Laviolette revamps Flyers' lines in hopes of improvement

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Laviolette revamps Flyers' lines in hopes of improvement

NEWARK, N.J. -- Two games into the season, Scott Hartnell squarely put tonights game against the Devils in perspective after two Flyer losses to open the year.

We cant makes excuses anymore, Hartnell said. Were in a little bit of a hole right now to start the season and special teams have to step up tonight.

A Game 3 must-win? Division opponent? Absolutely. These games early. Two points are two points whether Game 3 or Game 40. I think we have to change our attitude like this is a game to get us in the playoffs.

We're looking for a little bit of a spark. It's not like we werent getting chances, but I think switching things up will get everyone a fresh start.

Coach Peter Laviolette completely revamped his lineup, changing all four lines.

I think when you find success, you tend to leave things alone, and when youre not getting the success you want, you change, Laviolette said.

Even offensively, 5-on-5, it needs to be a little better. Were at the early stages; we didnt have any exhibition games, so were trying to look at lines and combinations and see where were at.

Jakub Voracek will replace Brayden Schenn on the top line with Hartnell and centerman Claude Giroux.

Sean Couturier is between Ruslan Fedotenko and Matt Read. Rookie Scott Laughton centers Max Talbot and Eric Wellwood.

Schenn will center rookie call-up Tye McGinn, who he played with exclusively this season with the Phantoms, and Wayne Simmonds. McGinn is replacing the injured Zac Rinaldo (see story).

The big move is Voracek on the first line.

I think theyre two totally different players, Hartnell said. Brayden's a big body who can skate well, protects the puck well. Nothing against Brayden, but I think Jake's got a little bit more speed, especially down the wing.

I think that'll open up some free space for G to get some time with the puck to make plays.

Voracek predicted recently that whatever lines the Flyers began the season with would likely change.

Obviously, I'm going to play with one of the best players in the league, Voracek said. It's exciting. G holds the puck most of the time. He carries it through the neutral zone, so I just try to get some speed wide. We'll see how it's going to go.

The Devils ran the Flyers out of the second round of the playoffs in five games last spring. Dont think that hasnt been on the Flyers minds.

You always think about prior games in a building when you go into an away building, Hartnell said. They really took it to us.

They didn't give us anything in that series. I don't know if you call this game payback, or however you want to word it, but definitely that's gotta be a burr under our butts to play well.

The rookie
Its not often a call-up finds instant familiarity, but it works with McGinn because he played so many games with Schenn.

Weve played almost half a season together and I know what he likes to do out there and hopefully he knows what I like to do and we can contribute to each other out there, McGinn said. Its a bonus for me.

I was just hoping to get the call one day. I was ecstatic to get a call this early.
You never want to see an injury from anybody but to get the call, I was happy. I just tried to do what I can do.

I try to be a power forward. A big body out there going to the net. Bring a big presence out there. Hopefully, score a couple goals and do what I have to do to help the team win.

This will be his NHL debut. McGinn is the younger brother of former Flyer Jamie McGinn, now with Colorado.

Laviolette acknowledged familiarity helps both Schenn and McGinn in putting them on the same line.

I know he and Brayden played down in the minors together and they are comfortable with each other, he said.

I think when players get called up, you need to try to put them into positions where their role fits them. Hes a guy whos a big power forward; hes capable of offense and physical play, and we want to try to put him in a situation where we can utilize him.

Schenn said the adjustment to McGinn should be easy.

Hes a second year pro and hes going to get a chance to play in the NHL so Im excited for him and Im sure he will do well, Schenn said.

We played probably 28 games together. It took a while to get adjusted but after that, you get familiar with a guy and know what hes going to do on the ice and where he is going to be. For me and him playing down there, its going to help us.

Defensive change
Newly-acquired defenseman Kurtis Foster will not play tonight.

That mean Bruno Gervais will make his Flyer debut, playing alongside Andrej Meszaros.

Foster has some minor bruises and could play, if necessary, but the club felt his situation offered them a chance to play Gervais and see what he brings.

Gervais was a free-agent signing this past summer.

