Scott Laughton

Season on Ice: Flyers want to continue Stanley Cup pursuit

PHILADELPHIA — Gritty is the home school teacher the world needs right now. The furry Flyers mascot offers an education of sorts each weekday on Instagram with “ Gritty’s 1/4 Hour of Power,” and his top student one day this week was forward Joel Farabee.

Gritty played charades with Farabee and the muted mascot held up signs for his pupil to read on the subject of bees. Example: “In Ancient Egypt, people paid their taxes with honey.”

But would extra honey count against the salary cap?

Farabee and the Flyers may have been brushing up on a second-round postseason scouting report instead of getting a science lesson this week had the season not been suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Flyers were the toast of the NHL in early March — they were happy to raise a glass to their prosperity — because of a hot streak that turned them into a postseason threat.

Just how far the Flyers could have gone will never be known – though a proposed plan involves bringing teams back in a few empty NHL buildings to complete some, if not all, of the remaining regular-season games before opening the playoffs – so the slim chance remains they can pick up where they left off March 12, at 89 points (41-21-7) and rising.

But good health and momentum can be tricky to rediscover after a lengthy layoff and there’s no promise better days would be ahead for the Flyers, or any other team, should the season potentially resume in July.

“There’s no doubt that we were playing our best hockey of the season at the time,” coach Alain Vigneault said Wednesday. “Our team was in a good place. It will be all our jobs, from coaches to management to players, to get back to that good spot that we were in.”

Vigneault made all the right moves for the Flyers in his first season on the bench, leading them on a nine-game winning streak that ended in a 2-0 loss to the Boston Bruins on March 10, their last game of the suspended season. Carter Hart, just 21, played every bit like the franchise goalie the Flyers expected. And homegrown talent such as Scott Laughton, Travis Sanheim, Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny — drafted amid a franchise rebuild — all turned a team with modest expectations into an Eastern Conference contender.

The Flyers scored an average of 4.33 goals per game and allowed an average of 1.89 during their nine-game streak and hadn’t lost consecutive games since an 0-3-1 stretch from Dec. 31–Jan. 4. The Flyers are 39-0-3 this season when they are tied or leading after two periods.

“Once we get back at it, I’m very confident with the focus of our group that we’ll be at the same page as everybody else and it’s going to be our job to work hard, work smart and do the right thing and get back to where we were,” Vigneault said.

Over the last month, Vigneault, who coached two teams in the Final, retreated to Florida and kept busy on the golf course before he eventually drove home to Gatineau in western Quebec, Canada. Vigneault has seen and heard the devastating effects the COVID-19 disease has on his loved ones. His girlfriend, Monica Cotton, is an emergency nurse at Ottawa Hospital and his sister Nicole Vigneault works for Quebec Health, both doing to their part to help those in need.

The Flyers coach, though, has been helpless like so many others when it comes to communication and contact with senior parents.

“My parents are 84 and 86. They are both in a senior residence. They’ve both been isolated since Day One,” Vigneault said. “My mom’s having a little bit more of a challenging time there mentally in the past few months. My dad is still sharp as he can be. There’s no doubt him going through this by himself, he’s very lonely.”

Vigneault said he’s talked to only five Flyers since the season ended and leaves Chris Osmond and Dan Warnke, the team’s strength and conditioning coaches, to keep tabs on the roster.

“Everybody is trying to stay safe. At the same time, when the season starts again, we want to be as ready as we can,” Vigneault said.

When that might be, no one really knows.

But with Philadelphia at 45 years and counting without a Stanley Cup, what’s a few more months?

“I am very confident that we can get something together that’s going to be very efficient for the players, very efficient to get our team ready,” Vigneault said. “Hopefully that’s what happens.”

No ice, big problem: Nothing mimics skating for NHL players

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Taking ice away from NHL players has caused some to resort to desperate measures.

New York Islanders captain Anders Lee bought a Peloton. Anaheim defenseman Josh Manson wants a pair of roller blades. League leading scorer Leon Draisaitl of Edmonton stickhandles around his dog.

Whatever works.

”You’re kind of going back to that ‘Rocky’ mentality where you’re doing push-ups and sit-ups and punching the cow,” Columbus forward Nick Foligno said.

NHL players are running, biking and trying to stay in shape in case the season resumes after being put on pause because of the coronavirus pandemic. While many athletes can replicate the workouts and movement of their sports – NBA players are missing the gym – hockey players have no way to truly replace skating while rinks are closed.

”I don’t think too many people have access to rinks or anything like that, and that’s a huge hurdle for a player,” Washington defenseman John Carlson said. ”It doesn’t matter how hard you train, the on-ice stuff is different and we’re going to have to pick it up pretty quick when things turn around here.”

