PHILADELPHIA – As soon as it was announced the Flyers had acquired defenseman Jamie Drysdale from the Anaheim Ducks and didn’t have to give up a roster player in return, Philadelphia coach John Tortorella had some tough decisions to make.
One of the biggest came on Wednesday night when Tortorella decided to scratch veteran forward Nick Deslauriers for only the second time this season.
Also sitting out was veteran defenseman Mark Staal, but he’s no stranger to watching from the sidelines as he’s been penciled out for all but 16 games in this campaign.
Deslauriers, 32, hasn’t been enjoying a particularly productive season from an offensive standpoint. He has yet to score a goal, has produced just three assists and is a minus-8. While he was effective as an enforcer in his first go-round with the Flyers last season, he has only been called on to fight on a limited number of occasions this year and has only 41 penalty minutes in 39 games.
Asked for his reaction to being taken from the lineup after the morning skate at the Flyers Training Center in Voorhees, N.J., Deslauriers declined to comment.
Tortorella acknowledged it was a difficult situation scratching one of his heart-and-soul players.
“You know we trade for a player, we don’t lose anybody off our roster,” the coach said. “It’s a decision I make. I just don’t think any of the six defensemen that have been playing, I don’t think they should come out.
“So the forward that we decided (is Deslauriers), and it kills me to take him out because he’s such a great pro and does so much of the heavy lifting for us.
“I feel the same way about Staal. Mark is different; we explained this (part-time status) when we signed him. He’s going to be in a little bit of the development of our young guys. And there was going to be spotty play here and there.
“Two really tough decisions for me.”
Tortorella said he’s not going to use Deslauriers as just an enforcer when the situation calls for it. He has too much respect for the player.
“What’s happened with Nick is that he was a penalty killer last year and we brought in other people (Sean Couturier and Cam Atkinson returning from injury plus the arrivals of Garnet Hathaway and Ryan Poehling) to kill penalties.”
And those four have been a big reason why the Flyers have moved up to No. 2 in the NHL in that department.
“He (Deslauriers) has lost a little ice time there,” Tortorella confirmed. “We brought more kids into our lineup (including Bobby Brink and Tyson Foerster). The evolving of the team has put Nick in a little bit of a jam as far as ice time throughout the year here because of that.”
Deslauriers has mostly skated on a fourth line with Poehling and Hathaway. That could change moving forward if there are no injuries to the defense.
“So it’s difficult for him (Deslauriers),” the coach said. “I have such tremendous respect for him. It’s hard but I have to make these decisions. And I think he understands that.
“I know he’s not too happy about it. I don’t expect him to be. But I still have to make the decision that I think is best for the hockey team.”
Tortorella likely will want to get Deslauriers back in the lineup fairly soon to avoid possible rust on the bench.
“Just on the human side, I think the world of Nick,” he said. “I know it kills him to sit out. Same with Marc. But the way you have to look at it is it gives more practice time. Work on their game and await their turn.
“I don’t know how else to do it with them. You’re not going to have everybody happy about things when your team is growing. It’s a really hard time having to make tough decisions. You have more bodies and your team is growing.”
>Power-play time for Drysdale
Tortorella said he planned to use Drysdale on the power play against Montreal but mostly on the second unit. He wants to keep Egor Zamula on the point on the power play, especially because it had clicked in each of the last two previous games.
“Z stays on,” Tortorella said. “He’s done a real good job. I don’t want to screw that up. We knew Z was good with the puck. But we’ve been taken aback by how calm he’s been and his vision on the power play.”