Flyers hope to build chemistry in preseason opener against Islanders
The Philadelphia Flyers play a hockey game tonight. The New York Islanders visit the Wells Fargo Center for the Flyers’ preseason opener. It’ll be the second preseason game for the Islanders, who beat the New York Rangers 4-0 on Sunday.
It will be the Flyers’ first game since their 2020-21 season ended on May 10th, 141 days ago. Chuck Fletcher put his fingerprints on the Flyers in a busy offseason. Cam Atkinson, Ryan Ellis, and Rasmus Ristolainen headline the arrivals, with Shayne Gostisbehere, Philippe Myers, and Jakub Voracek highlighting the departures.
The Flyers have a new mix in the locker room with a more experienced group. Now, it’s up to the players to turn it on.
There is some onus on the coaching staff as well, obviously, to put the players in their most optimal roles. Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault has stressed how important chemistry will be with this new roster.
“The things that we’re trying to see right now is who does have chemistry with one another and who’s going to make this team, the best possible team.” Vigneault said after the Flyers’ intrasquad scrimmage on Sunday.
Early in camp, it sounds like Vigneault is going to use players that are familiar with each other. That has held true thus far.
Vigneault has reunited a trio that worked well together two years ago on the top line. Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, and Travis Konecny played 136 minutes together in the 2019-20 season, outscoring opponents 8-4 with an Expected Goals For of 54.8%, according to MoneyPuck.
Giroux is a bit older, but he can still hold his own. Couturier is locked into a new contract and into the top-line center role. Konecny is looking to bounce back. Playing on a line with two of the best Flyers in recent history will certainly help him along. Remember, 2019-20 was Konecny’s All-Star season with 61 points (24 goals, 37 assists) in 66 games.
After the top line, Vigneault has put together an interesting combination. James van Riemsdyk and Joel Farabee found success last season during their 222 minutes with Couturier. They also played 56 minutes with Scott Laughton at center. That trio outscored opponents 6-1 with an xGF of 57.8% AV is hoping to replicate that success with Morgan Frost in the middle.
The 22-year-old center is penciled in as the second-line center with Kevin Hayes out. Having a veteran like JVR by his side should help, and another youngster in Farabee should bring scoring touch and energy.
Vigneault was specifically asked about the JVR – Frost – Farabee line on Sunday.
“I’m very happy with what I’m seeing from Frosty,” he said. “Didn’t know what to expect since he didn’t play last year. I liked him in rookie camp. He’s come here and he’s continued. You see, physically that he’s confident and he’s skating well. We worked on the power play prior to the scrimmage. I liked a lot of his decisions on the ice with the puck. Joel and JvR played together last year, quite a few games with different centerman. There’s some chemistry there. We’ll see moving forward how those guys can do together.”
Don’t be surprised if this line gets a good look in the Flyers’ preseason games.
While the injury to Kevin Hayes is testing the Flyers’ center depth, the injury to Wade Allison is showing their depth on the wings. A third line of Oskar Lindblom, Derick Brassard, and Cam Atkinson is pretty solid.
Lindblom is back to his pre-cancer conditioning levels and looks as physical as ever in camp. The other two, Brassard and Atkinson, have chemistry dating back to their Columbus days. The two both played for the Blue Jackets from 2011 to 2013.
“I know those guys go way back. I’ve liked both of them. Both the energy that they’ve brought and the enthusiasm they’ve brought so far,” Vigneault said on Sunday. “Like I said, we’re going to try different things during camp. Putting those two guys together during exhibition is definitely one of the things that we’re going to look at and see how they do.”
If this line sticks together, it’s going to be a hard-working line that is dangerous in all three zones. Lindblom is great along the boards, Brassard is a solid two-way centerman, and Atkinson can shoot the puck with the best of ’em while hustling on the defensive end as well.
It’s still early, but the nine forwards listed above have a pretty good chance of making up the top nine on opening night. Scott Laughton could sneak up there, and there may be some mixing and matching, but it could be set.
Tuesday night will be the Flyers’ first real chance to test their chemistry new and old. The Flyers kick off their preseason schedule at home against the Islanders. It’s the first of six preseason games for the club. They play Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday this week, and then next Monday, Tuesday, and Friday. A week after that, we’ll have regular-season hockey at the Wells Fargo Center!
Photo: Heather Barry Images