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

flyers-panthers-race-usa.jpg

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.

Matt Read on Flyers' changes: 'We're running out of time here'

Matt Read on Flyers' changes: 'We're running out of time here'

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- As far as he can remember, in his six years with the Flyers, Matt Read hasn't played on a line with both Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek.

Read has spent time with each of the Flyers' top-two scorers at various times but never together. The Flyers hope the cohesiveness comes together quickly after making changes to three of the lines on Wednesday in an attempt keep their sagging playoff hopes.

"We're running out of time here, so hopefully a couple line changes here gives us a little spark offensively," Read said. "We've still got to play better defensively, but you know it's kind of do-or-die right now. So hopefully chemistry clicks right away and things can start going off the bat."

Flyers coach Dave Hakstol had hinted at adjusting the lines recently but stuck with the current structure in Tuesday night's 3-2 loss at Winnipeg (see game story). With the ability to practice Wednesday in Minnesota before Thursday's game against the Wild, Hakstol followed through with the adjustment.

Hakstol met with the four centers before practice and then had Giroux with Voracek and Read. Valtteri Filppula centered Jordan Weal and Wayne Simmonds. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare was teamed with Travis Konecny and Chris VandeVelde.

Brayden Schenn, Sean Couturier and Dale Weise stayed together.

"That line, it's been a good line for us," Hakstol said of Schenn, Couturier and Weise. "Off their game a little bit yesterday, but they've been a good line and I'm confident they'll come back and do a good job tomorrow. The other changes are just looking at different things coming off a road performance yesterday… just looking at a way to inject a little bit more into our lineup for a real tough road game here tomorrow night."

The Flyers didn't lose any ground with Tuesday's loss with Boston, Tampa Bay and Carolina also losing. But the Flyers now have just 10 games remaining as they trail Toronto by seven points for the final wild-card spot.

"We didn't take advantage of the opportunity we had for two points," Hakstol said. "At the end of the day, you can't sit back and watch what's happening elsewhere. You've got to take care of your own backyard, and that's what our focus is. We didn't get it done yesterday. Point blank, we didn't get it done. So, we've got an opportunity tomorrow night for two points and that's what our job is."

Reuniting Giroux and Voracek, along with Read, is one way he hopes to solve the issue. Voracek said he knows the onus is on his line to lead the way.

"We know what to expect from each other," Voracek said. "When we move our feet, we are dangerous. So that's what we've got to do. We've got to have fun. We've got to find a way to score the goals and help the team to win the games, because we're going to play a lot of minutes."

Another possible change for Hakstol could come along the defense. Brandon Manning practiced on Wednesday and Hakstol said it's possible he could rejoin the lineup against the Wild.

Manning hasn't played since March 11 because of a right shoulder injury. Hakstol said he's confident Manning is ready and a decision will be made Thursday morning on which of the seven defensemen will play in the game.

"He's practiced well," Hakstol said. "He got extra work in yesterday. He practiced well today. We'll have a decision to make tomorrow."

Flyers-Jets 10 observations: Lackluster effort, wasted opportunity

Flyers-Jets 10 observations: Lackluster effort, wasted opportunity

Our recap of Tuesday's underwhelming performance by the Flyers in Winnipeg.

Their Tragic Number is now 13, meaning the number of points either lost by the Flyers or accrued by the second wild card -- Toronto -- that totals 13 will eliminate the Flyers from the playoffs.

Sean Couturier said it best prior to the road trip: Unless the Flyers won in Winnipeg, then anything positive they achieved in coming from behind to beat Carolina was wasted.

And it was.  

If you watched the telecast with John Boruk, Alfonso Morganti and myself, you already know how I feel about the loss.

But for those of you who are gluttons for further punishment, here's 10 Things I think, I think, as Bill Lyon used to say:

1. A couple players gave everything they had to make a difference in this game. Radko Gudas had eight of the Flyers' 17 hits. Michael Del Zotto had five strong shots from the point, two of which were almost goals. Shayne Gostisbehere had four shots, two of which almost gave them a goal.

2. The Jets had five injured defensemen out of their lineup, which meant the Flyers' forwards should have been attacking them at the net. Again, the only offense generated for 50 minutes was from the point and not down low, where the Jets were vulnerable.

3. Valterri Filppula matched up against Patrick Laine and held him -- with help from Steve Mason -- to no points, a task in itself. Laine generated five shots and two prime scoring chances that Mason took care of.

4. Jets rookie defenseman Julian Melchiori had played just eight NHL games and had a total of four shots. He had three in the first period alone Tuesday and tied Laine with a team-high five for the game. He was more determined to make something happen than most of the Flyers. That should embarrass coach Dave Hakstol, who insisted the Flyers come out strong. They didn't.

5. Winnipeg moved up and down the ice well in transition. They came into the zone with speed and spread their attack out. Blake Wheeler's goal that made it 2-1 in the third period was the result of the Jets' precise puck movement from Mathieu Perreault to Mark Scheifele to Wheeler that demonstrated nothing moves faster on the ice than the speed of the puck. Wheeler got the puck with a wide-open look inside the right circle. The Flyers didn't have a single play during the game that mimicked that rush.

6. Although the Flyers' penalty kill units gave up a 10th goal in their last 24 chances, they shut down the Jets' the final four power plays of the game, including the four-minute double-minor to Ivan Provorov in the second period. The PK got no help from the power play (0 for 3).

7. Mason had four saves during the Jets' four-minute power play, which should have given the Flyers some momentum for the remainder of the second period and into the third. He also had a terrific stick save on Laine in the slot after the PP that left the rookie so angry he was jamming his stick violently into the ground on the Jets' bench.

8. Following up on that, why were the Flyers hesitant in the third period, tied 1-1, while the Jets peppered Mason at the outset? Where's that sense of desperation Hakstol's team should have shown? This is precisely what happened in Boston a few weeks ago. Game tied going into the third and instead of playing for two points they absolutely had to have, the Flyers were playing to get the game into overtime and earn at least one. That strategy failed spectacularly in Boston when the Bruins won the game in the final 5.6 seconds of regulation and failed again Tuesday.

9. Hakstol talked about effort and determination, yet the numbers say otherwise. With 13:34 left in regulation, the Flyers had just two shots in the period. Two! In the final seven minutes of the game, their sense of urgency finally kicked in when they kept the puck in Winnipeg's zone to the end and even scored shorthanded. That again raises this question: Where was that urgency at the period's start when it was 1-1 and not 3-1?

10. Finally, the Flyers had three power plays in this defeat. During their second power play, trailing 2-1, Winnipeg's lowly PK unit generated two shorthanded chances and cleared the zone four times. On the Flyers' final power play -- they trailed 3-1 at that point -- Hakstol pulled Mason to create a 6-on-4. The Flyers generated several scoring chances. They have scored three times this season under that scenario. Young goalie Michael Hutchinson, who had a 4.06 goals against average head-to-head against the Flyers, had a couple of terrific saves, including one on Wayne Simmonds in the slot. Where was that pressure on Hutchinson earlier in the period? Or earlier in the game?