VOORHEES, N.J. – Boston Bruin forward Brad Marchand is the gold standard of hockey pests.
He’s not only an excellent player but he can talk trash with the best of them.
Philly has seen its share of opponent trash-talkers come through town over the years, from Tie Domi to Matthew Barnaby to Sean Avery.
These guys could play the game and, at the same time, get under the other team’s skin.
But these fellows were all in their mid-to-late 20s when they were at their chatty best.
Which brings us to the Flyers’ Travis Konecny, who is evolving into a shift disturber of his own, the only difference being that he’s just 20.
Right now, everyone’s talking about Konecny’s brilliant overtime heroics. He’s scored overtime goals in consecutive wins over Washington and Detroit, the first Flyer to achieve that feat since Sami Kapanen way back in 2005.
Yet, at the same time, Konecny was at his chirpy best in those two games, pushing players and getting in their faces.
In fact, back on Jan. 4, he even dropped the gloves to fight the Islanders’ Shane Prince.
There’s no getting around the fact that Konecny has developed into a valuable sniper. In the 13 games since he was brought up to the first line with Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier, he’s more than doubled his offensive output of his 36 games.
However, becoming more confrontational appears to have made Konecny a more confident player, one who is willing to be more aggressive in situations like overtime.
“He’s got some of that battle level in him,’’ coach Dave Hakstol said after Wednesday’s optional practice at the Skate Zone. “There are a lot of terms – I can’t say them on camera – you could use for it, right?
“But it comes out of competitiveness for him. His skill package is good. His competitive level is high. Right now he’s playing at a high level of confidence. He just has to make sure, and I know he will, that the foundation of his game continues to grow.’’
Playing along a defense-minded player such as Couturier virtually guarantees that. Couturier almost serves as a second coach to Konecny. That was apparent on Tuesday night in Detroit, when “Coots’’ gave Konecny instructions on how to play in the OT against the Red Wings.
“I think he’s still working hard on the foundational areas of his game,’’ Hakstol pointed out. “Because you will hit a stretch when the puck isn’t going in the net. And you have to be a real good 200-foot player. And for a young player, you have to keep working at that.’’
Scott Laughton agrees that it’s unusual for someone for so young to take on this role. Young players who don’t respect their elders might be looked down upon in some corners.
“He just kind of gets in people’s faces, he’s pretty physical,’’ Laughton said. “He’s got good speed, so he can get in on that forecheck and get in on guys.
“It’s working to his advantage right now. I’m really happy for him. He’s starting to play big minutes. That grows your confidence.’’
A guy who irritates another team can take it off its game.
“Marchand is probably the best at it,’’ Laughton conceded. “He’s so good at talking. It’s kind of going out of the game a bit but you have those guys who are going to talk and get in guys faces.
“There’s a time and a place for it. I think he (Konecny) has done a good job of that, too. He picks his spots and the guys he does it to. You have to kind of watch out, if you’re chirping a guy like (Henrik) Zetterberg (of Detroit).’’
Konecny isn’t the biggest guy out there but he’s pretty fearless. He’s taken some hard hits and delivered some, too.
“I’m trying to be more involved in the game,’’ he said. “I think this year I’m trying to stay out of the scrums. I’m trying to focus on my game and contribute.
“I’m attacking the game, not sitting back.’’
The Flyers were still waiting to issue an update on the condition of Michal Raffl, who left Tuesday’s game with a lower-body injury. If Raffl can’t go against Tampa Bay on Thursday night, either Taylor Leier or Dale Weise figure to be the replacement. After the Lightning game, the Flyers have three days off for the NHL All-Star Game break.
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