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
April 29, 2014, 5:03 pm
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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.

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