Many Flyers’ fans have been clamoring that the team does not have a tough guy. After fighting Friday night, could NAK solve this debate?
Philadelphia is a very gritty city–there’s no doubt about it. The Flyers sit fourth in the entire league record-wise but have not come anywhere close to playing like it. The lack of defensive stability has been one of the biggest issues for Philly. However, with Sean Couturier close to returning, that may be resolved before we know it. The scoring has been there, but it hasn’t been as balanced as we would like to see it.
The good thing is that those flaws are fixable for the most part at least. As the team continues to play more games, they’ll start to click. However, one thing that this team lacks is a “tough guy,” for lack of a better term. Could Nic Aube-Kubel end up filling this role?
Flyers’ Lack of Physicality
Let me make one thing clear before we begin.
The Flyers do NOT need a tough guy. NAK should not feel any type of obligation TO BE the said “tough guy.”
However, hockey is a brutal game. We saw them get bounced around in the playoffs last year, partially leading to the Islanders’ series victory. This season, four of their five total losses have come to the Bruins, who will be the team to beat in their division. The key similarity among these losses has been the heavy forecheck of those teams conquering the Flyers’ slow and steady, meticulous approach to their offensive game.
Honestly, this hit did not look as bad in real-time. However, there is no reason that someone like Oskar Lindblom should be taking contact to the head like this, and not a single Flyer at least skates over to cause a gathering. No fight nor unnecessary penalty was needed. Just a simple stick tap to the shin guards and/or exchange of words would have gotten the job done and let the Bruins know that they weren’t going to take that.
Flyers’ Twitter Weighs In
Fans on Twitter let the team know it too. Flyers’ Twitter has been full of calling the team “soft” and has begun the latest feud among the fanbase.
The list of these tweets goes on and on…
The Flyers really aren’t even so much of a “soft” team as we probably are making them out to be. They’ve been getting their hits. However, it’s the moments where the team needs a spark, or a teammate gets taken down that they don’t have. That’s where they’re “soft.”
Enter: Nic Aube-Kubel
Nic Aube-Kubel took the team by storm last season. He’s displayed his skill as a bottom-six staple. After finally being given a consistent shot last season, he put up 15 points in 36 games. During the bubble, he scored two goals in a key seeding game against the Lightning.
One of the aspects of NAK’s game that doesn’t show on the scoresheet (other than maybe some PIMs) is his physicality. After being pushed around by the Bruins in their first three games against them this season, NAK stepped up to the challenge and took on Connor Clifton for the Flyers’ first fight of the season.
Prior to this fight too, NAK was throwing his body around. The 24-year-old started laying some heavy hits. In turn, these began to spark his linemates Scott Laughton and Michael Raffl to place some hits of their own. Personally, I don’t think it was much of a coincidence that following the fight, the Flyers’ played one of their most balanced game of the season. Sure, the outcome wasn’t what they wanted and they’ll want that dreaded 27 seconds back. However, this spark definitely contributed to the team’s solid play for the majority of the game.
Could this be NAK’s New Role for the Flyers?
Nic Aube-Kubel can fill this needed role for the team by far. He’s skilled-and tough- enough to plug into it right away. However, the Flyers’ lack of physicality and “softness” can’t be solved through one player.
This needs to be a collective mantra for the team. NAK can lead the change and be the one to fight, sure. However, if this locker room is the “tight-knit” group that they’re made out to be, they need to stick together and each plays their own role. Sam Morin was switched to the wing to be this guy, but hasn’t done much other than play five minutes and “think” about fighting. Morin needs to crack the lineup in order to embrace this role but has done a good job of it so far in Lehigh Valley. It only took one game for him to drop the gloves there.
The game of hockey has changed over the years. Fighting isn’t really popular, nor needed in most cases. Finesse and teamwork is the key to winning most of the games. However, the Flyers do have a forechecking and physicality problem. This will only be solved through a team mindset- not an individual one, and NAK can lead this change by setting an example.
Photo Credit: Alex McIntyre