Philadelphia Flyers

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

Flyers GM Ron Hextall: 'We have a tough roster to crack right now, which is good'

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Flyers GM Ron Hextall: 'We have a tough roster to crack right now, which is good'

VOORHEES, N.J. — With 26 players still competing to make the Flyers' 23-man opening day roster, the competition over the final few spots is heating up.

"We have a tough roster to crack right now, which is good for us," Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said Saturday after practice.

The Flyers already trimmed 18 players from their roster Thursday, but the most difficult decisions lie ahead. The tightest battle appears to be developing at defenseman, where Brandon Manning and rookies Samuel Morin and Robert Hagg are all vying for two spots. Travis Sanheim is still in the mix, but will likely start the season at Lehigh Valley.

So far, there is no clear winner in sight.

"We're going to monitor the situation as we go along here," Hextall said. "We'll see what we have with injuries and whatnot, and we'll make decisions at the appropriate time."

"They've all played well. They're all here for a reason still. We could've sent one of them down if they didn't deserve to be here, but at this point, they all deserve to be here."

Both Morin and Hagg have impressed this training camp and preseason. Manning has experience but is also working his way back from offseason back surgery — though Hextall does not sound concerned.

"There's nothing that tells me or certain information that I have from our staff that he's not ready to go," Hextall said, "so as far I'm concerned, he's 100 percent ready to go."

Some cuts will be easier than others. As expected, Alex Lyon was demoted to Lehigh Valley on Saturday.

Between Lyon and one of the blueliners, the roster will eventually get down to 25. That means two forwards will eventually wind up out of the equation, and the three players on the fringe fighting over that one spot are running out of time.

"We have four (preseason games) left," Hextall said. "Our big guys have to play, so we're getting ready for the season now. There's still players in the mix, but you get down as quick as you can and go from there."

Hextall acknowledged spots are "hard to come by" for prospects such Mike Vecchione, who has only appeared in two preseason games thus far. However, the Flyers are not viewing a demotion as a disappointment for any of their young talent.

"We'll see what Vechs, what he does," Hextall said, "and if he has to start out down below, or a couple other guys have to start out down below, that's the way it is."

In addition to the 18 cuts the Flyers made, two players will wind up on injured reserve to begin the season. Winger Colin McDonald and center Cole Bardreau are finished for the remainder of camp and preseason.

Bardreau is out for three-to-four weeks with an upper-body injury. McDonald is down for an undisclosed number of weeks with a lower-body injury.

Barring any additional major injuries, the Flyers intend to carry a full 23-man roster in the regular season, which is set to open Oct. 4 at San Jose.

"You plan certain things in injuries and performance," Hextall said. "You have to adjust on the fly."

"Right now, I'd say we plan 23, but see who gets injured — if a guy is injured, how long is he gonna be — all that kind of stuff. We'll adjust as we go along here, but right now, I'd say we plan on 23."

Roster cuts
The Flyers on Saturday continued to trim their roster. Forwards Greg Carey, Corban Knight and Phil Varone and defensemen Mark Alt, T.J. Brennan and Will O'Neill were assigned to Lehigh Valley after clearing waivers as well as Lyon.

Rating 5 changes the NHL made to its rulebook

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Rating 5 changes the NHL made to its rulebook

If you have witnessed preseason hockey this past week, you are well aware that the NHL is buckling down on its rulebook and even revising it. An excess of penalties and power plays have occurred as a result of these changes. Are they good for the game? I examine each of the five new rules or changes to the existing rulebook. 

Rule 78.7 (b) — A coach's challenge on an offside play — If the result of the challenge is that the play was “onside,” the goal shall count and the team that issued the challenge shall be assessed a minor penalty for delaying the game.

In 2015, the NHL granted each coach a challenge they could utilize in the event of overturning an incorrect call on the ice. If the challenge failed and the original call stood, then the challenging coach would forfeit the team’s timeout. Starting this season, a failed challenge on an onsides call in which there’s a goal will result in a two-minute minor penalty.   

By doing so, the NHL instituted a method to help maintain the game’s integrity in the event of a missed call by a linesman, as many coaches hold onto their challenge at a critical juncture — typically during the third period. Now with a two-minute penalty, it’s a way of reversing course without actually taking away the challenge. It's as if the league is saying we want you to have a challenge, but not really. The league is now discouraging teams from using it. As we’ve seen over the past few years, offsides calls can be measured in millimeters — that’s how arbitrary it’s become. But to penalize an entire team for a coaching staff’s misjudgment is excessive, and as we’ll see this season, it will sway the outcomes of a few games. Forfeiting a timeout for losing a challenge is acceptable, but killing a two-minute power play? Absurd, and for that I give it …

Two thumbs down   

Rule 61.1 — Slashing — Any forceful or powerful chop with the stick on an opponent’s body, the opponent’s stick, or on or near the opponent’s hands that, in the judgment of the referee is not an attempt to play the puck, shall be penalized as slashing.

Flyers fans can call out Sidney Crosby for emphasizing this rule, which is not a rule change but simply the enforcement of an existing rule. Crosby violated this in the worst way when he performed a machete slice over the hands of Senators defenseman Mark Methot late in the season. The result was a broken finger, nearly severed from the tip and the loss of one of Ottawa’s top defensemen for weeks. Watch the video and you can hear Methot scream in pain as Crosby took his whack.

In the preseason, we have seen more slashing than department store prices during Black Friday. It’s out of control, not the slashing itself, but the slashing calls. As the rule states, it’s a "forceful or powerful chop," which usually requires a two-handed grip. However, the referees have resorted to blowing the whistle for a one-handed love tap. As Shayne Gostisbehere said Wednesday, “When they blow the whistle and everyone’s like, ‘What just happened?’ That’s not a penalty.”  

I suspect come October when the regular season begins, the officials will ease up on their slashing calls, but it definitely creates a gray area, much like the interference call. Over the course of the season, some refs will whistle everything, while others will let stuff go. If it protects the league from injury, especially serious injury in cases like Methot and even Johnny Gaudreau, it can be beneficial, but I see some inconsistency from game-to-game and for that I give it ...

One thumb up ... my good, non-slashed thumb

Rule 76.4 — Faceoff positioning and procedure — The players taking part shall take their position so that they will stand squarely facing their opponent’s end of the rink and clear of the ice markings (where applicable).

Like the slashing penalty previously discussed, this is another enforcement of an existing rule. In other words, the league wants to cut down on cheating during faceoffs. You know when players began cheating on faceoffs? Since the inception of the faceoff. In fact, I can recall producing a three-minute story when I was working at a Nashville TV station on how players gain advantages and bend the rules on faceoffs. Three minutes. On cheating! 

Now, those L-shaped lines are no longer suggestions or recommendations, but strict guidelines of where the players should stand prior to a faceoff. If a team is caught twice during the same faceoff (and it doesn’t have to be the same player), the result is a two-minute minor penalty. The Islanders' Josh Ho-Sang was a guilty offender twice during Wednesday’s game in Allentown and the Flyers benefited with a power play in each instance. The league’s explanation states they want to protect players from banging heads, and more importantly, protect the linesman dropping the puck. 

Like the slashing penalty, I’m curious to see which linesmen strictly enforce this rule and which ones will be a little laxer. This is another one of those penalties (like the challenge call) that you certainly don’t want to impact the outcome of a game. The league has good intentions for enforcing Rule 76.4, but will they have consistent enforcement? And for that I give it …

One thumb up

Rule 87.1 — No timeout shall be granted to the defensive team following an icing.

Once again, here’s another example of a moment when a coach would intervene during a critical point of a hockey game (usually late during the third period). An attacking team is applying pressure in the offensive zone of a close game and the defensive team, obviously gassed, flips the puck out of the zone for an icing. That coach proceeds to call a timeout to allow his team to catch its breath and grab some water before the ensuing faceoff.

My take on the new rule: Love it! This rule should have been implemented years ago. You can penalize a team for icing without actually calling a penalty. Allowing a timeout does exactly the opposite and circumvents any drawbacks of icing. By forcing a tired group of guys to line up and take a faceoff right away is precisely the way it should be handled, and for that, I give this new rule …

Two big thumbs up

Eliminating Rule 80.4 — Numerical advantage on faceoffs — When a team on the power play high sticks the puck, the ensuing faceoff will be conducted at one of the two faceoff spots in their defending zone.

This is the abridged version of the rule that was roughly half a page long. Playing the puck with a high stick is instinctual and when the game is played at warp speed, a player’s natural inclination is to raise their stick in an attempt to knock the puck out of the air. When a player is guilty of a high stick, the whistle is blown and a faceoff occurs. Now that this rule has been eliminated entirely from the rulebook, the ensuing faceoff will take place in the zone in which the infraction was committed.

No team should be given a territorial advantage as a result of a high stick. I’m surprised it’s taken this long to acknowledge the absurdity of Rule 80.4, and for finally acknowledging this, I give the elimination of this rule …

Two thumbs up