The debate about which Flyers line resides at the top of Peter Laviolette's depth chart could rage on for days. Is it Danny Briere's line with Ville Leino and Scott Hartnell? Is it Claude Giroux's line with Jeff Carter and Nik Zherdev?

On most nights, it varies from period to period or goal to goal.

For the last six games, it has been any line that includes Mike Richards.

"I think Richards has played terrific," Laviolette said yesterday as the Flyers returned to practice after a well-deserved day off on Sunday. "I think a lot of times that flies under the radar - that he has been outstanding.

"He is now our leading scorer. He draws the toughest opponents, on a nightly basis. He's called to do all jobs on this team: five-on-three both ways, five-on-four both ways, checking assignments, faceoffs."

That list could go on.

"There is a lot that is asked of him," Laviolette said.

Most noticeably, Richards was paired up with players like Andreas Nodl, who many wrote off as a scorer, and James van Riemsdyk, who couldn't score to save his spot on the roster. Richards has brought them back to life.

Richards' do-it-all mentality - from digging out pucks in the corners to feed his teammates to forcing turnovers in the defensive zone to create a rush - has allowed van Riemsdyk and Nodl to pick up most of the headlines recently.

"That line has been our best line recently," Laviolette said. "I think people are realizing that Nodl is a pretty good hockey player that can score. And 'JVR' has come back with a little bit of fire. That line has been effective."

Since they were first assembled six games ago, van Riemsdyk has more than doubled his season point total with six points. Nodl had just five points in his first 48 NHL games but already has six goals and four assists in 16 games this season.

Richards, meanwhile, is on pace for his third straight 30-goal season. He leads the Flyers with 16 assists. He missed practice yesterday with what Laviolette termed as a "maintenance" day, but Nodl didn't hesitate when asked about his line's new-found chemistry.

"I think whoever plays with Richards, he makes a lot out of nothing," Nodl said. "He makes the other players around him better. I think we've had a lot of chances recently, and I think that comes from being comfortable. A lot of times, lines change, but it seems like I've been really comfortable with those two guys [Richards and JVR].

"For me, I was just fortunate to be in the lineup, but to be with Richards, that's a huge bonus."

Ranford turning heads

The name Brendan Ranford probably doesn't ring a bell. After all, Ranford was drafted by the Flyers in the seventh round (209th overall - second to last) in the 2010 NHL draft. But the 18-year-old has been lighting up the Western Hockey League this season with the Kamloops Blazers.

Through the weekend, Ranford is tied for the lead in scoring among the Canadian Hockey League, which encompasses all three major junior leagues: WHL, OHL and QMJHL. He has 24 goals and 20 assists in just 26 games. He is five goals away from topping his career high in a season, which took him 72 games last year.

Slap shots

Claude Giroux also did not practice yesterday, with Peter Laviolette calling it a "maintenance" day . . . Dan Carcillo returned to practice yesterday for the first time in 2 weeks. He said he is experiencing no pain after his MCL sprain but probably needs another week's worth of rehab . . . Jeff Carter has won 103 of 164 faceoffs, best on the team at 62.8 percent. Giroux (51.3 percent) is the only other forward with a winning percentage. Carter has taken less than half as many draws as Mike Richards (49.3 percent) . . . Darroll Powe has a team-high 58 hits in 25 games . . . Kimmo Timonen (22:44) and Chris Pronger (22:24) lead the Flyers in ice time but their average is down almost 4 minutes per game from last season. *

For more news and analysis, read

Frank Seravalli's blog, Frequent Flyers, at

Follow him on Twitter at