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Scott Gordon doesn’t want you to know his line combinations

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No, not you specifically, just the opposing team.

Heather Barry - SB Nation ©

One thing that Scott Gordon had been known to do during his time with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms was to run line rushes in practice and pregame skate that weren’t the actual lines that he planned on using during the game. Not just that, he would also sometimes make it seem like his morning rushes weren’t really the lines by throwing a different combination of players on the ice to start the game, only to then actually use his lines from practice after all. Now, nobody around here was sure whether he’d continue to do this once he was named Flyers’ head coach, but he’s two-for-two so far.

You probably noticed, but in-case you didn’t, two of the four forward lines from Tuesday night’s game were not the same as the were during practice. Maybe lost a bit with how exciting the game ended up being was the fact that we didn’t see Nolan Patrick play first line center like we thought we would. Instead, it was Claude Giroux. Well, by ice time it was Sean Couturier, who played 23:19, but you get where I’m going with this.

The projected lines were as follows;

Giroux — Patrick — Konecny

Simmonds — Couturier — Voracek

van Riemsdyk — Laughton — Raffl

Lindblom — Varone — Weise

However, as evident from just the second shift of the game, those lines were but an illusion. Instead, the Flyers continued their Giroux back at center experiment and kept his previous line under Dave Hakstol intact. His “first” and “third” lines wound up being:

van Riemsdyk — Giroux — Konecny

Laughton — Patrick — Raffl

At the time we weren’t sure how much of that was actually a decision made by Gordon — it was just his first day on the job after all — but based on his time with the Phantoms we did find it hard to imagine it was just a coincidence. Last night’s game provided more evidence to suggest that he is running different lines in practice than he uses in games with the Flyers as well.

Yesterday the Flyers’ morning rushes, courtesy of Dave Isaac, were:

Giroux — Patrick — Raffl

Simmonds — Couturier — Voracek

van Riemsdyk — Laughton — Konecny

Lindblom — Varone — Weise

Not only did we see Patrick skate as the first line center again, but now we had Michael Raffl up there with him and Giroux, while Travis Konecny skated on the third line. However, once the puck dropped the lines reverted back to what they were on Tuesday, with Giroux centering Konecny and James van Riemsdyk, while Patrick centered Laughton and Raffl.

But hold on, that wasn’t all! There was also something going on with the defense during pregame warm-ups that had multiple people reporting that the pairs were going to be Andrew MacDonald with Ivan Provorov, Shayne Gostisbehere with Travis Sanheim, and Robert Hagg with Radko Gudas. That too turned out to be just smoke and mirrors as the defensive pairs from Tuesday night also remained the same.

So, why does he do this? Quite simply, it’s because he believes it gives him and his team an edge over the competition. During his time in Lehigh Valley he’s said that if he knows what his lines and the opponents lines are, but his opponent doesn’t know what his actual lines are, it gives him an advantage for the first minutes of the game. Nobody ever said he wasn’t a unique coach. It’s also of note that, while he’s done it in his first two games in Philadelphia, this wasn’t an every game occurrence with the Phantoms. While it might’ve felt like more at the time, in reality it happened less often than not.

We’ve grown accustomed to lines that were pretty straightforward under Hakstol; what you saw in practice was almost always what you got, for better or for worse, but with Gordon in charge we’ll have to adjust to not knowing what’s going on until the puck drops — and even then you can’t be certain. He’s yet to pull the “fake, not fake” line combinations by starting the game with a different trio or pair, only to then use his lines from practice, but it’s most likely just around the corner.

When it comes to Gordon and his lines you can never truly know what’s real or what’s just for show, so it’s in all of our best interests to get used to it sooner rather than later.