Mission almost impossible: Flyers look to limit Oilers’ McDavid

Scott Laughton

      VOORHEES, N.J. – The problem with trying to stop NHL leading scorer Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers isn’t hard to figure out.

      If you put extra coverage on the superstar and his 93 points, you provide extra space for snipers such as Leon Draisaitl (76 points), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (62) and Zach Hyman (60).

      All four of those gentlemen are well ahead of the 49 points registered by Flyers leading scorer Travis Konecny.

      All that said, the Flyers will attempt to cool off McDavid and the Oilers, who enter Thursday night’s game at the Wells Fargo Center with an 8-0-1 mark in their last nine games.

      “He’s got all those points for a reason,’’ Scott Laughton said after Wednesday’s practice at the Flyers Training Center. “He’s the best player in the league.

      “You have to try to limit time and space. Draisaitl and those guys, they always try to look for each other. We’re going to have to clog it up as much as we can in the neutral zone. Try and limit his puck touches as much as you can.”

      Edmonton’s league-leading power play is clicking at right around 32 percent, far ahead of runner-up Ottawa’s 27 percent.

      “That’s the other thing,’’ Laughton said. “On the PK, try and keep it tight. Don’t let passes come through you. You have to limit it as much as you can.”

      The Flyers’ penalty kill has been a little bit better of late, getting up to 18th in the NHL at just under 80 percent.

      “It’s a great challenge for us,” Laughton said.

      There’s a good chance Morgan Frost will see some playing time against McDavid’s line and that’s a big task for a young player.

      Frost has already played against some of the top units in the league, led by the likes of Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby so facing this level of talent is nothing new.

      “You have to try to not let them build too much speed,” Frost said. “Play them as hard as you can. It’s probably inevitable that he (McDavid) gets a couple chances. It’s just about limiting how many he gets and how high danger those chances are.”

      The same thing goes for Noah Cates, who sees the McDavid coverage task as a big challenge.

      “First time I’ve played him and obviously you have to slow him down,’’ Cates said. “He’s the best player in the world for a reason. The concentration has to be through the roof.

      “We have to defend him as a full team and play him hard.”

      >Building identity

      Tortorella said at the beginning of the year it would take until later in the season to get this team “back on track.” It looks like the Flyers have achieved that; now it’s just a matter of whether the team will stay stationary on those tracks or move forward.

      The Flyers enter Thursday night’s game with a mark of 21-22-9, probably exceeding most people’s preseason expectations.

      “They’ve put themselves in a spot where maybe they can look up (eight points out of a playoff spot with Pittsburgh holding games in hand),’’ Tortorella said. “Instead of looking behind them.

      “To me, when you’re playing meaningful games at this time of year, that’s exciting. This is when it really starts getting to be hockey. Because you can see the end of the line.”

      Regardless of their position in the standings, the Flyers are still very much a work in progress and Tortorella is sticking to the preseason script. Develop and evaluate for the future.

      “It doesn’t change my thinking as far as the building of this team, how much work we have to do,” the coach said. “They had a 10-game losing streak and they still got back to .500 within 50 games.

      “I think there’s belief. We go through the month of January and how we regrouped after the 10-game losing streak. In the summertime, when we started this, I just felt like we weren’t on the tracks. I think we’ve gotten ourselves on the tracks. Now which way are we going to go? Are we going to keep moving forward or are we stuck there? If we get stuck there too long, we might fall off the tracks again. That’s where I think we’re at but it’s a positive sign.”

      >Long practice

      The Flyers were on the ice for almost 90 minutes on Wednesday after Tortorella gave the team an unscheduled day off on Tuesday.

      There was a lot of work accomplished and also some fun stuff, like throwing a football around near the end of the proceedings.

      “We didn’t want to practice two days in a row,’’ the coach said. “We had a couple things to cover today regarding our last game (a 2-1 loss to the Islanders). It could have been 5-0 after the first period. The intensity in the last quarter of the year has picked up. We need to play that way.”

      >Coach’s take on Eagles

      Tortorella was asked if he uses the Eagles as a “model’’ for his players to look at and try to emulate.

      “I don’t,’’ he said. “I’m a huge football fan. I don’t think they (the Chiefs) are going to stop the Eagles. I think it’s destiny for them. Just the way it’s gone and how they present themselves. Our players see how this sports town reacts to a team that’s in it. I want them to experience that.”

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About Wayne Fish 2437 Articles
Wayne Fish has been covering the Flyers since 1976, a stint which includes 18 Stanley Cup Finals, four Winter Olympics and numerous other international events.