Early on in the second period of Friday night's 2-1 win, Flyers defenseman Nicklas Grossmann slid into the wall with Rangers forward Derick Brassard right on his heels. He crashed there and his legs folded beneath him rather awkwardly (.GIF here via @myregularface). Grossmann stayed down for a while and didn't play another shift, and his status for Sunday's Game 5 and possibly beyond looked grim.
And surely enough, it was revealed today at practice that Grossmann won't play tomorrow. Grossmann has had a bit of a rough year (at least in the opinions of most of us here at BSH), but he's been steadier lately and he and Mark Streit have done a great job keeping things moving in the right direction since the Olympic break, so his loss isn't an easy one for the Flyers to make up for.
Fortunately, they've got a more-than-qualified seventh defenseman in the press box in Erik Gustafsson who they can plug right in and use tomor--
... wait ... nope.
Huge crowd in Voorhees to watch Flyers practice. Looks like Gill will replace Grossmann Sun. pic.twitter.com/uARuZkAkam— Sam Carchidi (@BroadStBull) April 26, 2014
Hal Gill paired with Mark Streit.— Dave Isaac (@davegisaac) April 26, 2014
Berube won't say whether it's Gill or Gus -- but Gill practiced with Streit, so.— Sarah Baicker (@sbaickerCSN) April 26, 2014
Yes, that's Hal Gill, who played in six games this season, who was apparently skating with Mark Streit today in practice. Craig Berube said he hadn't decided who was in after practice, and given that these are the playoffs and teams love playing mind games and all that crap, this could be a misdirection. But by all means, it seems pretty likely that Gill will be playing tomorrow in New York City.
Assuming that's the case, a few thoughts, then:
- Hal Gill basically is, for all intents and purposes, the exact same player as Nicklas Grossmann. Huge person, big long reach, shot blocker, can kill penalties if you need him to, can barely skate, doesn't drive possession or provide offense at all. So in that sense, the Flyers' reasoning here is pretty clear: they want to take a guy just like Grossmann and put him next to Streit, to make things change up and down the lineup as little as possible. Given that Streit has been outstanding since the Olympic break and that the Flyers will want to keep that going, it isn't bad reasoning by itself.
- Furthermore, we know Berube likes to keep a balance of a defensively-oriented defenseman and a more mobile, puck-moving defenseman on the same pairing. Even when guys have been injured, he's done this all year -- take, for example, the game against the Blue Jackets on December 21, in which Grossmann was injured but Gill came in to play in his spot while the more offensively-oriented Andrej Meszaros stayed in the press box. So this move, quite frankly, was expected.
- However, at this point in time, I think you're hard-pressed to not believe that Erik Gustafsson is a better NHL player than Hal Gill is. We've talked about this before, but in a series where the Flyers have picked up two wins largely on the backs of their goaltending and have looked like the team chasing the play (rather than controlling it) more often than not, it's tough to not go with the guys who are your better players.
- And for all the talk about Gill needing to play because he's a better fit stylistically, Gustafsson's speed and possession ability might make him a better fit against this Rangers team. He's obviously a faster player than Gill (he might be a faster player than anyone on the Flyers' blueline), which is no small point given how much quicker than the Flyers the Rangers have looked most of the time. And just last week, Berube was talking about how the Flyers need to control the puck and do better in terms of puck possession to win this series -- I can't help but find it really difficult for one to align those (correct and accurate) beliefs with the decision to keep Gustafsson, one of the Flyers' better possession defensemen, in the press box.
I obviously understand why the Flyers are (probably) leaning this way, and as mentioned I think a lot of us were expecting it. But it still seems like a questionable one.
As our own Charlie O'Connor mentioned on Twitter earlier, you wonder whether the decision not to put Gustafsson in is related to the idea that they can't break apart the Luke Schenn/Andrew MacDonald pairing that people seem to like so much. Especially when you consider this piece that went up on the Flyers' website earlier today (emphasis mine):
The strength of the Flyer D - that coming into the season the naysayers were grading a D -- is a third pair that Andrew MacDonald has made as good as the first pair. Now the Flyers were down to two-and-a-half pairs, supposedly no way to win a playoff game in this age of big, fast and fresh forwards coming over the boards every 40 seconds.
If that's something the Flyers believe -- that the Schenn/MacDonald pairing has been as good as the top pairing of Kimmo Timonen/Braydon Coburn since MacDonald arrived here -- then yeah, they're not going to find a way to fit Gus in the lineup. (Now, if that is truly something that the Flyers believe, then that's alarming and highly concerning because it's absolutely not true, but I digress for the time being).
But it is what it is. Go get 'em, Hal. Game 5 is tomorrow at noon ET.