Craig Berube: Flyers 'need to be a faster team'

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Craig Berube: Flyers 'need to be a faster team'

The mantra from Craig Berube in the two lengthy practices he’s had so far has been: Do things faster.
 
That's why the Flyers were in constant motion, nearly the entire 90 minutes on two sheets of ice Thursday at Skate Zone.
 
“I just think we need to be a faster team and to be a faster team you’ve got to skate,” Berube said. “It takes work. It takes practice. You’ve got to work at it.
 
“If you don’t work on it at practice, if you don’t do drills with pressure and all that stuff, I could probably go out there and still play. Not that I could ever play, but you know what I mean. They can get faster. Everybody can get a little quicker.”
 
The Flyers have not looked very quick this season. All you read from writers in Toronto and Montreal is how slow the Flyers appear on the ice.
 
There is a lot of truth in that, yet the hidden truth is the Flyers are faster than they’ve shown.
 
Berube says he doesn’t quite have a handle on why the team’s overall skating conditioning coming out of training camp wasn’t up to par.
 
Here’s a thought: There were 64 players in camp, and very few practices and only one game with their entire lineup. Hence, they didn’t have time to work on conditioning as much as systems, and their players were not in game shape.
 
Several Flyers have admitted they aren’t yet in game shape.
 
“It’s not so much I am talking about guys coming into camp out of shape,” Berube said. “They all worked hard and trained hard this summer. It’s just the skating. On the ice. It’s certain drills you are going to do that make you faster under pressure. Just being competitive and quicker in all the battles. Stuff like that. Thinking quicker. It’s all part of it.”
 
Thinking quicker means analyzing the play and trying to figure it out before the opponent does. The one advantage a slower player has against a faster player is if his instincts or reactions are quicker.
 
That’s what Berube is preaching this week. If your mind is thinking quicker, your legs will follow.
 
“You still have to think, but you think quick,” Berube said. “We can’t play a slow game. Whether you can’t skate as fast as the other guy you have to play a fast game.
 
“Knowing what you’re going to do before you get the puck. Making quick plays. Supporting the puck. Play as a team and it will look faster.”
 
It all begins on the breakout, too, which has been disjointed and slower than Berube would like. A quicker breakout gets everyone’s legs moving and generates speed moving zone-to-zone allowing a smoother, coordinated forecheck at the other end.
 
“During the game, automatics are important and we have to know what to do right away with or without the puck,” said defenseman Mark Streit. “I think defensively, we can play better, close on guys quicker, close gaps quicker. And breaking the puck out, supporting each other ... It starts back there. We have so much skill up front and speed, but those guys need to get the puck and need to get it on the tape, and then we can create offensively.
 
“I think [Berube] wants to play a fast game and I like that. You want to move the puck right away and join the rush and create like that.”
 
Berube liked some of what he saw in the 2-1 win over Florida. Yet, he still thinks the Flyers are taking shortcuts in their work ethic.
 
As Claude Giroux said the other day, you know you’ve done something wrong going back to the bench if Berube “gives you that look.”
 
Battling harder is something former coach Peter Laviolette said several times the past two weeks before being fired.
 
“Our players got to understand that they have to compete harder one-on-one,” Berube said. “We had some plays that were there, but it was blocked, or they got sticks on it and stuff.
 
“Our D can be a little more active. We can use our D a little bit more. I was happy with our forecheck in that game.”
 
Goalies
Steve Mason is expected to start Friday night against Phoenix. Lifetime, Mason has a 3-6-0 record with a 3.25 goals-against average and an .895 save percentage. Ray Emery’s numbers are better: 2-2-1, 2.10 GAA, .911 save percentage.
 
So why Mason? Because Emery is very good against Detroit and the Flyers have a back-to-back with the Red Wings on Saturday in Motown. Emery is 3-0-0 with a 1.85 GAA and .943 save percentage.
 
Berube says he doesn’t tell anyone who his goalie is until late the day before.
 
“When do I know? It’s game-to-game right now,” Berube said. “I don’t know [yet].”
 
Mason didn’t know either when he met with the media this afternoon.

Ron Hextall, Flyers know what they have in Nolan Patrick

Ron Hextall, Flyers know what they have in Nolan Patrick

CHICAGO — Ron Hextall had no idea which way New Jersey Devils general manager Ray Shero was leaning.

Would Shero take Nolan Patrick or Nico Hischier with his No. 1 pick?

"I asked Ray 10 minutes before he picked and he wouldn't tell me," Hextall said. "I give him credit. That is what he should have done … I didn't have an expectation one way or the other."

