Bill Meltzer: Post-Practice Updates: Michael Raffl Out 6 Weeks, VandeVelde to Top Line

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The Philadelphia Flyers conducted a relatively short but high-tempo practice at the Skate Zone in Voorhees, NJ, today in preparation to play the Florida Panthers tomorrow night at the Wells Fargo Center. The big news of the day was that the team learned they will be without first line left wing Michael Raffl for six weeks. Head coach Craig Berube will use Chris VandeVelde in Raffl’s place tomorrow night.

Raffl sustained the lower-body injury while blocking a shot by Edmonton’s Mark Fayne in the third period of last night’s 4-1 home win. The player, who has an unorthodox way of blocking shots, was twisted around on the play. Although the team would not go into specifics, it’s believed the player sustained a foot or ankle injury.

Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said that while he will continue to scour what’s available on the market, he is not currently interested in giving up assets to acquire a veteran winger to put on the top line. He also said that Scott Laughton is not currently under consideration, because the development plan for the 2012 first-round pick is to play center, and the player is benefiting from his ice time and situational use under Terry Murray in the AHL. The GM said Laughton was not NHL-ready based on training camp and all but one game of the preseason.

Fourth-line forward VandeVelde, who has been used on the top line periodically for shifts in Raffl’s place, will get the first opportunity at playing with Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek. Berube said that he thinks VandeVelde can bring some similar elements to Raffl.

“They need a simple player on that line,” said Berube. “He goes into the corners. He’s got some size and he’s been physical this year. Plus he skates well.”

VandeVelde recently scored his first Flyers goal and just the second of his NHL career in 50-plus games while on a fill-in shift with Giroux and Voracek. The coach was asked if he thinks VandeVelde can finish scoring chances sufficiently well to play on that line if the player gets himself into scoring areas.

Berube grinned. “He finished one. I don’t know. Guess we’ll see tomorrow.”

The coach said that something else that figured into his decision was that he does not want to move around personnel on Vincent Lecavalier or Sean Couturier’s line right now. Couturier missed today’s practice with a stomach virus, so line combinations had to mixed and matched somewhat anyway.

Thursday’s morning skate will be a better indicator of personnel beyond the revised Giroux line and the trio of Lecavalier, R.J. Umberger and Wayne Simmonds. However, based on the fact that Blair Jones skated most of the line rushes with Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Zac Rinaldo, it would appear that Jones — who cleared waivers earlier today — will remain with the big club and re-enter the starting lineup tomorrow. If so, Jason Akeson will remain a healthy scratch.

The Flyers are now down temporarily to six defensemen. With Braydon Coburn nearing a return to the lineup from a left foot injury that has kept him out since getting hurt on opening night, the club has reassigned Brandon Manning to the AHL’s Lehigh Valley Phantoms.

While there is a chance Coburn could be able to go on Saturday night when the Flyers host Colorado, the club may simply choose to roll with the same six defensemen who started last night (including newcomer Carlo Colaiacovo). There is a five-night schedule break upcoming after the game against the Avs. That would give Coburn nearly an extra week of additional practice and recuperation time.

In the wake of the Raffl injury and a host of other shot-blocking related injuries this season, numerous players and Berube were asked about the risks inherent in blocking shots and whether every player should wear plastic guards on their skates.

Brayden Schenn, who broke his foot a few years ago while blocking a shot, has worn the shot blockers ever since. The forward said he’s long since gotten used to them and it would actually feel strange not to have them now in games as well as practices. At the same time, he realizes its a matter of personal preference. With players on the team of widely varying ages and experience levels, some players don’t want to deviate from what they are comfortable doing, in similar fashion to how some older players have quickly ditched visors after trying them.

Other players said they feel the guards feel uncomfortable and might affect their skating in game situations. Wayne Simmonds, who now wears the shot blockers after sustaining a lower body injury late in the preseason, says that it’s a matter of personal preference. Shot blocking itself is a necessity in today’s game.

Entering tomorrow night’s game against Florida, the Flyers are 17-for-17 on the penalty kill at home while struggling on the road. The team went 4-for-4 on the PK against Edmonton last night. Flyers defenseman Nicklas Grossmann said that penalty killing and team defense are also about rhythm.

Tomorrow night, the Flyers will get another crack at a Panthers team that came within seven seconds of shutting Philly out on Saturday night. Despite the absence of five top forwards from the Panthers already offensively challenged lineup, Florida skated away with a 2-1 regulation win and held the Flyers to 11 shots (four by Raffl) through the first 30 minutes of the game. In the latter portion of the game, Roberto Luongo took over.

Both Voracek and Simmonds said that the Flyers need to be patient and stay on-system when playing against the Panthers. Florida, who lost 2-1 in overtime against Boston last night, has played a slew of low-scoring games this season. In eight of Florida’s 10 games played to date, neither the Panthers nor their opponent has scored more than two regulation goals.

“These aren’t the Panthers of a few years ago,” said Voracek. “I said it the other night. They play very good defensively and they’ve got strong goaltending, too.”

This post originally appeared on www.hockeybuzz.com and we thank them for permission to rebroadcast it here.

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