Why Flyers need Samuel Morin now

Why Flyers need Samuel Morin now

VOORHEES, N.J. — We heard it again Tuesday night from Dave Hakstol: “Hard and heavy.”

“[The Ducks] are a heavy team, a hard team down low," Hakstol said. "They are going to get some pucks.”

So what exactly does hard and heavy mean? 

Here’s Brandon Manning’s definition: “With L.A., not only are they big, but they can skate as well. I think same thing with Anaheim. You look at their lineup and their back end, they’re physically strong. They win puck battles and that’s not always about size and presence, it’s about winning those battles.”  

Big. Hard. Heavy. Attributes more suited for Western Conference teams, who have tailored their lineups for the rugged Pacific and Central division style of play.

Even the Edmonton Oilers, who drafted high-end skill and speed for years, realized they needed some "hard and heavy" in their lineup, which explains the signings of 6-foot-3 Patrick Maroon and 6-4 Milan Lucic the past few seasons.

While the Flyers did a brilliant job eliminating Connor McDavid last Saturday, guess who provided the Oilers' only goal? Maroon, who physically dominated a smaller Nolan Patrick down in the corner.

From his perch on the bench, backup goalie Michal Neuvirth had this observation: "Anaheim is a big, heavy team, similar like Nashville. It seems like we’re having a tougher time against bigger teams.”

It may be a small sample size, but Neuvirth’s right and the Flyers' record indicates that: 2-0 against the East, 3-4 against the West. In fact, the Flyers have as many even-strength and shorthanded goals (11) in those two games against Washington and Florida as they do in the seven games against Western Conference opponents.

Jori Lehtera, having played three seasons in St. Louis, is well aware of the differences in styles.

"Our division now is like way more smaller guys," Lehtera said, "but more skill and speed. [Against the West], you have to be harder in the battles and you can't make easy mistakes." 

With a fresh Ryan Getzlaf returning to the lineup Tuesday, the Ducks were indeed bigger, harder and heavier, and from the opening period, it was rather obvious containing Anaheim’s top line of Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Rickard Rakell was going to be a monumental challenge for the Flyers. They had possession time and it was only a matter of time before the scoresheet reflected that.

Two goals, three assists and a plus-6 was the final tally on a team that crushed the Flyers, 6-2, at the Wells Fargo Center.

When the Flyers faced the Getzlaf-less Ducks for the first time Oct. 7, they were able to succeed in overtime with a more mobile, less imposing lineup. Defenseman Ivan Provorov almost singlehandedly shut down the Ducks' top line.

What the Flyers needed Tuesday night was a little bit of nasty. 

Paging, or texting these days, 6-6 Samuel Morin, that one player with size who has apparently drawn the short end of Hakstol’s stick.

While Morin made the Flyers’ opening night roster and stuck around for the four-game West Coast road trip, we still don’t know how his game translates to the NHL.

However, Morin’s stature, physicality and stick work could have been a disruptive force against the Ducks, or against any of these “hard and heavy” teams.

In fact, Morin’s desire to drop the gloves could have also come in handy after Kevin Bieksa leveled Radko Gudas with a hard right.

"The fight was a big thing for us,” Getzlaf said. “Sometimes it can get some momentum for you. Getting in there and building some momentum for our group and we built off of it.”

As much as the NHL has moved away from fighting and open-ice checks, the game of hockey is still played with a physical edge. The Flyers may have a handful of middleweight-division players who will get their hands dirty, but their only heavyweight is doing grunt work in the AHL.

And the best part of Morin’s game is he’s also capable of providing some skill with surprising mobility for a player of his size.

The Flyers should have seen this coming. In an unusual scheduling quirk, 23 of the team’s first 33 games come against the big, bad West.

If the Flyers were a Western Conference team (like they were during the expansion era), you would have to think Morin would be a mainstay on the 23-man roster.

Tuesday’s lackluster effort, coupled with the loss of Andrew MacDonald, forced Hakstol to play blue-line roulette once again.

Provorov started Tuesday's game with Robert Hagg, was paired with Gudas to start the third period and then teamed with Shayne Gostisbehere Wednesday.

