourth line with Scott Laughton and Taylor Leier. At 28 years old, Raffl is an elder statesman of sorts among Laughton and Leier, both 23 years old.

"My back gets sore from carrying those two guys," Raffl said Tuesday as Laughton laughed sitting right next to his locker at Flyers Skate Zone. "It's been good with those four days off now."

Raffl and Laughton are tight off the ice, which makes for good chemistry on it.

"For sure, he's still a rookie," Raffl said. "I put him in his place. He's been a good helper."

What does Laughton like about playing with Raffl?

"Nothing," he said, still laughing with his locker buddy.

Yeah, Raffl is doing just fine — the new job hasn't squelched his enjoyment.

"I'm just joking, this is all fun," Raffl said. "It's been good. Stats haven't been there, but the team has been going very well. This is pretty much the best I've felt ever since I've been here, team-wise. There are not too many games this year where we absolutely had no chance in a game. I felt like we were there every single time and could have won every single game, so that has been fun."

Furthermore, Raffl finally has consistency in his role, even if the major stats portray it as a lesser one. Throughout his time with the Flyers, Raffl has bounced around from line to line and position to position.

This season, he's appeared in every game thus far and hasn't moved.

"I take pride in it," Raffl said. "I don't think I've ever played more than 50 games on a line, so it's been a good run so far."

Raffl, Laughton and Leier have become a fixture on the beloved fourth unit.

"I haven't played with anyone else yet, so I'm happy with it," Leier said. "The two linemates I have right now, they're both great players. Raf's got [284] games, and he's been with G and Voracek at times, so he's been through it, he knows what he's doing obviously. He's been a 20-goal scorer, and then Scotty, too, he's got over 100 games, and it's good to have a guy like that on your line."

And while Raffl doesn't get to boast goals and assists, he's done a lot in the smaller areas. The winger has been a plus player, his 21 hits are second among all Flyers forwards, and he's committed just two giveaways and one penalty.

"That's what your job is on the fourth line," Raffl said. "It's still nice to score goals and get points, don't get me wrong, but yeah, it is what it is.

"You've got to adjust your game if you play a role like that.

"Leiersy and Laughts, they're extremely simple to play with, there's no magic to it. You go out there and work hard, be hard on pucks. If you turn it over or lose it, those guys are so fast, they can backcheck and get the puck back. All three of us have been doing that, so it gives you confidence in the offensive zone to try different stuff. Honestly, it's been a lot of fun so far."

Much to the delight of head coach Dave Hakstol.

"He just fits the mold of that line," Hakstol said of Raffl. "All of those guys have worked well together. The other two guys kill penalties together, so that kind of inherently builds a little bit more chemistry. Right from Day 1 of camp, Raf and Laughts have shown that they've had pretty good chemistry together. They've spent a lot of time together and very little time apart since Day 1 of camp."

Meanwhile, Raffl will eventually score a goal again.

It'll just add to his new fun.

"I actually forgot how to celebrate," Raffl said.

Flyers notes, quotes and tidbits: Taylor Leier expected back tonight against Ducks

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Flyers notes, quotes and tidbits: Taylor Leier expected back tonight against Ducks

VOORHEES, N.J. -- A big part of the Flyers' early-season success is the upgrade in their fourth line.

Michael Raffl, Scott Laughton and Taylor Leier have formed a fast, skilled and tenacious bottom three. Leier credits time spent at Lehigh Valley with the former first-round pick Laughton for much of the unit's chemistry early on.

"It's very comforting playing with Scott and Raff," Leier said after Tuesday's morning skate. "Me and Laughts grew up together in the AHL and now we're here together and that's a very comforting feeling. Being with a familiar face and familiar centerman."

While Leier and Laughton developed together with the Phantoms, Raffl was going through a tough, injury-riddled season with the big club. The 28-year-old forward's style of play has fit in nicely with his young linemates.

"Raf is so good down low," Leier said. "He's fast and he's strong. That complements me and Scott and we complement his game very well because we're fast and shifty and can hound pucks and be tenacious in the O-zone and retrieve pucks. He's so good in the corners and holding on to the puck and I think that's really good for me and Scott when we're buzzing around in the O-zone, trying to disrupt [the other team]. Overall, it's been fun to play with those two."

Leier missed Saturday's win over Edmonton with an upper-body injury suffered against Nashville last week, but it appears likely the 23-year-old will draw back into the lineup. The Flyers didn't do line rushes during the morning skate, but Matt Read and Jordan Weal were the last two Flyers on the ice. Weal will miss his third straight game with an upper-body injury.

