Claude Giroux

Flyers struggle in loss to Bruins: ‘It was like we were scared to make plays’


The Philadelphia Flyers found themselves in a decent position late in the third period against the Boston Bruins, but saw at least a single point slip away.

The Flyers, playing on the road in Boston, allowed a late goal from Chris Kelly in a 2-1 loss to open the 2014-15 season on Wednesday. Philadelphia got off to a slow start and managed only 20 shots on goal, but managed to somehow stick around, getting a tying goal from Sean Couturier early in the third period.

Not enough, as it turned out.

The Flyers found themselves under pressure, out-shot in two of the three periods.

Based on the comments of their captain, Claude Giroux, held without a point and just one shot on net, it seemed like they were never really got comfortable in this one.

“The first two periods, it was like we were scared to make plays,” Giroux said, as per the Philadelphia Inquirer.

“I don’t know about the other guys, but I would get the puck and I didn’t get the confidence to make a play . . . I need to relax, play the game.”

Risk Factors: Philadelphia Flyers edition


From the same bunch of pessimists who brought you “Why your team won’t win the Stanley Cup,” PHT presents a new series called “Risk Factors,” i.e. three reasons to be worried about each NHL team in 2014-15.

Philadelphia Flyers

1. The defense. Duh. A concern even prior to losing Kimmo Timonen (blood clots), the blueline is Philly’s biggest issue heading into this season — something head coach Craig Berube confirmed following a 6-3 exhibition loss to the Rangers.

“They’ve got to turn it up — they’ve got to play better,” Berube said of his blueline, per CSN. “It’s not just on them. It’s a team thing.

“We have to play better defense.”

The Flyers’ D has its problems. First and foremost is mobility, or lack thereof: Mark Streit (37 in December) and Nicklas Grossmann (30 in January) aren’t winning any speed-skating competitions while Braydon Coburn and Luke Schenn are more physical defenders than agile ones.

There are also continuity and chemistry issues. Of the projected top six — Streit, Grossmann, Coburn, Schenn, Andrew MacDonald and Michael Del Zotto — only Coburn has been with the team for more than two seasons as the Flyers have constantly tinkered with their defensive mix. Schenn found a comfortable partner in MacDonald last year when the Isles blueliner came over at the deadline, but now Schenn’s paired with Del Zotto (who was signed in August as a stopgap replacement for Timonen), meaning MacDonald now skates with Coburn on what the club is calling its “top” pairing. That leaves Streit and Grossman as the other unit.

And if the blueline is hit by injury? Yikes. Reserve depth consists of journeyman Nick Schultz and whoever they can call up from AHL Lehigh Valley. Philadelphia was remarkably fortunate with regards to health last season — Streit, Coburn, Schenn, Timonen and Grossman combined to miss just 12 games — so it’s scary to think what the blueline might look like if one (or more) of the top six get hurt.

Finally, there’s Philly’s lack of an elite, top-line, heavy-minute shutdown guy. It’s something even GM Ron Hextall admits is missing.

“I’ve said it time and time again. We maybe don’t have that top guy, that No. 1 guy, but probably 20 teams in the league say the same thing,” he said, per “We’re going to go with the guys we’ve got.”

2. Steve Mason has expectations. Mason entered last season as a reclamation project in progress, looking to beat out Ray Emery for the No. 1 gig while playing on a relatively modest ($1.5 million) contract. Now, things are dramatically different; the 26-year-old is Philly’s clear-cut starter, one of the NHL’s 20 highest-paid goalies and counted on to maintain the form that saw him go 33-18-7 with a .917 save percentage and 2.50 GAA last season.

That requires consistency, though, and consistency has never really been Mason’s strong suit.

After one banner campaign in Columbus, he struggled to match that level in the three seasons following and battled with the mental side of things — “I think a lot of things here just got into his head,” former Jacket and current Flyer R.J. Umberger said at the time. Mason also struggled right around the time the ink dried on his three-year, $12.3 million extension with the Flyers, finishing January with a 5-5-1 record and .889 save percentage.

It’s also worth noting that, in Columbus, Mason had three years to try and rediscover his game. Tough to imagine Philly — a notorious goalie graveyard — giving him similar leeway.

3. The Vinny distraction. Roughly one year after giving Vincent Lecavalier a five-year, $22.5 million deal, the Flyers openly shopped him around the league. Ottawa, Nashville and Edmonton were just a few of the rumored landing spots for a guy that arrived with great fanfare, but is now a problem the team doesn’t really know how to solve.

