Holmgren likes Flyers' roster, but changes are likely

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Holmgren likes Flyers' roster, but changes are likely

Paul Holmgren is fond of saying how much he “likes” his roster.

He’ll say it three or four times a season.
 
And then go out and make a couple of changes.
 
You can always “like” something else better out there. Given the Flyers' multitude of problems this season, it would be foolish to assume the roster will remain the same, regardless of how much he “likes” it.
 
It can’t.
 
To do so would only doom the franchise to another non-playoff season.
 
“We need a few changes on the back end,” one source said recently, referring to the Flyers' blue line.
 
The Flyers’ defense will change. Even Holmgren alluded to that.
 
“We’re always looking to get better on the back end,” he said of the blue line. He also mentioned getting “bigger,” which was interpreted to mean bigger up front, perhaps at center where the Flyers are a trifle small right now.
 
“I still like our team,” Holmgren said. “When we are healthy, we’re a good team. We had a lot of unhealthy players this year. I think we will be better next year. We will look around and makes ourselves better. Let’s see what we can come up with.”
 
Holmgren gave full support behind coach Peter Laviolette’s “attack” system even though the club’s five-on-five play was horrific until the final 15 games of the season.
 
“We didn’t perform to the level we needed to perform,” he said. “Not any individual or system. We just didn’t get the job done.”
 
Scoring off the rush was a problem the entire season at even strength (see story). The Flyers had just 83 goals playing five-on-five.
 
At times, the Flyers looked slow at even strength. By season’s end, however, they were just as quick, if not quicker, than the opposition despite a depleted lineup. No one really can figure out why that happened.
 
“There were times this year I would agree,” Holmgren said when told the club seemed slow at even strength.
 
“Other times, especially in the last little stretch, we looked faster than other times in the year. Some of that is understanding how we play defensively. There is a little bit of a catch-up.
 
“We had a tough time in our zone a lot this year. When you have tough time in your own zone, you don’t get the puck up into the forward’s hands. Maybe you don’t get opportunity to attack on the rush with speed.”

With the problems the club had on the back end and injuries up front, the defensive schemes attempted to slow things down to prevent goals off transition, and that affected five-on-five rushes.

The Flyers lost a ton of everything when they didn’t re-sign Jaromir Jagr. Not the least of which was someone trusted –- a future Hall of Famer –- who had a profound impact on their younger players. One reason for the sophomore slumps of Brayden Schenn and in particular, Sean Couturier, was not having Jagr around. Look what Jagr did for Jakub Voracek (see story).
 
“Probably not as good as they had hoped or we would [have hoped],” Holmgren said of both players’ slumps.
 
“We didn’t have Jagr, so why even talk about it. We didn’t have a chance to get him. Lots of guys didn’t have the years we wanted them to have or they wanted to have. That’s just the way it goes sometimes.”
 
Holmgren said he was very happy with the Flyers’ compete level at the end of the season and the almost instant transformation of Steve Mason as a competitive goalie again, one who should lend stability to what was a non-rotation this year with Ilya Bryzgalov being worked into the ground.
 
He also said that prospect Nick Cousins will need more seasoning to work on his defensive game and won’t be NHL-ready for a while.
 
Scott Laughton? He’s expected to challenge for a spot next fall.
 
“He dominated at his level, at times, and that is encouraging,” Holmgren said.

Flyers skate update: Matt Read's 400th game; Andrew MacDonald scratched

Flyers skate update: Matt Read's 400th game; Andrew MacDonald scratched

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Matt Read did not have to worry about being an NHL draft bust.

He did not impress scouts enough to be drafted at all while playing collegiate hockey at Bemidji State in Minnesota. Instead, the Flyers' winger had to make the NHL the hard way — as a free agent.

“Out of college, I signed with the Flyers and was just doing everything I could to get an opportunity to make the team,” Read, 30, recalled after the team’s morning skate before the Flyers take on the Vancouver Canucks.

His hard work and determination were rewarded here as he drew into the Flyers lineup for his 400th NHL career game.

“If you told me as a 12-year-old self I was playing 400 games in the NHL, I’d be pretty happy, obviously,” Read said. “I don’t have enough words to describe (what the accomplishment means.) Every day in the NHL is a blessing, I guess. You show up every day, work hard and have fun. As a kid, I wanted to be a professional hockey player, and I get to live it out everyday, which is amazing.”

