Physical Sabres trying to hit their way past Flyers

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Physical Sabres trying to hit their way past Flyers

Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Posted: 4:42 p.m.

By Tim Panaccio
CSNPhilly.com
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The Sabres' Smurfs had rolled up the score 8-1 on Ken Hitchcocks Flyers in Game 2 of the 2006 quarterfinals.

Lindy Ruff was steaming at how many Flyers had taken runs at his guys afterward.

Tell Lindy to (bleep) off, Hitchcock said as he ended his press conference down 0-2 to Buffalo in that 2006 playoff series, which started here at HSBC Arena.

So much has changed for Ruffs group from the small band of skilled Smurfs to a team with an abundance of both skill, true grit and even size. Ruffs current Roughhouse Bunch seems to enjoy it.

Im not familiar with those Hitchcock wars youre talking about, Laviolette said. Buffalo doesnt surprise me that theyre skating, that theyre physical.

For three games now, the Sabres have brought the physical game to the Flyers and guess what? Ruff aint carping about his guys getting beaten up, even though Buffalo is down in this Eastern Conference first round series, 2-1, with Game 4 set for Wednesday.

I would trade outscoring for outhitting, said Ruff, whose club outhit the Flyers 26-14 in Game 3. I dont even look. Its plays that make a difference. I dont think in some cases hitting makes a difference.

If you want to hit somebody and get the puck back, thats a good hit. Sometimes hitting can take the will away from another team. I dont think were going to take the will away from the Flyers. I think maybe theyre surprised we keep coming all the time.

Mike Richards was on that 06 playoff team with Hitchcock. Danny Briere was on the other side. Both see the difference in the Sabres makeup then versus now.

Buffalo is trying to wear the Flyers down.

They play hard, they got some physical players and big players, Richards says. They want to try and take some of heat off some of their skilled players.

Back in 06, the Flyers did all they could to rough up Briere when they could catch him on the ice. Now, the Sabres are trying punish every Flyer they see.

Nathan Gerbe, the reigning Briere of this Sabres generation, at 5-foot-5, is a physical player in this series. He had three hits in Game 3.

Even their smaller guys, like Tyler Ennis and Nathan Gerbe, theyre playing hard and fighting for their space, Briere said. You need that. Their big guys are physical.

That was always a question when I was here. Are the Sabres too small to win it all? Need some grit, need some physical players.

It now seems their third and fourth line are built more around that. When I here, it was more like three scoring lines. Its a fine line now with the rules. You can bring the physical but you need skill to win. Its a tough line to tip toe.

Especially, for a guy like the Flyers Scott Hartnell, who tended to be a lunkhead when he first came here. Hed lose his discipline when a guy hit him from behind.

Sabres defenseman Mike Weber cross-checked Hartnell from behind five times in Game 3 during a Flyer power play. And that was after Weber drilled Hartnell to the ice.

It wasnt until a shot to the throat that Hartnell finally reacted. That was discipline on his part.

Ive gotten to a point where I control myself, especially after the whistles, Hartnell said.
Its no good for myself or the team to be in the box after a tight game like Monday and its 3-2. If I take a stupid penalty, its 3-3 and going into overtime Maturity. Ive learned a lot over the years. Meetings after taking a bad penalty.

The Sabres would love to get the Flyers to take bad penalties. Sean ODonnell has been around for 16 years in the NHL and says the change in the how the Sabres are constructed is very obvious in this series.

The Sabres look at us and realize this is a year where they can physically take it to the Flyers, ODonnell said. They seem to be trying. They have guys who can hit and take the body. Patrick Kaleta is their most physical guy.

Cody McCormick hits hard, Mike Grier hits hard, Paul Gaustad. They have guys who can finish, even guys like Gerbe. They finish their hits. With the offense we have and forwards we have, Buffalo probably feels they can grind us.

And they have had success on us down low. They feel if theyre going to win this series, they need to pound us and grind us down and finish every check down low to get this to a seven-game series. I think -- I dont know -- thats their game plan.

Laviolette wasnt around for those Flyers-Sabres series of past, but his 2006 Carolina squad that eventually won the Stanley Cup were pushed into a seventh game by Ruffs Smurfs during the Eastern Conference final.

Its really difficult to compare teams and that team has turned over 90-95 percent, Laviolette said. Buffalo gained a lot of respect from everybody for going where they went in that playoff run and especially that series because of the depth of defense they had lost because of injury.

"The Roughhouse Bunch" is earning some respect in this series, as well, against a Flyers club many people pegged as a legit threat to return to the Stanley Cup Final this year.

Kaleta has what some think is a broken nose after Braydon Coburn threw him to the ice in the first period. Kaleta, who didnt return to the game, wore a full cage at Tuesdays practice.

He says he wants another shot at the Flyers in Game 4.

