HE'S BEEN BETTER THAN YOU THINK
PHILADELPHIA – There have been times in Luke Schenn’s career where that promise that made him the No. 5 overall pick in the 2008 NHL Draft has shined through in his play.
There were times in Toronto, but they weren’t frequent enough for an impatient fan base, an equally impatient ownership group and an overbearing press corps.
So he was shipped to the Flyers, and in his first season with the team in 2012-13, Schenn had a mostly solid, if unspectacular, season with a Flyers team that didn’t make the playoffs after a 48-game lockout shortened season.
Still, he was quite consistent playing mostly with Kimmo Timonen, logging big minutes and was the only healthy Flyers defenseman for the entire season.
Coming into 2013-14, Schenn was expected to take another step. Instead, he, like every other Flyer, got off to an underwhelming start.
Unable to find consistency, Schenn went through several partners, was a healthy scratch for a game, and had to recommit himself to his conditioning in order to be better suited to play the Flyers system.
Much like the Flyers season, it’s been a long path back to respectability, but it looks like he, like his team, has gotten there.
Schenn has been quietly playing a better brand of defensive hockey for the Flyers since before the Olympic break. He’s always going to provide the big hits and the heaviness on the wall and a heavy stick.
But more than that, Schenn has seemed to simplify his game in relative obscurity.
No longer is he under the constant scrutiny of the Toronto media. No longer is he considered a top pair defensive prospect who is going to instill a feeling of trepidation into the minds of scoring forwards.
Instead, he’s going to play about 16 minutes a game, kill penalties, take away time and space and be a reliable guy who rounds out your defensive corps.
And ever since he’s been paired with Andrew MacDonald (the past two weeks) Schenn has showed improved puck possession numbers as well.
Corsi, the always combustible advanced statistic that is used as a gauge to determine puck possession by analyzing shots for and against while a player is on the ice, has not been kind to Schenn in his career.
Yet, in the very small sample that is five games with MacDonald, Schenn has given his numbers a bit of a face lift.
In those five games, the Flyers have out-shot their opponents with Schenn on the ice 73-68, or roughly 52 percent of the shots.
Again, five games is way too small a sample to get excited about, but it can be a jumping off point, for if Schenn is able to maintain that kind of percentage over a greater number of games, then Schenn is providing even more than the old eye test would allow you to see – or expect.
“Anytime you have a puck mover and a good defender like [MacDonald] it makes it easier on his partner,” coach Craig Berube said. “I think they’ve worked well together so far and complement one another.”
You can just tell Schenn is happy with his game too now that he’s paired with MacDonald.
“I’ve been fortunate and lucky to get to play with him and I think we’ll get even more comfortable together as we go,” Schenn said. “I’ve bounced around with a few different partners… and there’s no question he’s a high level defenseman… I feel like we’re growing as partners and everyone is elevating their play at this time of year. “
Berube made the decision to start Ray Emery against the Chicago Blackhawks and I can tell you the scuttlebutt amongst those covering the team at the morning skate was that it was a bad decision.
The argument was two-fold: Emery didn’t have any success against Chicago when the teams played back in December and the Flyers were trounced 7-2, with Emery getting pulled. Also, he’s coming back from a lower body injury that sidelined him for three weeks and getting his first action against the top scoring team in the NHL might not be a great idea.
Fair enough. But I see it differently.
I look at it and see a Chicago team that really isn’t playing with much in the way of urgency lately. They’ve lost 16 out of the last 30 games (14-8-8) and have been pretty much on playoffs cruise control for awhile now.
This quick trip to Philadelphia comes on the first night of back-to-back games with the second one kicking off a four-game home stand that welcomes the Best in the West, the St. Louis Blues, to the Madhouse on Madison.
Considering the Blues are on deck, this game tonight could be a bit of a look-ahead for Chicago, leaving them more ripe for the taking than usual.
Meanwhile, Dallas, who isn’t nearly as dangerous as Chicago, is fighting for their playoff lives and when they get to town Thursday will likely be far more amped up to play.
As such, Berube is saving Mason for that tilt.
Ultimately, we’ll see if it was the right or the wrong decision in about eight hours, but from this chair, this coaching decision makes a lot more sense than it would at first glance.
To contact Anthony SanFilippo, email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @InsideTheFlyers