For Flyers, Hall becoming valuable faceoff ace

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For Flyers, Hall becoming valuable faceoff ace

Adam Hall has taken only 101 faceoffs this season.

He’s won 63.4 percent of them -- the best percentage of any player on the Flyers, albeit with far fewer faceoffs taken than either Claude Giroux or Sean Couturier, who each have won 49.7 percent of their draws.

Hall has always been a defensive, fourth-line center and a sure-handed draw in the circle. He says he does extensive video study of the players he might go up against before every game.

The Flyers sometimes use him late in games as a second center in case one gets thrown out of the circle, like they did in the third period against Buffalo on Thursday.

He’s a vital part of the Flyers’ penalty kill, averaging 2:59 shorthanded minutes per game, second only to Couturier (3:03) among the forward group.

“We do all kinds of things,” Hall said of staying sharp on draws. “The coaches dropping pucks for us after practices and pregame skates.

“It’s a skill like anything else. The more you work on it, you get a little bit better, your timing gets better and there’s a lot of different techniques and factors that go into it.

“What works against one centerman may not work against another. You are constantly trying to update other centerman’s tendencies that you are going against. I watch video sometimes. It depends on a situation.

“We talk to each other, even during games if guys are going against the same centerman. You talk about what is working and try to help each other out. Any tiny little thing can help give you an edge.”

Getting your stick down quickly, turning it, moving your body slightly after a draw and knowing who is behind you are all factors of being a good faceoff man.

Bob Clarke, who worked with Giroux on draws when he first came here, would teach players how to cheat and get away with it.

Mike Richards said it took him three years in the league before officials would allow him to cheat like veterans.

“You had to earn it,” Richards once said.

Flyers coach Craig Berube said every one of his centers does homework on their opponent.

“He’s really good at it,” Berube said of Hall. “He’s competitive, real competitive. Players watch more film now than we did.

“He’s done a great job with faceoffs, penalty killing, plays center or wing. He’s a very valuable guy to have on your hockey team. He does everything properly and works hard, blocks shots, all the dirty stuff.” 

Hall scored his first goal in 64 games Tuesday against Ottawa, albeit an empty-netter. He also assisted on Scott Hartnell’s empty-netter Thursday against Buffalo.

The 33-year-old from Kalamazoo, Mich., is not a scorer, though he once tallied 16 goals early in his career when he was with Nashville.

Hall wasn’t brought here to score goals, yet he feels it’s his job to try and add points when he can.

“You try to help any way you can,” Hall said. “You try to play the game consistently away from the puck defensively and make sure you’re consistent in those ways.

“Maybe you’re not relied upon in scoring but if you’re able to help in that department as well, it’s a great feeling.”

Wayne Gretzky defends Connor McDavid's outburst over Brandon Manning

Wayne Gretzky defends Connor McDavid's outburst over Brandon Manning

PALM BEACH, Fla. — As the primary target of opponents over his Hall of Fame career, Wayne Gretzky can certainly empathize with the frustration of Oilers star Connor McDavid.

McDavid and Flyers defenseman Brandon Manning jostled all evening long in a 6-5 Edmonton loss. McDavid denounced the tactics of his opponent after the game, claiming Manning intentionally injured him last season; McDavid missed 37 games with a broken collarbone.

"I guess we can put the whole 'if he did it' thing to rest because what he said out there kind of confirmed that," said McDavid, who taunted Manning after scoring the second goal in the Oilers' loss.

"I think anybody who knows me or who has played with or against me along the road here, knows that I am not that kind of player," Manning said, according to a statement released by the Flyers. "I am not out there intentionally trying to hurt people. I'm a guy who plays the game hard and I take pride in that."

Gretzky didn't mind seeing that fire in McDavid, saying competitiveness is part of what makes the great ones great. And he said the targeting comes with the territory of being a superstar. It was something he and Mario Lemieux dealt with, too.