While there remains plenty of uncertainty over whether the NHL will play again this season, players are proceeding as though they will. Aside from a few exceptions, most haven’t skated since before play stopped March 12, and self-quarantine guidelines will keep them off the ice for at least another week and likely longer.

This is nowhere near normal for athletes used to spending the spring gearing up for the intensity and brutal grind of the NHL playoffs.

”I can just do my workouts and just try to stick as close to a routine as you can,” New Jersey defenseman P.K. Subban said. ”It’s hard because you’re anticipating the season coming back, but at the same token it’s so much time. And when you’re not skating, there’s nothing you can do that’s going to mimic skating.”

Little things have to fill the void for now. Team trainers are sending out customized plans to players with home gym setups. Running has replaced practicing. Biking might be the only way to simulate the high intensity of a shift – sort of.

”That all helps and it’s great, but there’s absolutely nothing you can do to prepare for the ins and outs of a shift and the physicality of it,” Boston defenseman Torey Krug said. ”Not only are you trying to mimic the skating motion, but there’s no way you can train for going into the corner with a guy who’s 6-foot-2, 210 pounds and trying to out-battle him and get the puck and skate away from him.”

Draisaitl’s Edmonton teammate Connor McDavid is staying strong by lifting his dog, Lenny, and Lee takes his dogs for a run to keep his heart rate up. Philadelphia’s Scott Laughton does yoga with his girlfriend on occasion, which is one way to keep his mind and body sharp.

Manson said he doesn’t want to risk going to a store to get roller blades. Anaheim teammate Hampus Lindholm has taken his blades for a spin or two during quarantine, but he and others around the league are quick to point out it doesn’t require the same balance or train the same muscles as ice skating.

”You don’t get the buildup of lactic acid and having to deal with your groins and your hip motion when you’re digging into the ice and trying to stop and start, and that’s a big part of it,” Krug said.

Minnesota’s Zach Parise tries to stay sharp playing 1-on-1 in the basement with his 6-year-old son, Jax. He also bought a bike because he is not much of a runner.

Resigned to life off the ice for some time, players – especially those with young families – are typically getting workouts done early in the day like it’s a morning skate. There are no games to prepare for at night, but they know there will be at some point.

”You just try to do what you can, make it fun,” Foligno said. ”It’s our job. We’re pros and athletes for a reason, so it’s something we have to make sure we continue to do and be ready if called upon.”

WATCH LIVE: Flyers host Bruins on NBCSN

Flyers Bruins Livestream
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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Tuesday’s matchup between the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Philadelphia Flyers and Boston Bruins have been the NHL’s two best teams over the past 25 games and they meet on Tuesday night on NBCSN.

The Flyers enter the game riding a league-best nine-game winning streak and are looking to take over first place in the Metropolitan Division. Starting goalie Carter Hart also looks to continue his nearly unbeatable play on home ice.

Boston, meanwhile, is starting to run away with the top spot in the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference playoff races. Winger David Pastrnak is also not only emerging as a potential MVP candidate, he is closing in on the 50-goal mark and is in a back-and-forth race with Alex Ovechkin for the goal scoring title.

Pre-game coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN while puck drop is scheduled for 7 p.m. ET from Philadelphia.

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6:30 P.M. ET ON NBCSN]

 

WHAT: Boston Bruins at Philadelphia Flyers
WHERE: Wells Fargo Center
WHEN: Tuesday, March 10, 7 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Bruins-Flyers stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

BRUINS

Brad MarchandPatrice Bergeron – David Pastrnak
Nick RitchieDavid KrejciOndrej Kase
Sean KuralyCharlie CoyleJake DeBrusk
Joakim NordstromPar LindholmChris Wagner

Zdeno CharaCharlie McAvoy
Matt Grzelcyk – Jeremy Lauzon
John MooreConnor Clifton

Starting goalie: Tuukka Rask

FLYERS

Claude GirouxSean CouturierJakub Voracek
Joel FarabeeKevin HayesTravis Konecny
Scott LaughtonDerek GrantTyler Pitlick
Michael RafflNate Thompson – Aube-Kubel

Nate Provorov – Matt Niskanen
Travis SanheimJustin Braun
Robert HaggShayne Gostisbehere

Starting goalie: Carter Hart

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

NHL Fantasy Hockey: Parise, Laughton among this week’s top adds

Fantasy Hockey
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Welcome to our weekly Adds/Drops column, where I focus on highlighting players you should consider grabbing or be concerned about in fantasy leagues. As always, the goal here isn’t to recommend 10 players you must add and five players that need to be dropped. Context is everything and the context of each league is different. What this is instead is a guideline so that if you’re looking to make a change, you have potential players to target and if you see players I’ve suggested to drop, you can evaluate your potential alternates.

