Avoid the Links: Flyers should mix up line combos to find offensive spark

Avoid the Links: Flyers should mix up line combos to find offensive spark

Having scored just 10 goals in through five games and finding themselves down 3-2 to the New York Rangers in the teams’ first-round playoff series, it’s no secret that the Philadelphia Flyers need an offensive spark if they are to keep their season alive with a win in Game 6 tonight at Wells Fargo Center.

Despite that fact, you may have heard that Flyers head coach Craig Berube stuck with the same lines that he’s used over the past few games at this morning's practice and that those lines will likely be intact to start Game 6.

But don’t expect those lines to stay intact all night. In fact, expect them to change often, especially if the Flyers fall behind early again or come out flat.

As things stand, the Flyers’ lines look like this: Scott Hartnell-Claude Giroux-Jake Voracek, Brayden Schenn-Vinny Lecavalier-Wayne Simmonds, Matt Read-Sean Couturier-Jason Akeson and Michael Raffl-Adam Hall-Zac Rinaldo.

If the Flyers come out with another lackluster start tonight, the first move Berube should make is to tinker with the first line by bumping Hartnell down. That trio clearly has just not worked in this series as well as it did in the regular season and they need another dynamic threat alongside Giroux to really get his game going.

In this series, the trio has just two goals and both are by Voracek, the only Flyer forward who has shown any real fire or bite in his game. They also only have five assists. Compare that to the Rangers’ top line of Rick Nash, Derek Stepan and Marty St. Louis that has four goals and 10 assists and you can see which team’s top line has had the advantage.

Berube has moved Schenn to Hartnell’s spot at times in this series but the spark still hadn’t been there with that move.

Who should take that spot then?

Lecavalier should be the first choice.

Say what you want about him, but Lecavalier still is an offensive threat that can open up space for Giroux and Voracek to go to work in the Rangers’ zone. He may not be as comfortable on the wing, but it’s do or die and it’s a lot easier to be comfortable playing with guys like Giroux and Voracek.

If Lecavalier doesn’t work out there, Raffl should be the second choice.

He has the offensive skill to make it work. Remember when Berube moved him to that spot earlier in the season? That was right around the time Giroux started his torrid point streak that inserted him into the MVP conversation. Let’s just say that wasn’t a coincidence.

Hartnell, who really hasn’t been effective at all in the series with just two assists, should be bumped down to the second-line or fourth-line wing.

The third line of Read-Couturier-Akeson shouldn’t be broken up. Just like the rest of the team, they haven’t set the world on fire offensively but you can’t devalue their defensive capabilities against the Rangers’ top offensive players.

One move Berube has already made that he can’t go back on is inserting Erik Gustafsson in for Hal Gill on the defensive side of the ledger.

The Rangers have proven to be the much faster team thus far in the series. Gill, the proverbial Game 5 scapegoat after he missed the net on a scoring chance and then fumbled the puck leading to a Rangers’ breakaway goal seconds later, didn’t do anything to help counter that speed.

Speed has never been the 39-year-old defenseman’s strong suit and certainly isn’t these days. Enter Gustafsson.

The 25-year-old Swede played 31 regular-season games and tallied two goals and eight assists in those 31 games.

But his insertion into the lineup isn’t about his offensive game. It’s about using his speed to match the speed of the Rangers’ forwards as much as possible. That aspect has been an immense struggle so far for the Flyers in this series and a big part of why they find their backs against the wall tonight.

Above all else, the Flyers need to come out strong at the start tonight with some grit and fire to their game, no matter the line combinations.

If they don’t and they allow the Rangers to grab the early momentum yet again, it could be a long night and summer, for that matter.

Instant Replay: No. 1 Villanova 76, Seton Hall 46

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The Associated Press

Instant Replay: No. 1 Villanova 76, Seton Hall 46

BOX SCORE

VILLANOVA, Pa. — Back at No. 1, Villanova looked every bit like the best team in the country.

The Wildcats — who earlier in the day regained their top spot in the rankings after a week at No. 3 — demolished Seton Hall, 76-46, in a Big East matchup Monday night at the Pavilion.

The win was the fourth straight for Villanova (18-1, 6-1), the 1,700th in program history, and the 47th straight at the Pavilion, setting an all-time record. The previous mark of 46 was established between January 2007 and 2011. 

Leading by 13 at halftime, Villanova put its foot on the gas to start the second half, jumping out to a 53-26 advantage on a Kris Jenkins three-pointer followed by a baseline slam from Donte DiVincenzo.

The hot-shooting Wildcats continued to pour it on from there, with Jenkins hitting a couple of more tough threes to put Villanova up by a whopping 65-31 margin with 10:33 left.

Seton Hall (12-6, 2-4) closed a three-game road trip with losses in all three games.

Big men on campus
Jenkins led the way with 16 points on 4-for-6 shooting from behind the arc. He joined Jalen Brunson (13 points), Josh Hart (11 points), Eric Paschall (10 points) and DiVincenzo (10 points) in double figures.

All seven of the players in head coach Jay Wright’s seven-man rotation finished with at least eight points as Darryl Reynolds had eight points and nine rebounds and Mikal Bridges had eight points and seven rebounds.

Desi Rodriguez was the only Seton Hall player to hit double figures with 15 points.

By the numbers
• Villanova shot 47.4 percent from the field and 46.2 percent (12 for 26) from three-point range, while Seton Hall shot 29.1 and 25 percent.

• The Wildcats had nine steals and scored 27 points off 16 Seton Hall turnovers. 

• Villanova only missed one of its 11 free throw attempts.

First half
Seton Hall led 5-4 before Villanova went on a 13-0 run to take control, capped by a fantastic one-handed putback slam from Reynolds. 

The Wildcats extended their lead to 25-7 as Seton Hall struggled to make anything. Consecutive threes from Rodriguez gave the Pirates a glimmer of life late in the first half, but the Wildcats still took a comfortable 36-23 lead into halftime.

Hall trouble
The Pirates have more victories over Villanova than any Big East team since the new version of the league was launched in 2013, beating the Wildcats three times. One of those wins was in last year’s Big East Tournament title game at Madison Square Garden, Villanova’s final loss in 2015-16 before its magical run to the national title.

Seton Hall has had far less success at the Pavilion, however, with their last win there coming all the way back in 1994. 

Simmons in the house
Sixers rookie Ben Simmons, the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, was on hand to see the No. 1 team in the country. He sat courtside and took photos with fans at halftime. 

Up next
Villanova returns to action Saturday afternoon vs. Providence at the Wells Fargo Center.

Seton Hall goes home to welcome St. John’s on Sunday. 

Dario Saric: Joel Embiid 'has changed the sport in Philly,' deserves to be All-Star

Dario Saric: Joel Embiid 'has changed the sport in Philly,' deserves to be All-Star

Even Dario Saric is getting in on the Joel Embiid All-Star Game craze.

After the Sixers' 113-104 win over the Bucks Monday, Saric made the case for Embiid in a postgame interview with CSN's Molly Sullivan. 

"Joel, for sure, he deserves to be in All-Star Game ... he's the guy who changed the sport in Philly," Saric said.

"And if we get Ben [Simmons] to him, we got good couples for so many years."

Saric definitely trusts The Process.

"He deserve everything ... he's maybe the best big man in the league."

We'll find out if the fans like him as much as Saric does Monday at midnight when fan voting ends. 

Catch the full interview above for more.