Laviolette revamps Flyers' lines in hopes of improvement

984883.jpg

Laviolette revamps Flyers' lines in hopes of improvement

NEWARK, N.J. -- Two games into the season, Scott Hartnell squarely put tonights game against the Devils in perspective after two Flyer losses to open the year.

We cant makes excuses anymore, Hartnell said. Were in a little bit of a hole right now to start the season and special teams have to step up tonight.

A Game 3 must-win? Division opponent? Absolutely. These games early. Two points are two points whether Game 3 or Game 40. I think we have to change our attitude like this is a game to get us in the playoffs.

We're looking for a little bit of a spark. It's not like we werent getting chances, but I think switching things up will get everyone a fresh start.

Coach Peter Laviolette completely revamped his lineup, changing all four lines.

I think when you find success, you tend to leave things alone, and when youre not getting the success you want, you change, Laviolette said.

Even offensively, 5-on-5, it needs to be a little better. Were at the early stages; we didnt have any exhibition games, so were trying to look at lines and combinations and see where were at.

Jakub Voracek will replace Brayden Schenn on the top line with Hartnell and centerman Claude Giroux.

Sean Couturier is between Ruslan Fedotenko and Matt Read. Rookie Scott Laughton centers Max Talbot and Eric Wellwood.

Schenn will center rookie call-up Tye McGinn, who he played with exclusively this season with the Phantoms, and Wayne Simmonds. McGinn is replacing the injured Zac Rinaldo (see story).

The big move is Voracek on the first line.

I think theyre two totally different players, Hartnell said. Brayden's a big body who can skate well, protects the puck well. Nothing against Brayden, but I think Jake's got a little bit more speed, especially down the wing.

I think that'll open up some free space for G to get some time with the puck to make plays.

Voracek predicted recently that whatever lines the Flyers began the season with would likely change.

Obviously, I'm going to play with one of the best players in the league, Voracek said. It's exciting. G holds the puck most of the time. He carries it through the neutral zone, so I just try to get some speed wide. We'll see how it's going to go.

The Devils ran the Flyers out of the second round of the playoffs in five games last spring. Dont think that hasnt been on the Flyers minds.

You always think about prior games in a building when you go into an away building, Hartnell said. They really took it to us.

They didn't give us anything in that series. I don't know if you call this game payback, or however you want to word it, but definitely that's gotta be a burr under our butts to play well.

The rookie
Its not often a call-up finds instant familiarity, but it works with McGinn because he played so many games with Schenn.

Weve played almost half a season together and I know what he likes to do out there and hopefully he knows what I like to do and we can contribute to each other out there, McGinn said. Its a bonus for me.

I was just hoping to get the call one day. I was ecstatic to get a call this early.
You never want to see an injury from anybody but to get the call, I was happy. I just tried to do what I can do.

I try to be a power forward. A big body out there going to the net. Bring a big presence out there. Hopefully, score a couple goals and do what I have to do to help the team win.

This will be his NHL debut. McGinn is the younger brother of former Flyer Jamie McGinn, now with Colorado.

Laviolette acknowledged familiarity helps both Schenn and McGinn in putting them on the same line.

I know he and Brayden played down in the minors together and they are comfortable with each other, he said.

I think when players get called up, you need to try to put them into positions where their role fits them. Hes a guy whos a big power forward; hes capable of offense and physical play, and we want to try to put him in a situation where we can utilize him.

Schenn said the adjustment to McGinn should be easy.

Hes a second year pro and hes going to get a chance to play in the NHL so Im excited for him and Im sure he will do well, Schenn said.

We played probably 28 games together. It took a while to get adjusted but after that, you get familiar with a guy and know what hes going to do on the ice and where he is going to be. For me and him playing down there, its going to help us.

Defensive change
Newly-acquired defenseman Kurtis Foster will not play tonight.

That mean Bruno Gervais will make his Flyer debut, playing alongside Andrej Meszaros.

Foster has some minor bruises and could play, if necessary, but the club felt his situation offered them a chance to play Gervais and see what he brings.

