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.

Flyers free-agent goalie fits: Jonathan Bernier

Flyers free-agent goalie fits: Jonathan Bernier

Each day this week until July 1, the day free agency begins, Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone will profile the five best goalie options for the Flyers on the open market and project their likelihood of signing.

Jonathan Bernier
Age: 28
Height: 6-0
Weight: 184
Last team: Anaheim Ducks
2016-17 cap hit: $4.15 million

Scouting report
After being drafted 11th overall in 2006, Bernier was a highly-touted goaltender coming up in the Los Angeles Kings system and performed well in a backup role for five seasons in L.A.

But with Jonathan Quick in Los Angeles, Bernier was blocked from getting a viable opportunity to be a No. 1 with the Kings. In June 2013, they shipped him to Toronto.

Bernier did not capitalize on his opportunity with the Maple Leafs, however. He never established himself as a high-end starting goalie in three seasons despite a strong first year.

In 2013-14, Bernier was 26-19-7 with a 2.68 goals-against average and .923 save percentage with the Leafs but that save percentage continually dropped the next two years.

Toronto decided to cut ties with Bernier after the 2015-16 season and traded him to the Anaheim Ducks for a conditional draft pick. He spent last season backing up John Gibson.

Appearing in 39 games last season for the Ducks, Bernier posted a 21-7-4 record with a 2.50 goals-against average, .915 save percentage and two shutouts.

One note about Bernier: Flyers general manager Ron Hextall was an assistant GM in Los Angeles when the Kings drafted him in 2006, so there is a connection there.

Dougherty's projection
I don’t think Bernier is the best option available for the Flyers but the most likely. Maybe I’m putting too much weight on the Hextall connection here, maybe not. We’ll see.

Bernier fits what the Flyers appear to want in a goalie going forward: a short-term veteran option who can share the net with Michal Neuvirth in a platoon situation.

Hextall isn’t looking for the Flyers’ goalie of the future this summer. He believes he has that in the system already but needs to bide time for Carter Hart and Felix Sandstrom.

But he will be looking for a goalie who he can trust playing around 40 games or more next season and give the team quality in net. In that role, Bernier would be a solid fit.

He hasn’t panned out as projected and we could use him as one example of why we don’t see many goaltenders drafted high in the first round. They’re tough to project.

With that said, Bernier has found success in the past, including last season in Anaheim, in either a platoon or backup situation. He’ll come at a reasonable price, too.

A tandem of Neuvirth-Bernier would not be the worst thing in the world for the Flyers; it wouldn’t be the best, either. I think it would give them enough in net to compete.

If I had to predict which goaltender on the market will be here next season, it is Bernier.

Hall's projection
I see Bernier as one of the least realistic options for the Flyers.
 
The 2006 11th overall pick hasn't quite lived up to the hype, but he still has some cachet, probably too much for the Flyers in this spot.
 
He turns only 29 in August and in a backup role last season, his 2.50 goals-against average and .915 save percentage still ranked in the top 15 among NHL goalies that played 39 games or more.
 
The role and price in which the Flyers will offer shouldn't attract Bernier much. From the sound of Hextall, I expect him to be judicious in adding a goalie. This sounds much more like a stopgap, temporary position than anything future oriented.
 
There's a connection with the Flyers' GM here, but that might be it when it comes to the Bernier scenario.

Paone's projection
I find Bernier to be an intriguing option for the Flyers.

First and foremost, there is plenty of familiarity with Bernier within the Flyers' organization. Hextall and current Flyers goalie coach Kim Dillabaugh were both parts of the Kings' organization when Bernier was drafted in 2006 and worked with him during his development into an NHL goaltender. They not only know the type of player and competitor they'd be getting, they also know the type of person they'd be getting and that plays a role, too.

Bernier had a very strong campaign for the Ducks last season. That certainly makes him an attractive option for the Flyers. He did his best to prove he can be a reliable option again after things soured for him in Toronto. But, hey, a lot of things went sour in Toronto during those times.

But that strong campaign with Anaheim last season will have Bernier wanting opportunity and more of it. With Neuvirth entrenched here, how much opportunity would there actually be for Bernier here? Would the Flyers present the type of opportunity he's looking for after last year's showing with the Ducks? My guess is no. He'll likely want an opportunity to take on much more of a workload.

So while the option is intriguing for many reasons and it certainly isn't out of the realm of possibility, I ultimately feel this is an option both he and the Flyers pass on.

Flyers re-sign defenseman Mark Alt to 1-year, 2-way deal

Flyers re-sign defenseman Mark Alt to 1-year, 2-way deal

One day after extending qualifying offers to seven restricted free agents (see story), the Flyers re-signed Mark Alt, who was unrestricted.

The Phantoms' defenseman agreed to a one-year, two-way deal on Tuesday that will play him $125,000 in the AHL and $650,000 in the NHL.

The 25-year-old has played four years with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. 

He had one goal and 11 points last season in 40 AHL games.

Alt's only NHL appearance was his debut as a Flyer on March 28, 2015, at San Jose.

Alt has 68 points (12 goals) in 237 AHL games.