2013-14 Flyers evaluation: Defense


2013-14 Flyers evaluation: Defense

This is the second of three parts reviewing the Flyers roster from 2013-14. Previously: A look back at the goaltenders.

Flyers president (then general manager) Paul Holmgren sounded a lot like coach Craig Berube when speaking about his defense on breakup day.

It’s not about the speed of your players, he said, but the ability to pass the puck -- quickly and precisely.

Holmgren said things were fine on the blue line, admitted every team could use more speed as well as a No. 1 impact guy, and didn’t seem all that alarmed at how easily the Rangers made the Flyers look slow during the playoffs.

Defense was an issue last summer. And the summer before. And it remains an issue this summer, as well.

Many NHL clubs have pushed their young defensive prospects into the NHL ahead of schedule and allowed them to develop there.

Club chairman Ed Snider strongly hinted he wanted the Flyers to do that with Shayne Gostisbehere.

What was true last May remains true this May, too: The Flyers are the only NHL club without a single active drafted defenseman since the decade began playing regular minutes for them -- not someone else.

Which is why some people feel Gostisbehere has to play this fall regardless. 

Braydon Coburn
Age: Turns 29
82 GP; 5G, 4A, 17 Pts., minus-6, 22:26 MIN
Cap hit: $4.5 million
Offensively, Coburn saw his numbers continue to decline despite obvious mobility talents and a strong shot he seldom seems to use anymore. His output was a disappointing 17 points. His five goals were the most in four years, however. He played OK much of the regular season, but had a terrible playoffs (minus-6), as did most of the Flyers' defense. His mental lapses, at times, were a concern. He has two years left on his current contract and his name often comes up in trade discussions with clubs in Western Canada, where he was born and resides during the offseason. Coburn played most of the season with Kimmo Timonen, who has pretty much been his longtime partner during their seven-plus years here.

Hal Gill
Age: 39
Stats: 6 GP, no stats, 14:50 MIN
Unrestricted free agent
One of the true professionals in the game, Gill is a quiet leader in the room who served as a mentor for Erik Gustafsson and other young players. He was the ideal seventh man on defense and never complained about his role, even after sitting 44 consecutive games through the second half of the season. Nick Grossmann’s ankle injury forced Gill into the lineup during the playoffs, where his lack of speed was a decisive factor in two goals against during a painful Game 5 loss to the Rangers. The Flyers need younger legs moving forward. Gill is closer to retirement than being re-signed.

Nick Grossmann
78 GP, 1G, 13A, 14 Pts., minus-6; 19:06 MIN
Cap hit: $3.5 million
Grossmann was the second-leading shot blocker on the club with a career-high 174 -- the third time he has eclipsed his record. He was the first defenseman in the NHL this season to reach 100 hits (189) and 100 blocked shots. A right ankle (tendon) injury was costly in the playoffs, as he missed the final three games against the Rangers. Grossmann is tough as nails, but lacks speed. That said, his pairing with Mark Streit was very effective.

Erik Gustafsson
Age: 24
31 GP; 2G, 8A, 10 Pts., plus-7; 17:30 MIN
Status: Restricted free agent
Berube’s staff gave Gustafsson every opportunity this season to force himself into the lineup but the young Swede’s confidence with the puck seemed to wane this year, which is why he spent more time in the press box than on the ice. He's still the quickest defenseman the Flyers have and has very good skills in moving the puck up ice provided he doesn’t get boxed into double-teams. His performance against Pittsburgh in the playoffs a few years ago should have jump-started his continued development. That hasn’t happened -- the Flyers expect more of him. He should be re-signed. His cap hit this season was $1 million.

Andrew MacDonald
Age: 27
19 GP as a Flyer (82 overall); OG, 4A, 4 Pts., minus-3, 21:59 MIN
Cap hit: $5 million
MacDonald gave the Flyers more flexibility, speed and puck movement once he arrived, but his play against the Rangers in the playoffs took a severe nosedive. He was a minus player in four of the seven games. He led the NHL in blocked shots with a mind-boggling 242 during the regular season, though. Had 24 points in 63 games with the Islanders before being traded. A big factor is that he made Luke Schenn a better player, and the pairing was actually very sound most games. His new six-year, $30 million contract kicks in this fall.