Pumped up actually, Kaleta said. I didnt get to waste too much energy yesterday, so its all built up and ready to get back right on the right path.

Yeah, the nasty, physical one.

E-mail Tim Panaccio at tpanotch@comcast.net

Related: Jackson's Five: Chapter 3 in Flyers-Sabres Big 5-on-3 penalty kill a turning point in Flyers' win

Stanley Cup: Offseason moves send Sharks to final after missing playoffs

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USA Today Images

Stanley Cup: Offseason moves send Sharks to final after missing playoffs

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- After watching the San Jose Sharks miss the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade, general manager Doug Wilson set out to remake the team last offseason.

Individually, none of the moves sent shockwaves through the NHL. The Sharks hired a coach who made the playoffs once in seven seasons as an NHL coach, traded a first-round pick for a goalie who had been a backup his entire career, added two playoff-tested veterans for depth at forward and defense and signed an unheralded Finnish rookie.

Together, the additions of Peter DeBoer, Martin Jones, Joel Ward, Paul Martin and Joonas Donskoi to a solid core that had underachieved proved to be the right mix to get the Sharks to their long-awaited first Stanley Cup Final appearance.

"I thought this team has a lot of the pieces of that puzzle," Martin said. "Doug did a great job bringing guys in that he did, to make that push for it. I don't think many people would have guessed that we'd be here right now, but I think we believed."

The players all said the disappointment of blowing a 3-0 series lead to Los Angeles in 2014 and then missing the playoffs entirely last season served as fuel for this season's success.

DeBoer also credited former coach Todd McLellan for helping put the foundation in place that he was able to capitalize on. The Sharks became the second team in the past 10 seasons to make it to the final after missing the playoffs the previous season, joining the 2011-12 Devils that pulled off the same trick in DeBoer's first season in New Jersey.

"Everyone was ready for something a little bit fresher and newer, not anything that much different," DeBoer said. "The additions that Doug made, it just came together. I inherited a similar team in New Jersey when I went in there. First time they missed the playoffs for a long time the year before I got there. I think when you go into that situation, when you have really good people like there was in New Jersey when I went in there, like I was with this group ... they're embarrassed by the year they just had, and they're willing to do and buy into whatever you're selling to get it fixed again. I think I was the benefactor of that."

The transition from McLellan to DeBoer wasn't seamless. As late as Jan. 8, the Sharks were in 13th place in the 14-team Western Conference and seemingly on the way to another missed postseason.

But with Logan Couture finally healthy after being slowed by a broken leg early in the season and the move by DeBoer to put Tomas Hertl on the top line with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski, the Sharks rolled after that and made the playoffs as the third-place team in the Pacific Division.

In-season additions of players like depth forwards Dainius Zubrus and Nick Spaling, physical defenseman Roman Polak and backup goaltender James Reimer helped put the Sharks in the position they are now.

"With the new coaching staff we needed to realize how we needed to play to win," Thornton said. "Once that clicked, and that probably clicked maybe early December, I think after that, we just exploded. I think that's really when we saw the depth of this team. Everybody plays a big part."

That has been especially true in the playoffs when longtime core players like Thornton, Couture, Joe Pavelski and Patrick Marleau got the support that had often been lacking during past postseason disappointments.

Jones has posted three shutouts in the playoffs, including the Game 7 second-round clincher against Nashville and back-to-back games in the conference final against St. Louis. He has proven more than capable of being an NHL starter after serving an apprenticeship as Jonathan Quick's backup in Los Angeles.

Ward scored two goals in each of the final two games of the conference final and has 11 points this postseason. Donskoi exceeded expectations just to make the team as a rookie and has solidified his spot on the second line with five goals and nine points.

Martin's steady play has allowed offensive-minded defenseman Brent Burns to roam at times and given San Jose a strong second defensive pair that had been missing in previous seasons.

Zubrus and Spaling played a big role as penalty killers and on the fourth line, while Polak has been one of the team's most physical players.

"Doug did a great job this summer, this season," Couture said. "A lot of credit needs to go to him for the guys he brought in."

Flyers defensive prospect Ivan Provorov named CHL Defenseman of the Year

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Flyers defensive prospect Ivan Provorov named CHL Defenseman of the Year

Flyers prospect and Brandon Wheat Kings defenseman Ivan Provorov on Saturday afternoon was named the 2015-16 Canadian Hockey League's Defenseman of the Year.

Provorov, who the Flyers drafted with the seventh overall pick in 2015, recorded 21 markers, 73 points and was a plus-64 in 62 games with Brandon during the regular season.

The 19-year-old beat out Windsor's Mikhail Sergachev and Shawinigan's Samuel Girard for the honor. Both Sergachev and Girard are eligible for this year's draft, which is June 24-25 in Buffalo, New York.