It's been a long wait, a couple extra months, so finally I'll get back in action and I'll be fun, Gervais said.

I want to get in the mix as fast I can. I have to be ready, and tonight I have an opportunity.

General manager Paul Holmgren called Gervais absence a maintenance day.

Loose pucks
Danny Briere skated but is not expected to play until this weekend against either Florida or Tampa Bay. ... Briere skated with healthy scratches Tommy Sestito and Jody Shelley at the morning skate.

E-mail Tim Panaccio at tpanotch@comcast.net

Are we there yet? Philly Sports Talk examines the state of the Flyers

Are we there yet? Philly Sports Talk examines the state of the Flyers

All week on Philly Sports Talk on CSN, we examine how our teams got to this point and where they are in the rebuilding process. 
 
Today, we finish up by taking a look at the Flyers.

 
How did we get here?
The Flyers' rebuild had begun when Ron Hextall returned to his old stomping grounds in the summer of 2013 as the team's new assistant general manager.
 
He took over GM duties after one season and the philosophical change was in place. Paul Holmgren was made president and Hextall's imprint, which had already started, was ready to become bigger.
 
What Hextall inherited was a cap-stricken team fresh off a first-round playoff loss, an organization that had tried to spend its way to immediate results instead of putting greater focus on the long game.
 
Some of the past decisions are well-documented: signing enigmatic goalie Ilya Bryzgalov to a nine-year, $51 million deal in 2011 after trading for him. With a buyout, the Flyers are still paying Bryzgalov through 2027. Signing veteran center Vinny Lecavalier to a five-year, $22.5 million contract in 2013. And signing imposing defenseman Chris Pronger to a seven-year, $34.55 million extension — nobody could foresee the unfortunate concussion issues that suddenly derailed Pronger's career, but it was nonetheless a hurdle for the Flyers moving forward.
 
Hextall has adeptly maneuvered through much of those rocky waters.
 
Now, the Flyers are a more cost-efficient (partly because they have to be in this salary cap world), draft-oriented organization planning for the future while not ignoring the present. This rebuild hasn't been a total demolition, but more of a retooling — a smart but tricky process, especially down the line.
 
Are the Flyers on the right path back to prosperity?
The youth is coming.
 
Hextall, oftentimes close to the vest, made that abundantly clear at his end-of-the-season press conference.
 
"Our young players, they've done enough," Hextall said in early April. "Our young players are going to get a long look. We don't plan on going out and signing veterans on the back end. Our kids, it's time to give them a shot, and we're going to do that."
 
But the really hard part is just beginning — results. Can the prospects catch up and meet the current core? The pressure for it to start has never been higher.
 
Help does appear to be on the way, though, for a team that regressed this season and missed the playoffs for the third time in the past five years.
 
Anthony Stolarz, Alex Lyon, Felix Sandstrom and Carter Hart give the Flyers future options in net.
 
Two promising prospects are expected to join Ivan Provorov, Shayne Gostisbehere and company on the blue line.
 
Oskar Lindblom, a dynamic 20-year-old winger, could crack the Flyers' group of forwards, which should have Jordan Weal and Valtteri Filppula for a full season.
 
Also, don't forget forward Mike Vecchione, a Hobey Baker finalist who signed with the Flyers out of Union College in late March.
 
Oh, and the No. 2 pick of the draft — likely a talented center — is in the Flyers' grasp.
 
The 2017-18 season will be a telling time for the Flyers. Patience has been required, but when will it be rewarded?
 
The clock is ticking.

NHL Notes: Penguins, Senators have chance at history in Game 7

NHL Notes: Penguins, Senators have chance at history in Game 7

PITTSBURGH -- Craig Anderson is a realist, the byproduct of 15 years playing the most demanding position in the NHL.

The Ottawa goaltender would like to chalk his 45-save masterpiece in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals against Pittsburgh up to his own brilliance. He knows that's not exactly the case.

"I think you need to be a little bit lucky to be good at times," Anderson said.

