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.

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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.

Pete Mackanin on Odubel Herrera's slump: 'He needs to battle his way out'

Pete Mackanin on Odubel Herrera's slump: 'He needs to battle his way out'

After an 0-for-5 day at the plate, Odubel Herrera isn't heading to the bench a day later.

He's leading off. 

Pete Mackanin chose to move the slumping centerfielder atop the lineup card for Friday's series opener against the Reds despite Herrera's striking out in all five plate appearances Thursday.

"I think he's a .290-plus hitter as a leadoff man and I'm not going to sit him," Mackanin said pregame. "He needs to battle his way out. You figure you're the leadoff hitter once a game. After that, it's wide open."

While he hasn't batted leadoff this season, Herrera spent the majority of his time in that spot last season. In 76 games there, he batted .285 with a .359 OBP and .417 slugging percentage. 

The leadoff hitter this season has been Cesar Hernandez, who has a day off with a groin pull he's dealt with the last 10 days. Herrera primarily has been the No. 3 hitter this season and his average is down to .226 with 49 strikeouts to just 11 walks. 

Mackanin hopes the leadoff role can help change Herrera's approach at the plate.

"He was drawing a lot of walks at leadoff, so whether he has that mindset or not, I'm not sure," the manager said. "I just want to get him as many at-bats as possible. We need to get him going. We need him and [Maikel] Franco to get going."

May specifically has been tough on Herrera. He has four hits in his last 36 at-bats and has seven strikeouts in his last two games. He has just seven hits in 22 games this month. 

"I think he's at the point where he's grinding and sometimes when you grind, sometimes there's that feeling where you get lost," Mackanin said. "I've been in situations as a hitter where I've gone up to the plate saying, 'I don't care where it is. I'm going up there and just hacking.' Because you start thinking and that's not working.

"And you look for a pitch and then all of a sudden you say I'm going to take a pitch to get a look at and it's strike one. Then he throws you a nasty slider and that's strike two and your plan is out the window. So I've gone up to the plate myself saying, 'I'm just looking down the middle and swinging. I'm not thinking.'"

When asked, Mackanin said the team had not discussed demoting Herrera or Franco to the minors to take pressure off the duo.

While Herrera tries to hit his way back into a groove, Howie Kendrick is in the midst of working his way back to the majors. He was hit by pitch twice in a rehab appearance Thursday but is back in the lineup Friday in left field. 

Mackanin said Kendrick needed four days minimum in his rehab assignment and will therefore play Friday and Saturday before the team sees how he feels.

The manager also said the team would give more playing time to backup catcher Andrew Knapp. He started consecutive games for the first time on Tuesday and Wednesday. 

"I'm going to try and see him as much as possible and keep him as sharp as possible instead of once a week," Mackanin said. "That's tough to hit, once a week. It's tough to hit twice a week if you don't hit back-to-back. There's no ulterior motive."

Report: Brett Brown accuses longtime friend of defrauding him of $750,000

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Report: Brett Brown accuses longtime friend of defrauding him of $750,000

Sixers head coach Brett Brown is in Australia this week, where he has accused longtime friend and former Australian men's national team assistant coach Shane Heal of defrauding him of $750,000, according to the Australian Associated Press.

Brown invested $250,000 into each of three companies for which Heal was the sole director. Brown wasn't given a legal title regarding the companies and didn't know the specifics of how the money would be used.

"I assumed that the money was going to be used for what Shane told me it was going to be used for," Brown said. "Because it was a friend that I had for 25 years."

Heal was charged last year by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission following an investigation relating to alleged misconduct in 2008, 2009 and 2010, according to the AAP.

The sides return to court in Brisbane on July 20.

Heal played in the NBA for the Minnesota Timberwolves in 1996-97 and was with the San Antonio Spurs in 2003.