In 21 playoff games with the Wheat Kings, Provorov added three goals and 10 assists. Brandon beat the Seattle Thunderbirds in the WHL Championship Series to capture the Ed Chynoweth Cup. However, in the Memorial Cup, Brandon lost to the Red Deer Rebels on May 25.

What's next for Provorov?

The defenseman will come to Flyers training camp in September with his eye on making the roster. Many believe Provorov is ready to make the jump to the NHL, but Flyers general manager Ron Hextall has built a reputation of being patient, especially with his defensive prospects.

Provorov is one of five prospects in the Flyers' system that has created excitement, joining Travis Sanheim, Samuel Morin, Robert Hagg and Philippe Myers, an undrafted free-agent signing who made noise this season. Could Provorov — or any of the other prospects — join Shayne Gostisbehere on the Flyers' blue line in 2016-17?

After the Flyers' season ended with a playoff series loss to the Washington Capitals, Hextall hinted he'll continue to be patient with his prospects (see story).

“What we're building towards remains the same,” Hextall said after the season. “I'm not an impatient guy by nature. Maybe I was a little bit on the ice, but I've been off the ice for 17 years or whatever it is, so the whole thing that we started to build two years ago — our vision is the same and we're on a path.

“And we're a lot closer than we were two years ago."

But all eyes will be on Provorov come training camp. Can he force Hextall's hand?

End to End: Which Flyer has the most to prove in 2016-17?

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End to End: Which Flyer has the most to prove in 2016-17?

Each week, we'll ask questions about the Flyers to our resident hockey analysts and see what they have to say.

Going End to End this week are Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone, all producers/reporters for CSNPhilly.com.

The question: Which Flyer has the most to prove in 2016-17?

Dougherty
Scott Laughton will be given every opportunity to prove himself, and if there is any single player under contract on this Flyers roster with the most to prove, it's Laughton.

Laughton, the 20th overall pick in 2012, is coming off his first full season with the Flyers and he left much to be desired. He struggled to stay in the top nine and found himself a healthy scratch for seven games during the most crucial stretch of the season.

What concerns me about Laughton is Dave Hakstol struggled to find a position for him. Laughton is a natural center and the original thought process was he would play center in the NHL, which he still very well may. But Laughton ended up playing some wing this season, too. It was similar to what the Flyers were doing with Brayden Schenn in 2014-15.

Still, Laughton, who turns 22 on Monday, failed to show much at either position. He finished with seven goals and 21 points in 71 games. He found his way into the lineup for three games in the playoffs because of Sean Couturier's shoulder injury and showed little before suffering a scary injury that left him motionless on the ice for a few minutes.

We've said it before — Laughton will have every chance to earn his spot on the opening night roster in training camp. The Flyers won't give up on him after one disappointing season, but Laughton has to come to camp in shape and with an edge we haven't seen yet.

Looking into our crystal ball, the orange and black could have one or two more forwards from outside the organization in camp come September and Travis Konecny will be hungry to crack the lineup. Laughton is going to have competition for his spot on the roster.

And he has to prove to Hakstol, general manager Ron Hextall and the Flyers he deserves it.

Hall
There will be no shortage of pressure for Jakub Voracek next season.
 
Not much went his way this past season, the first after signing an eight-year, $66 million extension following his career year in 2014-15.
 
He started slow. He changed positions. He got hurt and then played through it.
 
It all culminated in a taxing and disappointing season.
 
So, if anyone, Voracek has the most to prove in 2016-17. He’ll want to show that his career season was no fluke, that he can produce near that clip and is worth the hefty deal doled out by the Flyers.
 
Voracek’s health/production will be one of the hottest storylines to start the season.

Paone
No player on the Flyers’ roster has more to prove next season than Voracek.
 
Remember how great he was in 2014-15 when he finished fourth in the NHL with 81 points after leading the league for much of the year in that category, was named an All-Star for the first time in his career and earned a massive eight-year, $66 million extension shortly thereafter?
 
Those contract numbers are important because what Voracek has to prove this season lies in those numbers. His play last season wasn’t necessarily befitting of someone with that type of contract.
 
Voracek put up solid numbers last season with 11 goals and 44 assists in 73 games, but he just didn’t have the same effectiveness that he did in the prior season. If you recall, it took him 17 games to net his first goal of the season, an overtime winner in Carolina on Nov. 14. His ineffectiveness caused Dave Hakstol to move Voracek up and down the lineup and even send him over to the opposite wing, a position Voracek had rarely ever played before.
 
It just so happens that contract extension kicks in this season.
 
The soon-to-be 27-year-old forward holds himself to incredibly high standards. He’ll be out to prove to himself this season was an anomaly and make sure people know he’s a star worthy of those contract numbers.