Alain Vigneault has adjustments in mind for the Philadelphia Flyers. He doesn’t fail to surprise ahead of Lake Tahoe.
Last night, the Philadelphia Flyers arrived at Lake Tahoe. Two days ahead of their matchup against the Boston Bruins, there were changes to make. For starters, the game time as now been moved to 7:30PM. Also, Alain Vigneault observed how the lineup performed against the New York Rangers. The Flyers fought admirably considering their short preparation, but the ending result was an extended loss in a shootout. Thursday was an audition for a few players.
Six players (Giroux, Voracek, Konecny, Lindblom, Laughton, Braun) remain inactive due to the COVID19 protocol. Giroux hasn’t missed consecutive games since February 2016. Philadelphia has continued to be a generally healthy team, but the current state of hockey during a pandemic era creates these unique challenges that are different than injuries.
Vigneault, a 2019-2020 Jack Adams Award finalist, usually makes the right adjustments. The Flyers played well in three-of-four games versus the Bruins. With their typical lineup, you have to feel Philadelphia has been on the cusp of defeating Boston. Tomorrow, the challenge is steeper. An unordinary Flyers lineup will have to find a way to handle the Bruins.
D/RW Mark Friedman
In yesterday’s practice, Mark Friedman took repetitions at right-wing. It was a peculiar sight to see because Vigneault hadn’t yet decided his personnel. He relieved Maksim Sushko during practice, leading everyone to believe Friedman would play right-wing at Lake Tahoe. That belief isn’t wrong. The answer is yes and no.
Friedman will play right-wing tomorrow. He’ll also play defense. Technically, Friedman is the second defenseman to convert to the wing in 2020-2021. Vigneault will employ eleven forwards and seven defensemen tomorrow, but he is getting a bonus forward out of Friedman because he’ll be pulling double-duty. With a thin roster, Vigneault is the mad scientist tapping into uncharted potential.
This decision could be more intelligent than anyone could guess. Friedman is familiar with Boston. Deciding to shift him to the wing while playing defense could help Philadelphia win more neutral-zone battles. Relying on defensive tendencies, the gameplan stresses disruption of the Bruins attack. Vigneault believes, with position flexibility, Friedman fits the gameplan.
Sushko In, Kase Out
Here is another surprising lineup change: Maksim Sushko stays, David Kase goes. Revisiting practice on Friday, Friedman replaced Sushko. No one could have suspected Kase would be out of the lineup. Kase, whose second stint wrapped up after one game, is more experienced at the NHL level.
Sushko made the right impression on Vigneault. He finished with a clean stat line versus the Rangers, as did Kase. What makes the decision surprising is that Kase seemed to be the one making an impression on the bottom-six. When the Flyers came out hot in the first period, Kase put pressure on the Rangers defense following a goal from Nicolas Aube-Kubel. His all-gas, no brakes approach seemed to bring energy to the forwards.
Of the three forwards who made their season debut on Friday, Kase played the most minutes (including time on the powerplay.) Sushko played the fewest minutes on the team.
Flyers’ Interest In Mattias Ekholm?
The latest entry to the trade rumor mill features a defenseman from the Nashville Predators. Mattias Ekholm is the recent rumor target, receiving interest from Philadelphia. The Flyers have yet to find a proper replacement to replace Matt Niskanen. Chuck Fletcher signed Erik Gustafsson ahead of the season, but the powerplay specialist has rotated on-and-off the bench.
Usually, trading for Ekholm would set Philadelphia up for the next four years on defense. With the NHL Expansion Draft welcoming the Seattle Kraken, trading for Ekholm serves as a loan. In contemplating a trade for Ekholm, the Flyers must decide if they are in to win now or if they are more interested in maintaining a roster for the long run. Unless Fletcher bargains with Ron Francis, the philosophy is “win now.”
Currently, Ekholm is week-to-week with a lower-body injury. Making a trade for him would delay the “win now” perspective. While he would be a great fit, his injury status along with expansion implications could stop Fletcher from sending a trade offer.
Photo Credit: Alex McIntyre