"It feels good to be back," Leier said. "For any player, being injured is not a good feeling. It's good to be back."

Moose call
Brian Elliott will get the nod tonight against the Ducks, despite the recent success of Michal Neuvirth and the fact Elliott just started Saturday afternoon's win over the Oilers.

Neuvirth has just one win on the young season but has a microscopic 1.36 goals-against average and a .957 save percentage in three starts. 

It's not to say Elliott has played poorly. Since allowing six goals in the team's heartbreaking 6-5 loss in Nashville back on Oct. 10, Elliott has been solid in his last two starts. He's turned away 44 of the 47 shots he's faced and led the Flyers to two victories.

"I think both guys are playing well and both guys have contributed over the last week," head coach Dave Hakstol said. "We're happy with both of them. Like I said, both guys have done a real nice job for our team."

Fly Eagles Fly
Hakstol coached at the University of North Dakota for 11 years before accepting the head job with the Flyers.

He knows all about Eagles quarterback and NFL MVP candidate Carson Wentz, who spent his college days at North Dakota State.

Monday Night Football color analyst Jon Gruden, known for his superlatives, referred to Wentz as "North Dakota tough" during the team's 34-24 win over Washington.

What does "North Dakota tough" mean?

"You saw it in Carson Wentz last night. It's that simple," Hakstol said of Wentz. "Things get heated, things get tight, he seems to get calmer and more focused on the job at hand."

Flyers Rookie Report: Travis Sanheim's teaching moments overshadow solid start

Flyers Rookie Report: Travis Sanheim's teaching moments overshadow solid start

Today, we’re introducing a new wrinkle to our Flyers coverage this season. Every so often, we’ll take a look at the Flyers rookies’ progress with a Rookie Report, similar in nature to our Future Flyers Report, which runs every Monday morning. The Rookie Report will have its similarities but will also have its own unique blend to it.

We’re four games into the Nolan Patrick-led youth movement. The Flyers began the season with five rookies, though just four played on their four-game road trip.

Samuel Morin on Wednesday was sent to Lehigh Valley, where he will continue to fine-tune his game. That leaves Robert Hagg, Taylor Leier, Patrick and Travis Sanheim.

As the future begins now, we’re going to track their development throughout their first seasons. We’ll utilize film reviews and other forms of evaluating players. Let’s get going.

Teaching moments
Sanheim, to little bewilderment, beat out Morin for the second open spot on the Flyers’ defense, even though Morin seemingly had a strong enough camp to make the team. There is a strong argument all three young blueliners showed enough in the preseason.

But it’s clear Flyers GM Ron Hextall, despite previously indicating he’d make room for a kid if they prove they’re ready, wasn’t comfortable carrying three rookie defensemen. It should be noted we don’t see what goes into the decision-making behind the scenes.

Either way, Sanheim is here to stay. The 21-year-old had a bumpy start to his NHL career last Thursday in Los Angeles and then Anaheim last Saturday night. Let's go to the film.

This play began as a result of a neutral-zone turnover by Scott Laughton. Above you can see Radko Gudas in front of Kyle Clifford and Sanheim turning around. Sanheim squares up, sees Trevor Lewis coming and begins to backpedal.

As Lewis enters the faceoff circle, Sanheim's eyes are still focused on the puck and a little too high, allowing Lewis to creep behind him. As two Flyers pressure Nick Shore, the forward sees Lewis, feeds him the puck before Sanheim can break it up.

It's an easy goal for Lewis on a play where Brian Elliott had no chance, and it ended up being the game-winner for the Kings.

“Yeah, I saw him,” Sanheim said of Lewis. “My gap was a little off. With the turnover, I wish I was a little farther up. I think then he doesn’t see that play. I wish I could have had a better gap. That’s a mistake and something I can learn from.”

Two nights later in Anaheim, Sanheim had another moment on the Ducks' first goal. Sanheim and Hagg were caught on the ice together, which isn't ideal, but the two were in Lehigh Valley together last season so it's not like they haven't communicated before.

The play began in the corner, with Hagg playing strong on Ondrej Kase. After a short puck battle, Jakub Voracek and Antoine Vermette join in. The puck eventually breaks free.

Sanheim, with Hagg still in the corner, aggressively goes for a poke check on Josh Manson while Vermette begins to break across ice to unmarked territory.

