Top-heavy Flyers lineup against Rangers could be shrewd move by Alain Vigneault
The Philadelphia Flyers return to action Wednesday night against the New York Rangers. These teams met last Thursday with the Rangers prevailing 3-2 in a shootout. Since then, the Flyers lost rather embarrassingly at Lake Tahoe while the Rangers beat the Capitals 4-1.
The Flyers may get a bit of a boost to their lineup, however, with Claude Giroux practicing on Tuesday. Giroux was on the COVID Protocol list for two weeks before rejoining the team.
While the Flyers are slowly getting players back, the Rangers aren’t as fortunate.
The Rangers will be without star forward Artemi Panarin, who took a leave of absence due to a scary situation in his home country of Russia. They are also without Kaapo Kakko (COVID list), Filip Chytil, and Jacob Trouba. The Rangers only had a few weapons coming into the season and will also be shorthanded on Wednesday night.
Claude Giroux is out of quarantine and back at Flyers practice
With Giroux returning to practice, and hopefully ready to go – he is a game-time decision –, Alain Vigneault made some changes to the lineup. Of course, Giroux is back in as a top-six winger if he’s good to play, but so is another center: Nolan Patrick.
The Flyers’ top line of James van Riemsdyk, Sean Couturier, and Joel Farabee stuck together at practice, with Giroux and Patrick flanking Kevin Hayes on the second line. Patrick has been noticeably unnoticeable recently, so Vigneault is hoping that a temporary move to wing can get him going.
“We need Nolan to play better than he has so far,” Alain Vigneault said. “It’s not an easy situation when you’ve missed the amount of time that he’s missed. But we need to find a way to help him and help him find his game.”
The bottom six is still a bit lackluster with Michael Raffl, Connor Bunnaman, and Nicolas Aube-Kubel on the third line, and the fourth line being made up of members of the taxi squad and AHLers.
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Moving Patrick to wing and front-loading the lineup is a smart move by Vigneault. Not only does it give Patrick a chance to be the third guy on his line, but the Flyers have a few easy matchups before getting into the thick of their schedule next week.
With the Rangers also dealing with issues of their own, New York’s lineup is arguably worse than the Flyers’ lineup. There’s no doubt that the Flyers have a better top six and better defense corps.
Vigneault will be able to use that to his advantage on Wednesday night against the Rangers. He’ll be able to pick and choose his matchups and shelter the bottom six, especially the fourth line.
The fourth line was abysmal on Sunday in Lake Tahoe. For reference, the Flyers had a Corsi For Percentage and Expected Goals For Percentage above 50% without the fourth line on the ice.
|5v5 stats at Lake Tahoe||CF||CA||CF%||xGF||xGA||xGF%|
|Flyers (50:46 TOI)||45||53||45.92%||1.69||1.99||45.92%|
|Andy Andreoff (14:10 TOI)||9||22||29.03%||0.22||1.02||17.74%|
|Flyers w/o Andreoff (36:36 TOI)||36||31||53.73%||1.47||0.97||60.25%|
That doesn’t necessarily mean that the Flyers would’ve beaten the Bruins had the fourth line played better, but those guys definitely weighed the team down.
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Being able to shelter the bottom six and get the matchups Alain Vigneault wants will help a lot against the Rangers. JVR – Couturier – Farabee and Giroux – Hayes – Patrick are two lines that should be able to go to work against a Rangers squad that is toward the bottom of the division.
In fact, the only team below the Rangers in the East Division is the Flyers’ next opponent: the Buffalo Sabres. The Flyers may have more of their players off the COVID list and available to play by this weekend, but even if they don’t they have a good chance against them with a top-heavy lineup.
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Hopefully, these next three games will get the Flyers back into a groove before they hit the gauntlet that is March. The Flyers play three straight games in Pittsburgh (2nd, 4th, 6th) to start the month, and then three of their next four games are against the Capitals.
Getting points against the Rangers and Sabres is going to be huge, even if the Flyers only have half a lineup.
Photo: Heather Barry Images