Flyers Backcheck: Berube Winning on the Fly

Craig Berube is certainly giving David Copperfield a run for his money. Despite being hit with yet another significant absence in Michael Raffl’s lower-body injury, Philadelphia’s depth has Berube winning games with revolving pieces. Thursday night’s victory over the Florida Panthers not only gave the Flyers retribution for their loss in Sunrise, but also have them believing they can overcome just about any obstacle.

Berube Winning with Depth

The Flyers are now 6-3-1 in their last 10 games due in large part to Jakub Voracek’s sizzling start. But even with Voracek’s superhuman-like contributions, scoring at least one point in 11 of Philadelphia’s 12 games, the injuries have hit the Flyers in the early going in bulk.

With the news of Michael Raffl’s four-week absence, coach Craig Berube was left with yet another vacancy on the left side of the top line. The task of replacing Raffl’s six goals and one assist was a daunting one, regardless of who he chose. And while his initial choice of pulling Chris VandeVelde up from the fourth line to join Voracek and Claude Giroux was met with heavy criticism before Thursday’s game, it was a decision left open to adjusting.

Despite playing with a lead in the second period, Berube called an in-game audible, replacing VandeVelde with Wayne Simmonds on the top line. This decision, though, had less to do with VandeVelde as much as it revolved around Berube’s desire to see Simmonds with the puck more often.

Coach Craig Berube said he made the switch because Simmonds “wasn’t getting the puck enough” on a line with Vinny Lecavalier and R.J. Umberger. “I just wanted to see it, to be honest.”

Berube said Simmonds needs some practice time at left wing. “It could be a real lethal combination,” he said. “You’ve got a little bit of everything there. You’ve got one of the best players (Simmonds) in the league at the net…Two elite passers and playmakers. Could be good; we’ll see.” — Sam Carchidi, philly.com

On the defensive side of the ice, the Flyers have gotten every bit of their money’s worth out of Michael Del Zotto. The 24-year-old defenseman notched his first goal as a Flyer on Thursday night, while adding four blocks and two hits on a team-leading 23:18 worth of ice time. Del Zotto’s brilliant play has eased the blow from the losses of Philadelphia’s traditional minute eaters in Braydon Coburn and Andrew MacDonald.

Del Zotto’s first period goal wasn’t the only first for a defenseman wearing home orange. In the second period, with the Flyers leading 2-0, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare beat Florida goalie Roberto Luongo. And although Bellemare’s tally was not his first of the season, the assist that set it up was for the newest Flyer in the lineup.

The Flyers picked up right where they left off early in the second period with Bellemare one-timing one over Luongo’s shoulder following a turnover and feed from Carlo Colaiacovo. The assist marked Colaiacovo’s first point in two games with the Flyers. — Fox Sports

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Since debuting with the Flyers on Tuesday against Edmonton, Colaiacovo has looked as if he had the training camp he never had under his belt. His first assist as a Flyer was accommodated with three hits and a plus-one rating. Colaiacovo’s 16:56 of ice time included nearly a minute on the power play as well. And for the Flyers, finding the answers on the fly hasn’t been rocket science. Or at least that’s how they see it.

“Everyone has to step it up when you have a few injuries,” said Couturier, who opened up Thursday night’s scoring with his fourth goal of the season. “It’s opportunities for others to show what they can do and take advantage of it.”

Home Sweet Home

With the 4-1 win over the Panthers, the Flyers extended their home win streak to four, giving them a 4-1-2 record at the Wells Fargo Center. Philadelphia put together another winning effort on Tuesday with goals from Sean Couturier, Michael Del Zotto, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, and Jakub Voracek to give the orange and black points in six of their seven home games.

The Flyers have been looking for secondary scoring and they received three goals Thursday with their bottom two lines on the ice. Third-line center Sean Couturier scored the opening goal on a rebound and helped set up Del Zotto’s with a faceoff win, while fourth-line center Pierre-Edouard Bellemare provided a goal for the second game in a row. — Randy Miller, nj.com

The Flyers carried a minus-two goal differential as they entered Tuesday’s tilt against Florida. And while the 4-1 victory pushed them to a positive goal differential for the first time all season, it also extended their home goal differential to plus-seven.

