Laughton still battling for crowded center spot

laughtonusa.jpg

Laughton still battling for crowded center spot

LAKE PLACID, N.Y. -- When the most recent waive of cuts arrived, Scott Laughton was nervous.

All along, the 19-year-old center has been on the short list of young players expected to have a real shot at making the Flyers’ roster out of camp. But he wasn’t pleased at all with how he played in his first two preseason games last week.

When he learned cuts would be coming, Laughton was concerned his name would be among the more than two dozen players to leave the team before this weekend’s trip to Lake Placid.

“I think it’s always in the back of your mind,” he said. “I think you’re always thinking about it. Definitely in London I didn’t play the way I wanted to, and kind of got better in Toronto, but still not to where it needs to be.

“But I’m excited for the opportunity here and just want to get in some games and show what I can do.”

Coach Peter Laviolette didn’t have quite the same read on Laughton’s play against the Maple Leafs, saying the young center played “well” but agreeing that he does need to progress a bit more before he’s truly NHL ready.

“I think that there’s still another gear that he can find in his game,” Laviolette said. “When he came in last year, he was flying. He had played in lots of games when our team was just getting off the mark from a lockout. So it’s a bit of a different scenario for him -- he comes in on equal ground with everybody else.”

At Friday’s practice, Laughton skated on a line with Zac Rinaldo and Jay Rosehill. He is still far from a lock to make the team -- and, in fact, would likely have to unseat Adam Hall in order to claim a spot at center. He won’t earn ice time over, say, Claude Giroux or Vinny Lecavalier or Sean Couturier.

He has three more chances during preseason to show his stuff, though, and his goal is to prove to the Flyers that he can pick up where he left off with the team last year, when he played five games at the beginning of the season and fit in seamlessly. This year, he can play nine games before the Flyers must decide whether to keep him around or send him back to the OHL.

Through it all, he said, he won’t be thinking about how or where he fits into the roster, or what’s being said about him. Instead, he’s choosing to remain concentrated only on what he can control.

“I focus on me,” Laughton said, “doing what I can every day. I think if I can play the way I can, I think I’ll be here for the year.”

It’s no secret that the Flyers have somewhat of a logjam at center. The only obvious vacancy on the team is at left wing, for which Laughton’s name was circulated earlier this summer. It’s not outrageous, the thinking went, for a center to move over to the wing. Laughton said he was “open to the challenge.”

Instead, however, the battle for the opening at wing appears to be down to two new faces: Michael Raffl and Chris VandeVelde. The Flyers are giving Laughton every opportunity to succeed at the position he's played his entire life.

“Right now we’re leaving him at center,” Laviolette said. “We want to see how he does at that position instead of putting him somewhere where he’s not comfortable and then sticking him in one of these exhibition games coming up. [General manager] Paul [Holmgren] and I have not talked about that. It may have kicked around a table real quick, but there hasn’t been discussion as to make that move at this point.

“He’s a centerman, that’s where we picked him and drafted him. He’s at a camp right now with an opportunity to make the Flyers. We want to put him in the best position we can to show what he can do.”

Laviolette said he’s looking forward to seeing how Laughton plays in next week's exhibition games against the New Jersey Devils and Washington Capitals, when the lineups will be mostly full of NHL players and not a heavier mix of veterans and minor-leaguers.

Until then, he agrees with Laughton's plans for the week ahead: staying focused.

“I think the best thing for him is to do what he’s doing," Laviolette said. "Keep his eye on the target and keep his nose down and work hard, and try to pick up what we’re saying, which he does.”

Flyers-Canucks 5 things: Claude Giroux’s regression a cause for concern?

Flyers-Canucks 5 things: Claude Giroux’s regression a cause for concern?

Flyers (27-24-7) at Canucks (26-27-6)
10 p.m. on CSN/CSNPhilly.com and NBC Sports App; Pregame Live at 9:30

The Flyers’ three-game trip through Western Canada ends tonight in Vancouver against the Canucks, as the orange and black will look to salvage one win on this disastrous road trip.

Vancouver enters the game on the backend of a back-to-back. The Canucks beat Calgary, 2-1, in overtime Saturday at Rogers Arena. The Flyers beat Vancouver, 5-4, in a shootout on Jan. 12.

Let’s take a closer look at game No. 59 for the orange and black.

1. Captain concern
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Since their 10-game winning streak, from Nov. 27 to Dec. 14, the Flyers’ season outlook has undergone a drastic shift toward a higher draft pick.

The Flyers are 8-14-4 in 26 games since the winning streak, and 2-5-1 in their last eight games. They’re 2-10-2 in their last 14 road games, and have lost their last eight games in Western Canada. They remain just two points out of the Eastern Conference’s second wild-card spot, but earning a playoff appearance appears to be just a wishful thought.

Not much is going well right now for the Flyers. Neither Michal Neuvirth or Steve Mason has taken grasp of the No. 1 job. Neuvirth has started six of the Flyers’ last seven games and seven of their last nine, but Mason is expected to get the starting nod tonight.

They can’t score. They’re averaging 1.46 goals in their last 13 games, scoring 19 goals over that span and they’ve been shut out three times. Claude Giroux’s regression continues, as he has just two goals in his past 23 games. Giroux is on pace for 59 points, which would be the fewest he’s had in an 82-game season since 2009-10. (He finished the 2012-13 lockout-shortened season with 48 points in 48 games.)

“For whatever the reason, in the last month, he’s just gone in the wrong direction,” Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said of Giroux on Saturday. “That’s not just [the] individual. That’s a team item, and we’ve gotta push that in the right direction.”

As the captain has gone, the Flyers have, too.

