Danny Briere, Claude Giroux

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

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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.

Sharks scratch Flames’ big lead, Calgary wins anyway

Calgary Flames' Mikael Backlund (11) chases down the puck against San Jose Sharks' Tomas Hertl (48) during the second period of an NHL hockey game in San Jose, Calif., Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
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If you turned off Thursday’s Calgary Flames – San Jose Sharks game early, you’ll probably be stunned to see that Calgary won 6-5 via a shootout.

For instance:

  • A Sharks fan may have bitterly called it a night when Calgary went up 4-1.
  • Conversely, a Flames devotee might have retired after San Jose took a 5-4 lead, possibly with a broken remote.

The Flames only trailed for about two minutes before scoring the last “real” goal of the game, eventually taking their third straight win thanks to a shootout triumph.

It’s been a strange ride for Calgary, with its most recent win happening after Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Lance Bouma were punished with a healthy scratch. As strange as this game was, the “charity point” can leave both teams looking through a lot of film, yet with something gained as well.

Ultimately, the message may very well be: don’t sleep on these teams.

(In less positive news, Karri Ramo is injured, and it doesn’t look good.

Jonas Hiller closing out the game on a hot streak could be pretty important if Ramo’s out for some time.)

By winning fifth straight, Caps extend Wild’s slump to seven losses

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ST. PAUL, Minn. — Alex Ovechkin scored three times in the second period for his 14th career hat trick, and the Washington Capitals beat the Minnesota Wild 4-3 on Thursday night.

Ovechkin, who leads the league with 34 goals, has 13 in his past 13 games. Nicklas Backstrom had three assists and Jason Chimera added an empty-netter for Washington, which improved to a league-best 20-5-2 on the road.

Braden Holtby made 33 saves for the Capitals, who won their fifth consecutive game and became the first team to reach 40 victories this season.

Charlie Coyle, Ryan Suter and Mikael Granlund scored for the Wild, but Minnesota lost for the 12th time in its past 13 games (1-10-2). Devan Dubnyk made 29 saves for the Wild, who have lost seven in a row at home (0-4-3).

Ovechkin’s third goal, which deflected off both the post and the back of Dubnyk into the net, was upheld following a coach’s challenge. Wild coach Mike Yeo challenged that the puck had left the zone for offsides, but the call stood after a review showed that Backstrom stopped the puck before it crossed the blue line.

The goal gave Ovechkin his first hat trick since he scored four goals against Tampa Bay on Dec. 10, 2013.

It wasn’t the only fortunate bounce for Ovechkin on the night, and the five-time 50-goal scorer capitalized on each opportunity.

A shot from T.J. Oshie deflected off of Minnesota forward Zach Parise across the ice right to Ovechkin in the left faceoff circle and Ovechkin quickly snapped off a shot to beat Dubnyk, who couldn’t get across the crease to get into position. Three minutes later, Ovechkin scored on the power play when a point shot bounced off the end boards right to Ovechkin in front of the net.

The tally provided some relief for the Capitals’ surprisingly ineffective power play. Washington had one power play in its previous six games, an empty-netter for the only goal in its previous 20 power-play chances. The Capitals were 1 of 5 on the power play on Thursday.

Coyle scored for the fifth time in eight games in the second, but second periods have doomed the Wild during their slump. Minnesota has been outscored 13-3 in the period in five straight losses.

Suter scored his sixth goal of the season on the power play in the third as Minnesota went 1 of 5 with the man advantage.

NOTES: Washington C Evgeny Kuznetsov left in the third period after he was hit in the face by the stick of Mikael Granlund off a faceoff. … Backstrom has 20 points in his last 17 games. … Minnesota D Jared Spurgeon missed his second straight game with an unspecified deep bruise. Spurgeon has returned to practice, but was held out again. … Holtby is 27-1-3 in his last 31 games with two shutouts, a 2.10 goals-against average and .927 save percentage.

Watch the Blackhawks’ Patrick Sharp tribute video

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Over the years, the Chicago Blackhawks have been forced to let some important players leave to keep their core together, which ultimately meant parting ways with Patrick Sharp.

The talented winger now wears a Dallas Stars jersey, so Blackhawks fans must face the reality of watching Sharp ply his trade for a formidable Central Division opponent.

Even if that might feel awkward, Blackhawks fans gave Sharp (and Johnny Oduya) a warm reception in Chicago on Thursday.

CSNChicago.com provides video of that ovation, which you can see in the clip above.

The Stars currently lead the Blackhawks 4-2, thanks in large part to Patrick … Eaves.

Ovechkin’s 14th career hat trick helps him make more history

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Death, taxes and Alex Ovechkin winning the Maurice Richard Trophy.

OK, the third thing on that list isn’t technically inevitable. It just feels that way lately in the NHL.

It’s unclear if the Washington Capitals can hold on against the Minnesota Wild, but we know for certain that Ovechkin already has a hat trick, the 14th of his high-scoring career.

(He also passed Jean Beliveau for 39th all-time in goals with his 509th, as NHL.com notes.)

This propels Ovechkin to the goals lead as of this writing, as he already has 34. As impressive as Patrick Kane has been, No. 8 is heating up, and may just edge No. 88 if Ovechkin can remain healthy.

One has to feel a little sympathy for the struggling Wild. They played well but lost against the Dallas Stars earlier this week and now must deal with Ovechkin and the just-as-hot Capitals.

Update: Minnesota managed three goals, but it wasn’t enough, as Washington got the edge 4-3.