Laughton does little to stand out in Flyers' loss

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Laughton does little to stand out in Flyers' loss

BOX SCORE

NEWARK, N.J. -- He’s been between Scott Hartnell and Matt Read.
 
Between Tye McGinn and Read.
 
Between Jay Rosehill and Adam Hall.
 
Thursday night at Prudential Center against the Devils, Flyer prospect Scott Laughton played between Michael Raffl and Read.
 
Coach Peter Laviolette used a skeleton lineup minus eight players who will be on the final roster, including Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek.
 
The Devils won against the Flyers' “B” group (missing eight regulars), 4-1. That said, scoring has been a huge concern in preseason -- 11 goals in six games -- as we head into the real games next week.
 
It’s down to the nitty-gritty now as to whether Laughton can somehow squeeze onto the roster. And, if so, can he play up and down the lineup, because there really is no permanent spot for him.
 
“It’s definitely in the back of your mind. You are always thinking about it and it’s in the back of your mind, what’s going to be the end result,” Laughton said of trying to make the roster. “I try to stay positive.”
 
Last season, the Oakville (Canada) native lasted five games then was sent back to his junior club in Oshawa. Unless something shakes out or the club is willing to carry 14 forwards, Laughton seems headed back again.
 
Laviolette moved Laughton to a better line in this game with skill players. Raffl himself is looking to make the club at left wing, and to this point, has a spot on the final roster.
 
“I played pretty big minutes my first two preseason games and wasn’t too happy with them,” Laughton said. “I wasn’t moving my feet in London, Ont., especially. The game in Toronto, my second and third period were better. I moved my feet, I was more physical.
 
“I’m in game mode now. I’ve got my legs under me. This will be a big challenge for me and I hope I respond under pressure.”

He didn't.
 
Laughton played 15:42, had no official shots, two missed shots and one hit. He needed to have some kind of impact on the game and he didn’t, even though he played on the second power play and on the penalty kill.

After the game, Laviolette -- without referring to any player specifically -- said he was very disappointed in players, who are supposed to be fighting for job, failing to make a difference.

“Guys you were looking to respond needed to respond better," he said. "That’s what I don’t get. We’re in a training camp, an evaluation period and a process for guys to put their cards on the table and I was disappointed in that tonight.”

“You hit the post early and get confidence early,” Laughton said, referring to the first period. “New Jersey is a hard team to play against. Their defense, they shut you down. It’s a tough game.
 
“I need more. We lose 4-1 and I was second line centerman, at least tonight. You got to show more at this type of level here. It’s tough.
 
“I’m trying to make the team and this is my shot. You can practice as much as you want ... At the end of the day, it comes down to games. It’s not much coming into this building and losing like that.” 

Laviolette wanted to evaluate Laughton throughout camp with different players before the hockey staff makes its final cuts.
 
“It’s important to see him in different roles, different lines,” Laviolette said. “This situation, it would have a different look than other nights.”
 
There’s a school of thought that says sending Laughton back is not going to advance his game “if” he is dominating other junior players in the OHL.
 
The flip side of that is that it does him even less good sitting around as a healthy scratch or playing shallow minutes in a fourth-line role. Then again, Sean Couturier did that two years ago, and he was 18 when he made the Flyers' roster, though he played 14 minutes a game.
 
Laviolette doesn’t agree that Laughton can’t benefit from going back to Oshawa if that’s the final decision.
 
“I’m sure there are guys who have gone back and matured physically,” Laviolette said. “They’ve gained confidence and have had a positive year. So I’m not sure I buy that … I don’t think his season would be busted.
 
“I think there is room for improvement in both scenarios. Again, don’t read into my comments, one way or another.
 
“I think there is a case to be made for sending a kid back … developing physically, mentally and maturing and to excel on the ice and be an elite player in that league.
 
“I think there is [another] case to be made to move it [forward] and practice at this level and play at this level and work your way into a role like Sean Couturier did. There is a case to be made both ways.”
 
Laughton made the decision process “tough” on the Flyers last year and he’s done the same thing in this camp, as well. Alas, there remains too many centers.
 
Laughton said it was “huge” playing those five games and getting his lips wet to the NHL last winter after the lockout ended.
 
One nagging question is this: Does Laughton have to play center? The Flyers' hockey staff says “yes” because he is a natural centerman.
 
If this weren’t the case in which the Flyers could move Laughton around like they do with Max Talbot, then the decision to keep him is much easier.
 
“It’s a tough question,” Laughton admitted. “I played center all my life. That’s my main position. But a bunch of guys have moved positions in their career.
 
“I’m open to anything. Open to do whatever I can to make this hockey team and whatever that position is, I’m willing to do.”

Best of NHL: Surging Capitals rock Blues in St. Louis

Best of NHL: Surging Capitals rock Blues in St. Louis

ST. LOUIS -- Andre Burakovsky, T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov each had a goal and an assist to lead the Washington Capitals to a 7-3 victory over the St. Louis Blues on Thursday night.

Jay beagle, Brett Connolly, Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams also scored, and Alex Ovechkin and Daniel Winnik each had two assists to help Washington earn at least a point in its 12th straight game (10-0-2) for an NHL-best 66 points.

Braden Holtby bounced back from his roughest outing of the season with 22 saves. Holtby was pulled after giving up a season-high five goals on 26 shots in an 8-7 overtime loss at Pittsburgh on Monday. He improved to 22-8-4 and 5-0 lifetime against St. Louis (see full recap).

