PHILADELPHIA – From the school of thought that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link comes the belief that a hockey team is only as strong as its bottom two lines.
Which is why players such as Tyler Pitlick and Scott Laughton could be so instrumental in these last two months of the Flyers’ season.
Coach Alain Vigneault sees the importance of the contributions from his third and fourth units.
Just Friday night, Pitlick and Laughton scored to pull the Flyers back from a 3-1 deficit in Pittsburgh. While the Flyers wound up losing in overtime, they did salvage a valuable point.
What caught Vigneault’s eye was the way the Flyers dominated the third period and outshot the Penguins, 17-4.
“I think one of the reasons why were able to have a real strong third period was that I was able to roll four lines,’’ Vigneault said at a pre-game press briefing before Saturday night’s Flyers-Colorado match at the Wells Fargo Center.
“We were able to establish a good tempo, got good pressure. The second period got away from us a little bit but we were able to come back. We got a point and I thought we played well.’’
>Gostisbehere, Hart getting close to return
Both defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere (knee surgery) and goaltender Carter Hart (lower abdominal strain) skated on Saturday morning.
“Both skated well, there’s a chance Shayne might be ready for Detroit (Monday),’’ Vigneault said. “Carter’s not quite ready yet.’’
>Better shooting accuracy needed
It was pointed out to Vigneault that the Flyers do not have a single player in the NHL’s top 70 for shooting percentage.
Vigneault said this statistic is not because his team is not getting opportunities.
“Obviously, if we could score a little bit more in certain occasions, it would be beneficial,’’ the coach said. “But I think our guys are getting some good looks and if we stay with the right process we will be able to capitalize a little bit more.’’
>Strong third periods
By the way, the Flyers’ strong third period performance against Pittsburgh was no accident.
Going into Saturday night’s game against Colorado, the Flyers had outscored the opposition by a whopping 61-43 margin in third periods this season.
This bodes well for the Flyers because a lot of games are won or lost at crunch time.
“We’re able to slow the opposition down (with checking),’’ Vigneault pointed out. “That enables us to kill some plays. And when you kill those plays, sometimes you’re able to counter quickly.
“And I thought that’s what we did real well in that third period yesterday (vs. Pittsburgh) we killed plays, countered quickly, it got us some real good looks.’’
The Penguins are a plus-17 themselves in the third period so this was no easy feat.
“I believe the chances were 10 to one in the third period for us last night,’’ Vigneault said. “We just got that one goal, but 10 chances is a pretty good number.’’
>Right amount of grit
On Thursday, Vigneault reiterated he believes the Flyers will make the playoffs.
He expanded on this contention before the Avalanche game.
“You need your players to lead the way, to be tough performers night in and night out,’’ he said. “And our guys are excited. We’re focused. They really like where we are.
“I don’t think, I know they want this challenge, they are very confident that we’re going to succeed. I’ve said since day one, they’ll be a playoff team.’’
Entering the Colorado game, Claude Giroux’s 59.3 percent faceoff percentage stood third in the NHL. . .Ivan Provorov’s streak of 298 straight games from the start of a career puts him in second place all-time for consecutive games played by an NHL defenseman with the same team from the start of a career. Dan Girardi played in 330 consecutive games at the start of his career while playing for the Rangers from Jan. 27, 2007 to Jan. 22, 2011. . .The Flyers are holding opponents to an average of 29.0 shots per game, which is third-best in the NHL.