Training Camp Day 5: Experimentation Atop Lineup
Giroux moves to wing, joins Couturier at center as team prepares for more gamesby Bill Meltzer @billmeltzer
One day before the Flyers play split-squad games against the New York Islanders at the PPL Center in Allentown, PA, and the Barclay Center in Brooklyn, NY, the rosters for Group 1 and Group 2 were similar to Monday's groupings. However, Dave Hakstol took a look at different line combinations, including a notable experiment on the top line.
1. Giroux embraces LW experiment - Flyers captain Claude Giroux was originally drafted as a right winger and spent much of his early NHL career with the Flyers at that position before switching to center during the 2009-10 season. Ever since then, he has played center almost exclusively.
During Tuesday's practice, Giroux played left wing on a line with Sean Couturier. Although they have been teammates since Couturier's rookie season (2011-12), the two have rarely been on the ice at the same time. The third member of the line was Jakub Voracek - Giroux's regular linemate on the Flyers' top line but also someone who has played periodically with Couturier.
The righthanded shooting Giroux, who sets up on the left half wall during Flyers' power plays and is skilled at creating plays from his "off-wing" side of the ice, enjoyed the chance to try out taking line rushes on left wing. He required no convincing beforehand to try it out, immediately and enthusiastically embracing the challenge.
"Off the rush, we did a lot of drills where I was coming down the left side there. I could see the ice pretty good. You have the puck your strong side there [as a righthanded shot]. It was actually a lot of fun. It's not like I'm against it or opposed to it at all. If it makes the team better - we have a lot of centermen - we can do that," Giroux said.
Giroux was unsure if the experiment will carry over into the split-squad lineup on Wednesday or be used in future practices, but said he is intrigued by the idea of seeing if he has chemistry with Couturier and Voracek as a trio. Even if this is not a line that opens the season together, experimenting with it during training camp might eventually give the coaching staff another option to use from time to time.
Giroux noted how the San Jose Sharks have effectively switched off between Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski at center or wing. Hakstol, however, said he's not using other teams' players as a yardstick.
Voracek said that playing with Couturier - a defensively aware north-south player with the positional savvy and physical strength to win battles despite not being the fastest of skaters on the team - entails a little different style of hockey than playing with classic playmaker Giroux in the middle. Both players, however, are strong in the hockey sense department. As such, Voracek believes they can forge line chemistry if they are assembled as a trio.
Hakstol noted that Giroux's wholehearted willingness to change positions - whether or not it becomes a weapon in the lineup arsenal - speaks to the captain's leadership and commitment.
"When your captain is as selfless as 'G' is, he [goes] all in," Hakstol said. "Whatever the role is, he's going to attack it… It's early, but he's had a very high-level camp."
2. Lehtera to the middle - New acquisition Jori Lehtera has played both center and wing during his career, but has spent the majority of it in the middle. So far in Flyers' camp, he has primarily played wing. Lehtera, who notched a shorthanded goal and an even strength assist in the Flyers' 3-2 overtime loss to the Islanders in Sunday's exhibition opener, played center for the first time in Tuesday's practice session.
3. Lines & Pairings - For those of you keep track at home, below are Tuesday's line combinations for the two groups:
Claude Giroux - Sean Couturier - Jakub Voracek
Oskar Lindblom - Nolan Patrick - Travis Konecny
Jordan Weal - Valtteri Filppula - Dale Weise
Michael Raffl - Jori Lehtera - Matt Read
Taylor Leier - Scott Laughton - Colin McDonald
Ivan Provorov - Andrew MacDonald
Robert Hagg - Shayne Gostisbehere
Brandon Manning - Radko Gudas
Sam Morin - T.J. Brennan
Michal Neuvirth, Brian Elliott and Alex Lyon shared the net for the second straight day.
Phil Varone - Greg Carey - Nicolas Aube-Kubel
Corban Knight - Mike Vecchione - Danick Martel
Cole Bardreau - Mikhail Vorobyev - Ivan Kosorenkov
Connor Bunnaman - German Rubtsov - Carsen Twarynski
Tyrell Goulbourne - Radel Fazleev - Pascal Laberge
Travis Sanheim - Phil Myers
Will O'Neill - Mark Friedman
James de Haas - Mark Alt
Reece Willcox - Maxim Lamarche
Carter Hart, Leland Irving and John Muse in goal.
4. Mixing and matching - The lineups for the split-squad games will not be finalized until latter day on Tuesday and will be announced on Wednesday. Hakstol said on Monday that there would be some mixing-and-matching of players from Groups 1 and Group 2 for the two games. Some veterans will go to Allentown, others to Brooklyn.
The only group assignment change in Tuesday's practice was the Group A swapping of second-year pro Travis Sanheim with veteran offensive defenseman T.J. Brennan. Hakstol indicated that the Group 1 assignment on Tuesday was an acknowledgement of Brennan's work ethic in camp and the way he has taken young defensemen in camp under his wing. Sanheim skated with fellow highly-touted defenseman Philippe Myers as his partner during the Group 2 session on Monday.
Fourth-year pro Taylor Leier skated in Group 1 for the second straight day. Wayne Simmonds took maintenance days on Monday and Tuesday.
Here more from Giroux, Couturier and Voracek below…
Video: Trio Touches on New Look Line