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.

Matt Rhule's first Baylor hires include 4 Temple assistants

Matt Rhule's first Baylor hires include 4 Temple assistants

WACO, Texas -- New Baylor coach Matt Rhule has made some immediate Texas connections by hiring the president of the state's high school coaches who is a former Bears receiver.

Rhule announced his first five hires with the Bears on Friday, three days after being named Baylor's coach. They include four members from his staff at Temple and David Wetzel, the head coach and athletic director the past 13 seasons at Ronald Reagan High School in San Antonio.

Sean Padden will serve as Baylor's director of football operations, similar to his role at Temple the past four years.

Rhule didn't immediately announce the titles and job duties for Wetzel, Francis Brown, Mike Siravo and Evan Cooper. There was also no indication of when the rest of his staff would be completed.

Brown and Siravo were defensive assistants at Temple, and Cooper was director of player personnel for the Owls.

Wetzel, who has coached in the state high school ranks for 25 years, was serving as president of the Texas High School Football Coaches Association. He lettered at Baylor in 1990 and 1991 while playing for Grant Teaff, and also earned a master's degree from the school in 1994. Before Reagan, he was head coach at schools in Killeen and Austin.

Wetzel told the Waco Tribune-Herald that he expects to play a major role in recruiting, but didn't know yet if he'd be coaching offense or defense.

"Given the opportunity, it's really a unique deal," Wetzel told the newspaper. "I feel like it's God's timing for me to be in the right place at the right time."

When Rhule was introduced Wednesday in Waco, he said he had already received about 480 text messages, many from coaches. He also didn't rule out the possibility of some of the current Baylor assistants staying, but said he hadn't had a chance to meet with them. Those assistants were retained from former coach Art Briles' staff with Jim Grobe as acting head coach this season.

Note
Baylor announced Friday that Jalen Pitre, a defensive back from Stafford, Texas, signed a financial aid agreement that will allow him to enroll for the spring 2017 semester after graduating from high school early. Before Rhule was hired, Pitre was the only player verbally committed for Baylor's recruiting class in February. He had 83 tackles, six interceptions and four forced fumbles as a senior.

Dorial Green-Beckham fined by NFL for wearing Yeezy cleats

Dorial Green-Beckham fined by NFL for wearing Yeezy cleats

Dorial Green-Beckham didn't support any charity with his cleats last Sunday.

In reality, he was funding the NFL.

The Eagles' receiver was fined $6,076 by the NFL for wearing Yeezy cleats (Kanye West's shoes), which had no affiliation to a charitable organization or cause, CSNPhilly.com has confirmed. Players around the NFL last weekend wore decorative spikes supporting a charity or cause they felt passionately about as part of the league's My Cleats, My Cause promotion. Green-Beckham was fined because his cleats were unapproved by the league; earlier this season Houston receiver DeAndre Hopkins was fined for wearing Yeezy cleats. 

Green-Beckham told NJ.com’s Eliot Shorr-Parks he was supporting the "Yeezy Foundation." ESPN's Tim McManus first reported the fine on Friday. 

Bradham fined for tackle
Speaking of fines, Eagles linebacker Nigel Bradham was hit with a $18,231 fine for his horse-collar tackle last Sunday on Bengals running back Jeremy Hill in the third quarter.

The first-year Eagle finished the game with five total tackles and a forced fumble.