You don’t have to work at the NHL’s Department of Player Safety to realize Flyers blueliner Radko Gudas has toned down his act.
That the league hasn’t had to review any of his hits — legal or suspicious — is positive reinforcement that it’s finally beginning to sink in with the 6-foot, 204-pound defenseman what he can and can’t get away with on the ice.
“In general, he’s kinda gone back to the adjustment he made in his game last couple months of last season,” coach Dave Hakstol said after the Flyers' 3-0 loss to Tampa on Saturday. “He’s most effective when he is playing good, solid defensive hockey and letting plays come to him .”
Both Hakstol and general manager Ron Hextall sat Gudas down prior to the start of the season after he was hit with a six-game suspension to begin 2016-17 for a preseason incident.
Gudas has also been watching video of what is clean, borderline and illegal in terms of hits.
“One of those things, having to figure out because guys are smaller than they used to be,” Gudas said. “Four years ago, when I came into the league, guys were 6-foot plus and 220-plus and now it’s slowly going back to smaller, lighter guys. You have to learn how to hit these guys, too.
“I’m still trying to be as physical as I can. If you hit them hard enough, he’s going to get hurt or stay down. I don’t want to say it’s a lot different, but there are some changes to be made, that’s for sure.”
During Tuesday’s 3-2 shootout loss to Ottawa, Gudas had a tremendous legal check off the boards on the Senators’ Mark Stone. He simply waited for Stone to come into the Flyers' end moving directly at him, turned his body and drove a hard shoulder into Stone without touching any part of the neck or head.
“The biggest thing is letting the play come to him,” Hakstol said. "The hits, the physical side of the game. He is a physical presence for us and we need that. He’s done a very good job of just letting the physical game that is naturally there come to him.”
On Saturday, he had a tough clean hit on Ryan Callahan in the second period and J.T. Brown took exception and went after him. Gudas tuned him up in his first fight of the season.
Gudas leads the Flyers with 53 hits despite missing the first six games of the season. He came into Saturday’s game 20th overall in the NHL.
Toronto’s Matt Martin, who has been the league’s leading hitter five years in succession, is the current leader this year, too, with 76.
Imagine where Gudas would rank now if he had not begun the season suspended for six games after a preseason hit on Boston’s Austin Czarnik. He avoided a previous suspension for a hit on the Rangers’ Jimmy Vesey.
“I didn’t want to change a lot in my game,” Gudas said. “Just be smarter with those hits. There is nothing I can do about the suspension now except be the best I can for my team.”
Brandon Manning is second on the Flyers in hits with 42 and has played 17 of 18 games.
Gudas does, however, lead the Flyers with 36 blocked shots and is 24th overall in the NHL in that department. Rookie Ivan Provorov is next with 30.
“I am trying to do the best possible,” Gudas said. “I don’t want to hurt anybody out there either, but still play that hard, physical game. It’s part of my hockey. For me, staying physical was an important thing. I’ve got to learn from my own mistakes.”
For now, he certainly seems to be doing that.
The Flyers are 0 for 10 in the last three games. It’s the first time this season they’ve gone three games without scoring on the power play.
The Flyers were shut out by the Lightning for only the fifth time since Tampa Bay came into the NHL in 1992. One of those previous shutouts was a 0-0 tie on Feb. 24, 2001.
Four of the five shutouts have been witnessed in South Philly. The last time the Lightning shut out the Flyers was Feb. 1, 2011, in Tampa (4-0 loss). The last time it happened at the Wells Fargo Center was Jan. 28, 2006, (6-0 loss). The next day, the Flyers named Derian Hatcher their 13th captain.
It was also the Flyers' first shutout loss of the season.
Chris VandeVelde took a high hit from Braydon Coburn early in the game that resulted in a boarding penalty. VandeVelde did not return.
Brayden Schenn had a legal shoulder hit on Jonathan Drouin in the final 4:40 of the opening period that caught the Lightning forward with his head down. Schenn’s shoulder appeared to make contact into Drouin’s chest.
Initially, Drouin looked hurt going to the bench but did not go through the concussion protocol until the spotter alerted Tampa before the start of the second period. Drouin went to the quiet room but did return to play later in the period.
Regardless, you can expect the Department of Player Safety to review the hit Sunday, as Drouin was concussed earlier this season.
The Flyers Alumni Association will make a Thanksgiving food donation to the St. Francis Inn in Kensington on Monday. This is the 11th consecutive year the association has performed this charity event. On hand will be Brian Boucher, Danny Briere, Terry Carkner, Doug Crossman, Todd Fedoruk, Bob Kelly, Brian Propp, and Brad Marsh.