PHILADELPHIA – Just because Owen Tippett posted a hat trick and a total of five points in his two previous games doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement in his overall game.
While Tippett has been the Flyers’ best offensive player since Travis Konecny went down with an injury last month, he’s still listening to coach John Tortorella for tips to make him a more efficient player.
After all, even though he entered Tuesday night’s game against Florida with 21 goals (second on the Flyers to Konecny’s 27), Tippett still has that rather unsightly minus-15 staring him in the face.
Clearly, Tortorella doesn’t want to get too picky with Tippett’s efforts. In recent weeks, the 24-year-old has shown some dynamic skating ability, including a nasty toe-drag move to complete his first career hat trick in Friday’s 5-2 win over Buffalo.
“I think he’s growing,” Tortorella said before the pre-game morning skate at the Flyers Training Center in Voorhees, N.J. “He’s in a spot right now that he thinks he can just do things. He just thinks he’s a really good player. He’s so much freer as far as his skating.
“When you start seeing openings and you burst away into that and gain more ice. . .it happens a couple times and you say, ‘man.’ You can see he’s doing it more and more, in the past few weeks, he’s taken off and he’s found that open ice. He sees it quickly now and he’s taken advantage of it.”
As for how Tippett can become a more well-rounded player, Tortorella discussed ways to do that.
One, instead of settling for an outside shot, cradle the puck in power forward fashion and drive to the net.
“I counted one game and I told him, ‘three times you drove to the net,’ so I’m watching that,” Tortorella said. “He’s turned some pucks over where he just exposes it and I talked to him about using his big frame to hold on to it. I watched him last game and he did it two or three times.
“I am thinking that right away he’s listening. I think ‘Tipp’ has accepted some of the things we’ve asked of him. I think the most important thing is he has the right type of confidence now in his game.”
Tippett is not one to blow his own horn. And he pays attention when coaches try to give him suggestions.
“He asks questions,” Tortorella said. “Very coachable. When you tell him something, I don’t think there’s any misinterpretation of what we’re trying to tell him. I think he tries to do the things the coaches are trying to help him with. And then we can get out of the way.”
The Ontario, Canada native is taking his new fame in stride. The recent breakthrough games are simply a product of hard work.
“I think it’s a culmination,” he said. “I’m not one to go out looking for points.”
Recently, Tortorella has included penalty killing to Tippett’s duties, which adds to that defensive dimension of his game. It’s also a vote of trust.
“It’s been great,” said Tippett, who arrived last season from a trade with the Panthers that sent Claude Giroux out of Philadelphia after a 14-year career here. “I said last year when I came over and got that opportunity, it’s a fresh start.
“There’s been no gray area,” he added. “He (Tortorella) tells players exactly what he expects of them. I think that’s helped me. It’s just whatever they need – little plays here and there – just do what I can.”
>Back to seven defensemen
In order to give recent call-up Egor Zamula some playing time, Tortorella chose to go with seven defensemen against the Panthers.
The coach said he planned to use the young Russian in different situations to see where things stand in his development progress.
>Cates ‘sticks’ to basics
Rookie center Noah Cates has been thrown out against some of the top lines in the NHL this season and more than held his own. In fact, he entered the Florida game at a commendable plus-6.
At 6-foot-1, but just 165 pounds, Cates is not going to knock people around on the defensive side of the puck. So Tortorella wants him to give opponents the lumber.
“If he’s going to play top minutes against top players he’s not going to be a guy that’s going to be able to close people out and stop the play, kill the play,” the coach said. “He has to learn how to use his stick.
“You have to be aware of having your stick down all the time. That discourages plays through seams or through you. It’s a work in progress with him. No one is trying to take anything away from his game. It’s adding to his game and teaching him how to use his stick.”