Below, you'll see Hagg getting back into his position but Sanheim remains stationary. Voracek and Claude Giroux are all focused on the puck, Kase and Manson.

Vermette is completely alone.

Kase finds Vermette for the easy tap-in goal as Hagg and Sanheim are literally right next to each other. It was a little too much aggressiveness in his own zone by Sanheim.

The poke check wasn't the best play there for Sanheim. As the puck popped out, it was a 2-on-1 situation. Sanheim went for the puck, got beat and Vermette was left all alone.

“We ended up getting beat — we got beat out on a 2-on-2 on the wall,” Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said afterward. “One of their players spun off of that battle and it ended up catching Sanny in between. Really there’s not a lot I’d probably ask him to do differently on that play. He got caught between in a little bit.”

Analysis
We’re highlighting these two plays because they were obvious mistakes made by a rookie in his first two games. They’re learning moments and that’s what they are.

Sanheim had a rough second period in Los Angeles but bounced back in the third. Hakstol stayed with him in the third, and even used him late in the period with the game on the line and the need for more blue-line activity.

With Sanheim, there are going to be growing pains. That’s expected, of course. Even Ivan Provorov had them last season. Sanheim’s puck-moving and shot are clearly NHL ready and he showed in preseason his defensive play has improved. He still has to improve his coverage, as evidenced above, but the only way he can do that is by playing.

It appears the leash on Sanheim isn’t short. The coaching staff appears ready to let Sanheim make the mistakes and learn from them. That’s a positive because, after the Kings’ game, some felt Morin may get one final look before the competition was over.

Hakstol didn’t go to Morin or insert Brandon Manning back into the lineup in Anaheim, and outside of the Vermette goal, Sanheim didn’t have any other major miscues. That will be important for him. How quickly can he move on and learn from a mistake?

“I thought he picked up where he left off in the third period in L.A., which was back to playing his game,” Hakstol said after the Ducks game. “He used his feet well, I thought he played a pretty confident game.”

Quick hits
• In the Flyers’ season opener Oct. 4 in San Jose, Hagg brilliantly stifled a 2-on-1 against the Sharks’ Joe Thornton and Kevin Labanc, forcing Thornton to turn back and regroup. Thornton did just that and Labanc eventually did score San Jose’s first goal.

Hagg sees the 2-on-1 developing before center ice and positions himself accordingly. Once Thornton gets to the blue line, Hagg has two choices here: Attack the puck carrier before the play gets deeper or stay in position while he waits for help, delaying his decision.

It’s one he had to make in real time. Attack the carrier and get beat, Brian Elliott is facing a 1-on-1 break. But Hagg makes a smart play in attacking Thornton. He bent down with his stick on the ice, taking away the pass option and forcing Thornton to circle back. The Sharks scored moments later, but Hagg played this 2-on-1 perfectly.

• One thing worth noting about Patrick is his passing from behind the net. Patrick scored his first Tuesday in Nashville but picked up his career first point in Anaheim last Saturday. Patrick, from behind the net, found his former Brandon teammate, Provorov, for a one-timer just as a power play expired. It’s a type of pass the Flyers will certainly benefit from this season.

• One of the bright spots thus far has been the Flyers’ fourth line featuring Leier, a rookie, Laughton, a former first-rounder who finally made the show full-time, and Michael Raffl. Leier and Laughton have uncanny chemistry from their time together with the Phantoms. They were the Flyers’ most consistent line throughout preseason.

The line creates energy, works hard and always seems to be in the offensive zone. In fact, after four games, the Flyers’ fourth line is dominating the Corsi department. Let’s highlight a play made by Leier against San Jose that was absolutely bonkers.

Before the pass, the line had forechecked and spent 12 seconds in the Sharks' zone and when San Jose finally escaped its own zone, 38 seconds had passed. But this play started with a Provorov pinch, freeing up the puck for Leier to skate behind the Sharks’ net, then he anticipates where Laughton will be, spins around and sets Laughton up for a prime chance. Martin Jones made the save, but Leier's pass was ridiculous.

Stats
Leier: 4 games, 0 goals, 1 assist, minus-2, 11:30 TOI
Hagg: 4 games, 0 goals, 0 assists, even, 18:12 TOI
Patrick: 4 games, 1 goal, 1 assist, plus-3, 13:53 TOI
Sanheim: 3 games, 0 goals, 0 assists, minus-2, 11:55 TOI