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Just how precarious is James van Riemsdyk’s spot in the lineup after Game 1

Pushed even further down the lineup, is there a place for JVR moving forward or is the writing on the wall?

Montreal Canadiens v Philadelphia Flyers - Game One Photo by Chase Agnello-Dean/NHLI via Getty Images

Lost in all the scuttlebutt of the Flyers’ 2-1 win in Game 1 of their first-round Stanley Cup playoff series against the Canadiens was a man that goes by three letters.

That’s JVR of course —or James van Riemsdyk, the six-time 20-goal man.

Long before Carter Hart’s heroics bailed out a generally sloppy effort from the team in front of him, JVR’s lineup fate was designed to the fourth line to skate with noted dynamos Nate Thompson and Tyler Pitlick.

The results were predictable as JVR skated just 9:43 of ice time at even strength in the game while adding 1:54 of power play time though he did produce four shots in limited action —though we could easily argue he passed on easily his best scoring chance of the evening on a quick developing 2-on-1.

Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault’s decision to slide JVR down the lineup has further mitigated the forwards impact to the point where his impact is essentially down to whatever power play time he gets at this point. With JVR having always thrived with playmaking centers and even opposite wings to an extent, playing him with grinders like Thompson and Pitlick renders the 31-year-old essentially useless.

The non shot attempt on that play was telling of where JVR’s game is at right now: his confidence is shot and perhaps he’s even still feeling the effects of getting back into game shape given his injury —in short he’s not 100%.

Now while Vigneault has pressed many of the correct buttons in his first season behind the Flyers bench —he’s a finalist for the Jack Adams after all— he’s clearly struggled to find a permanent home for JVR in the lineup even before the bubble. While that struggle was apparent during the regular season, it’s even more evident now as the Flyers begin what they hope is a lengthy playoff run starting with their opening round series against Montreal.

JVR wasn’t expected to rejoin the Flyers for the playoffs before the season was paused —at least not immediately— due to a hand injury, but the lengthy pause allowed for a full recovery to take place and again create a lineup decision for Vigneault and his staff.

Vigneault largely left his top line of Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, and Jakub Voracek alone while deploying a second line that contained Travis Konecny and Kevin Hayes.

That third top-six spot was open for grabs, and featured several additions like Joel Farabee, JVR, and Scott Laughton among others. But when the pause was lifted Laughton took off on that line and left JVR to the bottom-six and at that time the remade third line —which was excelled ever since.

That left JVR with Derek Grant and upstart Nicolas Aube-Kubel on the third line in theory even after Michael Raffl was lost to injury in the round-robin as Thompson slid into the fourth line.

A subpar showing in the round-robin put JVR in the spotlight of his coach, and Vigneault wasn’t shy about telling media that he expected more from the forward that failed to produce a single point in three games. That effort prompted Vigneault to slide JVR down even further to the fourth line for the start of the series with Montreal, essentially marginalizing JVR to a power play specialist given the usual slight deployment of the fourth line.

If JVR isn’t able to produce on the power play, he’s really not giving you much in terms of a role on the fourth line —and doesn’t kill penalties— it’s easy to see how the door is wide open for Vigneault to explore another lineup change to get a body like Connor Bunnaman in. Bunnaman played well in his two games during the round-robin, and plays a more traditional fourth line game that could be of interest if JVR doesn’t pick up the pieces. The younger Bunnaman also presents a far more reliable defensive forward for that fourth line, as well.

The Flyers are still a deep hockey team, but they’re an even deeper team when JVR is on and contributing. If he doesn’t start soon, it’ll be too late —and perhaps ahead of Game 2 maybe it already is.

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