Players Worth Adding

Dustin Brown, Kings – RW: With 17 goals and 35 points in 64 contests, Brown is probably going to end up falling behind his 51-point 2018-19 campaign. He might end the season on a pretty high note though. He excelled on Saturday, scoring a hat trick and registered an assist and has been pretty hot lately with eight points in his last six contests.

Zach Parise, Wild – RW: Parise had a really rough start to the season with three goals and no assists in his first 13 contests, but if you just ignore that then you’ll find that he’s otherwise had a pretty strong campaign. He has 22 goals and 43 points in 56 contests dating back to Nov. 2nd. Over that span he also hasn’t been held off the scoresheet for more than three games in a row, so he’s been pretty consistent. Despite that, he’s only owned in 37% of Yahoo leagues, so if you’re lacking on the left wing then he’ll probably be an option for you.

Alex Iafallo, Kings – LW: Iafallo has a goal and 10 points in his last 11 games, so he’s been very effective lately, but he’s been excelling for a while now. From Dec. 21st onward, he’s scored 11 goals and 26 points in 31 contests. It’s taken Iafallo a little while to get going, but he’s very underrated at this point given that he’s only owned in 6% of Yahoo leagues.

Scott Laughton, Flyers – C/LW: Like Iafallo, Laughton is another young-ish forward who is coming into his own. With 13 goals and 27 points in 48 games, this is by far his best campaign from a points-per-game perspective. He’s particularly hot lately, scoring three goals and nine points in his last seven contests. So he’s a decent player to gamble on right now, but he also isn’t such a bad player to hold onto for the rest of the season.

Pavel Buchnevich, Rangers – RW: The Rangers in general have been red hot lately and Buchnevich is among those leading the charge. He’s on a five-game point streak, scoring a goal and seven points over that span. He’s been a consistent for a while now too. Dating back to Jan. 21st, he has eight goals and 19 points in 19 games. This is his best season to date with 15 goals and a career-high 44 points in 66 contests, but that makes sense given his continued development and the fact that he’s averaging 16:52 minutes, which is a meaningful boost from his previous campaigns.

Andrew Mangiapane, Flames – LW/RW: Mangiapane had 10 goals and 19 points in 56 games through Feb. 12nd, but he only averaged 13:04 minutes over that span. The Flames have given him a much bigger role lately, putting him out there for an average of 16:38 minutes in his last 12 games. He’s rewarded them with seven goals and 13 points in those 12 contests. He’s an interesting pick up given how hot he is and how the Flames have been using him lately.

Luke Kunin Wild, C/RW: Kunin had a prolonged cold spell from Jan. 22-Feb. 15, registering just two assists over the span of nine contests. Lately though, he’s been a regular contributor with three goals and five points in his last six games. He has 15 goals and 31 points in 63 contests, which is decent, but not good enough to warrant owning him all the time in standard leagues. That said, he’s worth a situational pickup while he’s hot.

Richard Panik, Capitals – LW/RW: Panik will attempt to extend his four-game point streak when the Capitals face Buffalo on Monday. He’s scored two goals and six points over that run. He’s not a good player to hold onto at all times. He has nine goals and 22 points in 58 games this season, which is actually pretty solid given his average 11:20 minutes per game. So don’t hesitate to drop him once he slows down, but in the short-term he has some value.

Zack Kassian, Oilers – RW: Kassian has a goal and three points in his last four games, so he’s doing good right now, but that’s not the only reason to own him right now. First off, he’s a significant contributor in terms of hits with 152, so he brings more to the table than offensive contributors. The Oilers in general are also a solid team to have players for at the moment. Edmonton has four games slated for this week and they’ll play in eight contests from March 9-20. With that full schedule, there are a lot of opportunities for the Oilers players to contribute and he’s one of the better ones whose available in most leagues. Kassian is owned in just 19% of Yahoo leagues.

Jordan Staal, Hurricanes – C: While Staal has enjoyed some good offensive seasons, for the most part he’s been at best a solid secondary scorer. This season has been a step back for him though with just eight goals and 27 points in 67 contests. Perhaps he can finish on a positive note though. He’s certainly trending in that direction with a goal and eight points in his last 11 contests.