Gervais was a free-agent signing this past summer.

It's been a long wait, a couple extra months, so finally I'll get back in action and I'll be fun, Gervais said.

I want to get in the mix as fast I can. I have to be ready, and tonight I have an opportunity.

General manager Paul Holmgren called Gervais absence a maintenance day.

Loose pucks
Danny Briere skated but is not expected to play until this weekend against either Florida or Tampa Bay. ... Briere skated with healthy scratches Tommy Sestito and Jody Shelley at the morning skate.

E-mail Tim Panaccio at tpanotch@comcast.net

Connor McDavid, Oilers' speed, skill present Flyers with 'real good challenge'

Connor McDavid, Oilers' speed, skill present Flyers with 'real good challenge'

VOORHEES, N.J. — They are among the very best – and highest scoring — lines in the NHL this season.
 
And they’re gunning for the Flyers on Thursday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
 
Connor McDavid’s unit with Milan Lucic and Leon Draisaitl have a combined 30 goals and 78 points worth of offense. 
 
Among them, the lightning quick McDavid leads the NHL with 36 points. All 11 of his goals are even strength. 
 
He doesn’t have a single power-play goal, but is tied for the league lead with several players, including Claude Giroux, with 10 power-play assists.
 
You can expect to see Pierre-Edouard Bellemare’s unit with Chris VandeVelde and Dale Weise against this line with defenseman Ivan Provorov drawing McDavid for the first time this season.
 
“Speed and skill that Edmonton has up front presents a real good challenge for our team,” Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said. “We have to be better with the puck tomorrow. 
 
“We didn’t do enough when we had the puck. Gave it up a little too easily and because of that, you end up playing defense a lot of the night and that’s what happened last night to us.”
 
Bellemare, who had his share of forward battles with Jaromir Jagr in Tuesday, likes to analyze the matchups against McDavid.
 
“He’s one of the best players in the world,” Bellemare said of the 19-year-old McDavid. “It’s tough not to be excited when playing against a guy who plays like this. He competes every second he is on the ice. That line is an impressive line.”
 
The Flyers better have some bad, choppy ice to slow McDavid down. Edmonton has some of the fastest ice in the league and the Oilers use it to their full advantage. 
 
Asked of McDavid’s tendencies, Bellemare said, “Is that a tendency? To be super fast?”
 
Yes it is. 
 
“When you play against them, he is a kid who is freaky fast right from the start,” Bellemare said. “Against that line, you saw [against Buffalo] that everyone knows how fast he is and he still had two breakaways.”
 
Which means the Flyers need to watch their turnovers, especially in the neutral zone where McDavid can go 60 feet in a flash.
 
“Even blue line to the top of the circle, you can’t turn the puck over,” Bellemare said. “Or he’s gone. This is a tendency we have to be careful of. All of the ice, you can’t give him any time or space. The less time you give him, the bigger chance you have to frustrate a player like this.”
 
Bellemare did some talking with Jagr a couple times in Tuesday’s game. So did Provorov. Bellemare says it helps to add psychology to the mix.
 
“You try to be in his face,” Bellemare said. “If you can win that battle against that line and our first line can win the battle against their fourth line, then it’s a win-win situation. I was trying to be in [Jagr’s] face.”
 
Jagr actually got angrier at Provorov and it showed with his hooking calls. But when Bellemare and Jagr went into the corner, Jagr got testy with his stick there as well.
 
“He was trying to give it to me a little harder,” Bellemare said. “Exactly what I need. If he is less focused on the puck, then maybe I have a chance to win that puck.”
 
McDavid’s focus will be solely on the puck.
 
“McDavid has been playing some pretty good hockey,” Flyers captain Claude Giroux said. “They’re a high-tempo team. A smart team. We’ve got to be ready.”
 
