Flyers must be patient against Hitchcock's Blues


Flyers must be patient against Hitchcock's Blues

Craig Berube played for Ken Hitchcock in Kamloops as a junior player.

As an NHL player he knew Hitchcock and knew him even better when Hitch was here coaching the Flyers while Berube was handling the Phantoms.

On Saturday, the Flyers will face the No. 1 club in the NHL in the St. Louis Blues at the Wells Fargo Center.

It’s the first time the Flyers will meet Hitchcock as the Blues coach.

Berube says nothing has changed about Hitchcock, the kind of club he builds, or the system he employs. It’s all about defensive structure.

“They’ve been a very good team a couple of years, good size, a physical team, pretty solid all-around,” Berube said.

Ten Blues players have better than 30 points, yet none rank among the top 30 in league scoring leaders. Meanwhile, trade deadline pickup Ryan Miller has been outstanding in net with a 7-1-1 record, 1.92 goals-against average and .923 save percentage since joining St. Louis.

While the Flyers, who have won four straight, have 30 goals from their defense, the Blues have 36, led by Alex Pietrangelo.

“We can’t have anyone not showing up and not competing hard tomorrow,” Berube said. “We need a 60-minute effort. His teams are always good defensively, they work hard, [they are] sound with their system, they play physical.”

Unlike the Penguins or Blackhawks, the Blues don’t play an up-tempo, skating game. No shinny hockey. The Blues will check and check much like New Jersey and try to frustrate the Flyers into making turnovers and taking bad penalties.

“Chicago and Pittsburgh are maybe more of an attack team,” Berube said. “They [Blues] have some real good defensemen who can move the puck and get up in the rush.

“They’re dangerous. They’re going to be physical on the forecheck. What they do differently is they really check. There’s not a lot of room out there. You got to stay patient and wait for your chances, but you got to earn them.”

Flyers goalie Steve Mason won his Calder Trophy under Hitchcock when he coached in Columbus.

“He’s a great coach, knows the game inside-out, one of the most knowledgeable [men] I ever played for,” Mason recalled. “We had a tough go in my second year in Columbus and unfortunately he’s the one who took the fall for it.

“They can throw any line at you and you have to worry who is on the ice. They don’t have that one player who will put up points every single night. They have a committee of players that compete every single game.”

Alex Steen leads the Blues with 30 goals while T.J. Oshie has 54 points. Many consider centerman David Backes (23 goals, 49 points), however, the Blues’ best all-around player.

“It’s going to be very gritty, tough defense, very physical,” said Jakub Voracek, who also played for Hitchcock in Columbus. “He was my first coach in the NHL and I had a good experience with him.”

Voracek said that Hitchcock’s influence was all over Team Canada at the Sochi Winter Olympics in how Canada won the gold medal -- defense. Hitchcock was an assistant coach.

“They won because they play defense,” Voracek said. “That’s how you win those championships. Have a very solid defense and play physical ... We got to be patient.”

Best of NHL: Oilers blank Jets to win outdoor Heritage Classic

Best of NHL: Oilers blank Jets to win outdoor Heritage Classic

WINNIPEG, Manitoba -- Cam Talbot made 31 saves and Mark Letestu scored the first of three second-period goals, lifting the Edmonton Oilers over the Winnipeg Jets on Sunday in an outdoor game delayed almost two hours by sunlight melting the ice.

The Heritage Classic victory extended Edmonton's winning streak to three in front of 33,240 at Investors Group Field. Fans wore both Jets and Oilers jerseys to the league's 19th outdoor game.

Zack Kassian had a goal and an assist and Darnell Nurse also scored for Edmonton.

Connor Hellebuyck, who had a tuque attached to his helmet, stopped 29 shots for Winnipeg.

The NHL said the start of the Heritage Classic game was delayed "due to intermittent sunlight on the playing surface" and "in the interest of player safety." (see full recap)

Girardi leads Rangers past Coyotes
NEW YORK -- Dan Girardi scored 1:55 into the third period and New York beat Arizona.

Josh Jooris and J.T. Miller also scored for New York, which has won consecutive games to improve to 4-2-0. Henrik Lundqvist made 27 stops.