Grabner scores 2 goals, Rangers top Leafs
TORONTO -- Michael Grabner scored two goals against his former team, helping the New York Rangers snap a three-game losing streak with a 5-2 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night.

Pavel Buchnevich, Brady Skjei and J.T. Miller added goals for New York, and Henrik Lundqvist made 23 saves following a series of rough outings.

Tyler Bozak and Zach Hyman scored for Toronto, which had a three-game winning streak stopped. The Maple Leafs had earned 21 of a possible 26 points in their previous 13 games (10-2-1). Frederik Andersen gave up four goals on 40 shots (see full recap).

Tavares leads Islanders to shutout of Stars
NEW YORK -- Getting a new coach this week didn't change things much for the Islanders -- and oddly enough, that's a good thing for New York.

John Tavares narrowly missed out on his second hat trick in a week, Thomas Greiss got his second straight shutout and the Islanders beat the Dallas Stars 3-0 on Thursday night in their first game since firing longtime coach Jack Capuano.

New York canned Capuano in the middle of his seventh season Tuesday, replacing him on an interim basis with Doug Weight (see full recap).

Niederreiter, Wild dodge letdown, edge Coyotes
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Nino Niederreiter had two power-play goals and an assist, including the go-ahead score for the Minnesota Wild with 7:06 remaining in a 4-3 victory over Arizona on Thursday night after the Coyotes came back from a two-goal deficit.

With Shane Doan in the penalty box for hooking, Niederreiter knocked in a nifty redirect of Mikael Granlund's slap shot for the winner. Devan Dubnyk stopped 20 shots for the Wild, who are 18-2-2 in their last 22 games.

Louis Domingue made 21 saves for the Coyotes, who lost their fourth in a row and fell to 2-12-1 in their last 15 games starting with a 4-1 loss to Minnesota in Arizona on Dec. 17 (see full recap).

End to End: What adjustment would you make on Flyers' defense?

End to End: What adjustment would you make on Flyers' defense?

Throughout the season, we'll ask questions about the Flyers to our resident hockey analysts and see what they have to say.

With the Flyers on their bye week, let’s discuss a few topics.

Going End to End this week are CSNPhilly.com producers/reporters Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone.

Today’s question: What adjustment would you make on the Flyers' defense?

Dougherty
There is not much in Dave Hakstol’s arsenal to significantly improve the team defense with a lineup change. Sure, scratching Andrew MacDonald could be a positive step, but that does not solve the problem here. We can point fingers at the defensive group because the Flyers have allowed the league’s second-most goals at 144. They’re part of the problem.

What is plaguing the Flyers is not just the play of their six defensemen on any given night; it’s their overall team defense. Some forwards are quitting on the backcheck, and not providing enough support in their own zone, missing their own assignments.

The Flyers, I believe, are struggling with the lack of practice time. And while it is true that every team is dealing with the same compact schedule as the Flyers, Hakstol has to maximize the little practice time he gets going forward and preach team defense. Gaps have been a major issue with the current group of blueliners, and that is an area assistant coach Gord Murphy has to fix. Hakstol has singled out the team’s rush defense as an issue, and that’s another area the team has to work on, too.

A lot of the same issues that were appearing in the beginning of the season when the Flyers were struggling are reappearing in their game now. They were able to make adjustments earlier in the season to hone their game defensively. More film study and more coaching are just a couple of the adjustments I’d make with the current options.

Hall
Sometimes it takes a fresh face, some new blood to spark change.

If anything, it sends a bit of a message.

The Flyers have options at AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley and general manager Ron Hextall didn’t rule anything out last Sunday.

But, of course, given the Flyers’ salary cap conundrum, it’s not as simple as just calling up a player.

So, the easiest thing that can be done is change within the current personnel. That means scratching MacDonald from time to time, just how Hakstol has done so with Shayne Gostisbehere, Brandon Manning, Michael Del Zotto, Radko Gudas and many Flyers forwards.

MacDonald hasn’t been as bad as some may think. Oftentimes, his mistakes are magnified more than others. But too frequently do we see him out of position or misreading a play on a goal against. And that’s been true for all Flyers defensemen, yet MacDonald seems to be one of the only spared of the consequences.

Benching MacDonald isn’t a drastic fix and it may not do much at all, but it’s something we haven’t seen since Nov. 19.

Paone
This a really tough question because, to be quite frank, there is no easy solution here to fixing a Flyers defense that has been mired in a state of miserable play and has played a large part in the team's allowing 3.50 goals per game in the 14 contests since the 10-game win streak ended in mid-December. 

It's not like Hakstol or Hextall can push some magic button here and have things fixed in a matter of moments. The Flyers have salary cap and roster issues, so it's going to be tough to bring in a player via trade to help fix things on the back end. Same goes for bringing up a prospect because space on the roster would have to be made first.

This situation leaves the Flyers to fix the problem from within with the defensemen they currently have at the NHL level. They're going to have to play their way out of this. And that's why I'm interested in focusing on the younger defensemen like Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov right now. We know what the veteran defensemen on this team are and they've been through this sort of thing before. This will not be the last team-wide rut the younger defensemen will play through in their careers. It will happen again. They're going to have to learn how to play through this and not let it affect their individual play. That's why I didn't agree with Ghost's benching in Boston last weekend.  Sure, he has not played well this season and the warts to his game have been evident. And there are times when sitting back, taking a breather and watching can be beneficial. But I'm a believer that a young player has to play through his growing pains and grow from them.

This isn't going to be an answer most of you will like to hear, but with the way the Flyers' hands are tied, they're just going to have to play their way out of these defensive struggles with what they have.