Travis Sanheim started out on the right side with Manning, saw time with Provorov in the third period, and has now shifted back to the left with Hagg on his right.

At this point, it seems Hakstol will try just about anything … that doesn’t include Morin.

“Right now, it’s about the group of six that are here,” Hakstol said. “I don’t really want to go too far beyond that. These guys have done a good job, and I’ll be honest with you, the group of six did a pretty good job in the first period last night. So right now, the focus is on the group of six that are right here.”

Perhaps Morin will get a hard and heavy look when “hard and heavy” is on the Flyers' schedule again.

Patrick back
Surprisingly, Nolan Patrick returned to the ice for Wednesday’s practice session a little more than 12 hours after Chris Wagner unloaded a shoulder-to-shoulder hit that appeared to have jolted Patrick’s head. Patrick left the game and never returned for precautionary reasons.

“It was good to have the group that we had, and he (Nolan) was part of that especially for a young guy coming off a night like that,” Hakstol said. “You want him back in practice the next day and being sharp and working at his game. I thought Nolan was doing that today.”

Starting in Ottawa?
Neuvirth was the first player off the ice Wednesday, which has been a good indication he’s scheduled to start Thursday’s game in Ottawa. 

Neuvirth has been rock solid in his three starts, not allowing more than two goals. Neuvirth currently leads all qualified NHL goaltenders with a 1.36 goals-against average and a .957 save percentage.

“Yeah, I mean, I’ve only played three games," Neuvirth said. "I don’t think it’s a big deal about the numbers. For me, it’s all about winning games. I’ve only won one hockey game, so it’s definitely going to be a big game for me tomorrow.”

Flyers weekly observations: Claude Giroux's position, Chuck Fletcher's patience, more

Flyers weekly observations: Claude Giroux's position, Chuck Fletcher's patience, more

It was another fun week in Flyers Land.

From the hiring of Chuck Fletcher, his introduction, a new coach and actual hockey being played, these are busy — and changing — times for the organization.

Let's get into some observations:

• Claude Giroux is pretty versatile, huh?

In his first game back at center since the 2016-17 season, Giroux went off for four points (one goal, three assists) during the Flyers' 6-2 win Saturday over the Sabres.

Which, of course, created the inevitable question of should the Flyers keep Giroux in the middle?

The Flyers undoubtedly need more depth at center. With one point in his last 11 games, Nolan Patrick hasn't shown the playmaking ability everyone was looking for from the 20-year-old. Be patient, though, because Patrick can turn it on quickly.

Still, Sean Couturier centering Jakub Voracek and Wayne Simmonds on the second line would be intriguing, while James van Riemsdyk's game definitely goes to a different level next to a facilitator like Giroux.

However …

Giroux on the wing and Couturier at first-line center resulted in career years for both players during 2017-18. If it's not broke, don't fix it, right?

Allowing Giroux — who turns 31 in January — to play left winger keeps him fresher with a little less demand over the course of the season; he's already playing 20 minutes a night, which includes time on the power play and penalty kill.

When Couturier returns from a day-to-day lower-body injury, I'd expect Giroux to shift back to left winger. Patrick can make the decision easier on head coach Dave Hakstol by taking a step forward in December. If the 2017 second overall pick doesn't, Hakstol may have his hand forced.

• Just how patient will Fletcher be?

The whole dynamic is interesting because the Flyers' new general manager stressed the importance of getting to know the staff, the players, the duties of everyone and looking first to in-house solutions.

Then again, Flyers president Paul Holmgren and Comcast Spectacor chairman and CEO Dave Scott brought in Fletcher because there wasn't enough progress and action with a team that should be better.

If the trend below worsens, Fletcher won't watch and hope for the best — that's not why he was summoned by the Flyers.

There are already rumblings that the Flyers could be seriously active ahead of the Feb. 25 trade deadline. Scott made a point to mention that date two weeks ago and Fletcher won't sit back here.

• This past weekend was a prime example of why the goalie position is so critical.

In Saturday's win, the Flyers fell behind, 2-0, but stuck with their approach because Anthony Stolarz still provided timely saves to salvage the Flyers' confidence. As a result, the Flyers ripped off six unanswered goals for a resounding victory.