Loose pucks
Boyd Gordon came off long term injured reserve onto the active roster to give the Flyers 13 forwards. In doing that, Matt Read (oblique pull) went on injured reserve. … Defenseman Michael Del Zotto will sit against the Oilers while Radko Gudas returns from an illness. Gudas will be paired with Mark Streit, as Ivan Provorov remains with Andrew MacDonald for now. … Steve Mason, who did not practice Wednesday, will start in goal.

Ivan Provorov passes latest rookie test by shutting down Jaromir Jagr

Ivan Provorov passes latest rookie test by shutting down Jaromir Jagr

VOORHEES, N.J. — Maybe he saw some old video of how Chris Therien did it.
 
Or maybe Ivan Provorov just shrugged his 19-year-old shoulders and figured he’d do it his way.
 
Whatever the Flyers' rookie defenseman did, he shut down the ageless Jaromir Jagr during Tuesday’s 3-2 overtime victory against the Florida Panthers. 
 
Just like Therien used to do back in the day. 
 
Provorov frustrated Jagr into taking penalties. And when he wasn’t in the box for hooking the rookie, you could visibly see Jagr’s frustration across his face.
 
At one point, they were talking to each other on the ice. A Russian and a Czech. What was said?
 
“It stays in the game,” Provorov said with a smile Wednesday.
 
Provorov said he didn’t spend time watching a ton of video.
 
“We did our pre-scout in the morning,” he said. “That was it.”
 
Provorov, with help from centerman Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, held Jagr to one shot. His teammates were impressed.
 
“Unbelievable, a 19-year-old kid going against Jaromir Jagr,” Wayne Simmonds said. “I think he did a pretty good job. 
 
“I think he has done a great job all year long and he is only going to get better. If you watch him play, he is getting better and better, not every game but every shift.”
 
Provorov had an assist and two blocked shots, including a critical block on Reilly Smith that could have been a game-winner in overtime.
 
“Well we haven’t used him a lot in the 3-on-3 but we felt that it was time,” coach Dave Hakstol said. “Again, coming off of a real solid night where he’s playing against really good players all night long, he continued that right through the OT. 
 
“The impressive thing on that play is the read that he made to make that block … I haven’t looked at it on the replay or on tape yet. But I think that Mase might have been over on it but that play that Provy made was potentially a game saving play right there.”
 
Provorov doesn’t make flashy plays. He just makes the steady play every time he needs to. At season’s start, he was struggling to get his shot off without being blocked. Now he finds space along the blue to better position himself to get his shot through. He thinks before he reacts.
 
Behind the net, he is one of the few Flyers defensemen who almost never loses a puck battle. It’s often hard to believe he’s as young as he is.
 
“He moves so well and makes good reads, he’s a very intelligent player,” Andrew MacDonald said. “He has great poise with the puck, and not just for a 19-year-old, but for any aged player. 
 
“Defensively he always seems to be in the right positions and communicates well. We were fortunate to have some time together in camp, and a few games. I feel like we picked up where we left off the past few games.”
 
Jagr’s assets are size, strength — especially his lower core — and a skill set of moves without blinding speed.
 
Thursday will present a new challenge for Provorov: Edmonton’s Connor McDavid, the NHL’s leading scorer with 36 points. McDavid is all about youth and raw speed. 
 
“They’re different players, but it doesn’t matter,” Provorov said. “You take away time and space. Don’t give him time to get a lot of speed.”
 
This is another learning experience for Provorov. In a different age category. Hakstol credits assistant coach Gord Murphy for bringing Provorov up to speed at the NHL level.
 
“I think Murph has done a really good job in managing that progression along, most importantly, with Provy, managing it," Hakstol said.
 
“You can go back to the tell-tale sign of the tough night back in Chicago [third game]. That didn’t shake or rattle Provy in any way. He came back with pretty good determination the next day.
 
“You have to be an honest evaluator of your own game. I think Provy … whether it’s a real good night or a tough night, that allows you to keep an even keel and an even balance. I think that’s a real strength.”

Injury update
The Flyers on Wednesday placed left winger Matt Read on injured reserve and activated center Boyd Gordon. Gordon has been out since Nov. 3.