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Craig Berube's balancing of his players minutes is paying dividends later in games.

Wednesday, 02.05.2014 / 4:25 PM
Anthony SanFilippo  - Philadelphia Flyers Inside Reporter

VOORHEES, N.J. – Craig Berube liked the way Michael Raffl was playing so much that he moved him to the fourth line a week ago.

Yes, that sentence seems oxymoronic. Or maybe, you can say, “Just drop the oxy.”

Nevertheless, that’s what he did and in a small sample of four games, it’s proven to be a smart move, one of many that Berube has pulled the trigger on in this, his rookie season as a head coach.

The fourth line has scored two goals in those four games, of which the Flyers are 3-1-0 and were even happy with the way they played in the one loss.

The production from that fourth line is a bonus of sorts. Rarely do teams count on their fourth line to provide much offense. So, when the Flyers are trotting out a unit of Zac Rinaldo, Raffl and Adam Hall, the confidence that there is going to be any consistency in scoring is relatively low, but the confidence that there is going to be consistent play from the trio is relatively high.

Raffl is a jack-of-all-trades who can fit in on any line (he’s played on all four this season) has a good shot, creates some offense but is defensively responsible and strong on the puck. Hall is a grinder who uses his size to his advantage, is a top tier faceoff man and a defensive stalwart. Rinaldo is a burst of energy, who hits like a bowling ball and draws a lot of penalties.

All in all it’s a very good fourth line. But, this isn’t a story about the fourth line.

(It’s not?)

Nope. This is a story about all four lines. And all three defensive pairs. You see, part of the Flyers success this season under Berube has been the coach’s management of minutes.

With a few notable exceptions, Berube believes in an 18-man system of play that includes everyone on the bench, and not just for the occasional shift to try and spark something.

Instead, Berube believes in sharing the wealth. It makes other players feel an ownership to their job and their responsibilities and at the same time keeps the team fresh later in games as well as later in the season.

It’s an approach Berube wanted to adopt that was different from previous coaches, and one he noticed being employed by other top teams in the NHL.

“I truly believe if you look at the teams that are successful – like Boston – their fourth line is awesome,” Berube said. “They play them a lot and use them a lot and I think that’s important. To play a fast, hard game - a skating game, you need lots of guys. You really do.”

And Berube hasn’t been afraid to be a copycat to the rotation Boston employs.

With the exception of the additional minutes that Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara seems to get the Flyers lines and the Bruins lines are starting to mirror one another as far as ice time is concerned.

By rolling all four lines and all three defensive pairs, Berube is getting depth players a bigger bite into the game and at the same time keeping legs more fresh – which is important both late in individual games as well as late in a season when the importance of games becomes more paramount.

“When you are building a team, I think it’s important to make everyone feel important,” Berube said. “That’s part of it too. I like to make sure everyone is involved in the game. It’s important… I [also] don’t like playing forwards more than 20 minutes. I know [Claude] Giroux goes over and [Sean] Couturier goes over but if I can keep them under that it’s better for the team. Our fourth line is good and it has energy so if I can use them more it’s good.

“With the D we have, some guys eat a lot of minutes up but to keep some sort of balance is good because it keeps them fresh too.”

Maybe that’s why when you look at the statistics for third period scoring, the top team in the NHL is Boston and tied for second is the Flyers.

“I think it’s huge and we’ve been doing a good job of it,” said Wayne Simmonds. “Lines one-through-four, if we’re skating we’re hard to play with. That’s the way we’ve been going as of late. Every line has chipped in offensively and done their work defensively and as a result we’ve come out on the right side of a few games.”

It should go a long way for the Flyers as well after the upcoming Olympic break. With only a few exceptions, most of the Flyers big name players will get a chance to rest or heal up some nagging injuries over the course of the 18-day hiatus, unlike other teams they are competing for playoff positioning with who are sending more big-name players over to Sochi.

Which is another reason fresh legs and a balanced approach could make the Flyers even more dangerous as Spring creeps closer.

“When you have the depth we have on this team it allows more guys to play in multiple situations and handle different workloads,” said Braydon Coburn, who leads the Flyers in average ice time at 22:33 per game. “We’re lucky enough to have guys who can play against anybody at any time. When you’re not going too far over your workload, with the schedule we’ve had, the coaches have done a good job in spreading the minutes around to allow us to be successful.

“There’s a lot of merit to it. We haven’t had the best starts, so we have to pick up the slack somewhere, which is what we’ve been able to do in the third period. We’re hoping to change that and become a full 60-minute team, but we don’t want to lose what we’ve been able to do in the third periods either.”

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NOTES: Kimmo Timonen (lower body injury) was a full participant in practice and said he skated much harder than he did in California. He said he felt better but he would wait to see how he feels tomorrow before deciding if he wanted to give the coaching staff the green light to re-insert him in the lineup if they saw fit… Adam Hall is third in the NHL in faceoff percentage (60.6 percent) among players with at least 350 draws. He trails only Buffalo’s Zenon Konopka (63.3) and Vladimir Sobotka (60.9) of St. Louis… No official announcement, but it looks like Steve Mason will be in net again tomorrow… The Flyers have elite special teams ranking eighth on the power play (19.8 percent) and sixth on the penalty kill (83.8). They are one of only three teams (Pittsburgh and St. Louis) to rank in the top eight in both categories.

To contact Anthony SanFilippo, email asanfilippo@comcast-spectacor.com or follow him on Twitter @InsideTheFlyers

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