Luke Schenn
Age: 24
79 GP, 4G, 8 A, 12 Pts., even, 16:32 MIN
Cap hit: $3.6 million
Schenn led the club with 260 hits. He has to learn to stay closer to the crease, however, as he still tends to get caught outside the dots where he lacks the lateral speed to recover at the net. MacDonald’s arrival allowed him to do what he does best: Hit and block shots (113 blocks). He was far more relaxed once MacDonald arrived and was the Flyers' most consistent defensemen in the playoffs. Both he and brother Brayden, a restricted free agent this summer, could be packaged in a deal somewhere for a more mobile, faster defenseman. He's not a lock to return.

Mark Streit
Age: 36
Stats: 82 GP, 10G, 34 A, 44 Pts., plus-3, 20:38 MIN
Cap hit: $5.25 million
Streit showed flashes of outstanding play this season and then would have a series of games in which he was a turnover machine. He has a strong skating ability and can eat up more minutes (20:38 average) if Timonen retires. He was signed to bolster the power play, but had just 15 power-play points (four goals, 11 assists) and should be able to get 20-15 points there. His overall stats, however, were strong and he improved the Flyers' defense. 

Kimmo Timonen
Stats: 77 GP, 6G, 29 A, 35 Pts., plus-5, 20:19 MIN
Status: Unrestricted free agent
Timonen won his fifth Barry Ashbee Trophy, and deservedly so. Had a remarkably healthy season without the usual back injuries, and participated in the Olympics. He has lost a couple steps but is still a fine skater. He was ninth in the NHL with 19 power-play assists, and seemed to be rejuvenated by his selection to Team Finland at the Sochi Olympics, where he picked up a bronze medal. Timonen’s point production has gone steadily down as he’s gotten older. He’s no longer a $6 million defenseman, yet the Flyers would consider resigning him for half that much in a reduced role. His minutes this year were reduced by one minute a game. The Rangers' speed made him and others on the blue line look slow in the playoffs. He may retire; re-signing may hinge on cap hit and on whether to keep a younger player around instead.

Previously: A look back at the goaltenders.
Next: A look back at the forwards.

Flyers-Coyotes 5 things: Decent chance for first winning streak

Flyers-Coyotes 5 things: Decent chance for first winning streak

Updated: 12:07 p.m.

Flyers vs. Coyotes
7 p.m. on CSN
Pregame Live at 6:30

The Flyers (3-3-1) on Thursday night have an optimal opportunity to win back-to-back games for the first time this season when they host the nosediving Coyotes (1-5-0) at the Wells Fargo Center.

Let’s get you ready for the game with five things to know.

1. Nothin' but a G thang
For any of those worried about Claude Giroux, don’t be.

For one, Giroux may be the only player that would receive more flack for not having scored a goal yet than be applauded for leading the NHL in assists (eight).

Secondly, you may recall 2013-14 when the Flyers’ captain started the season goalless through 15 games, with just seven assists and a minus-11 rating. Giroux finished that season with a career-high-tying 28 goals and the league’s third-most points at 86.

More so than the puck being put in the net, the Flyers needed greater playmaking after last season. Giroux is providing that — as is Jakub Voracek — and, as a result, the goals are coming for the Flyers, at both even strength and on the power play. 

2. Stick with the switches?
Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol made a few changes before the team’s 4-3, come-from-behind win over the Sabres on Tuesday.

Veteran defenseman Nick Schultz was healthy-scratched to make room for blueliner Radko Gudas, returning from a six-game suspension to the start the season. Gudas finished with seven shot attempts and three hits in 18:27.

“Overall, what you want to see is go out and play an efficient game,” Hakstol said. “For the most part, I thought [Gudas] went out and did that.”

Defenseman Andrew MacDonald, who has had bad moments, stayed in the lineup for his versatility.

“He is just a guy that is reliable, who moves the puck well,” Hakstol said, “and we feel he can play in any situation whether it is OT or regulation.”

A greater change came to the team’s top line. Flyers leading goal scorer Matt Read leapfrogged to the first line from the third as Brayden Schenn dropped to Read’s previous spot. Without a point in his first three games, Schenn recorded a goal and an assist as he finds his rhythm returning from a three-game ban.

