After game 3 Sunday afternoon, Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol announced that changes could be coming in regards to the lineup. He didn’t specify who or what, but speculation leads up to believe that Oskar Lindblom, who has underperformed so far in the series, may find himself up in the press box, watching Jordan Weal in his place.
While changes have been few and far between this year, this is somewhat of a welcome change, because something needs to be done to get this team on the right track, and fast. Three games in, and the Flyers have suffered two losses of 7-0 and 5-1. Their inability to stay out of the penalty box hasn’t helped their case, but they are clearly lacking something, and that something is speed.
In case you haven’t noticed, the Penguins are generating a majority of their chances because of their speed. Kessel, Sheary, even Guentzel are fast, and the Flyers simply cannot match that kind of speed with the lineup they’re putting out on the ice. That’s where the lineup changes come into play, because the players the Flyers have watching the game from the press box are much faster than some of their teammates who are soaking up minutes.
If we are talking optimization of the lineup, speed has to be the objective. You have to match speed with speed, and that means bringing players like Taylor Leier and Jordan Weal back into the lineup. The players you take out? Valtteri Filppula and Oskar Lindblom. Filppula is the obvious choice here, as he has contributed next to nothing this entire series, and the same could be said, in some capacity, for Oskar Lindblom. Sure, Lindblom has shown to be an impressive force along the boards, but at some point, that needs to lead to chances, which have become scarce for the rookie.
Another aspect of the game that the Penguins hold the edge over the Flyers is experience. By and far, the Penguins have more playoff experience than the Flyers. If the Flyers hope to have a chance at matching that experience, or coming close is more like it, Johnny Oduya should be given a chance on the blue line. Oduya was on the 2014-15 Chicago Blackhawks roster that won the Stanley Cup, and was part of numerous other playoff seasons with the club. He fits the mold of a seasoned playoff veteran that many of the young Flyers, defensemen especially, can learn a thing or two from.
One last aspect of the lineup that should be looked at is sheer physicality. If you can’t beat a team with speed, you beat a team with toughness. That toughness comes in the form of Robert Hagg. Hagg was a physical force this year, leading all rookies in hits, and finished 7th overall amongst the toughest the NHL has to offer. If you want to announce your physical presence in the series, Robert Hagg is the guy you call upon to do so. Hagg should slot in for Radko Gudas on the third pairing with Manning. Gudas would seemingly be the person you would call upon for his toughness and grit, but this season he hasn’t shown the same edge he has in seasons past.
After all those adjustments, the Flyers forwards tonight should look like this:
Claude Giroux – Sean Couturier – Jake Voracek
Travis Konecny – Nolan Patrick – Michael Raffl
Jordan Weal – Scott Laughton – Wayne Simmonds
Taylor Leier – Jori Lehtera – Matt Read
Defensive pairs are as follows:
Shayne Gostisbehere – Ivan Provorov
Travis Sanheim – Johnny Oduya
Brandon Manning – Robert Hagg
And, of course, Brian Elliott will be in net for the orange and black.
If the Flyers want to hang around in this series, let alone advance to the next round, they need to optimize their lineup, and put in the guys that give you the attributes necessary to compete with a fast, experienced, and just flat-out great hockey team in the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports