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Joel Farabee to enter lineup with Michael Raffl out; Alain Vigneault considering other changes

Farabee will get a chance with Raffl out “for a bit,” and that might not be the only lineup change.

Buffalo Sabres v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images

The Philadelphia Flyers won their first round-robin game on Sunday, but they lost a player in the process. Michael Raffl exited the game in the latter stages of the third period during the 4-1 win against the Boston Bruins.

Raffl went awkwardly into the boards after a possible slew foot from Jeremy Lauzon.

Raffl had some words for Lauzon as he remained on the ice and again as he was helped off. Alain Vigneault agreed that it was an intentional play by Lauzon. It “seemed like close to being a slew foot,” Vigneault said, but he had yet to view a replay.

Whatever the case may be, Raffl suffered an injury on the play and did not return to the game.

Due to the NHL’s protocol with injuries during the Coronavirus, Vigneault couldn’t get into specifics regarding Raffl’s injury. However, he did say that Raffl is “not going to be available for a little bit here.”

With Raffl out, Joel Farabee will return to the lineup. Farabee was the odd-man out for Sunday’s game against the Bruins after rotating with Raffl on the fourth line during the exhibition game and practices.

Farabee being out of the lineup certainly isn’t ideal, but this isn’t the way anyone wanted it to happen. Raffl being hurt is a big loss for the Flyers.

Raffl is a plug-and-play type player for the Flyers. He can move up and down the lineup, is a good glue guy, and can play with just about anyone.

Through his nearly 621 minutes at 5v5, Raffl didn’t play on a line for more than 75 minutes. He played 75 minutes with Connor Bunnaman and Nicolas Aube-Kubel, 56 minutes with Nate Thompson and Aube-Kubel, and even saw some time up in the lineup playing 64 minutes with Sean Couturier and Jake Voracek.

He’s consistently been around a 20-point per 82 game pace throughout his career, and he picked that up a bit this season with 20 points (eight goals, 12 assists) in 58 games – a 28-point pace.

Raffl has always done the little things right and is able to chip in offensively when needed. He showed his importance to the Flyers during Sunday’s win with a nice goal and an assist on Thompson’s goal in 10:35 of ice time. Outside of the top line – which dominated –, Raffl had the highest Expected Goals-For Percentage on the Flyers with 64.32 xGF%.

While Raffl isn’t a superstar that could drastically change the Flyers’ chances in the playoffs, he’s a good role player and will certainly be missed in the lineup.

The only silver lining is that the Flyers are built to handle adversity. They are a very deep team, especially at forward, and have Farabee to step right into the lineup. Those deadline trades for Derek Grant and Thompson have given the Flyers the luxury of not having to panic if a role player goes down.

Farabee may simply replace Raffl in the lineup, but there is a possibility that Vigneault will want to try some new combinations before Game 1 of the first round. Vigneault praised the play of Aube-Kubel and Tyler Pitlick, who swapped bottom-six lines for the Bruins game, but he could tinker with the lines for Thursday’s game. Farabee is one of a few Flyers looking to make an impact in his NHL postseason debut.

In all likelihood, the Flyers will use the same – or similar – lines with Farabee in Raffl’s place. Raffl and Farabee are both wingers, and the main option to come out of the lineup before an injury, Nate Thompson, scored a goal in Sunday’s win. However, Thompson didn’t play particularly well besides the goal – it was the only shot on goal that he was on the ice for – with a team-low in both Corsi-For Percentage (16.67%) and Expected Goals-For Percentage (24.47%).

Vigneault hinted that he may make some changes to the lines, though. “Joel is definitely going to be in the lineup next game, but I’m also looking at other possibilities here,” he said.

The “other possibilities” wording is interesting. He could be looking at other forwards (Morgan Frost, Connor Bunnaman) to potentially enter the lineup as well, but it’s more likely that he was referring to other possible changes throughout the lineup.

Vigneault said that there could be some other changes, and that he’ll “give himself until Wednesday to decide what, if any, other changes will be made other than the addition of Joel.”

One of the lineup possibilities that I keep going back to is the Scott Laughton situation. Laughton has played well on the wing, but, in my opinion, gives the Flyers a better bottom-nine group if he’s playing at center. Given Thompson’s stats noted above, Laughton as the third-line center and Grant as the fourth-line center is an appealing option.

I wrote a longer piece on the Laughton wing vs. center decision late last week, so I won’t go into it too much here. However, that would be one of the possible changes that I could see Vigneault making. If Farabee is coming into the lineup, he has enough skill and defensive ability to play in the top six, or at least the middle six.

We’ll have to wait and see, but ultimately it’s a good problem for the Flyers to have. They have at least 15 NHL-quality forwards on their roster (Sunday’s lineup plus Farabee, Frost, Bunnaman, and Andreoff), and now it’s the coaching staff’s job to put them in the best position to win hockey games and the Stanley Cup.

Vigneault has pressed all the right buttons so far this season, earning him a Jack Adams nomination and hopefully the Jack Adams Award. We’ll see if he makes any changes today or tomorrow before the game against the Capitals on Thursday.

Stats via Natural Stat Trick & Money Puck