Fresh off their first win in 32 days, the Oilers will be hard-pressed to win two in a row with the surging Philadelphia Flyers in town tonight.
The Flyers are 13-5-1 in their last 19. They’ve scored 68 goals and given up 46 in this stretch, but according to Scott Hartnell they are really starting to execute Peter Laviolette’s system.
“We only gave up 18 shots in Calgary, and I don’t think they had one good scoring chance. We’ve played solid hockey for a month and a half. Guys are more accountable and the coaches have made it very clear what they expect from us.”
The Flyers started great going 12-5-1, then went 3-13-1 before this hot streak, and it is clear that special teams and discipline have been the biggest difference since Laviolette was brought on.
In the first 17 games they outshot the opposition 13 times, tied one and were out shot three times. In the next 17 games they had more shots 12 times, tied one and were out shot four times. In this last 19 game stretch, they had more shots eleven times, tied twice and were outshot six times.
Their PK and PP numbers were a clear indication of their record however.
- First 18 games they were 27.6% on the PP and 81.8% on the PK.
- Next 17 they were 13.8% on the PP and a woeful 74.4% on the PK.
- And in the past 19 they are 27.1% on the PP and 86.3% on the PK.
The biggest difference is they took 66 penalties in the last 19 games compared to 86 in the previous 17 games. Laviolette wasn’t a miracle worker though. He was only 2-7-1 in his first ten games behind the bench, but he admitted he needed to adjust the style of play of his team and it couldn’t happen instantly.
“I think as a coach you have a thought on how the game should be played, and that doesn’t make it right or make it wrong. It’s an identity you want to create for your team. It’s not so much what was going on here (before him), it’s just my thoughts and believes on how the game should be played. They had to buy into that, and now we are seeing success and they deserve the credit.”
Laviolette might not take the credit many of his players admitted the coaching change changed the room. It forced them to realize they needed to play better, but also Laviolette has implemented more skating, puck pressure and puck pursuit. ‘I think you have to be good defensively, but we needed to play less of it (defence),” said Laviolette.
How refreshing to hear a coach talk about needing to play more offence rather than constantly hearing how they need to be better defensively. He has an advantage because he might have the most talented top-six forwards in the league, but credit Laviolette for coaching to their strengths.
Steve Staios joined Ladislav Smid donning the “no hit” maroon jersey at the morning skate. Staios, Smid along with Fernando Pisani and Robert Nilsson stayed after the optional skate and spent time doing one-on-one drills and were then put through an up tempo skate.
Smid said he felt great and is hoping to play as early as tomorrow in Minnesota. Staios was pretty excited about good he felt after his first real skate in three weeks. “My conditioning was better than I thought it would be. I will need a few more skates before I play, but I feel great and I want to make it clear that this concussion wasn’t related to the first one. I didn’t have any lingering effects when I got hit this time. I’ve felt good for days and I understand why they were cautious this time, but I feel strong and I can’t wait to play again.”
Staios also addressed the possibility of a trade.
“It seems veteran defencemen are usually moved at this time of the season. I really haven’t thought about it, but I’m aware of what has happened in the past. It isn’t my focus right now. I’m concerned about today and getting back on the ice and playing.”
Staios’ $2.7 million cap hit, will make him harder to trade than Ethan Moreau, but he does have value, and if he can get back and play at least five or six games before the deadline Steve Tambellini will probably get some feelers.
It was an optional skate and they were more D-men on the ice than forwards. Smid, Staios, Jason Strudwick, Alex Plante, Taylor Chorney, Denis Grebeshkov and Tom Gilbert skated, while the only forwards who will dress tonight took part. Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano, Zack Stortini and Ryan Potulny did a few drills, but none of them were on the ice very long.
The Flyers also had an optional skate with about 13 guys on the ice.
Jeff Deslauriers will start again tonight.
Changing the angles to score
Gagner is once again having a better second-half, but he still doesn’t have an answer as to why. I mentioned to him that it looks like he is more comfortable as a goal-scorer right now than he has been in previous years. He agreed and credited Pavel Datsyuk and some changes in his angles to his recent goal production.
“It’s not a matter of I’m looking up and I’m seeing a hole and I’m shooting it there, because the goalies are so good they tend to take those away. It’s just a matter of trying to changes lanes; shoot the puck hard and accurate.
“It’s a matter of using deception in your shot: Bringing the puck from the middle of your body to the outside, or using D’s as a screen and pulling the puck into your body and shooting. You look at guys like Datsyuk, he’s so incredible at it. He changes lanes on goalies so well and knows when to use screens and he is always giving different looks to the goalies.
“It’s a learning process, where I’m learning from a bunch of different guys on how to create offence and how to get better. I feel like I’m improving and it’s a good feeling knowing that if you put in the time you’re going to get rewarded for it. It’s still a learning process but I’m feeling better every year and I feel like I’m a better goal scorer this year.”
Gagner is rink rat. He stays late after practice playing different games with Robert Nilsson, Andrew Cogliano and others, and other days he works on specific elements of his game. He does look more comfortable as a goal scorer right now, and if he continues to work on his game he might become the 1st line centre this team desperately needs.