Vincent Lecavalier, out since the first week of the season after taking a Mark Streit shot off of his foot, will reportedly draw back into the Flyers' lineup tonight as they take on the Panthers. From Friday's practice in South Florida:
Looks like Lecavalier will be good to go tomorrow. That means a couple line changes. 18-40-17; 10-14-24; 36-78-76— Dave Isaac (@davegisaac) October 31, 2014
Correction on that line. Umberger with Vinny and Simmonds. Vinny worked 1st PP too— Tim Panaccio (@tpanotchCSN) October 31, 2014
To the team's credit, it seems like they took their time making sure that Vinny was back and ready to go. One of the beat writers tweeted earlier in the week (I looked around for the tweet, and I cannot for the life of me find it, so my sincere apologies to whomever it was for not citing them directly) that Berube said that the team may have rushed Lecavalier back too quickly from his lower back injury that he suffered in December of last season, and that adversely effected his play moving forward. It is good that they held him out until they were sure he's ready.
However, even if Lecavalier is healthy and ready to play at full capability, it still stands to reason that right now he doesn't have a fit on any of the top three lines. Consider:
* The Flyers' top line of Michael Raffl, Claude Giroux, and Jakub Voracek has been destroying everything in its path lately. Messing with that at this point in time would be nuts.
* The second line of Brayden Schenn, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, and Wayne Simmonds has also been quite good in its time together. Here's what the Flyers have done with all three of them on the ice since the fourth game of the season, when they became a line:
|Game||SA For||SA Against|
|10/14 v. ANA||16||3|
|10/18 @ DAL||12||10|
|10/21 @ CHI||8||9|
|10/22 @ PIT||10||1|
|10/25 v. DET||5||11|
|10/28 v. LAK||15||9|
|10/30 @ TBL||6||5|
When the three of them have all been on the ice at 5-on-5, the Flyers have had 72 shot attempts go in their favor and 49 go against, for a Corsi-For percentage of 59.5% (!). Even though they've been heavily sheltered (32 offensive zone starts to 16 defensive zone starts), those numbers are very impressive, and in my opinion they've looked good to the eye as well. Just watch the first goal against Tampa on Thursday night to see how in sync those guys are. I don't think you want to break them up by putting Lecavalier back in the middle of them.
That leaves the fourth line. And while the whole "Lecavalier on the fourth line" thing was a big deal when it happened last year, and thought it stinks for Lecavalier, right now it's probably the best option. Give him and Jason Akeson a chance to feast on the other teams' muckers and keep Vinny fresh for the PP when he's at his best, while not messing with what those other ilnes have going.
Unfortunately, it would appear that Craig Berube does not agree with that sentiment. As such, per Dave Isaac of the Courier-Post above, the plan from yesterday appeared to have the lines as follows:
Raffl - Giroux - Voracek
Umberger - Lecavalier - Simmonds
B. Schenn - Couturier - Read
Rinaldo - Bellemare - VandeVelde
While I'll admit to being intrigued to see how the Couturier line's play may improve with Schenn on the left wing (Umberger just is not a fit there), there are a litany of issues otherwise. They've completely broken apart the second line that's been so good together for weeks now. They've taken easily their most impressive non-top-line forward so far this season (Simmonds) and paired him with two guys who have big-time struggles moving things in the right direction at even strength, which is probably going to slow him down a bit. And they've taken that second-line center who's been doing good work lately (Bellemare) and bumped him down to the fourth line, where expecting much out of him offensively now seems like a stretch. (Not to mention, if Isaac's lines from above are true, they've scratched Jason Akeson, a guy who can add a little bit of scoring, from the lineup again.)
I know this is a tough situation for Craig Berube, and I know the last thing he wants to do is take a guy like Lecavalier -- who, to his credit, was not playing poorly before he got injured -- and put him on the fourth line again. But with how everything else was going, I can't help but think that -- at least for now -- it may have been the best choice. Ease Lecavalier back in, move him up when one of those other lines inevitably goes cold, and see what happens. Instead, the lines above are what we're looking at for tonight. We'll see if his plan works out better.