The news of James van Riemsdyk’s recent injury meant that the Flyers were forced to make a change to their lineup, manifested in the soon-to-be season debut of Jordan Weal. However, they didn’t stop there. Rather, the Flyers decided to shake up their top six with a right wing swap.
Entering training camp many had penciled van Riemsdyk in on the second line alongside Nolan Patrick and Jakub Voracek, but after a shaky preseason from the three, it was Oskar Lindblom that started the season as the team’s second left wing on the depth chart. Now that magical second line that the majority of us had envisioned has taken another hit, this time with the loss of Voracek.
The swap, and the dynamic duo
Following a short preseason stint that received mixed reviews, and two regular season games that saw the line get out-attempted 21 to 6, and post an incredibly poor 11.11% expected goals for, the team’s second line of Lindblom, Patrick, and Voracek is no more. Being out-attempted by a 7:2 ratio is a stern difference between the trios performance in 2017-18, where in over 200 minutes together they had an adjusted CF% of 55.3, and an even better xGF% of 59.96. It’s fair to question whether this two game sample, with just under sixteen minutes of game time in total, is simply a slow start for the three, but you can see why Flyers’ head coach Dave Hakstol wanted to make a change here.
With Voracek off of the unit, Lindblom and Patrick will be joined by Konecny, a player who away from teammates Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier has been less than impressive. According to Natural Stat Trick, when Konecny was on the ice without Couturier the Flyers were out-attempted 548 to 416 (43.15% for) and out-scored 20 to 15. In his defense, 270 of his 488 minutes sans-Couturier came with Valtteri Filppula as his center, someone who’s presence was enough to drag even the best play drivers on the team into poor showings. More notably, however, were his 105 minutes with Patrick, where the duo posted a 33.64% CF and 30.61% scoring chances for. It’s clear these two have great chemistry off the ice, and maybe this lineup change will jump-start something great, but it’s fair to question whether or not any of the three have the ability to carry a line to respectable numbers. Their numbers without all-star talents in Giroux, Couturier, and Voracek leave more to be desired.
On the flip side, Hakstol has reunited one of the best lines in the NHL last season, one that boasted a 56.74 CF% in 371 minutes together, and was able to out-score their opponents 24 to 11. Going even further, it reunites a duo that has been one of the strongest in the league over the past six seasons. Giroux and Voracek have shown that despite some poor Flyers’ teams over the years, combined with questionable at best coaching along the way, that together they will always drive positive results over the course of a season, with the lone outlier being their goal results during the 2016-17 campaign. The question has always been who would be the duo’s left wing, but, as we all know, last season it turned out to be that Giroux himself that was the best fit for the role, with Couturier stepping into his defensive duties at center.
Konecny’s chance to shine
With these changes, nobody will be under a bigger microscope than Konecny. His ability to drive play away from the top line has been non-existent thus far, and he’ll likely be getting the chance to be the “go-to” player on this new-look line, a role that Voracek served last season. His skill-set, strong neutral zone play, explosive offense, and so-so defense, can be viewed as the team’s most comparable to Voracek’s, who was also unable to drag the previously mentioned Filppula to respectable shot metrics in their time together. So, if you believe that these first two games from Lindblom and Patrick were simply just two bad games and that they’ll revert to previous form, this change may prove to be the most beneficial to Konecny.
It’s plausible to imagine a scenario that for the first time in his career, Konecny’s on-ice results would be positive away from Couturier. This outcome would not only be huge for Hakstol, giving him the ability to “stack” the first line with Voracek at will without worrying about the potential drop off of the second line, but would also give the team a better overall view of Konecny’s individual impact at even strength. Until now we’ve only really seen him play under one of two scenarios, with either a star propping him up or one of the league’s worst 5-on-5 forwards dragging him down.
On the other hand, if the new look second line fails to drive positive results, the team would get, well, just more of the same. That’s the genius in making this move at this point of the season; the possible reward, finding two line combinations that can both drive play and score, overwhelmingly outweighs the the risk of having a second line that simply has a repeat performance of games one and two.