Read originally signed as a free agent with the Flyers in 2011. Unlike many other NHLers, he has played his entire career with the same organization.

“The opportunity to play for the same team for six years is almost unheard of in the National Hockey League these days, so (I) take advantage of it and enjoy it,” Read said.

What has enabled him to stick?

“I don’t know,” he said. “I’m just showing up at the rink every day to work hard, have fun, be a team guy and do as much as I can to make this team better.”

Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said he has a “solid level of trust” in Read.

“There’s a lot of different pathways towards the NHL,” Hakstol said. “I think what you see in that guys that are able to hit a milestone like 400 is, there’s a level of dedication and consistency in terms of work habits to get there. Obviously, Matt has demonstrated those. It’s a hell of a milestone. (But) probably first and foremost on his mind, I would think, tonight is playing a good hockey game and helping our team.”

MacDonald gets night off
Flyers defenseman Andrew MacDonald received the night off as Hakstol made him a healthy scratch. The move was somewhat surprising, because MacDonald has played every game since he was scratched Nov. 19 against Tampa Bay.

Hakstol said MacDonald needed a rest. As a result, Brandon Manning was shifted to the right side from the left and paired with Ivan Provorov.

According to the coach, Manning has not had trouble switching sides this season.

“He’s done a pretty good job,” Hakstol said. “If you look at it, particularly this year, he’s been pretty efficient in making that transition. Is it easy? No.”

Neuvy gets the nod again
Hakstol did not think goaltender Michal Neuvirth needed a rest. He got the nod for his fourth straight start and sixth in the last seven games overall.

“He’s been the guy that’s been in a rhythm for us and he’s done a pretty good job and he’ll go back tonight,” Hakstol said.

Neuvirth was not complaining about the heavy workload.

“It’s good to be playing,” Neuvirth said. “The more I play, the more comfortable I feel. It’s been good.”

He also prepared to be comfortable with the risk of added fatigue.

“It is what it is — you’ve gotta be ready anytime, any day,” Neuvirth said. “It’s a good opportunity for me and it’s gonna be a good challenge.”

Former Flyers coach enshrined
Late former Flyers coach Pat Quinn has been honored with a life-sized statue outside the home of the Canucks. The monument, funded by a group of Quinn’s friends and business partners, was unveiled over the weekend.

Quinn began his coaching career with the Flyers in 1977-78 before holding coaching and managing positions with the AHL Phantoms and four other NHL clubs, including the Canucks. He guided the Flyers to a 35-game unbeaten streak — a record for North American sports — in 1979-80, when they reached the Stanley Cup finals.

Loose pucks
• The Flyers’ .667 winning percentage in Vancouver ranks as their best in any current NHL city. 

• Despite outshooting their opponents in 15 of 20 games dating to Jan. 1, the Flyers are 5-8-2 in the 15 contests.

Scratches: Defensemen Andrew MacDonald and Nick Schultz

Lineup
F: Schenn-Giroux-Simmonds

Weise-Couturier-Voracek

Raffl-Cousins-Read

VandeVelde-Bellemare-Lyubimov

D: Provorov-Manning

Gostisbehere-Streit

Del  Zotto-Gudas

G: Neuvirth

Flyers Weekly Observations: Dismal start to critical Western Canada trip

Flyers Weekly Observations: Dismal start to critical Western Canada trip

Another week of Flyers hockey this season is behind us.
 
And it was another week that ended with not many positives to talk about involving the Flyers.
 
There were only two games this week and neither went well. On Wednesday, the Flyers dropped a 3-1 decision to the Flames in Calgary to kick off a crucial Western Canada road trip. Things didn’t get any better the next night in Edmonton, as the Flyers were blown away, 6-3, by the Oilers.
 
Let’s take a look back at what went wrong for the Flyers out in Alberta.
 