"And Connor, he's going to get tested every night, but this is not new for him," Gretzky said Friday at the NHL board of governors meetings. "He's been tested since he was a kid and then playing junior hockey and now in the NHL and he's always responded and done his part."

Michael Raffl's power moves impressing Flyers, adding another element to top line

Michael Raffl's power moves impressing Flyers, adding another element to top line

He did it last Sunday in Nashville.

And he did it again Thursday night against Edmonton.

Michael Raffl displayed power and speed to send the Flyers to their seventh straight victory and longest winning streak since 2011 Thursday with a 6-5 win over the Oilers.

"Raf has this stutter step that's undercover speedy," goalie Steve Mason said. "He used it in Nashville to get a big goal and then here tonight.

"It looks like he's going to stop fully up, but he finds another gear and he really adds another element to that line that brings physical play.

"He has that sneaky talent, too, that can make you pay."

Raffl received a bank pass off the wall from Jakub Voracek, stutter stepped and then blew by Oilers defenseman Oscar Klefbom, protecting the puck along the way before flipping it over goalie Jonas Gustavsson for the game-winning marker with 1:29 left in the game.

It was his sixth goal of the season and his second game-winner in three games.

"Jakey has been hard on me for three years now," Raffl said, referring to Voracek's pass, "and it's actually the first time it worked out.

"He wants me to make that play all the time. He's been hard on me. I threw a little fake in there, got around their D-man and chipped it up high."

Voracek, who tied a career high with four points (one goal, three assists) said after the game his pass was not as perfect as it appeared on tape, as it didn't hit Raffl in stride.

"I think we should use it a little bit more to be honest," Voracek said, "because if their D wants to have a gap on that, you know you put it off the boards, it's tough to handle for the defenseman. [Raffl] had to slow down a little bit, so next time I've got to put it better."

Juggling his lines in an attempt to find chemistry, Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol moved Raffl up from the third line to the top line with Voracek and captain Claude Giroux on Nov. 27. Coincidentally, that was the start of this seven-game winning streak.

On Thursday night, Raffl showcased the reasoning behind the move to the top line, a spot he's familiar with, having played with Giroux and Voracek in seasons' past.

"He's good from coming off either way as he enters the zone," Hakstol said. "He's got the ability to take it to the net. 

"Obviously at a critical time of the hockey game. But, that's Raffl when he's at his best. He's a power forward that can do those type of things offensively."

In his fourth season with the Flyers, the 28-year-old doesn't possess jaw-dropping skill. He's better suited for a third-line role, but drives play at 5-on-5 and is strong on the puck to move up into the top six. His style complements Giroux and Voracek's game well.

"[Raffl] complains a lot on the bench," Giroux quipped. "Nah, he was fired up there in the third. He is so strong on the puck. That's a big goal for us. He's been playing some great hockey right now for us. I think me and Jake are lucky to play with him right now."

"He does every little thing right," Voracek said. "He wins the battles. He wins so many puck battles in the corners and on the boards and gives me and G a lot of space to work with. He knows what to do to have success with us and he's been doing that."

Against the Oilers, Raffl was one of two European free agents the Flyers found to contribute to their win, with Pierre-Edouard Bellemare slowing down Connor McDavid.

It's been an avenue the Flyers have found some success in recent years. Raffl was a Paul Holmgren signing, while general manager Ron Hextall plucked Bellemare from the SHL.

"Since we signed him, I think he surprised everyone," Voracek said of Raffl. "He's got a lot of talent. He's a strong guy on the puck. He's skating well. He's got a great shot.

"I think he's one of the good players."

The Flyers described Raffl as a sneaky talent, someone who may not demand the respect from defensemen but has the ability to surprise and make them pay for playing lax against him.

But it's really simpler than that, according to Raffl.

"Just puck possession," he said. "Just focus on being the first on forecheck, digging out pucks. It's not a fun job to do, but somebody has to do it.

"They're two great players with the puck, I try to dig it out and get it to them and get in an open area and they'll find me eventually."

And they found him Thursday night when it mattered most.