scott laughton

Flyers' forward grades and outlook for next season — Part 2

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Flyers' forward grades and outlook for next season — Part 2

Over the next several days, we’ll evaluate the Flyers at each position, give a regular season and postseason grade and provide an outlook for their roster status for the 2018-19 season. Next up, Part 2 of the forwards:

After evaluating goaltending and the defense, we turn our attention to the Flyers’ forwards, one of the deepest groups under coach Dave Hakstol and a group that produced nine double-digit scorers in 2017-18.

Jake Voracek

Regular Season: B+ 
   
Playoffs: C    

Voracek was a force for most of the season as he also established a career high with 85 points. He occasionally makes the high-risk play of skating into traffic and losing the puck that results in an odd-man rush, but there are few power forwards who possess his drive and ability to dig out pucks along the boards. Voracek’s play in the six-game series seemed to mirror the Flyers’ effort as a team. Noticeable during the wins, absent in the losses.

2018-19 outlook: Has six years remaining on an eight-year, $66 million contract that went into effect last season. 

Wayne Simmonds

Regular Season: C+

Playoffs: B-

We’re now familiar with the numerous ailments that Simmonds was dealing with throughout the course of the season. Defensively, Simmonds experienced his shortcomings as well, failing to pick up coverages and troubles clearing the zone. As a result, he finished with a team-worst minus-16 rating. Against the Penguins he had spurts of solid play and appeared to get stronger as the series moved along. 

2018-19 outlook: Entering the final season of a six-year, $23.8 million deal he signed in 2012. Simmonds is eligible to sign an extension that would kick in at the age of 31. However, he could be the subject of trade talks over the summer as the Flyers look to free up cap space and lock up some of their younger free agents after next season.

Scott Laughton

Regular Season: B-

Playoffs: B+

Laughton came out of the gates strong centering the “honey bee” line with Taylor Leier and Michael Raffl. Defensively, Laughton started to slip over the second half of the season, with a minus-13 after Jan. 1. However, Laughton responded nicely, playing the left wing in the playoff series against Pittsburgh, scoring a goal in the Game 6 clincher. If he’s not a fourth-line center, wing may be where Laughton begins next season.  

2018-19 outlook: Has one more year remaining at $962,000.

Valtteri Filppula

Regular Season: C-

Playoffs: C+

Filppula was moved up and down the lineup from a second line center to the fourth line. Positionally, he's always in the right place, but he clearly lost a step and was often outmuscled by the opponent’s top lines. Filppula had one tremendous game filling in for Sean Couturier on the top line in the Flyers’ Game 5 victory, but throughout the six-game series, Filppula’s line was one the Penguins tried to exploit.

2018-19 outlook: He’s an unrestricted free agent and Filppula will likely test the market on July 1. The Flyers like his leadership and versatility, but bringing him back as a third line center would be a big mistake.

Playing through pain, Provorov and Couturier give Flyers all they've got

Playing through pain, Provorov and Couturier give Flyers all they've got

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You could see the tears that had formed in Ivan Provorov’s eyes.

Whether it was the product of elimination, a turnover that led to the Penguins' go-ahead goal, the sheer emotion of playing on a shoulder that may need offseason surgery or the tribulations of a six-month journey, no 21-year-old kid can be expected to overcome these levels of distress and anguish.

“I did everything I could. The third period didn’t go as well as I wanted to. I turned the puck over a couple of times and it turned to goals and it cost us the game,” Provorov said while holding back emotions. “As long as my arm was attached, I was playing.”

How Provorov mustered up the strength to play 20 and a half minutes Sunday in his final game of the season, an 8-5 loss to the Penguins, probably defied medical logic. His left shoulder was so battered from crashing into the boards in the final few minutes of Game 5 that his upper body was often contorted to a 45-degree angle where his only option was to pass just about every time the puck was on his stick, even with a wide-open net to shoot at. 

