Moving Lecavalier up to second line could pay dividends for Flyers; Mason to backup Emery tonight

Moving Lecavalier up to second line could pay dividends for Flyers; Mason to backup Emery tonight

Despite heading home tonight for Game 3 and tied 1-1 in their first-round playoff series with the New York Rangers, the Philadelphia Flyers’ offense could use a boost.

Welcome back to the second line, Vinny Lecavalier.

In an effort to create some more offensive punch, Flyers head coach Craig Berube is moving Lecavalier from the fourth line back to the second line with Bradyen Schenn and Wayne Simmonds for Game 3 tonight at Wells Fargo Center.

In a bit of an added twist, Berube is putting Lecavalier at center on the line and moving Schenn to the wing. The trio played together for much of the season but mostly with Schenn at center and Lecavalier at wing.

It’s a shrewd move by Berube that could really pay off for the Flyers.

The Flyers scored five goals in the two games in New York. But take away Simmonds’ empty-netter from this past Sunday, and just one of those goals was scored by one of the Flyers’ top-six forwards. That was Jake Voracek’s first-period goal on Sunday. The other goals were scored by defensemen Andrew MacDonald and Luke Schenn and a third-line rookie in Jason Akeson.

If the Flyers are going to win this series, they are going to need much more production from their top-six forwards and Berube knows it.

Enter Lecavalier.

The recently-turned 34-year-old finished the regular season with 20 goals, most of which came from his unnatural wing position

Say what you want about him, but Lecavalier can still be a dynamic player on the offensive end of the ice with his booming shot and playmaking abilities. And he’s even better at his natural center position. Albeit on the fourth line, Lecavalier has five goals and three assists in 12 games since being moved back to center on March 28.

The younger Schenn has played plenty of wing before so he shouldn’t be too out of place. Schenn is also in a bit of a slump with just two goals in his last 14 games so maybe playing with a guy like Lecavalier can get him going again.

And before we go any further, yes, the first line of Claude Giroux, Scott Hartnell and Voracek needs to be more productive, too. Some shots on goal from Giroux, who has been held without a shot in both the first two games of the series four of the last six games overall against the Rangers, would be a nice start.

If you followed the Flyers all season, you may know the Lecavalier-Schenn-Simmonds line wasn’t the best line in the world when it came to defense.

Collectively, the group finished the regular season at minus-20 with Lecavalier leading the way at minus-16.

But with the Flyers playing at home for the next two games, Berube gets the last change and can get the trio favorable matchups against some of the Rangers’ weaker defensive players. That way, the line can do what it does best and that’s get the puck deep and go to work in the offensive zone.

Sure, there are going to be times when getting that right matchup for the line won’t be possible. But Berube will be able to get that change that majority of the time. Though there were times Lecavalier moved up, there’s a reason Berube didn’t make the full-time switch at Madison Square Garden.

It also doesn’t hurt that Lecavalier has been a really good playoff performer over his career with 24 goals and 29 assists for 53 points in 65 career playoff games.

If the reformed yet tweaked group of Lecavalier centering Schenn and Simmonds doesn’t work out, the Flyers have the luxury of plenty versatile players that can move up and fit into one of those roles.

But putting them back together with Lecavalier back at center is certainly worth a shot to generate some more offense from the top-six and this is the right time to do it.

Puck drops in just few hours in South Philly. The game will be televised locally on CSN and nationally on CNBC for those of you out of the local viewing area. If you’re going to the game, be loud and see you there.

*

Also, in a somewhat unexpected move, the team announced shortly after 5:15 pm that Steve Mason will dress tonight and play the role of Ray Emery's backup. He must have stayed at a Holiday Inn Express last night.

MLB Notes: Braves place Erick Aybar on 15-day DL

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The Associated Press

MLB Notes: Braves place Erick Aybar on 15-day DL

ATLANTA -- The Atlanta Braves have placed shortstop Erick Aybar on the 15-day disabled list with a bruised right foot.

Aybar left Friday night's game in the fifth, one inning after he was hit by a pitch from Miami's Adam Conley. The Braves said Friday night that X-rays were negative.

Aybar, acquired as part of the offseason deal that sent shortstop Andrelton Simmons to the Los Angeles Angels, is hitting .182.

