The Philadelphia Flyers didn’t play their best in a Game 1 win against the Montreal Canadiens, making some wonder if Alain Vigneault would switch things up for Game 2. That doesn’t appear to be the case after Vigneault expressed confidence in his team on Thursday.
The Flyers’ depth is one of the things separating them from the rest of the teams in the league, and Vigneault is going to take advantage of that.
Joel Farabee entered the lineup after the first round-robin game and had a great showing on the third line. Then, with Jakub Voracek unavailable, Farabee joined the top line and he’s been up there ever since.
Farabee has looked like a veteran so far this postseason. He created several chances in his first game, recorded a goal and assist in his second game, and scored what ended up being the game-winning goal to take a 1-0 series lead in Game 1.
The play of the top line as a whole has improved as well. Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, and Voracek struggled to get going offensively in their first two games, but Farabee has ignited a spark. That line was the best line on the ice in Game 1, and one of the best lines against Tampa Bay. Giroux, Couturier, and Farabee have played 20:25 together this postseason with a Corsi-For Percentage of 59.52% (25-17 shot attempts) and Expected Goals-For Percentage of 57.30%. The Flyers have outshot their opponent 15-8 with the line on the ice and have outscored them 2-0.
Not only has Farabee been able to thrive on the top line so far, but it also gives the Flyers more depth down in the lineup. The second line of Scott Laughton, Kevin Hayes, and Travis Konecny has stuck together. They’ve been able to get some results on the scoreboard despite being outplayed at times. They are an energy line that can help the Flyers in all situations.
The main depth improvements come in the bottom six. Voracek playing on the third line isn’t ideal given his talent level, but it works well against a shallow team like the Canadiens. The third line now has Voracek, who is great with the puck on his stick and a great passer, an up-and-coming Nicolas Aube-Kubel, who has shown he can fly and create something out of nothing this postseason, and a solid presence in Derek Grant in the middle.
Swapping Voracek and Farabee would load up the top line, but having Voracek on the third line gives that trio someone who can control the puck and control play. Farabee isn’t quite at the point where he can carry a line and drastically improve it. Voracek has the ability to take advantage of a mismatch and improve his teammates around him.
The fourth line has a scoring weapon as well. James van Riemsdyk hasn’t quite looked like himself in Toronto, but all it could take is one play to get him going. He’s averaged 27 goals per 82 games in his career for a reason, and he was on pace for 23 goals this season.
Sliding JVR down to the fourth line with Nate Thompson and Tyler Pitlick gives the checking line a different wrinkle. He may not be the most defensively sound, but JVR changes how a team has to defend a fourth line.
With Farabee on the top line, Voracek on the third, and JVR on the fourth, the Flyers have spread out their forwards pretty well. Their five best playdrivers in the lineup (Couturier, Konecny, Giroux, Voracek, JVR) are split up across all four lines, as are their five best 5-on-5 scorers (Konecny, Laughton, JVR, Couturier, NAK).
Oskar Lindblom and Michael Raffl qualify but are not included, hence the gaps in some of the rankings.
*Grant and Thompson’s stats are full season, not just with the Flyers
Alain Vigneault may elect to mix things up later in the series or if the Flyers advance, but right now given the Canadiens’ lack of depth, spreading out the talent seems like a great idea. At least one of the top three lines will be up against one of Montreal’s bottom lines and pairing, and Voracek has the ability to make that third line incredibly dangerous.
This Flyers team is one of the deepest groups they’ve had in a while. Being able to spread out their top forwards across all four lines should give their opponent fits. If the Flyers play their style of hockey in Game 2, the Canadiens are going to have a hard time keeping up.