In Sunday's 7-1 loss, the Flyers actually outplayed the Jets until Winnipeg scored its third goal on Michal Neuvirth to make it a 3-1 contest 7:31 into the second period. The Flyers then changed their entire game, tried doing too much and it backfired in a hurry.

Get a big save and the game could be totally different. The Flyers don't get that nearly consistently enough because their situation in net is a mess.

For the most part, Fletcher had goalie stability in Minnesota and it would not surprise me at all if the position is his chief concern with the Flyers.

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If not Sergei Bobrovsky, which free agents should Flyers target?

If not Sergei Bobrovsky, which free agents should Flyers target?

Sunday’s report from SportsNet Canada’s Chris Johnson that the Flyers will take a run at Sergei Bobrovsky on July 1 (barring he’s still unsigned) certainly raised a few eyebrows around the hockey community in Philadelphia (see story).

Bobrovsky would command the largest contract ever for a Flyers goaltender and it could hamper the team from addressing other areas.

If you’re not too keen on the idea of the Flyers making a long-term commitment to Bobrovsky at $10-11 million per season, which could inevitably serve as a blockade to Carter Hart’s path to the NHL (much like the signing of Ilya Bryzgalov), then the Flyers could spend their free agent dollars elsewhere with other holes to fill.

Here’s a look at some potential options:

Mark Stone, RW (Ottawa Senators)

Even if defenseman Erik Karlsson hits the market on July 1, I wouldn’t be surprised in the least bit if Stone drew more interest from across the league. For one, the 26-year-old right wing is entering the prime years of his career having already produced four 20-goal seasons with the Senators. He’s smart, instinctive, quick, is rarely out of place on the ice and is versatile enough to play in every situation — including on the much-needed penalty kill.

Stone was in his final year of arbitration before ultimately agreeing to a one-year, $7.35-million contract with the Sens, who are clearly in a rebuild mode. Don’t be surprised if Stone is moved before the trade deadline as he will command quite a bit for any contending team. However, if the Flyers elect to move on from Wayne Simmonds, then there will be an opportunity to fill a void at right wing, where Stone would be a great fit.

Matt Duchene, C (Ottawa Senators)

I’m not convinced Nolan Patrick is ready to step up and be the No. 2 center the Flyers need — a player that can score 55-60 points a season. Senators top center Matt Duchene would be that guy. My guess is that the Senators retain either Duchene or Stone, but I certainly can’t envision a situation where they lock up both players. Duchene has produced six 20-goal seasons but struggled much like Nathan McKinnon when they were teammates in Colorado, and he’s not the most defensive-minded center with a plus/minus numbers that is reflective of that.  

Still, the 28-year-old Duchene is immensely talented as the Flyers found out when he scored a game-winner, batting a rebounded shot out of the air on the backhand side.

Semyon Varlamov, G (Colorado Avalanche)

I fully anticipate Sergei Bobrovsky to get six years and at least $60 million wherever he signs, and whether or not the Flyers feel Hart is ready next season or not, the team could still benefit from having an established veteran. There are very, very few solid goaltending options heading into next summer, but Varlamov is in the final season of a five-year, $29-million contract he inked in 2014. 

He bounced back from a disappointing 2016-17 season with a .920 save percentage is helping lead the Avs back to playoff contention. If you can get Varlamov on a two-to-three year deal, and you may have to overpay a little, then he could help stabilize the position until Hart is deemed ready.

Anton Stralman, D (Tampa Bay Lightning)

Karlsson will be the big ticket free agent defenseman, but you're paying a high premium for a marquee name while risking that Karlsson’s best years are already behind him. I thought Steve Yzerman’s signing of Stralman in the summer of 2014 was one of the more underrated moves by the Lightning GM in propelling the organization into one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference.

A much-coveted right-handed defenseman Stralman just goes out there and does his job and rarely puts his team in a position of weakness. He’s smart with his stick and uses it to his advantage, rarely commits penalties, and would be a perfect compliment to Ivan Provorov on the penalty kill. Stralman will be 33 next season, so teams will have to be cautious regarding the terms of his deal. Tampa would love to retain Stralman, but they have other commitments which will force them to make some tough decisions.

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