The issue, in a nutshell: Lecavalier is 34 and slowed a bit, but still an offense-first guy that needs a quality role to be productive. That, however, doesn’t mesh with Berube, who wants sound two-way play and defensive responsibility from his big-minute centers — hence Vinny’s demotion to the fourth line last year and the on-again, off-again shift to left wing.

The Flyers need to find somewhere for Lecavalier to play. At first, they hoped it’d be in another city and now — well, at least to start the season — it’ll be back at center, where he’s the No. 3 behind Sean Couturier and Claude Giroux.

But how long will that last?

It’s no secret Berube has issues with Lecavalier, something made crystal clear during the summer when Berube was asked how Lecavalier should deal with all the trade rumors:

“Get over it,” [Berube said].

Berube’s response to apparently being stuck for another season with an aging four-time All-Star whose defensive liabilities outweighed the 20 goals he scored in 69 games as a new Flyer in 2013-14?

“He just needs to change his game a little bit,” Berube said during a recent interview. “We talked about that after the season and he’s willing to do that.”

The change is reflected in Lecavalier’s projected wingers this season: Michael Raffl and R.J. Umberger, energy guys that aren’t exactly known for their offensive prowess. There’s no guarantee the trio will click and if they don’t…well, what then?

The bottom line is this: Lecavalier signed in Philly to be the No. 2 center in Peter Laviolette’s uptempo system, then got blindsided three games into his Flyers career when Lavvy was dumped and Berube took the reins. Now he’s playing in a role that doesn’t really fit his skill set, for a head coach that doesn’t really know what to do with him. It’s a distraction already. And it could easily get bigger.

Kings’ Doughty, Quick, Flyers’ Giroux finally make preseason debut

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Tuesday night was a time when some of the NHL’s biggest stars finally got into a preseason game after being held back due to their respective injuries.

Claude Giroux suffered what’s believed to be a groin injury at the start of training camp, but logged 16:53 minutes against the New York Rangers last night. It’s a good thing he managed to get some preseason ice time because he needed the opportunity to shake off the rust.

“I forgot how fast the game is,” Giroux said, per the Philadelphia Daily News. “The first period, I was pretty lost. I wasn’t sure what was going on. Slowly, I got the puck moving. It was good to get a game under my belt. I felt good.”

On the plus side, his injury didn’t bother him.

On the other side of the country, the Los Angeles Kings got defenseman Drew Doughty (upper body) and goaltender Jonathan Quick (wrist) back for an exhibition contest versus the San Jose Sharks. Both players were actually cleared ahead of Sunday’s game, but Kings coach Darryl Sutter decided to wait until last night to use them.

Unlike Giroux, who had his ice time purposely limited, Doughty wasn’t eased into the lineup. He scored a power-play goal and logged a team-high 22:55 minutes.

“I felt good physically and mentally, and it was a good game by the whole team,” Doughty told LA Kings Insider.

Quick stayed between the pipes for the first two periods and turned aside 16 of 17 shots. The Kings still have two preseason games left on their schedule and Quick is expected to get a full start in at least one of them.

Speedy recovery: Giroux (lower body) to play vs. Rangers tonight


Claude Giroux was supposed to miss at least two weeks with a lower-body injury suffered at the onset of Flyers training camp.

Turns out he’ll only miss 11 days.

Giroux will make his preseason debut tonight at Wells Fargo when the Flyers host the Rangers, the club announced. The Flyers captain returns to the lineup after missing his club’s first six preseason games; he admitted he was “frustrated” with being sidelined and appears to have expedited his return, though the Flyers wouldn’t commit to him playing beyond Tuesday’s affair.

Philly finishes the second of a back-to-back with the Rangers tonight, then wraps its preseason with a game against the Caps in Washington on Thursday.

Risk Factors: New York Rangers edition


From the same bunch of pessimists who brought you “Why your team won’t win the Stanley Cup,” PHT presents a new series called “Risk Factors,” i.e. three reasons to be worried about each NHL team in 2014-15.

New York Rangers

1. Depth at center, or lack thereof. Two key middle men from last year’s Stanley Cup Finalist are gone: Brad Richards (bought out, now in Chicago) and Brian Boyle (free agent, signed in Tampa Bay). A third, Derek Stepan, will miss the first 4-6 weeks with a fractured fibula. Even prior to the injury, New York’s center depth was going to be an issue; the Blueshirts had Stepan, ideally a No. 2 guy, masquerading as a top liner and Derick Brassard, who thrived as a No. 3 last year, playing as a No. 2.

So now what?

