VOORHEES, N.J. – By now, everyone knows that big red number lighting up last year’s Flyers was the main reason for the team’s downfall.
Surrendering a whopping 201 goals put the Flyers last in the NHL and guaranteed they would miss the postseason for the fifth time in the past nine seasons.
It’s safe to say Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault will be stressing a turnaround in that department.
But it also will be a good bet Phantoms new head coach Ian Laperriere figures to put a strong emphasis on team defense as well.
Take a prospect such as Tanner Laczynski, who’s coming off a hip surgery last April after a brief five-game trial with the Flyers.
In four years at Ohio State University plus parts of another season with the Phantoms and Flyers, Laczynski has never posted a minus number. Some people don’t put a lot of stock in plus/minus statistics but just watch where a player’s eyes head first when he’s handed a post-game score sheet. He wants to know exactly where he finished in that category.
As recently mentioned, the Flyers probably won’t be adding many rookies to their roster this season but if they do, Laczynski could (and should) get strong consideration.
He’s a responsible two-way player who knows how and when to backcheck, so critical in not allowing opponents odd-man rushes.
“Defense wins championships,’’ Laperriere said Friday after the second day of rookie camp at the Skate Zone. “We talked about it last week at team meetings. It’s something I’m going to emphasize here and in the minors. We’re going to defend first and create offense off it.’’
Goaltenders and defensemen usually take much of the blame for lopsided goals allowed totals. But equal fault can be placed on the forwards when they don’t know where to be on the defensive side of the puck.
“I don’t care if you score five goals, if you can’t defend, you won’t win,’’ Laperriere said. “When the season goes on and on and you get into the playoffs, the team that defends best wins the Cup. Tampa had a great goalie but they defended well.’’
What it comes down to are personal accountability and puck management. It’s not just puck possession. . .it’s knowing what to do when you have it.
“When you turn the puck over, it’s not fair to have the puck come at the goalie and the ‘D’ with speed,’’ Laperriere said. “The forwards have to do a better job putting that puck in the right place at the right time. Sometimes it’s boring hockey but it’s winning hockey.’’
Laczynski, a 24-year-old center from Minooka, Illinois, plays a strong two-way game. That style just might move him to the head of the line if the Flyers need a call-up this season due to injuries.
He stayed in the Philadelphia area this summer and that might also enhance his chances. He crossed paths with Laperriere on a number of occasions.
“In the back of your head you are thinking you know that kid a little bit more,’’ Laperriere said.
Laczynski made a concerted effort to not only rehab his hip but put himself in top shape for the recent development camp, the rookie camp and the regular camp coming up next week.
“Lappy has us working hard out there,’’ he said. “It’s good to be out there and kind of get into game shape. It (the hip) is doing a lot better. I think it’s progressing really nicely.’’
He hopes to play in one of the weekend games against the Rangers rookies, either Saturday in Tarrytown, N.Y. or on Sunday back at the Skate Zone.
Tyson Foerster scored five goals in the three-on-three final game of the development camp a few weeks ago and continues to impress in the rookie camp, like in Friday’s scrimmage.
“Did you see the goal he scored?’’ Laperriere raved. “Not too many kids can score that goal. He just grabbed that puck and sniped it. What I like about him, he loves to score goals. Foerster, he’s a hell of a talent.’’
Foerster’s rehab from last season’s shoulder injury is almost behind him.
“I’m healthy again, so I’m looking forward to playing in the games tomorrow and Sunday,’’ Foerster said. “It took about a month to get back to normal.’’
Foester is working on his defense, too.
“This summer I lost some fat, I feel I’m a lot faster than I was last year,’’ he said. “Lappy could be our coach so we all want to make a good impression on him. We’re all working 10 times harder and playing a lot better. Last year at the start, my defense, my zone coverage wasn’t the best. I feel it can be a lot better. That’s what I hope to show.’’