2. Weal bad luck
Just as when it appears Jordan Weal had finally turned a corner in the NHL — albeit it in a very small sample size — an injury strikes. Weal will miss tonight’s game with an upper-body injury. The Flyers said Saturday the forward will be reevaluated Monday.

Dale Weise draws back into the lineup against Vancouver, and will take Weal’s place on the Flyers’ second line alongside center Sean Couturier and right winger Jake Voracek. Weise checks back in after sitting the last two games and seven of the last 12 as a healthy scratch.

Weal impressed in two games and a period before suffering his injury Thursday in Edmonton. He’s averaged 11:50 of ice time, playing a career-high 15:31 Wednesday in Calgary, a game he had six shots on goal. Through three games, Weal has an 83.0 corsi for percentage, which is remarkably high but an extremely small sample. He was more confident along the boards and with the puck, hungrier than at any point last season with the Flyers.

It was only a matter of time before the 24-year-old was going to pick up his first career NHL point. Now, he’s sidelined at least one game. If it’s not a long-term injury, Weal’s play in the two-plus games should be enough to warrant inserting him back in when he’s healthy.

“He added something every game,” Hakstol said of Weal on Saturday. “Obviously, it was two games and a period, but he’s dynamic. He hadn’t been here [this season], but he had the puck quite a bit. He looked like a player that was confidently on the top of his game, and I didn’t think any of that was lost in the transition from Lehigh to our team.”

3. Mediocre matchup
The Canucks are not exactly a team oozing with confidence, either. With Saturday's OT win over the Flames, the Canucks are now 4-8-0 in their last 12 games. They are four points behind Calgary now for the West's second wild-card spot, and gave up a valuable point to the Flames on Saturday by blowing a 1-0 lead with six seconds left in regulation.

Vancouver sits in the bottom 10 in goals for (2.3, 28th), goals against (2.8, 20th), power play (14.9, 27th) and penalty kill (79.1, 24th). It's a team that doesn't score a ton of goals, but also doesn't give up many, either. It's the epitome of a below-average team from a talent perspective — sound familiar? — that can grind its way to competitiveness.

With how the Flyers have been playing over their last two months and how this current Canucks team competes, it's safe to say tonight's game will be one filled with little scoring, a much different tune than the first matchup.

4. Keep an eye on …
Flyers: There is not a single Flyer worth watching right now. I suggest making one of those origami fortune teller games with a list of Flyers, play it and whoever you get, watch him.

Canucks: Vancouver’s leading scorer is no longer one of the Sedin twins. Instead, it’s 21-year-old Bo Horvat, who has 18 goals and 39 points in 58 games. Horvat, the ninth overall pick in 2013, made his first NHL All-Star Game this season. In the previous meeting with the Flyers, he picked up an assist.

5. This and that
• Mason started the Flyers’ last game against the Canucks on Jan. 12, but was pulled after allowing four goals on 24 shots through two periods. Mason is expected to start tonight.

• With Ryan Miller starting in Saturday, Jacob Markstrom (10-11-3, 2.63, .910) could start tonight for Vancouver. If he does start, he would be the sixth backup goalie the Flyers have faced in their last 14 games — remember, the Flyers have 19 goals in their last 13 games.

• The Flyers’ power play is five for its last 45 dating back 13 games.

• Friendly reminder: Shayne Gostisbehere’s goal drought is now at 31 games.

Best of NHL: Sabres snap Blues' 6-game winning streak

Best of NHL: Sabres snap Blues' 6-game winning streak

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Robin Lehner stopped 16 shots in the third period and 37 overall, and the Buffalo Sabres snapped the St. Louis Blues' six-game winning streak with a 3-2 victory on Saturday.

Evander Kane and minor-league callup Nicholas Baptiste each had a goal and an assist in Buffalo's third straight win, matching a season best accomplished three times. Ryan O'Reilly also scored for the Sabres (26-23-10), who have three more wins than losses for the first time since closing the 2011-12 season 39-32-11.

Vladimir Tarasenko also scored for St. Louis, which lost for the first time since a 4-1 defeat to Pittsburgh on Feb. 4 (see full recap).

Jets spoil Julien's return to Montreal
MONTREAL -- Patrik Laine and Mathieu Perreault each had a goal and an assist, and the Winnipeg Jets spoiled Claude Julien's return to Montreal with a 3-1 victory over the Canadiens on Saturday.

Joel Armia also scored for Winnipeg (27-29-5), and Connor Hellebuyck stopped 19 shots. The Jets had dropped five of six.

The Canadiens fired coach Michel Therrien on Tuesday and hired Julien in hopes of getting their season back on track. Julien also coached Montreal from 2003-2006.

But Julien's first game back was more of the same for the first-place Canadiens (31-20-8), who have lost three in a row and seven of eight (see full recap).

Senators top Leafs to gain on Canadiens
TORONTO -- Mark Stone had a goal and four assists, Derick Brassard scored twice in the third period and the Ottawa Senators recovered after blowing a two-goal lead to beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 6-3 on Saturday night.

The Senators pulled within two points of Montreal for first place in the Atlantic Division. Ottawa led 2-0 after one period but trailed 3-2 in the third before getting a tying goal from Mike Hoffman and a power-play goal from Brassard. Stone and Brassard added empty-netters, and Chris Wideman and Ryan Dzingel also scored for the Senators.

Ottawa has won four of five overall and three of four against the Leafs this season. Craig Anderson stopped 34 shots.

Morgan Rielly, Nazem Kadri and William Nylander scored and Auston Matthews had two assists for the Maple Leafs. Frederik Andersen allowed four goals on 40 shots (see full recap).