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.”

Flyers focused on actual game instead of Stadium Series event

Flyers focused on actual game instead of Stadium Series event

VOORHEES, N.J. -- The toughest challenge for the Flyers this weekend might be themselves.

They’re playing the Pittsburgh Penguins outdoors on Saturday as part of the NHL’s Stadium Series event. That should be a big deal.

Yet, given their circumstances right now, how can they possibly enjoy the moment?

Maybe had this game been played in early January, before the team hit a crisis point in the standings, and was winning, it would be easier to relax.

The fact is, the Flyers have lost seven of their last 10 games, are drifting as the 11th team in the Eastern Conference, and the second wild card they held for so long seems far from their reach.

Tough to have fun and soak up the atmosphere when there’s so much pressure to start making up ground in the playoff hunt.

“Yeah, we’re there to have two points,” Flyers captain Claude Giroux said Thursday. “If this was earlier in the season, we could take it in a bit more, but it’s all business for us right now. It’s just playing.”

That attitude extends right up to coach Dave Hakstol, who didn’t break a smile when talking about what’s really important here.

His team is desperate for points. There are 22 games left in the regular season and 19 are against Eastern Conference opponents.

The Flyers need to win a bunch of games and get hot like they did last season in March if they are going to recapture a wild-card berth.

“Honestly, it’s business first,” Hakstol said. “There is something to the event and certainly something important with family and the type of event it is. But, let’s be honest. Right now, it’s business first. That’s what our focus will be.

“Points. Simple as that. It’s two points. We need the two points and it’s a road game and it happens to be in an event-type situation.

“So we’ve got to make sure we handle all of that in terms of our preparation. But the bottom line is it comes down to the two points that are at stake on Saturday night.”

Michal Neuvirth will make his sixth consecutive start in goal for the Flyers. He was a backup to Semyon Varlamov at Heinz Field during the 2011 Winter Classic as a member of the Washington Capitals against Pittsburgh.

“We’ve got to focus on the game,” Neuvirth said. “There is going to be a lot of distractions. Lot of families and friends in town. But we’re gonna go there and it’s all about business and trying to get the two points.”

Hakstol is only slightly concerned about the hype taking away from the players’ focus. If the Flyers were coming into this game on a win streak, he and his players wouldn’t be quite as uptight as they are right now.

You can cut the tension in the Flyers' dressing room these days with a skate blade.

“You need a little mental attention to detail there,” Hakstol said. “That’s what it is. We’re in that mold. I don’t think that’s a big hump to overcome. I think we’ll be OK.”

Heinz Field holds 68,000 people. The NHL expects 60,000 in attendance. Regardless, it will be the largest crowd ever to witness a Flyers game.

“It’s more exciting and a must-win for us,” said Michael Raffl, who played outdoors once in Europe. “A huge game no matter where we would have played it. We could play it at Skate Zone and we’d be excited.”

Giroux said it will be “weird” being on the ice because his past experiences in outdoor games saw him drown out the fans as much as possible. Yet he admitted the sheer number of fans this time might make that difficult to do.

“It’s pretty exciting to play in the Steelers' stadium,” he said. “Playing against Pittsburgh, it should be a great game.”

Best of NHL: Patrick Kane hat trick lifts Blackhawks over Coyotes

Best of NHL: Patrick Kane hat trick lifts Blackhawks over Coyotes

CHICAGO -- Patrick Kane scored three goals for his third career hat trick to lead the surging Chicago Blackhawks past the Arizona Coyotes 6-3 on Thursday night for their third straight win and eighth in nine games.

Kane has 23 goals to lead Chicago, which closed within three points behind first-place Minnesota in the Central Division and Western Conference.

Rookies Nick Schmaltz and Ryan Hartman each had a goal and assist. Blackhawks defenseman Michal Rozsival scored his first goal of the season in his first game since Jan. 15.

Chicago captain Jonathan Toews added two assists to extend his points scoring streak to five games and increase his output to 22 points in his past 13.

Jakob Chychrun, Ryan White and Radim Vrbata scored for the Coyotes. Chychrun and Vrbata each scored for the second straight game (see full recap).

Rangers outlast Maple Leafs in shootout
TORONTO -- Mika Zibanejad scored the shootout winner and the New York Rangers continued a strong February with a 2-1 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night.

Henrik Lundqvist made 32 saves and J.T. Miller scored the game-tying goal in the third period for the Rangers, who improved to 8-1-1 this month.

New York moved into third place in the Metropolitan Division with 80 points.

Connor Brown scored for Toronto, which fell to 1-7 in shootouts this season. Frederik Andersen had a stellar performance in defeat with 37 saves.

The Leafs hold the third playoff spot in the Atlantic Division (68 points), two points back of Ottawa (70) and four back of Montreal (see full recap).

Islanders shut out Canadiens
MONTREAL -- Rookie Anthony Beauvillier scored in the first period, Thomas Greiss made 24 saves, and the New York Islanders beat the Montreal Canadiens 3-0 Thursday night.

Anders Lee scored in the second period and John Tavares added an empty-netter in the final minute to seal the Islanders' third straight win. New York has won the first two games on a crucial nine-game road swing and improved to 12-4-2 since interim coach Doug Weight replaced the fired Jack Capuano.

Josh Bailey and Brock Nelson each had two assists, and Greiss got his third shutout of the season.

Carey Price finished with 21 saves as the Canadiens lost coach Claude Julien's 1,000th NHL game. Montreal is 1-2-0 since Julien replaced Michel Therrien last week and has totaled just 14 goals while going 2-7-1 in the last 10 games, including four shutouts (see full recap).