The Philadelphia Flyers play their third and final round-robin game on Saturday night.
After beating the Boston Bruins on Sunday, Alain Vigneault was forced to mix things up due to an injury to Michael Raffl – and also healthy scratched James van Riemsdyk – for Thursday’s win against the Washington Capitals.
Now, with the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference on the line, the Flyers will once again have a new look for their round-robin game against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The most noteworthy – and possibly worrisome – change is on the top line. Jakub Voracek is “not available” for the game, which could mean a few things. He played over 18 minutes in Thursday’s game, and didn’t miss a shift, so a major injury seems unlikely. It could be COVID-19 related, which is hopefully unlikely due to the NHL’s testing record so far. Voracek may just need a game off and even though the Flyers and Lightning will be playing for the top seed, now is the time to get it with the first round starting early next week.
Joel Farabee will move up to the top line in Voracek’s place. Farabee was a healthy scratch for the first round-robin game, but he had a sneaky good performance against the Capitals. He had a few great scoring chances and set up a few others as well. If he or his linemates can finish, he’ll get on the scoresheet and force his way into the lineup.
The second line is the only line remaining intact throughout the round-robin games, and for good reason. Scott Laughton, Kevin Hayes, and Travis Konecny have clicked and are on fire right now. Laughton and Hayes each have four points with Konecny adding two in two games.
The possibility of Laughton moving to third-line center seems to be out the window as of now. It may make the team deeper, but it’s nearly impossible to break up that line right now.
With Farabee moving up to the first line, the third line needs a new winger. Derek Grant and Nicolas Aube-Kubel will be joined by James van Riemsdyk. After being healthy scratched on Thursday, JVR will be back in the lineup and looking to get something going. JVR was on pace for a 24-goal, 50-point season and has playoff experience.
Vigneault said on Friday that benching van Riemsdyk wasn’t primarly due to the forward’s lackluster play in Toronto so far. He said that “it was less about benching James than looking at the big picture.” Vigneault wanted to get Farabee and Bunnaman in the lineup at some point and felt that the Capitals were the right opponent for that.
The fourth line will remain the same as Thursday’s game with Connor Bunnaman, Nate Thompson, and Tyler Pitlick holding it down. The line played pretty well against the Capitals, posting a Corsi-For Percentage of 60% (6-4 shot attempts) and Expected Goals-For Percentage of 95.96% (0.29-0.01). They were on the ice for four Flyers scoring chances while allowing just zero Capitals scoring chances.
Vigneault was impressed with Bunnaman and the whole fourth line really. “I thought with Nate and Tyler that would be a hard line to play against. Good speed. Good physicality,” he said. “For a good portion of the game last night, they ended up playing against Washington’s top line, a big physical line with Ovi. I thought they handled themselves real well.”
Bunnaman was matched up against Alex Ovechkin quite a bit, and he did a great job. Over half of Bunnaman’s icetime during 5-on-5 play – 6:10 of 10:34 – was against Ovechkin. In those six minutes the Flyers and Capitals each had four shot attempts and one shot on goal. However, the Flyers had two scoring chances (one high-danger) to the Capitals’ zero. That’s one hell of a job by the fourth line.
Here are how those lines will look on Saturday night:
Giroux - Couturier - Farabee
Laughton - Hayes - Konecny
van Riemsdyk - Grant - Aube-Kubel
Bunnaman - Thompson - Pitlick
I’m interested to see how the top line performs after two rather disappointing games offensively. Farabee isn’t quite up to Voracek’s level of play, but he brings a good skillset that might be able to spark things.
With Voracek out, the top power-play unit will need someone to fill in. Farabee played well on the power play on Thursday in van Riemsdyk’s spot, so he could be a candidate to fill in for Voracek on the top unit as well as the top line.
The bottom six has helped the Flyers shut down the Bruins and Capitals. James van Riemsdyk isn’t as strong defensively as Farabee or Raffl, but hopefully that doesn’t change things there.
The forward group has done a great job in the round robin, and that shouldn’t be too surprising given the Flyers’ depth. We knew coming in that they had at least 15 quality forwards on the playoff roster, and they’re all doing their jobs.
The defense group was the same for the first two round-robin games, but there will be a change on Saturday night.
Ivan Provorov and Matt Niskanen as well as Travis Sanheim and Philippe Myers have done a tremendous job so far. The third pair of Robert Hagg and Justin Braun has been solid as well, but they’ve been on the ice for both goals against – with Hagg playing a part in both of them.
Not only has the third pair been on the ice for both goals against, Hagg has also been on the ice for 1.08 Expected Goals Against (2.47 xGA/60) and six high-danger scoring chances against (13.7 HDCA/60), the worst marks on the Flyers.
Shayne Gostisbehere will finally get his chance in the lineup against the Lightning in place of Hagg. “Thinking coming in, I would like to see Ghost play at least two games, so he’ll get another opportunity to play tomorrow,” Vigneault said. Gostisbehere played well in the exhibition game against the Penguins and he’ll have another crack against the Lightning.
If Gostisbehere plays a great game maybe he’ll stick in the lineup, but it’s going to be a tough call for Vigneault. Hagg and Braun are a typical defensive defense pair, with Gostisbehere providing more risk and reward.
Gostisbehere could see some time on the power play as well. He’s a weapon on the blue line and the Flyers can use any help they can get on the man advantage.
Carter Hart will also be back between the pipes for the Flyers after Brian Elliott’s win on Thursday. Both goalies have had good games, but Hart is the clear starter.
Vigneault said during training camp that he’d use the round-robin games to find the Flyers’ best combinations, and he’s made the most of all three games with these different looks. He’ll have a few days to digest everything after Saturday night’s game before the first round starts next week.
The Flyers and Lightning have the No. 1 seed on the line when the puck drops Saturday night. The winner will play the Montreal Canadiens, and the loser will play the winner of the Toronto Maple Leafs - Columbus Blue Jackets series.