They hang in the cool kids’ corner. OK, so it’s more like a curve, the back end of the Flyers’ practice-facility dressing room where Michael Raffl and Scott Laughton have adjacent lockers. To get there, you often must climb through dollies of laundry and equipment, occasionally even dodging a tossed sock or pad.
It’s a place for muckers and grinders, for players who don’t take themselves too seriously because they must do so with their assigned jobs. Raffl has been known to poke fun at what he believes is Laughton’s unusual hairline. Laughton has been known to poke fun at Raffl about almost everything else. And if you bother to stop by for a chat, well, leave your sensitivities at the door because, well, you are now in the cool kids’ corner.
So it was predictable that after a game in which both players scored — only the fourth time that has happened in the 226 regular-season and nine playoff games they have appeared in together (the Flyers are 5-0 in those games) — their postgame comments about each other took the form of a roast.
``He’s such a good guy to be around,’’ Laughton started off saying about Raffl after the Flyers pulled to within three points of a playoff spot with a 3-2 victory over Ottawa on Monday night. ``Just really proud of him and the way he stepped up and played good hockey for us so long.’’
Moments before, Raffl had said he was ``kind of pissed’’ that Laughton didn’t score on a breakaway created after Raffl had blocked a shot in the third period. Raffl also said that rather than making a move, his pal needs to ``close his eyes and shoot it. Just as I teach him in practice.’’
After Laughton was done with his praise, he was told Raffl had not been nearly as gracious with his postgame comments.
``Well, [bleep] him then,’’ he said to rolls of laughter.
This is how it sounds after most practices. Always with smiles. Always with a great sense of fun, humility and appreciation. They are separated by a number of years — Laughton is 24; Raffl is 30 — but they are as like-minded as they come.
Before this recent career-best point streak of five games, Laughton was on his own case about burying his chances. Raffl tried to spin his second-period goal, which broke a 1-1 tie, as a Herculean effort by Nolan Patrick, but that’s not what the replay showed.
Raffl poked the puck away from Ottawa’s Oscar Lindberg to keep it inside the offensive zone, then got just enough of his stick on the puck that Mikael Boedker was trying to corral to interfere with a smooth pass. And when that pass slipped through the legs of Senators defenseman Mark Borowiecki as Patrick bore down on him, Raffl anchored down in the slot for his teammate’s pass.
Laughton’s subsequent goal began with the kind of play he’s more known for. He pulled a puck from a scrum above his own blue line and fed a teammate, took a check from Brady Tkachuk, then joined the rush as the trailer. Raffl fed Travis Konecny, who passed it cross-ice to Laughton, and he one-timed a wrist shot past Anderson for his 11th goal of the season.
Look at just about any full game summary even before this points streak and you will see numbers in just about every slot across from Laughton’s name. Seven shot attempts, four hits, five of nine faceoffs won Monday. And with Jake Voracek sitting out the first of his two-game suspension, time spent on both the penalty kill and power play.
``Your whole team can’t be comprised of just goal-scoring and skill,’’ Flyers interim coach Scott Gordon was saying after Monday’s game. ``You have to have different elements on your lines — killing penalties, maybe a good check, a hard forecheck, good defensively, good faceoffs, whatever it might be — and not all of your offensive players are going to have those attributes.
``So when you look at Laughts and Raff, they play some heavy minutes; they can grind it out in the offensive zone and make it hard for the opposition. They can change momentum, so the next line that comes out there can have an easier time because the previous line from the opponent couldn’t get onto the ice. Those guys are invaluable — they are just as important as guys that are putting up the big points.’’
Laughton is a pending restricted free agent the Flyers are likely to sign to a long-term deal. An unrestricted free agent after this season, Raffl has a less clear future here. Monday was his 400th NHL game as a Flyer (he scored his first NHL goal against Ottawa), and he’s made it very clear this season, as he sweated out the trade deadline, that he doesn’t want to be anywhere else.
``I came in here with the attitude, signing a two-way contract, to try to get one game in and be proud of that,’’ the undrafted Austrian said. ``Here I am 400 games later. It’s kind of cool. I love it here. This is my team, my group. This is where I want to be.’’
He might want to take Gordon with him when he sits down with new GM Chuck Fletcher at season’s end. And Laughton, too. It’s not a strong enough argument to stand on its own, but Raffl’s buddy could make the case that the cool kids’ curve would not be the same without him.
``Four hundred games with the same team,’’ Laughton said. ``He must be doing something right.’’