After a day off the ice on Monday, the Flyers were back out on Tuesday for practice, and with that came some news about potential lineup changes pertinent to tomorrow’s Game 4 as well as one new and potentially catastrophic development. (That’s the Flyers for you, folks.)
Let’s jump right in.
Lindblom out, Weal in
After sitting out the first three games of the series, forward Jordan Weal will find his way back into the Flyers’ lineup on Wednesday night, if the lines from practice were any sort of indication. He’ll be coming in for Oskar Lindblom, who appears to be a healthy scratch for the first time since getting called up in February.
Looks like Jordan Weal is coming back into Flyers lineup in Game 4, with Oskar Lindblom out— Adam Kimelman (@NHLAdamK) April 17, 2018
It’s the first personnel change the Flyers have made in this series, having gone with the exact same lineup top-to-bottom in the first three matchups. Weal’s had an up-and-down season as a middle-six winger for the Flyers, and of all of their options that had been waiting up in the press box (the others being Taylor Leier and Dale Weise), he is easily the one that provides the most offensive upside to a team that couldn’t score more than one goal in two of its first three playoff games.
The move for Weal does come at the expense of Lindblom, and while that’s disappointing, Lindblom’s first playoff action hasn’t gone so great. He has no points in three games, and while he hasn’t been on the ice for a goal against the Flyers yet, his on-ice possession numbers — which were outstanding during his limited regular-season time — have been the worst among all Flyers skaters so far in the series.
There are a few reasonable theories about what’s been bugging Lindblom in his postseason time. Some have wondered if the (uncalled) high-stick Lindblom took from Olli Maatta in Game 1 was an incident that’s slowed him down a bit. Others have suggested that Lindblom, who played in 52 games last year and never played more than 56 professional games in a season prior to this year, may just be slowing down a bit at the wrong time after having played in 80 games between the AHL and NHL this year. And there’s also the fact of the matter that his most common opposing forward in the postseason so far has been Evgeni Malkin, who tends to not make his opponents look very good.
Whatever it is, Lindblom certainly hasn’t looked quite as effective as he did in March and April. I’d still prefer to have him in the lineup over someone like Jori Lehtera, but I understand the decision to take him out and put Weal back in.
So if Weal’s in for Lindblom, something would have to change in the lineup, and sure enough, three of the Flyers’ four forward lines will look different than they did to start this series.
The Flyers have changed up their top three lines and added Jordan Weal in for Oskar Lindblom at practice today. New lines: Giroux-Couturier-Voracek, Konecny-Patrick-Simmonds, Weal-Filppula-Raffl, Laughton-Lehtera-Read.— Dan Rosen (@drosennhl) April 17, 2018
To summarize the changes made there:
- Jakub Voracek has been moved up to the top-line right wing position, taking the spot of Michael Raffl, who had been there for the team’s past five games.
- Nolan Patrick gets two new wingers, as Travis Konecny moves up into the left-wing spot vacated by Lindblom while Wayne Simmonds gets bumped up to Voracek’s spot on Patrick’s right side.
- The third line gets the new guy (Weal) and the demoted guy (Raffl), both of whom will hang out on Valtteri Filppula’s wings.
The fourth line, meanwhile, stays the same.
The big move here is for Voracek, who’s back on the first line for the first time since around Thanksgiving. The Giroux/Couturier/Voracek line ran over everything in its path for the first couple of months of the season, while getting little help from others in the lineup, so there’s some risk in doing this, but the Flyers clearly think that putting their three best 5-on-5 players on a line together will help them win a head-to-head matchup with the likes of Sidney Crosby. Whether that matchup works out or not, it’s worth a shot given how the status quo was going in the early part of this series.
If you’re looking for a wild card here, it’s this: how will the Flyers try and match up their second and third lines with the Pens’? The newly-formed second line consists of a rookie center, a veteran who’s clearly struggling right now, and a second-year winger who Dave Hakstol has never really seemed to trust much defensively. Is he really going to match that line up against a unit with Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel, or is that unenviable matchup going to go to Valtteri Filppula while the coaches try to “shelter” the second line against Derick Brassard? The coaches clearly trust Filppula defensively, so we’ll see how they choose to handle it.
In any event, the coaches made their changes, and that’s ...
Couturier leaves practice early, status to be determined
Was a collision with Radko Gudas that sent Couturier off. Couple line mates were huddled around him when McCrossin came out.— Dave Isaac (@davegisaac) April 17, 2018
... just wonderful. Courtesy of 6ABC’s Jamie Apody, here’s video of the incident:
#BREAKING Our @6abc video of @NHLFlyers star Sean Couturier going DOWN at practice today after colliding with Radko Gudas. He limps off with the trainer. Claude Giroux told me "it didn't look good." So far no update from the #Flyers #NHLPlayoffs2018 #EarnTomorrow pic.twitter.com/SlfplFKjUd— Jamie Apody (@JamieApody) April 17, 2018
Yikes. Any insight, Radko?
Gudas on collision with Couturier: “I didn’t see him, he didn’t see me. Tough break.”— Bill Meltzer (@billmeltzer) April 17, 2018
Everything is pain.
We don’t have any more details on just how hurt Couturier is yet (Hextall provided a no-comment when asked about it after practice). We do know that, in Couturier’s absence, Nolan Patrick briefly moved up to the first-line center spot alongside Giroux and Voracek, but there’s no guarantee that’s how the team would handle it in a game situation.
We also know that Couturier being out for any number of games greater than zero would be disastrous for the Flyers. The team already has a tough enough task matching up against almost certainly the deepest troika of centers in the NHL as it is. Taking out your first-line center would make that difficult task almost impossible.
We’ll have to wait for a further update on Couturier. Keep your fingers crossed in the meantime.
Hornqvist out for Penguins
Meanwhile, on the other side of the state, Penguins coach Mike Sullivan had a somewhat surprising announcement at practice today, that being that winger Patric Hornqvist will miss Wednesday’s game with an upper-body injury.
Coach Sullivan on today's absences: "Tanger was maintenance. Hornqvist will be out for tomorrow night's game with an upper-body injury."— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) April 17, 2018
Nothing immediately comes to mind from Game 3 that would have led to Hornqvist getting injured to the point where he isn’t able to play tomorrow. We’ll see if this drags on any further than that. Based on lines in practice out in Pittsburgh, Dominik Simon slotted into the lineup in his place, moving right on up to Sidney Crosby’s right wing at the top of the lineup.