3 Forwards Buying Into Vigneault’s System This Season

Flyers' Sean Couturier
PHILADELPHIA, PA – JANUARY 11: Philadelphia Flyers Center Sean Couturier (14) reacts to referees after the game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Philadelphia Flyers on January 11, 2020 at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire)

By design, Chuck Fletcher and Alain Vigneault are deciding to build their forwards around the two-hundred-foot game. It can bring success, like in 2019-2020.

Following their 2-1 victory over the Vancouver Canucks, avenging one of their losses, the Philadelphia Flyers improve to 4-1-1. Nearing the completion of the first ten games in 2021-2022, the Flyers occupy third place in the Metropolitan Division. Tied with the New York Rangers in points (9), Philadelphia holds the advantage in win percentage (75%>57.1%). The “way too early, overreaction” standings present the Flyers as a playoff team.

Is it such an overreaction?

Thus far, Philadelphia managed to defeat formidable opponents while beginning as the league’s most injured franchise. The Edmonton Oilers, Seattle Kraken, and Vancouver Canucks are all in the hunt. Tomorrow, the Flyers test their might against the Calgary Flames, who lead the Pacific Division.

Ryan Ellis participated in one victory against a playoff team (the Kraken). Without him, it’s been Justin Braun on the top pair with Ivan Provorov, and Nick Seeler on the bottom with Keith Yandle.

Defensively, Philadelphia is playing above their grade. Additionally, Alain Vigneault has his forwards buzzing. Defense is creating offense. Chuck Fletcher showed patience in 2020-2021 by not overreacting to an awful, atypical season. Now, Vigneault and Fletcher’s combined efforts are coming to fruition via a competitive two-hundred-foot game established by a proven award winner, a new acquisition, and a forward who adapted to team needs.

Two-Hundred-Foot Stare

By default, Alain Vigneault requires a defensive stance from his forwards. Look no further to 2020-2021, which featured a historically putrid month of defense specifically to Vigneault’s coaching career. He spared no one. Vigneault benched top forwards. By hook or by crook, the Philadelphia Flyers were going to learn to threaten every zone of the ice through four forward lines.

Think about 2019-2020. What made the Flyers an elite team was a solid defensive unit to help Carter Hart and a high-energy, forward group, a majority of which were two-way players. Derek Grant was an excellent addition to the season Kevin Hayes was having. In 2021-2022, Hayes has an upgrade in Cam Atkinson.

Oh, right, and Sean Couturier won the Frank J. Selke Trophy.

Sean Couturier (2021-2022)

Currently, the top-line center leads the Philadelphia Flyers in points. He can’t help himself from getting creative with Claude Giroux in designing scoring plays. Bank passing on the powerplay and working from behind the goal-line extended generates more opportunities within the slot or on the crease. There’s no coincidence behind Couturier’s production on the sixth-ranked powerplay.

Without the puck, he’s second among Flyers forwards in blocked shots behind Scott Laughton. Couturier (60.5%) trails Giroux (63.4%) in faceoff win percentage. He’s actively facilitating a near-elite powerplay unit and leading his team in points while removing shots on goal from the opposition and doing his part in extending possessions in the faceoff circle.

He’s the Alain Vigneault prototype. Probably your future captain in Philadelphia.

Cam Atkinson (2021-2022)

I imagine that I need to say even less about Atkinson. He became the first Philadelphia Flyer to score six goals in the first five games of a regular season. He’s a shooter.

The “FAB Line” is a lethal injection in 2021-2022. Across the ice from Atkinson is Joel Farabee, who attacks the net particularly well from the neutral zone in transition. It’s Atkinson on the backcheck or in a passing lane that ignites a turnover. Farabee usually pushes the pace and relocates Atkinson for the finish.

Atkinson leads the team in goals scored and is the proud owner of the only shorthanded goal for the Flyers. His style is infinite through six games.

Travis Konecny (2021-2022)

Alain Vigneault benched Konecny last season because of his lack of detail in his two-hundred-foot game.

“He’s doing some things right, like going to the net and stopping. Obviously, he’s scored a couple big goals for us. But I also believe our five-on-five play is not where it needs to be, and I’ve been talking to the players about it for some time. Areas that I believe we need to be better at and have been better at in the past.”

Alain Vigneault; 1/30/21

Just before saying that, Vigneault noted Konecny as “one of our top three forwards with tremendous potential.” That conversation resonated with Konecny, and it shows this season.

By design, Konecny changed his approach. His offense is more balanced versus being an outright scorer or playmaker. Of the players I’ve mentioned, he’s the only one with a double-digit total. The eye test shows Konecny is one of the best players on the ice throughout six games, even if the point production doesn’t match Cam Atkinson or Sean Couturier. For example, Konecny and Claude Giroux are the only starters to not turn the puck over in 2021-2022.

There is a two-hundred-foot game that’s required. It’s a contagious aspect of Vigneault’s system. These three are the best to do it for the Philadelphia Flyers thus far in 2021-2022.

Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire