Flyers boast an abundance of options at center despite trading Mike Richards and Jeff Carter

3 Comments

The Philadelphia Flyers are known for making some strange decisions here and there, but the team’s consistent track record of making the playoffs hints at traces of genius amid their madness. As someone who enjoys watching teams walk to the beat on their own drum, it was a bit disappointing that the Flyers carved up their roster with the hope that Ilya Bryzgalov will finally answer their perennial goaltending questions, but there’s a growing sentiment that maybe Philly didn’t take such a big step back after all.

It’s easy to be ambivalent (or worse) about Jeff Carter since he’s not exactly known for his all-around play, but trading away Mike Richards puts a lot of pressure on incumbent centers such as Danny Briere and Claude Giroux to pick up the slack. Yet as CSNPhilly.com’s Tim Panaccio points out, the interesting thing is that the team still has an abundance of options at center after the Carter and Richards trades. Just take a look at some of the more prominent centers going into training camp.

High-end centers

Giroux and Briere

Checking centers

Blair Betts and Maxime Talbot

Noted prospects

Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier

Wild card

Michael Nylander

After showing impressive progress while maturing in the Los Angeles Kings’ system, it seems like Schenn is primed to make the jump to the NHL in the near future. Panaccio brings up an interesting question, though: could fellow first round pick* Couturier follow him next season?

Here’s a question for Flyer fans: The assumption is that Brayden Schenn makes the roster. But what about first-round pick Sean Couturier?

I’ve never [seen] him play in junior at Drummondville, but every Canadian writer I spoke to at the NHL Draft in June flat out predicted he would make the roster.

(snip)

Obviously, we have a crowd of centers coming into camp in a few weeks.

There’s going to be some terrific competition on a turned-upside-inside-out Flyers roster that general manager Paul Holmgren keeps saying may or may not be as good as the last two years, but is very, very different from what we’ve seen in the past.

source: Getty ImagesIf you’re going to have an excess of any type of forward, it might as well be centers. Obviously there are exceptions to the rule, but pivots tend to be a little more versatile and defensively responsible than wingers by the nature of their typical duties.

For one thing, it might be easier for Schenn and/or Couturier to adjust to the NHL game (and not get eaten alive by tough matchups) if they begin their careers on the wings. Once you go beyond budding star James van Riemsdyk, fading star Jaromir Jagr and wild card Jakub Voracek, the majority of the Flyers’ wingers are grittier types – although Scott Hartnell and Wayne Simmonds can contribute some offense of their own. That being said, it might be reasonable to move one of the Flyers’ excess centers to left or right wing to maintain a high level of creativity among their scoring lines.

Top centers might struggle

While Giroux is a two-way threat with respectable faceoff numbers, I’m a bit concerned that Briere might be a liability when it comes to draws. He won a below-average 48.2 percent of the 820 faceoffs he took in 2010-11 and only won more than 50 percent in one season since joining the Flyers (50.5 percent out of 1,250 in 07-08). Briere isn’t generally regarded as a great defensive forward either, so that might be where the Flyers will miss a guy like Richards the most.

There’s even a slight reason to worry about Giroux; while he seems like the real deal, teams can shift more of their focus toward shutting down the shifty scorer now that Richards and Carter are out of the mix.

***

Philly’s future looks bright at center, especially if Schenn and Couturier fit in well whenever they fully enter Peter Laviolette’s system. My guess is that their offense won’t be as explosive as last season’s group (which topped the Eastern Conference and came in third place overall with 259 goals scored), but if they find the right formula with their new ingredients, the Flyers might just be onto something.

* – Schenn went ninth overall in 2009 while Couturier was the eighth pick of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.

A big night for the rookies and a big win for the Maple Leafs

Getty
2 Comments

William Nylander helped get Toronto started on Thursday, extending his point streak to 10 games — a new Maple Leafs franchise record for a rookie.

Connor Brown finished it with his 17th goal of the season, securing a 4-2 win for the Maple Leafs over the New Jersey Devils.

Toronto has won three in a row and moves three points clear of Boston for third in the Atlantic Division, with a game in hand, which further helps the Maple Leafs’ playoff chances with nine games remaining on their schedule.

Just another big night for Toronto’s impressive crop of rookies.

Auston Matthews had a pair of assists.

— Nylander had a goal and an assist. He set one and tied another franchise rookie record on Thursday.

Mitch Marner had an assist, giving him 40 helpers this season, which ties the franchise rookie record set in 1943-44.

“They’re good players,” said coach Mike Babcock, per the Toronto Star. “I didn’t know Marner would make the team. I knew Matthews and Nylander were good players. I knew Brown and (Zach) Hyman were relentless. I had no idea (Nikita) Zaitsev was as close to how good he is.

“We have lots of good players.”

In May of 2015, Babcock predicted at his introductory press conference that the Maple Leafs would, during their massive rebuild, endure “pain.” This was, he said, to be a long process — a “massive, massive challenge.”

Approaching the two-year anniversary of that event — after all the losing that franchise and its fan base has gone through, which obviously helped them with the Matthews lottery last year — the Maple Leafs are poised to make the playoffs with a nucleus of young players that present even more promise for the future.

“We just want to get in to the playoffs, and give ourselves a chance,” continued Babcock. “We’re playing well, and finding a way to win games. That’s what we have to continue to do.”

Capitals defeat Blue Jackets in clash of Metropolitan Division powers

Getty
Leave a comment

WASHINGTON (AP) T.J. Oshie scored the shootout winner as the Washington Capitals overcame a stellar performance from Columbus goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky to beat the Blue Jackets 2-1 Thursday night.

Despite 44 saves from Bobrovsky, the Capitals reached 104 points and extended their lead atop the Metropolitan Division and NHL standings. Oshie engendered memories of his Sochi Olympic shootout performance by again beating Bobrovsky, the goalie he scored on four times in six chances that day.

Dmitry Orlov finally cracked Bobrovsky early in the third period on Washington’s 35th shot of the game. Orlov’s goal tied the score after Seth Jones beat Braden Holtby on a wild scramble early in the third for his first goal since Feb. 7.

Holtby had 29 saves in regulation and overtime and three more in the shootout to pick up his 38th victory of the season, one shy of Bobrovsky for the league lead.

A showdown between two of the top three teams in the league jockeying for position atop the Metropolitan Division lacked a playoff feel. But the matchup of two likely Vezina Trophy finalists lived up to that billing as Bobrovsky and Holtby went back and forth with big saves.

Bobrovsky entered the night first in wins, goals-against average and save percentage with Holtby second, second and third in those categories. The 2013 Vezina winner could also be an MVP contender this season given his value to Columbus’ third playoff berth in franchise history.

“When he’s in his game it’s very hard to score on him,” said Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, who had eight shots stopped by one of his Russian national teammates. “He likes the big moments, he likes pressure. His worth ethic is unbelievable. … In my opinion he’s one of the best goalies in the league right now.”

Methot ‘out for weeks’ after suffering a shattered finger from Crosby clash

3 Comments

The Ottawa Senators lost defenseman Marc Methot for the bulk of Thursday’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, and it seems he’ll be out for quite a while longer, too.

Methot was injured on a Sidney Crosby slash across the hand in the first period. He didn’t return to the game and there was no penalty called on the Penguins captain.

Footage showed the gruesome aftermath of the slash — Methot’s finger on his left hand bloodied and injured as he skated back to the bench.

“His finger is shattered and he’s out for weeks,” said Senators head coach Guy Boucher, per the Ottawa Sun.

Methot immediately confronted Crosby after the slash, which occurred as the Sens blue liner went to dump the puck into the Pittsburgh zone late in the first period.

The Senators got revenge, scoring a 2-1 shootout victory to move within a point of Montreal for the Atlantic Division lead. Crosby was also denied in the shootout.

NHL to make ‘special announcement’ in China next week

Getty
2 Comments

The National Hockey League has announced it will make a “special announcement” at the LeSports Center in Beijing, China next Thursday.

In January, the league’s deputy commissioner Bill Daly made it clear the NHL has interest in playing games in China — likely starting out with pre-season games before potentially adding in some regular season contests in the future, as well.

Just after the league made its announcement on Thursday, the L.A. Kings tweeted out that they will participate in next week’s event, along with the Vancouver Canucks.

In January, hockey insider Darren Dreger reported that the Canucks and Kings were likely to play NHL pre-season games in China this upcoming September.

Last July, members of the Boston Bruins visited China, specifically Beijing and Shanghai, to host hockey clinics in those cities.

Beijing will also host the 2022 Winter Olympics.