“He is a warrior,” defenseman Andrew MacDonald said. “Everyone here knows it and respects the hell out of him.”

Had this been the regular season, Provorov and teammate Sean Couturier would have missed weeks of action (see story). Couturier revealed he suffered a torn medial collateral ligament when he collided with Radko Gudas leading up to Game 4. Last Wednesday, the Flyers' center could barely walk and yet he was already skating again.

“The decision was on me,” Couturier said. “Obviously, I had the support of the staff, the organization and the medical team. They helped me a lot. I had a lot of treatments. It definitely got better over the days, but it wasn’t the ideal situation. I didn’t really feel a whole lot today to be honest. I was just giving everything I got.”

Courageous and so incredibly determined, Couturier gave a performance for the ages (see story). Skating on one good leg and another that needs at least four weeks of rest and treatment, the Flyers' Selke Trophy finalist scored a hat trick to go along with five points, and was on the ice for every goal the Flyers scored.

"Credit to Coots, what he played through during the playoffs and the way he played,” Scott Laughton said. “I don’t know much more to say about that guy. The way he battled and the way he played through what he was dealing with.”

The Penguins had their share of injuries as well. Evgeni Malkin missed Game 6 with a leg injury and Patric Hornqvist returned after missing the previous two contests. Even without Malkin, the Penguins had four goals from Jake Guentzel, plus they created havoc and stifled the Flyers with a suffocating forecheck that exposed areas the Flyers need to address in the offseason.

“You have to do it all the time and you have to be consistent in executing under pressure,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “We didn’t do that consistently in this series, not just tonight. That’s the time of year that it is.”    

Overall, the Flyers weren’t eliminated in six games because they didn’t have a healthy Couturier and Provorov. 

Rather, the dogged determination and incredible resolve of those two players is precisely why the Flyers can take pride in pushing the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions to six games, especially after the Flyers were manhandled, 7-0, in Game 1.

In the end, the guys in orange and black simply weren’t good enough or deep enough (see story).

But draft and develop a few more Couturiers and Provorovs on your roster and the thought of winning championships year after year won’t just be a Pittsburgh thing.   

Flyers whiff on the high five

Flyers whiff on the high five

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After burning off some jet fuel coming off a weekend sweep out West, the Flyers simply ran out of gas back home.

Devils forward Taylor Hall scored the game-tying goal — his second of the game — with 1:21 remaining in regulation to help New Jersey gain a much-needed point. The Devils picked up the second point by scoring the lone goal in a shootout for a 5-4 win Tuesday. Drew Stafford scored the only goal in the three-round shootout as New Jersey closed to within two points in the Metropolitan Division (see standings).

On the same day starting goaltender Brian Elliott underwent successful core muscle surgery (see story), Michal Neuvirth fought through an up-and-down night in net. He allowed a soft goal to Hall, but rebounded and made some big saves over the final 20 minutes. In all, Neuvirth made 32 saves on 36 shots. 

A day after he was named the NHL’s First Star of the week, Claude Giroux continued his torrid scoring pace with a goal in his fourth straight game. Giroux also added an assist and now has eight points over the last five games.

Travis Konecny continued his second-half surge with his 14th goal of the season. Eight of those goals have come in the Flyers’ last 12 games with Konecny excelling on the top line. Radko Gudas and Scott Laughton also scored for the Flyers.     

The two teams completed the four-game season series with the Flyers finishing with a 2-1-1 record and the Devils 2-2-0.  

• You think these teams are tired of seeing each other with this the fourth meeting in the past month? Wayne Simmonds and Miles Wood were jawing with each other before the linesman could drop the puck for the opening faceoff. 

• The Flyers had a tremendous start to this game as they outshot the Devils, 6-0, out the gate. All four lines actively jumped into the offensive zone and applied constant pressure. The 13 shots on net in the first period were provided by 12 different players.  

