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Keeping competition high

by Brian Smith | PhiladelphiaFlyers.com / Philadelphia Flyers

When Flyers assistant coach Gord Murphy took to the ice with a can of spray paint Friday, bisecting one zone with a single line from the blue line to the goal line right through the crease, it was a strange sight to curious observers both on and off the ice. Both nets ended up at one end – one on each side of the newly installed line.

“Neuvy and I looked at each other and wondered what the heck was going on,” said goaltender Steve Mason. “But it turned out to be a good battle drill.”

The coaching staff split the roster into two teams, green and grey, with one attacking on one side of the ice and one on the left. Players in those zones couldn’t cross into the other, a la the lacrosse world, and the puck would change sides in the normal course of play. Lines and defensive pairings changed at stoppages.

“That’s the first time [we’ve done that],” laughed Jake Voracek afterwards. “It was fun. It was good. We didn’t talk about it. We just saw that Murph was drawing a line – he was struggling with that, it wasn’t really a straight line – but it was fun for the boys.”

The unnamed drill was shrugged off by head coach Dave Hakstol as just a playmaking, competitive drill, but it offered the Flyers a chance to get to a higher level of competition than most practice drills allow. That’s a big thing in this five-day break, which is the type of break that inevitably becomes a challenge when it’s time to return to game action. This particular one ends Tuesday night when the Flyers host Dallas.

“You saw guys starting to cheat over the line and things like that,” said Wayne Simmonds. “You got down to the end of it and it was last goal wins, and guys were doing whatever it took to score that goal. It’s nice to see guys battling like that and having fun at the same time.”

Indeed, when Voracek scored the winning goal for Team Green, he was mobbed by his teammates in a manner usually reserved for overtime victories. Simmonds said that’s because a lot had built up over the course of the drill – all of it good-natured, but it was still there.

“Guys were yapping at each other; you come back to the line and guys are talking trash and guys are slashing each other,” Simmonds said. “It gets pretty heated out there.”

Said Mason: “I thought the guys had a pretty good compete level there, some guys breaking sticks over boards and what not. It was fun.”

It was a different kind of experience for Mason and Neuvirth. The goals were along the goal line, but they were several feet to the side of where they normally are – so there was no crease, and both goaltenders were much closer to the corner and side boards than they’re used to.

“It’s not typically something goaltenders really enjoy, being taken out of the crease setting where you have a grab of where your angles are and things like that,” Mason said. “But those are also good drills to battle with. You have lots of bang-bang plays where you’re not necessarily having a good feel of where you are in your crease because there is no crease. Those are drills where you just compete and try and make that extra effort and make the extra save.”

R.J. Umberger took part in the first half of the practice. He remains day-to-day with an upper body injury. The Flyers will be off on Saturday before returning to the ice for an 11 AM practice on Sunday.

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