Players You May Want To Drop

Logan Couture, Sharks – C: This has been a disappointing season for Couture. After setting a career-high last season with 70 points, he’s been limited to 16 goals and 39 points in 52 games. Given that he only has center-eligibility, which makes him a rather borderline option in standard leagues. On Sunday he was unfortunately struck in the head and evaluated being evaluated for a concussion. Given his struggles this season and with him now potentially being injured with so little of the campaign left, I think it’s fair to drop him. That said, if your alternative centers are lacking, then it would be worth it to wait until more information about Couture’s injury comes out before coming to a decision.

Alexandar Georgiev, Rangers – G: Igor Shesterkin missed a couple weeks because of a ribs injury stemming from a car accident. During that time, the Rangers were leaning heavily on Georgiev, but now that Shesterkin is back, Georgiev is going to be used significantly less. Georgiev has been an okay, but not great goaltender this season with a 17-14-1 record, 3.05 GAA, and .910 save percentage in 33 contests.

Andreas Athanasiou, Oilers – C/LW/RW:  When Athanasiou was acquired by the Oilers, the hope was that he would be a good match for Connor McDavid. Athanasiou is a speedster and the prospect of pairing McDavid up with someone who can actually keep up with him was an exciting prospect. Perhaps that will still work out next season, but it seems that pairing hasn’t found chemistry early on. Athanasiou has just a goal and an assist in seven games since being acquired by Edmonton while averaging a mere 12:36 minutes. He did get a chance with McDavid, but at this point he’s primarily skating on the third line.

Nick Foligno, Blue Jackets– C/LW/RW: Foligno was great from Feb. 20-March 4, scoring four goals and seven points in seven games. He’s been held off the scoresheet in each of his last two contests though and he hasn’t scored a goal in five straight games, so the hot streak is probably over. Foligno isn’t an ideal player to hold onto when he’s not hot. His 10 goals and 31 points in 67 contests is fairly mediocre when it comes to standard fantasy leagues.

Andre Burakovsky, Avalanche – LW/RW: Burakovsky hasn’t played since Feb. 28th and it’s not clear when he’ll return. He missed his sixth straight game on Sunday and he wasn’t even with the team in San Jose. Because he hasn’t been traveling with the Avalanche, he obviously won’t play on Monday in Los Angeles either. He was enjoying a breakout season, but without much time left and no clear timetable for his return, it might be best to investigate your other options.

If you’re looking for fantasy hockey information, Rotoworld is a great resource. You can check the player news for the latest information on any player and insight into their fantasy outlook.

Every week Michael Finewax looks ahead at the schedule and offers team-by-team notes in The Week Ahead. I have a weekly Fantasy Nuggets column where I basically talk about whatever’s captured my attention that week. Gus Katsaros does an Analytics columns if you want to get into detailed statistical analysis. If you’re interested in rookies and prospects, there’s a weekly column on that written by McKeen’s Hockey.

Flyers continue ascension with eighth straight win

The Philadelphia Flyers have flown under the radar this season but now sit atop the Metropolitan Division alongside the Washington Capitals.

The Capitals lost in overtime to the New York Rangers but currently own the tiebreaker due to one additional victory in regulation and overtime. Each team has 87 points to date in 67 games this season.

Nicolas Aube-Kubel and Sean Couturier scored 26 seconds apart in the third period and the Flyers extended their winning streak to eight games after a 4-1 win against the Carolina Hurricanes Thursday.

Ivan Provorov and Michael Raffl also scored as Philadelphia swept a set of back-to-back games against divisional opponents.

Justin Williams netted the Hurricanes’ lone goal, but they fell for the fourth consecutive game. Carolina trails the Columbus Blue Jackets and New York Islanders for the two wild card spots in the Eastern Conference.

Newly acquired Hurricanes defenseman Brady Skjei turned the puck over behind his own net and Aube-Kubel took advantage to expand the Flyers’ lead to 3-1 early in the third period. Shortly after, Couturier buried a rebound to put the game out of reach.

Alex Nedeljkovic made 28 saves in his second start of the season for the Hurricanes.

Provorov opened the scoring when he collected his own rebound and deposited a backhand 18:23 into the first period. Flyers defensemen have scored an NHL-best 44 goals this season.

Raffl doubled the Flyers’ advantage midway through the second period. Scott Laughton picked up his second assist of the night on the play.

Injuries piling up

Prior to the game, Hurricanes general manager Don Waddell announced Brett Pesce underwent surgery on his right shoulder. The defenseman is expected to be sidelined for the next four to six months.

He originally injured his shoulder against the Toronto Maple Leafs February 24.

In addition to Pesce, Sami Vatanen had a setback Thursday morning and is not expected to make his debut for Carolina in the near future.

“This is a tough injury. He came off (the ice early); that’s not good,” Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour told reporters this morning. “We were hoping to get him closer to playing. Now it looks like he’s further away.”


Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.