Flyers likely to get Coburn back this weekend
Defenseman Braydon Coburn is expected back from injury, but reliable veteran Nick Schultz might continue to get ice time.
BY THE LOOK of yesterday's practice, it will take a last-minute setback to keep Braydon Coburn from returning to the Flyers' lineup tomorrow night in Dallas.
If Coburn is indeed back, who will be on the blue line with him?
Flyers coach Craig Berube has made no promises to his in-flux defense corps that veteran Nick Schultz will be the odd man out, as he was on Opening Night in Boston.
Consider that both a nod toward Schultz's steadying influence and a message delivered to Luke Schenn and Michael Del Zotto to step up their game.
"I'll think about it," Berube said. "I'll go over stuff and see what the best fit for Dallas is at the time."
For the most part, Berube said Schenn and Del Zotto "were fine" in Tuesday night's loss to Anaheim. Their horrendous outing against New Jersey, when the pair was out for almost every Devils goal in a 6-4 loss, still sticks in his mind, though.
Both Schenn and Del Zotto were healthy scratches around this time last season - Schenn last November with the Flyers and Del Zotto last October in New York, which spelled the beginning of his end with the Rangers.
Unlike last season, when inconsistent play from Andrej Meszaros and Erik Gustafsson opened opportunities for Schenn to make amends, Berube has a capable player in Schultz at his disposal.
The Flyers signed Schultz, 32, to a 1-year deal this summer. He has been a regular in the NHL so long that even adjusting to Opening Night as the spare seventh defenseman took some time to process.
"It was definitely different," Schultz said. "I think you go through different phases in your career, from starting out and trying to earn a spot, to doing everything you can to keeping one, and now being on the other side is strange."
Replacing Coburn after just one game meant Schultz didn't have to sit on the shelf long. Through three games, Berube has noticed a marked difference in Schultz's play from what he showed in the preseason.
"He came in here as a new guy and he was maybe trying to show too much," Berube said. "He brings stability. He's been a good, reliable defenseman for a long time in this league. He's got a good stick, he's solid positionally.
"He's doing his job. Sometimes, I think guys try to go out of their element a little bit. Less is more. Just do your job, be what you are. He knows how to play defense. He's doing that."
Schultz has spent so much of his career in the Western Conference that it's easy to take his pedigree for granted, as just another extra body in the form of Hal Gill, Bruno Gervais or Andreas Lilja. He isn't going to wow anyone offensively, but he can be a calming influence in a defensive zone that already has seen its fair share of panic.
Schultz has played 140 more games in a Minnesota Wild uniform than any other player in history - a total of 743. The next closest is current Wild captain Mikko Koivu.
Schultz also holds a special place in the heart of Wild fans, from that time his appendix exploded on the eve of the 2008 Stanley Cup playoffs and he still returned to play one game in that opening series.
He hasn't played for the Wild since 2012, but his lessons from coach Jacques Lemaire remain - even if the road has been rocky. Schultz spent the 2 1/2 seasons in Edmonton before a trade-deadline deal last March sent him to Columbus. His tenure with the Blue Jackets lasted only a couple months, as he was a healthy scratch for part of their first-round playoff series against Pittsburgh.
Part of his $1.25 million deal with the Flyers was starting the season as an extra body. He signed banking on the chance to crack the lineup. Three games in, he is a minus-4, but has averaged more than 19 minutes per game.
"It's gone all right," Schultz said. "I think I've been similar to the team overall. It comes down to consistency. At times, it's gone well and at other times, there are things that I need to clean up."
Even if Schultz is back sitting out against the Stars, he is doing his job if he's making Berube think about his lineup card.
"I think every coach likes to have different options, to have that depth with guys who can play," Schultz said. "I'm just trying to go out and play hard and make those decisions tough for the coaching staff."
Craig Berube stressed shots on net yesterday. Berube says the Flyers have blown two games as a result of turnovers from hesitancy shooting the puck . . . Michael Raffl and R.J. Umberger worked on blocking shots with Ian Laperriere at the beginning of practice. The Flyers are third in the league with 73 through four games . . . Flyers' first-round pick Travis Sanheim was picked for the Western Hockey League's entry in the upcoming Subway Super Series against top Russian prospects . . . The Lehigh Valley Phantoms will play their inaugural game tonight at sparkling PPL Center in downtown Allentown.