What the Flyers need to get out of their round-robin games during the Stanley Cup Qualifiers
They’re in the dance already, but have a shot at improving their seeding and shaking off the rust before the race for the Stanley Cup begins.
The Flyers are just six days away from their first exhibition game ahead of the NHL restart and 11 days out from their round robin opener agains the Bruins. It’s been a long pause, but hockey is right around the corner and the chase for Lord Stanley’s Cup is finally within reach.
But before the Flyers can officially begin their hunt for a third Stanley Cup, they must first play round robin games for seeding purposes, and we’ll dive into just what Alain Vigneault and his squad need to get out of those games —starting with the Bruins on August 2nd.
Analyzing the round-robin schedule: Flyers in unique position with first and last games
Work out the kinks from the long layoff
When the Flyers head out onto the ice against the Penguins in their exhibition game next week it will mark 140 days since they last played against another NHL club, way back on March 10th.
They’re attempting to work their way back with a comically abbreviated training camp (2.0) and unique practice setup thanks to the pandemic and its distancing mandates. It’s not going to be easy to get back up to speed that quickly, and though it’ll surely be a struggle for each and every team, we don’t care whether they’re okay in the long run —just the Flyers.
With that in mind the Flyers —and several other teams in the round robin—have the luxury of being able to play their way back into shape in games that matter but don’t matter in the sense that losses will immediately eliminate them from Cup contention.
Vigneault did a tremendous job in the first training camp getting his new players to buy into what he was selling, and he’s got just as tough a task to get these same guys ready to play after a long layoff when they’d normally be planning their summers and hitting the golf course as opposed to chasing around the likes of Sidney Crosby, David Pastrnak, Alex Ovechkin, and Nikita Kucherov in the next few weeks.
Finalize lineup, line combinations
Vigneault hasn’t been shy about shaking up his lineups and combinations in his first season behind the Flyers bench, but had settled into some trusted entities before the season was suspended in March.
For starters he loves to keep Selke Trophy finalist Sean Couturier with Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek, and largely has used the same five skaters in the top six along, adding Kevin Hayes and Travis Konecny to the trio above.
But who joins those five in the top six for the playoffs?
Analyzing the Flyers’ potential playoff lineup as Training Camp opens
Does Joel Farabee continue his strong rookie showing by grabbing the role or is he destined for the press box with veteran Nate Thompson waiting in the wings for a bottom six role. Does James van Riemsdyk make his way back up to provide even more offense or does Swiss Army knife Scott Laughton get a nod playing important playoff minutes after earning them all season.
On defense does Robert Hagg keep his role in the starting lineup or can Shayne Gostisbehere show the coaching staff that he’s fully healthy and consistent enough to warrant his offense jumping back into the defensive rotation.
The Flyers certainly have more depth all over their roster than they’ve had in recent years, and Vigneault won’t be complaining about that anytime soon —and he’s got some games here to figure out just how he wants to start out this Cup chase.
Let the youth shake the postseason jitters
When the playoffs get started the Flyers will have some youngsters playing big minutes and pivotal roles.
From Carter Hart in goal to Philippe Myers and Travis Sanheim on defense, and up front with guys like Nicolas Aube-Kubel and potentially Farabee; the Flyers certainly have youth and inexperience in key spots for these playoffs.
Hart will be playing in his first professional postseason action the minute he steps on the ice, ditto Myers, while Sanheim was part of four games during the 2017-18 playoffs against the Penguins, but nothing like the high leverage situations he’ll play in as part of the Flyers’ second pairing behind Provorov and Matt Niskanen.
Though the Flyers have veteran options to turn to in the event that some of their prominent youth falters, they’ve been at their best with these youngsters playing big roles this season thus far —and wouldn’t be as dynamic without them in key roles.
There could be a learning curve for some of them —and the Stanley Cup playoffs are a different animal altogether— but the Flyers have an opportunity to use the round robin games to help get some of those big game jitters out of the way and be ready for when the game start to really count a little later.
Without questions the biggest takeaway for the Flyers in the round robin phase will be getting through unscathed in terms of injuries —whether they be on or off the ice.
Take Carter Hart’s early exit from the Flyers’ final team scrimmage on Tuesday, causing quite the stir on social media in the process. Hart didn’t speak with the media as planned though there is optimism that the goalie doesn’t have a serious injury despite the club not being able to really disclose much publicly due to COVID-19 protocols.
Im told that Carter Hart had some minor back spasms and it locked up a little during skate today. Nothing major or Covid related. I would think he’d back on the ice in a day or two. #Flyers https://t.co/25BdzSyS2l— Colby Cohen (@ColbyCohen36) July 21, 2020
Just the mere idea of not having their No. 1 goaltender heading into the playoffs is a scary thought, and that idea trickles down to other important Flyers as well such as Sean Couturier and Ivan Provorov among others.
Thought Vigneault and his staff surely would love to improve upon their previous playoff seeding (fourth), no doubt the Jack Adams finalist would rather have a fully healthy roster in any event.