• Konecny’s presence on the top line has created more chances and scoring opportunities off the rush, and it didn’t take long to get behind the Devils’ defense. Giroux once again showed why he’s one of the best playmakers in the NHL with a cross-ice, two-line backhanded pass right on the tape to Konecny, who is playing and shooting the puck with pure confidence. Giroux said at intermission he was at the end of his shift and was just trying to chip the puck out of the zone.

• Konecny scored his eighth goal in his last 12 games and is now on the verge of his first 20-goal season.

• Neuvirth did a horrific job of sealing the near post on Hall’s goal that tied the game at 1-1. For whatever reason, Neuvirth’s pad wasn’t parallel to the pipe, which allowed daylight for the puck to carom into the net. Unlike the goal he gave up against the Capitals from the same area, Neuvirth was at least in position to make a save. However, he must eliminate these soft goals on low-percentage shots.

• Just 43 seconds after Hall tied the game, the Flyers’ third line came right back and answered emphatically. Michael Raffl, who had a solid game, caught the Devils and goaltender Keith Kinkaid off guard as he threw the puck on net to Laughton. As we’ve seen over the past few weeks, the Raffl-Laughton combination is one that deserves to stick around. They’re hard on pucks and, most often, they draw third- and fourth-line matchups.

• Gudas is red hot as he scored a goal in his second straight game. This time it came with a goalie in front of the net after scoring an empty-netter in Vegas. Gudas has taken shots with regularity this season, averaging two shots on goal per game, but he hasn’t had success until now. In his Flyers career, Gudas been a streaky goal scorer.

• It was also refreshing to see Gudas lay some lumber as he leveled Hall on the Devils’ power play. I think Gudas is at his best when he brings a controlled physical element to his game. For much of this season, Gudas has been busy chasing the puck in his own end and hasn’t put himself into position to be that punishing player. Gudas also airlifted Hall after he scored the soft goal on Neuvirth. 

• The Devils refused to die and they capitalized on a neutral-zone takeaway. Once again, the Flyers’ fourth line was abused by the Devils’ top line without Hall. Jori Lehtera was driven into the bench-side boards and coughed up the puck to Nico Hischier. Hischier converted a give-and-go with Jesper Bratt, who was filling in for the banged-up Hall. It’s beyond time to bench Lehtera, who’s been plodding over the past weeks. 

• Sean Couturier has a future as a battering ram as he continued to crash the net at every opportunity. Couturier had a couple of high-danger zone scoring chances and then laid out a Giroux-like backhand pass to the captain. Couturier had a team-high four attempted shots in the first period.

• The Flyers got caught late with their fourth line of Valtteri Filppula, Lehtera and Dale Weise on the ice against the Devils’ top line of Hischier, Hall and Kyle Palmieri. Needless to say, it was the Devils’ best scoring chance of the first period. The Flyers displayed some careless, sloppy play to close out the first period. 

• Wood was screaming at Shayne Gostisbehere from the penalty box as the two players were assessed matching minors — “Ghost” for crosschecking and Wood for roughing. On further inspection, Wood was bleeding from his lip and was trying to challenge Gostisbehere to a fight. As the penalties expired, Wood was jawing with Gostisbehere, but nothing transpired. 

• Gostisbehere had a tremendous opportunity to score in the final seconds of the second period as he filled the slot and launched a missile that missed the net.

• The Flyers’ second power-play unit was on point early in the third period with a handful of chances to extend the Flyers’ lead to two goals. The combination of Jordan Weal, Nolan Patrick, Ivan Provorov, Konecny and Filppula has formed a consistent threat since Dave Hakstol put it together.  

Lineups, pairings and scratches

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

Defensemen
Ivan Provorov-Shayne Gostisbehere
Robert Hagg-Andrew MacDonald
Brandon Manning-Radko Gudas

Goalies
Michal Neuvirth
Alex Lyon

Scratches: Forward Taylor Leier (healthy) and defenseman Mark Alt (healthy).