Radim Vrbata had both of Arizona's goals, and Louis Domingue made 23 saves. The Coyotes have lost their first four games on a six-game trip since beating Philadelphia in overtime at home to start the season.

Girardi put the Rangers ahead with a slap shot from the right point. The veteran was paired with rookie Brady Skjei in his first game after missing New York's previous three with a strained groin, and Skjei assisted on the goal (see full recap).

Tavares' big night helps Isles defeat Wild
NEW YORK -- John Tavares had two goals and an assist, Johnny Boychuk scored for the second straight game and New York beat Minnesota.

Calvin de Haan, Alan Quine and Thomas Hickey also scored to help New York get its highest scoring total of the year and win for the third time in four home games after opening with two road losses. Thomas Greiss stopped 26 shots for his first win in two starts this season.

Islanders rookie Anthony Beauvillier had two assists, giving the 19-year-old at least a point in three straight games.

Zach Parise scored twice for Minnesota to top 300 goals for his career, and Nino Niederreiter also scored. Second-string goalie Darcy Kuemper made 27 saves (see full recap).

Ducks hand Canucks 1st regulation loss
ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) -- Nick Ritchie scored the tiebreaking goal on a rebound with 8:36 to play, captain Ryan Getzlaf had three assists and Anaheim finally opened its home schedule with a victory over Vancouver.

Andrew Cogliano, Cam Fowler and Corey Perry also scored for the Ducks, who have won two straight after a four-game winless start. John Gibson made 17 saves in the Western Conference's final home opener, thanks to a schedule that forced Anaheim to play in five teams' home debuts this month.

Henrik Sedin scored the tying goal early in the third period for the Canucks, who lost in regulation for the first time this season. Bo Horvat scored a short-handed goal, and Loui Eriksson had two assists (see full recap).

Michael Del Zotto, Scott Laughton return to practice

Michael Del Zotto, Scott Laughton return to practice

VOORHEES, N.J. — The Flyers welcomed two more players out on to the rink for their practice following Saturday’s 6-3 win over Carolina. 

Michael Del Zotto (lower body) and Scott Laughton (lower body) returned to the ice for the first time since suffering injuries within days of each other. Before Sunday’s light practice, Del Zotto and Laughton had skated two consecutive days prior to work on their conditioning. 

“It’s nice to see them back with the group,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. 

Laughton, who injured himself during a training camp practice after losing an edge, was a bit more forward than Del Zotto on when he hopes to return. 

“I would say within the next five to seven days,” Laughton said.

The 22-year-old pointed to Saturday’s game with Pittsburgh as his target to return. 

As for Del Zotto, the defenseman didn’t want to jinx anything, saying it’s a “day-by-day” situation. He would like to think he’s working on the same timetable as Laughton. If that’s the case, he would be back either a few days before or right on cue with the projected four to five weeks he was scheduled to miss after suffering an injury to his left knee in the preseason against the New York Rangers on Oct. 6. 

“It’s kind of trial and error,” Del Zotto said. 

Above all else, though, the two were just happy to be back with their teammates. Del Zotto said that being around everyone really rejuvenated his spirits. 

“Just being back around the guys and having that team chemistry and camaraderie and being able to joke with the guys,” Del Zotto said, “it’s probably been the best thing for me.”

This past month has especially been hard on the two because of the timing and how last season ended for them. 

While there’s never an ideal time to suffer an injury, the pair saw training camp and the approaching start of the regular season in a different light than most of their teammates.

It was supposed to be their new start. Last season, Del Zotto missed the final few months, including the postseason, after ligament damage to his left wrist. He was having a strong preseason, arguably the top defenseman in camp at the time before suffering his setback.

“Being out so long last year and having to sit and watch playoffs than having six months of grueling rehab to get back into it … that made it sting that much more,” Del Zotto said. “That’s part of the game. It’s a contact sport. I signed up for this.”

The same can be said for Laughton, who experienced a scary injury in Game 4 against Washington after being dumped head first into the boards. 

“I was really excited to have camp and start the year here,” Laughton said. 

The two will be traveling to Montreal with the rest of the Flyers for Monday’s contest. They will each do the morning skate with another bag skate afterward.