Another testament to the Flyers enjoying their familiar confines is found in their special teams numbers, especially when it comes to killing off penalties. Philadelphia’s 22nd ranked PK unit is severely misleading when the Flyers are playing at home. That’s because their 95.2 home PK percentage is second among the entire league.

Nick Bjugstad’s second period power play goal spoiled the Flyers’ unblemished home PK percentage, leaving them 20-21 in killing off penalties at home. But when it comes to playing a man down on the road, Berube’s PK unit has been a polar opposite of their home dominance.

“I don’t look at stats too often,” said defenseman Nicklas Grossmann, “but that is interesting. I wish I had an answer for it. It’s proof we have to be better on the road. Can’t be last in the league there when we are doing a good job at home.”

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It’s a good thing Grossmann isn’t checking the stats since their road PK percentage of 60 percent is dead last in the NHL. In six road games, the Flyers have surrendered eight power play goals in just one less chance than at home. But even with the power play experiencing similar number differences when it pertains to home against the road (26.1 percent at home vs. 10 percent on the road), the glaring contrast doesn’t seem to bother Berube.

“I just go back to the Dallas game [on Oct. 18], there were a couple breakdowns on the PK. We just got caught out of position,” Berube said. “Other than that we’ve been fine. The difference has been that we don’t take many penalties.”

The Flyers will have some time to iron out their issues on the road, however. Home games against the Colorado Avalanche and Columbus Blue Jackets await them next, with a five-day break sandwiched in between. And with both opponents entering the Wells Fargo Center with losing records, it’s a chance to grab more points, instead of focusing on the fixable negatives beyond that.

Tidbits

Thursday’s win upped Steve Mason’s all-time record against the Florida Panthers to 7-2-0. Mason’s second win of the season bettered his record to 2-4-1 on the season in his second consecutive start. Mason, who has now won two of his last four against Florida, holds a .951 save percentage to go along with a 1.55 goals against average all-time versus the Panthers.

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Jakub Voracek’s sixth goal of the season gave the Flyers forward his 19th point of the season, which ties him with Penguins captain Sidney Crosby for the league lead. Crosby, who was held scoreless in Pittsburgh’s overtime win over Winnipeg on Thursday, now shares his point lead with Voracek, despite playing one less game.

Despite last scoring a goal on Oct. 18th, Flyers captain Claude Giroux has points in six of Philadelphia’s last seven games. Giroux’s second period assist to Voracek was his eighth assist in his last seven games.

Although Wayne Simmonds was held without a point for the second consecutive game, his plus-10 rating not only leads the Flyers, but also leaves him tied for third in the league among NHL forwards. Only Nashville’s Filip Forsberg, Anaheim’s Corey Perry, and Los Angeles’ Tyler Toffoli have a better plus-minus rating than Simmonds, and the three individuals who are tied with him.

Leading up to Thursday’s matchup against Florida, Matt Read had just one goal with a minus-one rating dating back to Oct. 22nd’s win over Pittsburgh. Read, who added three shots on 15:30 of ice time, earned his first point in five games, while finishing up with a plus-two rating.

With 10 games left on the November schedule, the Flyers will make trips to Montreal, New York, Long Island, and Detroit. Out of the month’s remaining games, Philadelphia will see two opponents on multiple occasions. The Blue Jackets, who are in the midst of a six-game losing streak, will visit the Wells Fargo center twice in an eight day span. The Flyers will visit Madison Square Garden, however, twice in November. Once on Nov. 19th, and then again as the tail end of a home-and-home series at the end of the month.

At 6-5-2, the Flyers’ 14 points leave them tied with both the Rangers, and New Jersey Devils in the Metropolitan Division standings. Philadelphia trails the New York Islanders by two points for second place, and Pittsburgh by five for the division lead.