The Hal Gill experiment didn’t work. And so Tuesday night, it’s Erik Gustafsson’s turn to try.
The 25-year-old defenseman will enter the lineup in the Flyers’ must-win Game 6 against the New York Rangers in place of the injured Nicklas Grossmann. It will be his first game of the postseason.
Considering the stakes of the game -- the Flyers trail the series 3-2 -- Gustafsson is both nervous and excited.
“A little bit of both, I guess,” he said. “Mostly excited. I’ve just got to go out and try to have fun.”
Gustafsson appeared in 31 games with the Flyers this season, finishing a plus-7 with a pair of goals and eight assists. Compared to Gill, who has size and plenty of experience, Gustafsson is a smaller, quicker and younger option. And, according to coach Craig Berube, Gustafsson should be able to handle the speedy Rangers better.
“I like his speed,” Berube said. “He’s a quick player. Up ice, getting up ice a little bit. Just looking at that aspect of it.”
Ahead of Tuesday’s morning skate, Gustafsson said he spoke with Gill in order to prepare for Game 6. Gill struggled in Game 5, and was on the ice for two key Rangers goals.
Gustafsson, obviously, is aiming for a better outcome. He wants the chance to play beyond tonight.
“I talked to him a little bit,” Gustafsson said. “He said what to expect and how to prepare and all that stuff. Definitely pointed out some helpers for me, and I feel confident going into tonight.”
A different aggression
The Flyers continue to speak about aggressiveness. They need more of it, they claim, in order to keep their season alive and force a Game 7.
But they don’t mean it just in terms of throwing a big hit or playing a rougher game. They want to be aggressive with the puck, not just without it.
“I think aggressive means more passion,” Claude Giroux said. “We’re a good team when we have the puck. We let the puck too loose too long and did a bad job being aggressive on it.”
Discipline is important, too, considering the Rangers’ dangerous power play. The Flyers have done a solid job on the penalty kill this series, but they know they can’t spend much time playing shorthanded in such a critical game.
“You don’t want to go to the penalty box,” Berube said. “But we’ve got to do a better job of getting numbers in the offensive zone, being more aggressive, being more physical, winning more puck battles in that area.”
Scott Hartnell practiced with the same line he’s been on for most of the series, the Flyers’ top line with Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek. In fact, no lines were changed up at Tuesday's morning skate.
But Hartnell has largely struggled in all five games against the Rangers. He has just two assists in the series and is a minus-1. He was briefly demoted in Game 5, and knows he needs to contribute more in order for the Flyers’ season to continue.
“I haven’t scored yet,” he said. “It’s frustrating. You’ve got to get to the net. I haven’t been effective hardly at all this year. I need to be better. But it’s on us to do out job out there to get things done.”