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Flyers showing consistency, success on face-offs

Versatility at center creating favorable matchups, proving advantageous

by Adam Kimelman @NHLAdamK / Deputy Managing Editor

The Philadelphia Flyers' inconsistencies have manifested themselves in just about every aspect of their team play.

One area that has been consistent, however, is their success on face-offs.

The Flyers, who face the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center on Saturday (7 p.m. ET; MSG+, NBCSP), started their five-day break Monday first in the NHL in face-off winning percent (52.8) but have since been passed by the Winnipeg Jets (52.9).

It's an improvement from last season, when they were fifth in the Leauge (52.3). But they've gotten better despite the crackdown in enforcing rules on face-offs, including the addition of a minor penalty for a second violation.

"To be a good face-off team, it's a small percentage," Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said. "You're not dealing in big numbers there. To go from an average to a good face-off team is a pretty small percentage of face-offs won."

What's helped the Flyers is having at least two natural centers on all four lines, which allows the first center in the circle to be more aggressive in winning the draws, because the repercussion to the team for getting tossed is much lower.

Video: TOR@PHI: Giroux blasts puck home off face-off

"When you know you have another center on your line you can maybe cheat a little more, take advantage of the guy on the other side," forward Sean Couturier said. "On each line, there's a few guys that are pretty good on draws and it's something we work on and we try to get better. So far it's been working out pretty good."

Couturier, who centers the top line, has won 53.3 percent of his face-offs. Giroux, the No. 1 left wing, leads the Flyers in face-offs (576) and winning percent (57.6). Travis Konecny, who was a center during his junior career, has played right wing with Couturier and Giroux the past seven games.

Valtteri Filppula has centered the second line with Michael Raffl playing left wing; Raffl has spent time at center during his five NHL seasons.

Rookie third-line center Nolan Patrick has been with left wing Jordan Weal, who played center in the American Hockey League and during his junior career. The fourth line has included Scott Laughton and Jori Lehtera, who each has NHL experience at center.

"It's not No. 1 on the list, but when we consider what line combinations look like, it's a real positive if you have two guys capable of taking face-offs and that's helped us in certain occasions," Hakstol said.

The versatility also has helped Hakstol when he's matched lines.

"There are certain nights when as a centerman you may get into a matchup you're struggling with and that's the guy you're lining up against 90 percent of the time," Hakstol said. "If that's not going well, maybe we have an option there to switch up what that matchup is without having to switch up the matchup of the full line that we like."

Where the improvement has also helped most is at even strength. The Flyers have won 52.9 percent of their 5-on-5 face-offs and are averaging 26.3 5-on-5 face-off wins per game; last season they were 52.6 percent at 5-on-5 with an average of 25.1 wins per game.

Video: STL@PHI: Laughton roofs the opening goal of the game

It's led to an increase in 5-on-5 goals per game to 1.79 from 1.56 last season and they're on pace for 146 5-on-5 goals, up from the 128 they had last season, which was tied for the fourth-fewest in the NHL.

The mix of centers also is almost evenly split between left-handed (Couturier, Filppula, Raffl, Laughton, Lehtera) and right-handed (Giroux, Konecny, Patrick, Weal), which has allowed the Flyers to have the best odds of keeping a center on his strong side.

"Especially with [Giroux] being a righty, that helps a lot," Couturier said. "He can take a lot of face-offs on the right side. On the left we have me, [Laughton and Filppula], a few other guys that can take draws. … Lot of guys with strong sticks and strong on face-offs. It's obviously is a big part of our team."

If the Flyers can find a level of all-around consistency similar to their face-off success, it could go a long way toward them returning to the Stanley Cup Playoffs after missing it last season.

"We are aware it's a big part of the game," Filppula said. "It's more fun to start with the puck than chase it. If you can get it form the face-off that's a big advantage."

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