The Philadelphia Flyers are finally back to full strength. Travis Konecny being removed from the NHL COVID list on Sunday marked the first time since February 6th that the Flyers had no players on the list.
The Flyers have a healthy roster for the first time all season. Shayne Gostisbehere missed the start of the season due to COVID, then Sean Couturier was out for a bit, then Travis Sanheim was added to the COVID list when Couturier returned. Getting healthy is a great thing for the Flyers, who are playing their best hockey of the season.
Travis Konecny will be a game-time decision on Tuesday night against the Penguins.
The Flyers have been able to roll four lines the last two games rather easily and Konecny’s return will force Alain Vigneault to make a decision. Where will Konecny play and who will come out of the lineup?
Who sits when Travis Konecny returns?
This question is the easier of the two. The Flyers have a clear group of 12 forwards when healthy. Konecny is a part of that. Unfortunately, Connor Bunnaman is not.
Bunnaman has done everything asked of him when he’s been needed to fill in. It’s usually as the fourth-line center, but he also played third-line wing when the Flyers were missing forward. However, he’s boxed out of the lineup by (at least) four centers ahead of him with a plethora of winger options.
Someone like Bunnaman is great to have as a 13th forward. He can step into the lineup in a pinch and won’t be too much of a downgrade on the fourth line.
Bunnaman is the likely answer for who sits, but there is another option or two. Nolan Patrick played on the wing in the last three games in an attempt to spark something in his game. He didn’t put up any points or even have a shot on goal, however. Patrick looked like he had some jump, but the results just weren’t there.
In all likelihood, it will be Bunnaman getting benched for Konecny.
Where does Konecny play?
The Flyers have gone with the same lines for two straight games since the COVID line returned. However, Konecny’s return could spark a change or two.
Let’s go line by line and see if there’s a fit for Konecny.
This new top line has been the Flyers’ best line over the past two weeks. They were kind of forced together as three of the best healthy forwards, but they’ve played very well together.
In 49 minutes together over six games, the line has an Expected Goals For of 57.1%, according to MoneyPuck. The Flyers have outscored the opposition 5-4 with the line on the ice.
JVR is on a four-game point streak and leads the team with 10 goals and 25 points. Couturier has a point in every full game he’s played in this season. Farabee has 17 points in 18 games. The line is clicking.
There is an outside chance that Konecny gets placed on a line with Couturier to see if that can spark something. However, it would be surprising to see the top line get split up after three straight wins.
This line is the most likely place for Konecny to play when he returns. As mentioned above, Patrick was moved to wing temporarily to try to get something going for him. Simply replacing Patrick with Konecny makes sense.
Having Konecny on a line with Giroux and Hayes would give it some good balance. Giroux and Hayes are natural puck carriers and playmakers, and Konecny is at his best when he is shooting. Konecny can obviously handle the puck as well, but Giroux and Hayes are able to use their bodies to control the puck and open up lanes.
Replacing Patrick with Konecny would move Patrick back into his third-line center role. In turn, Laughton would slide back down to the fourth line. That would give the Flyers a bottom-six of Lindblom – Patrick – Voracek and Raffl – Laughton – Aube-Kubel. When thinking about the Flyers’ forward depth, lines like those are what you imagine.
Oskar Lindblom – Scott Laughton – Jakub Voracek
If Konecny is on the third line, it would be hard to imagine he simply replaces one of these players. There would have to be another tweak or two within the lines.
Patrick could slide back down to the third-line center and Laughton to the fourth line. Looking at the lines as duos of JVR – Couturier, Giroux – Hayes, and Lindblom – Patrick, it’s possible that Konecny is on that third line with Lindblom and Patrick as he was earlier this season. That would mean that Voracek moves up to the second line, assuming the top line stays together.
If Konecny is able to play, he’s going to play in the top-nine at the very least. I can’t see a situation where Vigneault makes a lineup change only to play Konecny limited minutes on the fourth line.
EDIT: Travis Konecny will indeed play on the fourth line in Tuesday night’s game.
Flyers lines with Travis Konecny back
There are two main options upon Konecny’s return:
James van Riemsdyk – Sean Couturier – Joel Farabee
Claude Giroux – Kevin Hayes – Travis Konecny/Jakub Voracek
Oskar Lindblom – Nolan Patrick – Jakub Voracek/Travis Konecny
Michael Raffl – Scott Laughton – Nicolas Aube-Kubel
Of course, there’s also the possibility of changing things up completely. I don’t see this happening after three straight wins, but it could happen – even if it’s later in the week.
The good thing is that the Flyers have everyone healthy (for now) to mix and match with. They’re starting to play their best hockey of the season and it’s going to be needed with their busy March schedule.
Photo: Heather Barry Images