With a back-to-back to work with for their second and third preseason games, the Flyers had a chance to get more of their veterans and NHL regulars into the mix and really start getting some looks at prospective lines heading into the season. And with the injuries that have already hit the forward group, there are certainly a number of open questions remaining about how that lineup will shake out. But that said, while there’s still ample time left for tinkering over the next three games, the Flyers are starting to [tip their cards] and we’re seeing their top-9 beginning to take shape.
We saw three lines put together over these last two games that we could reasonably see carried into the regular season, and each showed a bit of promise.
Van Riemsdyk - Frost - Konecny
We only had one really complete line of more or less NHL regulars on Tuesday in Buffalo, this trio or James van Riemsdyk, Morgan Frost, and Travis Konecny, and while they weren’t perfect, there were still some things to like from them.
The good news: they were the Flyers’ best driver of offense in this game (they were on the ice for nine shot attempts and .25 xGF (the next closest line was six and .19), and by the eye, there seemed to be a bit of nice chemistry building. Plus they combined for the Flyers’ one goal of the night.
The bad news: They were still pretty handily outplayed, and put up just a 45 CF% and 28.35 xGF%.
And that really should be the disclaimer for this whole article—we saw flashes of good things from each of these lines, but they did come in two losses, and losses in which the team as a whole didn’t do particularly well. But we’re taking what we can from these initial showings, all the same.
That said, based on the looks in practice, this seems to be a line that the team wants to give a real chance, and they do have some potential to make things work. Ideally, they aren’t playing as your top line as they were in Buffalo, but rather your second that you’re able to shelter a bit, and that may be something that helps them out down the line.
Tippett - Hayes - Foerster*
This is a line that, once the regular season rolls around and he’s healthy again, we could see remaining partially intact, with Cam Atkinson slotting in on that right wing, but the sort of ethos of that line with Foerster filling in remains the same. This is a line that should be able to get the puck through the neutral zone well, and leave Hayes to feed two shoot-first wingers, and we saw flashes of that last night (ironic, though, that the Flyers’ one goal of the night came from Tippett setting up Hayes, but we’ll take it).
It was a real mixed bag for them, by the numbers, with an adjusted 18.82 CF%, but 55.87 xGF%, but as we said, the positive flashes were enough to create some intrigue. Foerster did well enough on this line—him being bumped down in the third felt less about him and more about just getting Wade Allison more ice—but moving Atkinson in, as we expect them to, should stabilize things a bit more. But we’ve got an interesting foundation set, at the very least.
Lycksell - Laughton - Allison
This was the line that we probably saw the least of last night—Allison got dinged up and left the game for a bit, and then when he was back, was bumped to the Hayes line for much of the third period—but it was the one that probably flashed the most. They were able to create some really nice looks in transition, just getting a bit unlucky in their bounces meaning that they failed to convert on those looks. And in what was overall a pretty poor possession game for the Flyers, this line was dominant, putting up an adjusted 66.33 CF% and 82.36 xGF% at 5-on-5.
And this makes sense given the skillsets of these players—they’re all quite strong North-South players, with good speed and each a willingness to drive to the net for chances, and each the ability to set up their linemates well for those chances. Allison in particular was having a really strong game, and it was nice to see him given more ice time later in the game, but once (presumably) Atkinson is back and able to slot in on the Hayes line, we’d like to see this line get a longer look. It’s one that, on paper at least, could be quite a successful third line. Let’s see what they can do.
Before we move on: we should toss a quick nod to Lycksell. He’s been putting together a strong camp so far, and the fact that he’s getting chances to show what he can do with linemates like Laughton and Allison tells us that the team is liking what they’re seeing out of him as well.
Bits and bobs
The fourth line mish-mash
The mix for the potential fourth line, though, is still pretty broad, and we’re waiting to see really anyone pop in a big way. Tanner Laczynski had a quietly very solid game last night, which we’ve more or less come to expect from him. Nicolas Deslauriers showed some physicality and tried to fight a guy, which is also what we expect from him. The Cates brothers (more on them later) continued to bring a bit of offensive jump and strong forechecking. But really all of that has come in flashes, and the battle for those fourth line positions feels pretty even at the moment.
Now, of course, we don’t expect to see the fourth liners absolutely blowing us out of the water, given the nature of their positions and the minutes they’re playing, but we’d still like to see a couple of players standing out a bit more and pulling themselves to the top of the group.
Can we see some more of Noah Cates?
Speaking of that fourth line mix, Noah Cates, despite the good work he did at the end of last season, has more or less been shuffled out of the top-9 mix here in training camp, in favor of having him play alongside his brother Jackson. And while we’ve appreciated the novelty of that—it’s a nice gesture, to be sure—and while they have done some good work together, we can’t help but feel that Cates’s full ability would be better unlocked playing alongside some of the NHL regulars (or even just elevated into that third line mix we talked about in our last section). Just some food for thought.
The backup battle presses on
Carter Hart remains a bit dinged up, but does still seem primed to be ready to go to start the season, so that still leaves just the NHL backup job open, and in that, the kids are starting to create some separation in their showings. Troy Grosenick remains in the mix for a job, of course, but he along with Felix Sandstrom and Samuel Ersson were given two periods to play over these last two games, and the latter two looked a bit more settled in and complete in their games over that time. Here’s a quick look at their numbers, for the inquiring minds:
Grosenick: 40:00 TOI, 2 GA, 11 SVs, .846 SV%
Sandstrom: 40:00 TOI, 2 GA, 13 SVs, .867 SV%
Ersson: 35:20 TOI, 1 GA, 18 SVs, .947 SV%
Now, of course, we’re still working with small samples here, but this does make things interesting. If Sandstrom and Ersson both continue to pull away, the battle between the two of them will be a fun one to watch play out.
All stats via Natural Stat Trick.