Daniel Castro is starting at shortstop in Saturday's game against the Marlins.

In a corresponding move, the Braves recalled right-hander Aaron Blair from Triple-A Gwinnett to start Saturday's game.

Royals: RHP Chris Young activated off DL
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Kansas City Royals have activated right-hander Chris Young from the disabled list before Saturday's game against the Chicago White Sox.

Young, who had been out since May 9 with a right forearm strain, was placed in the bullpen after beginning the season in the rotation. He was 1-5 with a 6.68 ERA in seven starts, allowing 13 home runs and walking 11 in 32 1/3 innings.

The 37-year-old Young earned the victory in the first game of the 2015 World Series, working three scoreless innings in relief as the Royals beat the New York Mets 5-4 in 14 innings.

Kansas City optioned left-hander Brian Flynn, who was 1-0 with a 4.91 ERA in five relief appearances, to Triple-A Omaha.

Indians: Brantley unsure when he'll return
CLEVELAND -- Indians outfielder Michael Brantley has no timetable for his return from the shoulder injury that has sidelined him for the second time this season.

Brantley spoke to reporters Saturday for the first time since being placed on the 15-day disabled list on May 14. He began the season on the DL following surgery for a torn right labrum in November. Brantley hit .231 with seven RBIs in 11 games before being shut down again.

Brantley, who received an anti-inflammatory shot in the shoulder two weeks ago, doesn't think he returned from the surgery too soon. He has been hitting off a tee but isn't sure when he will begin taking swings in the batting cage.

Brantley finished third in the AL Most Valuable Player voting in 2014 when he hit .327 with 20 homers and 97 RBIs. He batted .310 with 15 homers and 84 RBIs last season.

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.

Today's Lineup: Ryan Howard still starting against a righty

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Today's Lineup: Ryan Howard still starting against a righty

One day after a rain-soaked 6-2 loss to the MLB-best Cubs, the Phillies look to steal a game against Chicago's fifth starter Kyle Hendricks Saturday afternoon (see game notes).

And with a right-hander on the bump for the Cubs, Phillies manager Pete Mackanin has decided to give Ryan Howard the start at first base instead of Tommy Joseph.

This has been the subject of debate in Philadelphia. What to do with first base? Mackanin has used a platoon at first all season long, first with Darin Ruf and now with Joseph.

But with Howard's struggles at the plate continuing, many have called for more playing time for the 24-year-old Joseph, even against righties. Both played in Detroit.

Now it appears the platoon may continue. For at least one more day. Howard gets the call for Game 2 of a three-game set Saturday at Wrigley Field against Hendricks.

Howard is sporting a .159 average in 132 at-bats with .224 on-base percentage and is hitting .172 in May. Additionally, the lefty is hitting .162 against righties this season.

Still, Howard is tied for the Phillies' lead with eight homers. He's not making much contact and the case against playing him may be stronger, but he still has some pop.

Chicago is scheduled to start another righty Sunday in John Lackey. Joseph, who's hitting .290 with two home runs and four RBIs, might find his way into the lineup then.

Joseph faced four straight righties before Friday's game in Chicago. Against Atlanta last Sunday, he went 0 for 4, but in Detroit, Joseph was 4 for 11 with a homer and three RBIs.

What the Phillies do with Howard-Joseph at first base will continue to be a storyline until the situation is resolved. At least for Saturday, the discussion lives on.

In other lineup notes, Mackanin has given leftfielder Tyler Goeddel the day off, giving David Lough the start in left and batting him seventh. Cameron Rupp is back behind the plate, catching Jerad Eickhoff.

Here are today's full lineups:

Phillies
1. Odubel Herrera, CF
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Maikel Franco, 3B
4. Ryan Howard, 1B
5. Cameron Rupp, C
6. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
7. David Lough, LF
8. Jered Eickhoff, P
9. Peter Bourjos, RF

Cubs
1. Dexter Fowler, CF
2. Jayson Heyward, RF
3. Kris Bryant, 3B
4. Anthony Rizzo, 1B
5. Ben Zobrist, 2B
6. Jorge Soler, LF
7. Miguel Montero, C
8. Addison Russell, SS
9. Matt Hendricks, P