Shero wanted a dynamic player to put bodies in the stands at Prudential Center. He chose Hischier.

That made it easy for Hextall at No. 2 to select Patrick (see story).

If rumors were true that Shero was scared off by Patrick's several injuries this past season at Brandon, well, the Flyers weren't.

"What I believe, we gather a lot of information," Hextall said. "There's some stuff out there you want to prove wrong and we did. We're comfortable with the injury part of it. He is a really good young man."

Patrick is a two-way player and a natural center. The Flyers have seven centers right now (see story), including Patrick, who is expected to play now. 

Hextall said he doesn't envision switching Patrick to the wing.

"I would rather have too many centers rather than five wingers on each side and no one to go in the middle," Hextall said.

Interesting that German Rubtsov, last year's top pick for the Flyers, has already been converted to a left winger since coming to North America to play junior.

Will Patrick be a No. 1 center as scouts project?

"Nolan has to answer that," Hextall said. "We see a kid with a big body, extremely high hockey sense, really good skill set. You get drafted today? The work starts now and Nolan has to put the work in.

"This is another level … this is the National Hockey League. In September, he comes to camp. He needs a big summer."

Ron Hextall on Flyers' logjam of centers: 'Someone has to play the wing'

Ron Hextall on Flyers' logjam of centers: 'Someone has to play the wing'

CHICAGO – The Flyers already have a familiar problem coming out of this NHL draft and heading training camp next fall: they’re too deep at center.
 
Friday night, they added three centers and traded another.
 
Brayden Schenn was sent to St. Louis for the Blues’ 27th pick in the first round, plus a conditional 2018 first-round pick and veteran utility center Jori Lehtera (see story).
 
General manager Ron Hextall wanted to trade back into the first round late and he did so by tabbing Morgan Frost at No. 27 with that Blues’ pick.
 
NHL Central Scouting had Frost ranked 31st among North American skaters. He is a 6-0, 170-pound forward from Aurora, Ontario.
 
He has raw speed and skill, but scouts say other parts of his game will need time to fill out. Frost had 20 goals and 62 points for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the OHL this past season.
 
Friday’s other first-round pick, Nolan Patrick, is a natural centerman. Patrick is expected to play in the NHL this season. So right now, the Flyers’ centers are Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, Valtteri Filppula, Mike Vecchione, plus Patrick and now Lehtera.
 
Lehtera had 30 goals and 100 points in 218 games with the Blues. He was both a first- and second-line center for the Blues this past season despite weak numbers — seven goals and 22 points in 64 games.
 
He is a decent playmaker and two-way player, who has centered Alex Steen and Vladimir Tarasenko.
 
“He is utility guy with a well-rounded game and can play in the middle,” Hextall said. “We like the player. Gives coach more options.”
 
Best option: Lehtera can move to left wing if needed.
 
“Someone has to play the wing,” Hextall said. “He can play the wing. Our scouts have seen him play the wing, but he plays center most games. I am assuming he prefers center like most of them. Someone has to play wing.”
 
Schenn had improved every year he was with the Flyers, but too much of his scoring is on the power play and not five-on-five. He had 109 goals and 246 points in 424 career games for the Flyers.
 
This deal seems strange unless you consider the Flyers got another first-round pick (Frost) and a top-10 protected, conditional first-rounder next year. The Blues have the option to defer the 2018 first-rounder to 2019 but if they do so, the Flyers will also receive the Blues' 2020 third-round pick.
 
“It was a combination,” Hextall said of the advantages’ from the Flyers side. “It was one of those [trades] that came out of nowhere. Not like we were shopping Brayden.
 
“This deal came along and we really like the draft next year. We like the late pick this year and Jori. It made sense and we got a couple more young players.”
 
Young players like Frost, whom the Flyers are excited about.
 
“Our whole staff really liked the guy,” Hextall said. “He’s an extremely intelligent player, his No. 1 asset. Really smart. Reads the ice well. He has a very deft touch moving the puck.
 
“Good two-way player who showed up good in the testing. We believe he is a kid with a lot of upside. Good speed, but he dissects the game better than most players.”
 
Frost’s father Andy was the longtime former Toronto Maple Leafs PA announcer.
 
“I talked to them a couple times,” Frost said. “I’d say I had a bit of a gut feeling. I wasn’t too sure, but they took me and I’m super happy about it.
 
“I think first and foremost I’m a playmaker. I think I’m a high-skilled player that likes to use his vision and hockey sense to create plays. I’m working on becoming more of a two-way forward. That’s more of the player I want to become.”