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After bounce-back year, Flyers need to keep Giroux at wing


After a down year in 2016-17, Claude Giroux had a renaissance of sorts this past season when the Flyers moved him from center to wing, a decision that resulted in putting together what was arguably the best single season performance his career. He led the league with 68 assists, was second in the scoring race behind only Connor McDavid, become just the sixth player in the past seven seasons to top the 100-point mark.

He was a legitimate MVP contender (he finished fourth in the voting; he was second on my ballot) for a Flyers team that made a return to the playoffs.

With Giroux seemingly back to being an elite scorer, a strong nucleus of young players led by Shayne Gostisbehere, Ivan Provorov, Nolan Patrick, and (perhaps most importantly) goaltender Carter Hart, as well as the return of top-line goal-scorer James van Riemsdyk in free agency, the Flyers look like a team that could be a major player in the Eastern Conference in the coming seasons.

Earlier this month NBC Philadelphia’s John Boruk made the argument (read it here) that moving Giroux back to center could be the Flyers’ best move in an effort to balance the lineup, and that it is something the team’s brass might even be considering. Whether or not the Flyers have actually considered it or are considering it, let’s just entertain the possibility because …. well … it’s July 23 and there’s no better time like the present to discuss hypothetical line combinations for the upcoming season.

It is a compelling argument that is centered around Giroux’s return to center giving the team a depth-chart down the middle of Giroux, Sean Couturier, and Patrick, while also giving Travis Konecny what would most likely be a guaranteed spot as a top-six winger.

Decent points.

Here is the counterpoint.

By moving Giroux back to center the Flyers would be breaking up what was by far the best element of their 2017-18 team, which was the duo of Giroux and Couturier on the top line. After years of being a shutdown center that excelled defensively with decent-but-not-great offense, Couturier finally got an opportunity to play top-line minutes alongside a world-class winger and saw his offensive production skyrocket, shattering all of his previous career bests across the board. He was a monster and the duo was as dominant as any other forward pairing in the league.

It was the first time Giroux and Couturier saw extended time on a line together and the results were everything the Flyers could have hoped for. When the two were on the ice together during 5-on-5 play the Flyers controlled more than 55 percent of the shot attempts and outscored teams by an incredible 70-40 margin. Splitting that up would seem to be counterproductive to making your team better because, well, if you had a top-line that dominates possession and outscores the opponents by 30 goals over the course of a season you are probably going to win a lot of hockey games as a result.

Not only would the Flyers be breaking up what was one of the best duos in the league, it would put Couturier back into a spot where he may not be able to excel as much offensively. It is probably not a coincidence that Couturier’s offense surged from a 35-40 point level to the 76-point level he was at this past season with a little increased ice time and top-line wingers next to him. And it’s not like he was riding a wave of unsustainable percentages. His shooting percentage was similar to his career averages, and while the shooting percentage of his linemates surged, that was probably the result of him setting up Claude Giroux on a regular basis instead of a revolving door of second-and third-line wingers.

The other thing keeping Giroux on the wing accomplishes: It gives the Flyers an opportunity to give Patrick an increased role and turn him loose a little bit.

The No. 2 overall pick in 2017, Patrick began to get an increased role in the second half of his rookie campaign and gradually saw his production start to take off.

Over the last 30 games of the regular season he scored at what would have been a 50-point pace over 82 games (a very impressive pace a 19-year-old rookie). Even though the final scoring line did not show it, he was also one of the Flyers’ most consistent and dangerous players in their first-round playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins. His performance as a young, emerging talent was very similar to the way a young Giroux began to show his potential in the 2009 playoffs while serving as an understudy on a Flyers team that had established veterans like Mike Richards and Jeff Carter.

With Giroux, Coutuerier, Patrick, van Riemsdyk, Jakub Voracek, and either Konecny, Wayne Simmonds the Flyers would have one of the league’s best top-six forward groupings in the league, while still having Scott Laughton and either Simmonds or Konecny to form the foundation of what could still be a strong third-line. That seems to be more worthwhile to the Flyers than spreading the wealth down the middle and reducing the roles for Couturier and Patrick, both of whom could be impact players in first-and second-line roles.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Darcy Kuemper slams Matthew Tkachuk to ice, nearly sparks goalie fight (Video)

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You can add Arizona Coyotes goalie Darcy Kuemper to the lengthy list of players around the NHL that has snapped in the presence of Calgary Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk.

Late in the second period of the Coyotes’ 3-0 win on Saturday afternoon, Kuemper came to the defense of his teammate, defenseman Jason Demers, and slammed Tkachuk to the ice setting off a chaotic line brawl that nearly ended with a goalie fight.

It all started when Demers knocked Flames forward Johnny Gaudreau to the ice away from the play.

Gaudreau responded by skating up behind Demers and cross-checking him in the back, knocking him to the ice. While Demers was down on the ice, Gaudreau and Tkachuk each got in a little extra shot and it was at that point that Kuemper decided to enter the situation.

Once that happened, Flames goalie David Rittich stormed the length of the ice and tried to come to the defense of his teammate. The two goalies never actually fought, but they did both receive their share of penalties. Kuemper was assessed two roughing minors, while Rittich was given a two-minute penalty for leaving the crease to join an altercation.

Kuemper now has 20 penalty minutes since the start of the 2017-18 season which is by far the highest total of any goalie in the league. Rittich (now with 10) is the only other goalie with more than eight.

Tkachuk was also given four minutes for roughing, while Gaudreau received two minutes for cross-checking and Demers was assessed two for roughing.

You can see the entire sequence in the video above.