• It’s not just that the Flyers dropped the first two games of the road trip this past week. The Western Canada trip is always a tough one, especially for teams from the Eastern Conference that have to make the long trip out there. It’s the manner in which the Flyers lost both games that has to be the most disheartening factor. They were lethargic and you just didn’t see the kind of urgency you should see from a team, that as poor as it has played in recent weeks, is still in the thick of a playoff chase in the jam-packed Eastern Conference. In Calgary, the Flyers actually did come out of the gates hot with a goal by Nick Cousins 1:30 into the game, but it fell apart from there. They had 34 shots in that game, but not many testers on Flames goalie Brian Elliott. The next night in Edmonton, the Flyers were just overwhelmed and steamrolled from the second the puck dropped. It was all Oilers and the Flyers were just standing by. At the end of the day, the Flyers are still alive in this playoff race and you’d like to see the urgency that comes along with that.

• If there was one thing that summed up the Flyers’ lack of apparent urgency this past week, it had to be that ugly five-minute power play that included a two-minute two-man advantage Wednesday night in Calgary. Ugly would actually be quite the compliment. It was downright brutal. First off, the Flyers were handed a gift because Alex Chiasson’s spear on Cousins was not a major penalty. Chiasson shouldn’t be spearing anyone, but that was a love tap compared to some others around the league this season. But the Flyers fumbled that gift away with a power play that was basically a practice drill for the Calgary penalty killers. The Flyers slogged around in the neutral zone or unsuccessfully dumped the puck in or turned it over. It goes back again to urgency. The best power plays feel the urgency to score every time out on the ice. It just wasn’t there Wednesday night with the low-percentage cross-ice passes and inability to track down the puck. The Flames had 11 clears compared to two shots for the Flyers. It was as disappointing as a power play can be. Over the last six games, the Flyers’ power play is just 2 for 19. That is not helping with the scoring woes.
 
• Hopefully this Connor McDavid-Brandon Manning nonsense is now over after Manning answered the bell and fought the much larger Patrick Maroon on Thursday in Edmonton. The whole thing was dumbfounding to begin with. McDavid lost an edge while Manning was defending against him last season when he broke his collarbone. It should have ended right then and there because for someone to even insinuate intent on Manning’s part or anything other than that it was an unfortunate play would be asinine. It continued to be dumbfounding when McDavid stirred the pot during and after December’s meeting between the teams. For it to even reach the point it did Thursday was just stupefying. And Milan Lucic’s low blow on Manning behind the Flyers’ net Thursday was cheap, to say the least. But good for Manning to stand up to Maroon.

• If there was one positive to take from this past week, it had to be the play of Cousins in Calgary on Wednesday. He was all over the ice. He was making plays happen with five shots on net, bringing energy and being a pest. He’s at the top of his game and most effective when he brings that energy and pest behavior. The goal he scored was well-deserved and he should have had another one if not for the great save Elliott made at the end of that long, wretched Flyers power play. If Cousins can play that effective way more consistently, he can be a valuable piece going forward for the Flyers. Most of the good teams in the league have that one player other teams just hate to play against.

• I also like what Cousins had to say in the locker room after the loss Wednesday. “We’ve got to make it harder on them,” he said. “We’ve got to get more traffic. It’s the same excuse here it feels like after every game. We’ve got to score more goals — simple as that.” He didn’t massage his way around anything, He came out and stated bluntly what’s going on right now. The Flyers can talk about playing good hockey and not getting the results. But the results come when you earn them. Can we say that about the Flyers earning results the past few weeks? Against the Sharks last Saturday, sure. But any other games?

• Shame that Jordan Weal was injured in Thursday’s loss to the Oilers. He was doing everything he could to try and provide a spark. He was bringing some of that much-needed energy and, more importantly, trying to make things happen by firing the puck toward the net. He had a team-high six shots on goal Wednesday in Calgary. His combination of speed and skill makes him an intriguing player going forward. The Flyers have to hope he recovers sooner rather than later so they can get an extended look at him with the big club.

• Is the offside challenge working as effectively as it should? It sure looked like the Oilers were offside before the opening goal of Thursday’s contest. But the league still ruled it a good goal. And you may recall the eight-minute delay in the Chicago-Minnesota game a few weeks ago as officials reviewed an offside play before a goal. In essence, offside is a pretty cut-and-dry rule. The play is offside or it isn’t. I’m not crazy to say there shouldn’t be this much grey area on a pretty cut-and-dry rule, right?

Coming up this week: Sunday night at Vancouver (10 p.m./CSN), Wednesday vs. Washington (8 p.m./NBCSN), Saturday’s Stadium Series game at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh (8 p.m./NBC10).