Head coach Alain Vigneault could be forced to open the season with Brassard, Dominic Moore and a trio of 22-year-olds — J.T. Miller, Kevin Hayes and Oscar Lindberg — vying for minutes at center. (Veteran Matthew Lombardi, signed out of the Swiss league to provide depth down the middle, is sidelined indefinitely with a groin injury.)

Vigneault admitted he has a tall task at hand, especially trying to replace what Stepan brought to the table.

“When you think of Step, you think five-on-five, you think penalty kill, you think power play. Someone else is going to get those minutes,” Vigneault said, per the New York Daily news. “We’ll see who steps up.”

How the Rangers deal with their center situation will be a two-part act. The first part is surviving the length of time Stepan is out, and it’s fair to suggest he could miss all nine games in the month of October. It’ll be tough, but not impossible; the Rangers can band-aid the problem (heck, Marty St. Louis already offered to play there) and even if they do struggle, no biggie — the Blueshirts won just three of their first nine games last year, and rebounded fine.

The second act, though — a season-long lack of center depth — will be a problem. New York didn’t have a bonafide No. 1 last year but advanced to the Cup Final with a committee approach; problem is, that committee was exposed against the Kings, and now it’s thinned out.

More importantly, the Rangers still lack an elite center and don’t have anybody to match the likes of Sidney Crosby, Ryan Getzlaf, Jonathan Toews, Claude Giroux, Tyler Seguin, Patrice Bergeron and Anze Kopitar. Just how crucial is having top-end talent atop your depth chart?

“If you want to be one of the elite teams,” Stars GM Jim Nill told the CP, “you have to have it.”

2. Can they still roll four?

Last year, much of New York’s success came from its ability to roll four forward lines — especially in the playoffs. From the New York Post:

“I think if you look at the teams that have had success and have won the Cup since the [2004-05] lockout, you see those teams have had depth and have been able to play their depth,” Vigneault said Saturday.

“From personal experience, I know when we [the Canucks] lost the Cup to Boston, Boston was a four-line team — probably the best fourth line, I felt, in the league,” the coach said, referring to the unit that generally featured Gregory Campbell, Daniel Paille and Shawn Thornton. “We didn’t have four lines.

“From that experience, if you can play four lines and manage the minutes, I think you can play at a higher tempo and faster paced game.”

Depth up front really was the Rangers’ calling card last postseason. Brassard, Mats Zuccarello and Benoit Pouliot were arguably the postseason’s best third line and in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final, it was the fourth line of Boyle, Moore and Derek Dorsett that scored the series-winning goal while providing countless shifts of dynamic forechecking.

Cap issues and free agency hurt New York’s depth. Boyle, Pouliot and Dorsett are all gone and the Richards departure bumped Brassard into a different role. Without much money for replacements, the Rangers acquired the likes of Lombardi, Ryan Malone, Tanner Glass, Lee Stempniak and Chris Mueller on the cheap; there’s experience in that group, but also a large number of question marks.

3. That blueline… is not fresh.

Perhaps nobody’s reputation took a bigger hit last spring that Dan Girardi, who opened the Stanley Cup Final with an egregious mistake — and things didn’t get much better from there. The knocks on Girardi by the end of the five-game ouster all sounded the same: he looked slow, fought the puck and lost too many physical battles, leaving many to wonder if 1) years of heavy minutes under John Tortorella wore him down, and 2) if the Rangers made a poor decision inking Girardi to a six-year extension in February.

So then they went out and got even older on D.

New York’s big free agent acquisition was Dan Boyle, signed from San Jose to replace the outgoing Anton Stralman. The irony was that Boyle, 38, was allowed to walk from San Jose following a playoff series against — guess who! — the Los Angeles Kings, in which Boyle looked a step slow and unable to contain the Kings forwards.

(For Boyle, replacing Stralman is no small task; the Swedish rearguard averaged nearly 20 minutes per game during the regular season, then finished fourth among all Rangers in playoff TOI.)

Overall, the Rangers’ blueline is not a young group. Boyle and Girardi are already on the wrong side of 30 and Kevin Klein gets there in December. Marc Staal, a pending UFA, turns 28 in January — meaning the young guns of the group are 25-year-old Ryan McDonagh and 23-year-old John Moore.

Now, McDonagh is a star in the making and likely the Rangers’ future captain; he’ll anchor the group for this season and beyond. But it’s the parts surrounding him which could be problematic — after the top-six of McDonagh, Boyle, Girardi, Klein, Moore, Staal, the Rangers’ reserve depth consists of a trio of journeyman NHLers in Steven Kampfer, Matt Hunwick and Mike Kostka.