As for the actual game itself, it was a huge day for Kuemper as he stopped 38 shots to record the shutout and help the Coyotes improve to 12-7-2 on the season.

It is his second shutout of the season and improved his save percentage to an outstanding .937 in 14 appearances.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.


Paul Bissonnette to get chance to back up lacrosse boast


VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — Paul Bissonnette will have a chance to back up his lacrosse boast.

Two days after tweeting that he could make a National Lacrosse League team without having ever played a game, the former NHL player signed a professional tryout Friday with the Vancouver Warriors.

”Bissonnette will be given every opportunity to make the Vancouver Warriors,” Warriors coach Chris Gill said. ”Paul talks a pretty big game. Let’s see if he can back it up and be a part of our team.”

The 34-year-old Bissonnette, now the radio color commentator for the Arizona Coyotes, played 202 NHL games with Pittsburgh and Arizona. He had seven goals, 15 assists and 340 penalty minutes in his six NHL seasons.

He’s gained notoriety more for his outspoken and often humorous tweets commenting on hockey and others sports.

Bissonnette will join the Warriors for their final week of training camp at Rogers Arena on Nov. 22 and 23.

The Buzzer: Bruins end slump; Blackwood baffles Penguins

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Three Stars

1. Mackenzie Blackwood, New Jersey Devils

If the Devils are going to dig themselves out of the big hole they made to start 2019-20, it’s highly likely that Blackwood will be the goalie who helps them do it.

Lately, the 22-year-old has been rotating nice wins (.968 save percentage or higher in three victories) with tough losses (.889 or lower in three defeats). Friday represented one of the nicest wins yet, as he stopped 38 out of 39 of the Penguins’ shots to help the Devils steal a 2-1 decision.

Natural Stat Trick places the Penguins’ expected goals at 3.55, and their high-danger chances at 14 at all strengths, so Blackwood was the clear difference-maker in that narrow triumph.

2. Tomas Tatar, Montreal Canadiens

The Habs got revenge on the scoreboard after Alex Ovechkin landed that devastating hit on Jonathan Drouin, and Tatar was a big catalyst for that rally.

Yes, his goal was an empty-netter, but Tatar already had a top-three-worthy night when he piled up three assists. If you’d prefer his linemate Phillip Danault (1G, 2A, nothing on that ENG), that’s fine, too. Being boiling up some righteous indignation, the plus side of Drouin getting shaken up might be that Claude Julien went back to Tatar, Danault, and Brendan Gallagher as a line ever so briefly. Via Natural Stat Trick, they generated two five-on-five goals for in just 42 seconds of TOI together. Piping-hot take: maybe keep them with each other a little bit longer?

Overall, Tatar was an absurd possession beast on Friday, generating a ridiculous 80% Fenwick Four. By any measure, he was spectacular, and there’s a compelling case for Tatar being placed above Blackwood as the top star of the night.

3. Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins

Attempting to defense the Bruins’ top line must be agonizing, as Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak just bring so many strengths to the table. It might be especially frustrating to try to contain Marchand, though.

Not only will he trash talk you (and back it up), but he’s also very smart and elusive, finding openings even when there’s just a bit of space to work with. Marchand played a big role in Boston ending its winning streak, and also extending Toronto’s torment, by scoring two goals, including the game-winner.

But, yeah, that troll game is also there.

Highlight of the Night

Zach Werenski had been off to a bit of a slow start scoring-wise for the Columbus Blue Jackets this season, but the 22-year-old is gaining some serious steam lately. Werenski scored the overtime game-winner for Columbus on Friday, extending his goal streak to three games (three goals, one assist).

(Some might vote for the Ovechkin hit as the clip of the night, though.)


  • Via NHL PR: Zdeno Chara became the fourth defenseman in NHL history aged 42 or older to generate a three-game point streak. Chris Chelios has done it twice, and holds the best run with a four-game tear. The other two (Doug Harvey, Tim Horton) make it quite the list.
  • Another aging defenseman stat from NHL PR: Shea Weber became the third active NHL defenseman to generate at least a five-game point streak at age 34 or older. Chara did it in 2011-12, while Mark Giordano has two streaks of seven games. Weber also scored his 209th goal, placing him 18th all-time among NHL defensemen, via Sportsnet.
  • Saucy one from Sportsnet: the Maple Leafs and Oilers have the same point percentage (.531) in 64 games since Jan. 1, and Edmonton actually has one more win (30 to 29).


BOS 4 – TOR 2
NJD 2 – PIT 1
MTL 5 – WSH 2
CBJ 3 – STL 2 (OT)
OTT 2 – PHI 1

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Alex Ovechkin lights up Habs’ Drouin with huge hit

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Alex Ovechkin is known for scoring goals (my personal favorite, which was nearly replicated by a Penguins prospect), but the Washington Capitals superstar is so fun to watch because he’s also perfectly willing to throw his body around for a big check. It’s one of those things that made you believe that maybe he’d wear down, yet that Russian Machine Never Breaks.

Montreal Canadiens forward Jonathan Drouin received a painful reminder that you need to keep your head on a swivel when Ovechkin’s on the ice, as the Capitals winger leveled Drouin with a huge hit on Friday.

It wouldn’t be surprising if Drouin was shaken up almost as much by the second impact:

Drouin left immediately for the locker room, but he’s taken some shifts afterward, so he might be OK … we’ll have to see.

There’s at least some debate about the legality of the hit, for what it’s worth:

Sometimes big hits like that light a fire under teams. Maybe Ovechkin was hoping it would do so for Washington, but instead Montreal might channeled that anger into getting even on the scoreboard, as they rattled off a 4-0 lead in response, and ended up winning 5-2.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.