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If there’s been one common theme from Philadelphia Flyers head coach John Tortorella during their west coast road trip this week, it’s been a very specific tactical focus, especially after the club scored just one goal across 120 minutes last Saturday versus Los Angeles and on Tuesday in San Jose versus the then-winless Sharks.
Get to the front of the net.
“I don’t think we generate enough pucks to the net,” he emphasized on Thursday in Anaheim when asked about the team’s struggling power play. “And I think a big reason why we don’t generate pucks to the net is because they don’t see people in front of the goal. And this goes with our five-on-five play too.”
It’s what they’ve talked about in meetings, it’s what they’ve worked on in practice. So it was little surprise to see their gamewinning goal on Saturday night in a rematch versus the Kings come courtesy of a netfront deflection.
The surprise was the player who delivered said goal. It wasn’t a big forward, a player long comfortable battling with defensemen in the paint. It was the slight playmaker Morgan Frost, just two games removed from his seventh healthy scratch of the season.
“Yeah, he’s buying in. He’s trying to find a way to stay in the lineup,” Tortorella noted.
Frost isn’t the type of player one would expect to find at netfront, even if assistant coach Rocky Thompson did try him out there in an unsurprisingly fruitless PP experiment last Saturday. It’s not Frost’s natural spot, given his inclination towards attacking on the rush or setting up teammates while on the perimeter. But he entered Saturday’s game fully aware that Tortorella wanted his forwards to go to the dirty areas whenever possible.
So there was Frost, in the perfect spot to deflect a Nick Seeler point shot and give the Flyers a 3-0 lead.
“I haven’t spent too much of my career in that area, but it’s something that I’m trying to work on,” Frost said after the 4-2 win.
Frost, of course, was back on the shelf in San Jose, after a four-game reinsertion into the lineup following his initial six-game scratching. After the team fell to the worst team in hockey, however, Frost was right back in on Friday, and even picked up a cheapie assist for his first point of the year, though Frost sheepishly admitted Saturday that he didn’t realize at first that he would even be credited with it. That was enough to keep Frost in the lineup versus the Kings, even as Tortorella put Ryan Poehling back in to give him a shot in the top-nine with Scott Laughton and Joel Farabee.
This time, Tortorella chose to trust Frost could build off his first point of the season. And Frost rewarded that faith, finally scoring his first two goals of 2023-24.
“Definitely helps the confidence a little bit,” Frost admitted after the win. “Obviously coming in and out of the lineup, and hadn’t really put up any points or scored at all, it’s definitely not easy mentally. I think I’ve done a pretty good job with it, but I’m not going to sit here and say that it’s been easy for me.”
Goal No. 1 was undeniably fluky, which Frost himself admitted, acknowledging that he was trying to center the puck to Owen Tippett and instead watched it bounce off Jordan Spence and goalie Cam Talbot and into the net. Goal No. 2 was the big one, an example of a player in and out of the coach’s doghouse for over a year, doing exactly what said coach has been begging everyone — not just Frost, but the entire team — to do.
It helped the Flyers squeeze out a win on a night when they certainly lost the puck possession battle and were outplayed for long stretches, even if they generally did well to keep Los Angeles to the outside. Tortorella even felt that the shot counter (37 – 26 in favor of the Kings) wasn’t exactly an accurate recounting of the game that was played.
“I call bullshit on the shots. I think they hit the button twice on every shot,” he said with apparent seriousness.
Conspiratorial musings aside, the Kings certainly held the puck for longer than the Flyers did. But Philadelphia found ways to overcome their possession deficit, starting with Cal Petersen, who delivered an impressive surprise start after Carter Hart proved unable to play due to his lingering illness that kept him out on Friday. Sean Walker also impressed against his former club, delivering two big primary assists, including a stretch pass setup of Tippett, who after scoring three goals in his last two games appears to be rediscovering his finishing touch after a slow-ish scoring start to the season.
And then, there was Frost, getting pucks to the net and stationing himself there as well, just like Tortorella wanted.
So is this enough to get Frost back in the head coach’s good graces, and out of the recurring scratch rotation? Frost’s teammates certainly have his back, and were thrilled to see him finally break through.
“When a guy goes through what he’s gone through and battles back, comes back and has a two-goal game, it lifts the bench up too,” Tippett noted. “Everyone’s happy for him, everyone’s happy to see him scoring. It builds the group up and gives us energy.”
But Owen Tippett’s opinion of Morgan Frost’s lineup security doesn’t matter. Only that of Tortorella does. Was Saturday’s breakout performance enough to solidify Frost’s spot?
Tortorella elaborated on Thursday after practice his current view of Frost, who he praised for improving his work away from the puck over the past season, a point he reiterated in the wake of Saturday’s win. But for Frost to fit in the lineup given their current personnel, Tortorella contended, he needs to be in a scoring role.
And to justify staying in that role, Frost needs to… well, score.
“I just need to be able to hang my hat on something,” Tortorella said on Thursday regarding Frost’s scoring and what it would mean for his lineup security.
So was this “something?”
“Everybody keeps asking me, ‘Why isn’t Frosty in the lineup, this, that and the other thing,” Tortorella said after Saturday’s win. “He needs to do those things offensively for us, for him to play in that role.”
At the very least, this was a start, a move in the right direction for both Frost and his standing with his coach.
“We need his offense. That’s the only way he can stick,” Tortorella said. “He’s beginning to show us that.”