Ottawa has relied on a bit of both during its deepest playoff run in a decade and Anderson helped force Game 7 Thursday night. Yet here the Senators are, alive and still skating with a chance to eliminate the deeper, more experienced and more explosive Stanley Cup champions.

So much for the series being over after the Penguins destroyed Ottawa 7-0 in Game 5.

"I think, if you believe you're beaten, you're done already," Anderson said. "If you believe that you can win, there's always a chance."

All the Senators have to do to reach the Stanley Cup Final for just the second time in franchise history is take down one of the league's marquee franchises on the road in a building where they were beaten by a touchdown last time out.

No pressure or anything. Really. The Senators weren't supposed to be here. Then again, in a way neither were the Penguins. No team has repeated in nearly two decades and at times during the season and even during the playoffs this group was too beat up. Too tired from last spring's Cup run. The bullseye on their backs too big.

Yet they've survived behind the brilliance of stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, coach Mike Sullivan's impeccable decisions and a resiliency that has them one game from being the first Cup champion to return to the finals since Detroit in 2009.

Those Red Wings, by the way, fell to the Penguins in seven games. There have been several Game 7s for Pittsburgh in the interim on both sides of the ledger, though the Penguins are 2-0 in Game 7s under Sullivan. They edged Tampa Bay in Game 7 of last year's East finals and clinically disposed of Presidents' Trophy winner Washington in Game 7 of the second round earlier this month (see full story).

Predators: Goalie Rinne on smothering run
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Knocking the smile off Pekka Rinne's face right now is nearly impossible.

The longest-tenured player with the Nashville Predators, the 34-year-old goaltender finally will play in his first Stanley Cup Final in his ninth full NHL season.

"As a player, I feel like I've had a fairly long career and never had this opportunity," Rinne said. "So very fortunate and really appreciate this opportunity. I guess as a player you just enjoy being in this position. Enjoy the chance that you get, and you put your body on the line every night and give everything you have."

Teammates call the 6-foot-5 Finn the backbone of the Predators, and he's probably the best goalie in the world at the moment. He handles the puck like an extra defenseman. He foils the dump-and-chase efforts of opponents. And, oh, is he good in front of the net, aggressive with forwards in the crease, seeing seemingly everything and occasionally making saves with a Dominik Hasek-like contortion.

Not only is Rinne a playoff-best 12-4, his .945 save percentage ranks third all-time for a single postseason behind a pair of Conn Smythe Trophy winners in Jean-Sebastien Giguere for Anaheim in 2003 and Jonathan Quick for Los Angeles in 2012, according to HockeyReference.com. Rinne's 1.70 goals-against average is 10th all-time for one postseason.

"What he does every night, you can't put into words," Nashville defenseman P.K. Subban said (see full story).

Blues: Sydor returns to Blues as assistant
ST. LOUIS -- Darryl Sydor has returned to the St. Louis Blues as an assistant coach under mentor Mike Yeo.

Sydor agreed to a three-year deal Wednesday.

The 45-year-old Sydor finished his 18-year NHL playing career with the Blues in 2009-10, then broke into coaching as Yeo's assistant the next season with the American Hockey League's Houston Aeros. Sydor went with Yeo to Minnesota and spent five years with the Wild before working as an assistant last season with the Blues' then-Chicago affiliate in the AHL.

Sydor was a defenseman for Los Angeles, Dallas, Columbus, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh and St. Louis, winning Stanley Cup titles with Dallas and Tampa Bay.

Coyotes: Cunningham hired as pro scout
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Arizona Coyotes have hired Craig Cunningham as a pro scout and say he will assist with player development.

General manager John Chayka announced the two-year contract Wednesday that allows Cunningham to remain in hockey.

Cunningham collapsed on the ice with a cardiac disturbance prior to a game Nov. 19 while playing for the American Hockey League's Tucson Roadrunners and required emergency life-saving care. He had part of his left leg amputated and saw his playing career end.

But the 26-year-old who was captain of the Roadrunners last season says he's excited to start the next chapter of his hockey career in the Coyotes' front office. Chayka called Cunningham a "smart, hard-working player with an incredible passion for the game" that he believes will translate to his new job.