Daily Times (Primos, PA)

Improved play may put Fletcher in a trading mood

- By Bob Grotz bgrotz@21st-centurymed­ia.com @BobGrotz on Twitter

There is no denying the improved play of the Flyers, who had won three of their last five games entering their Tuesday start against the Bruins.

Goaltender­s Brian Elliott and Carter Hart have played better along with the defense, the Flyers producing a 3-1-1 record including two overtime victories.

No one knows the team better than Alain Vigneault, who has mixed, matched and willed this team within three points of the fourth and final playoff berth in the East entering the Tuesday puck drop.

With rumors the Flyers could add a defenseman like Mattias Ekholm (Predators) or David Savard (Blue Jackets), Vigneault paused Tuesday to answer the multi-million-dollar question: Does he have enough guys to reach the playoffs, or does he need to add a player or two before the April 12 trade deadline to get over the hump?

“I believe we have a real good team and it’s my job as head coach to get these guys to perform to their level that they can,” Vigneault said. “We have done it this year but we haven’t done it on a regular basis. And that’s on me. I need to do that job. I work with the players that are here and I believe that we have a good team and it’s up to me to get them to perform their best.”

Without stipulatin­g whether he thought the Flyers would be buyers at the trade deadline, general manager Chuck Fletcher said recently, “we’re certainly not looking at being sellers.”

That brings us to Ekholm (6-4, 215), who has another year at $3.75 million remaining on his contract, and Savard (6-2, 229), whose contract counting $4.25 million against the cap ends after this season. Both are 30 years old and would bolster the Flyers’ defense. Savard has a coveted right-handed shot.

It also brings us to Scott Laughton, one of the more reliable of Flyers forwards whose $2.3 million contract expires after this season. Laughton ranks ninth on the TSN Trade Bait list, just ahead of Ekholm. Savard tops the list.

“It hasn’t really crossed my mind,” Laughton said. “If that happens it happens. But my focus is here in Philly. I love it here in Philly. I love the staff here, I love the guys here, so I’m focused on coming to work every day and trying to get better and push the pace a little bit and get a playoff spot. That’s my focus right now.”

Laughton was robbed twice in the first period Tuesday against the Bruins, on breakaways by Bruins goalie Jeremy Swayman, making his NHL debut Tuesday.

But Laughton’s contributi­ons go beyond that frame, to the seven goals and 17 points he’s produced this season. Mature beyond 27, Laughton has been a lifeline for his teammates for his work ethic on and off the ice.

•••

Oskar Lindblom returned to the lineup Tuesday after a couple of days of rest.

Michael Raffl played center in place of Tanner Laczynski, who was scratched after playing the previous two games.

“I liked Tanner,” Vigneault said. “Like Chuck described him to me, a smart two-way hockey player. Can play more than one position. For him I’m sure this was a great experience, his first two NHL games.” Lindblom should be well-rested. “Oscar’s a real good player, and he’s fresh,” Vigneault said. “Oskar has played some big minutes for us.”

•••

The good injury news is defenseman Robert Hagg (shoulder) is “real close” to returning.

“I believe he’s a couple of days here from being ready to play and 100 percent,” Vigneault said. “I think if we would have needed him, and I would have tugged his jersey a little bit there he would have given me the OK. But right now, our defense the last two games has played well so we’re going to stick with the same group.”

••• said

Vigneault

he

wants

to see the best of James van Riemsdyk and Joel Farabee, not the duo whose performanc­es lately peaked.

“I need both those guys to be better than they have been,” Vigneault said before the Tuesday puck drop. “They’re aware of it. They’re working on their game. They’re good players for us and we need them to play well. Joel obviously is a very young player making his first steps into the NHL and he’s learning every time he gets out there. In James’ case, he’s a veteran player. We need James to be the James that he was that first month and a half.”

•••

NOTES » Thirty-five-year-old Patrice Bergeron netted his 900th career point to give the Bruins a 1-0 lead Tuesday night. Point 901 came on another Bruins goal in the opening period . ... Entering games Tuesday, the Flyers were 12-4-3 this season when scoring first, and 8-1-1 when leading after one period. The flip side of those numbers has the Flyers 6-10-2 when the opposition tallies first, and 5-10-2 trailing after the first period.

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