“The timing and pace of his game [are starting] to get back to where it needs to be,” Hakstol said. 

3. Oh, 'Yotes
Once they beat the visiting Flyers, 4-3, in overtime in their season opener, the Coyotes hit the road for what has turned out to be a nightmarish six-game trip.

Since the victory over the orange and black, Arizona has lost five straight by a combined score of 23-13, a losing skid that started with the team’s No. 1 goalie Mike Smith being knocked out with a lower-body injury. As a result, the Coyotes are permitting an NHL-most 4.33 markers per game and own the league’s worst goal differential at minus-9.

Backup netminder Louis Domingue, who will start against the Flyers, has struggled mightily in place of Smith, going 0-4-0 in four games with a 5.03 goals-against average and .851 save percentage.

Through seven games, the Flyers have just one goal in the first period. They should jump on Arizona, which has yielded eight tallies in the opening stanza, tied for most in hockey.

4. Keep an eye on ...
Flyers: Center Sean Couturier has been a bit quiet over his last four games with just one assist for one point after scoring three goals in his first three games. He’ll get going again playing alongside new linemates Wayne Simmonds and Read.

Coyotes: Defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson is coming off a two-goal output last time out to give him four goals on the season. He plays a ton (26:17 TOI, tied for fourth highest in the NHL) and is a career plus-7 against the Flyers with four goals and an assist.

5. This and that
• Flyers goalie Steve Mason is 5-9-1 with a 2.96 GAA and .899 save percentage in 15 career games against the Coyotes.

• Arizona goalie Domingue has faced the Flyers just once, allowing four goals on 33 shots in a loss last season.

• Konecny has six points (one goal, five assists), tied for third among NHL rookies.

• The Flyers own the league’s fifth-best power play at 26.9 percent.

• The Flyers will welcome back 14 members of their Hall of Fame — along with family of six other members — for Flyers Heritage Night, featuring a pregame ceremony.

Best of NHL: Shea Weber's PPG gives Canadiens' 5th straight win

Best of NHL: Shea Weber's PPG gives Canadiens' 5th straight win

NEW YORK -- Shea Weber's power-play goal with 2:57 remaining lifted the Montreal Canadiens to their fifth straight victory, 3-2 over the New York Islanders on Wednesday night.

Paul Byron and Phillip Danault also scored to help Montreal improve to 6-0-1 and remain the only team in the NHL without a regulation loss. Al Montoya, who played for the Islanders from 2010-12, stopped 26 shots in his first start since Oct. 18 as the Canadiens beat New York for the seventh straight time.

John Tavares and Dennis Seidenberg scored for New York and Thomas Greiss had 26 saves in his second straight start and third of the season.

With the Islanders' Nick Leddy off for slashing, Weber fired a shot from the point for the tiebreaking goal. It was just the second power-play goal in 23 opportunities given up by New York's league-leading penalty-killing unit (see full recap).

Pirri, Rangers rally to topple Bruins
NEW YORK -- Brandon Pirri scored twice to help the New York Ranger beat the Boston Bruins 5-2 on Wednesday night.

Rick Nash, Kevin Hayes and Jimmy Vesey also scored for New York, and Henrik Lundqvist stopped 27 shots. The Rangers won their third straight game, overcoming a 2-0 deficit to improve to 5-2-0.

David Pastrnak and Austin Czarina scored for Boston. The Bruins have lost three straight to drop to 3-4-0.

Zane McIntyre made 26 saves in his first NHL start. He was called up prior to Boston's 5-0 home loss to Minnesota on Tuesday night to back up Malcolm Subban due to injuries to Tuukka Risk and Anton Khudobin (see full recap).

Pouliot scores twice, Oilers beat Capitals
EDMONTON, Alberta -- Benoit Pouliot scored twice, Cam Talbot made 34 saves and the Edmonton Oilers beat the Washington Capitals 4-1 on Wednesday night to stretch their winning streak to four games.

Patrick Maroon and Milan Lucic also scored for the Oilers (6-1-0). They have won four of five games at Rogers Place, their new downtown arena.

Alex Ovechkin scored for the Capitals (3-2-1). Braden Holtby made 25 saves (see full recap).