Flyers

2019-20 Flyers season grades: Michael Raffl

2019-20 Flyers season grades: Michael Raffl

The 2019-20 NHL regular season has concluded and the next time the puck drops will officially kick off the race to the Stanley Cup. The Flyers are hungry and ready to battle it out, but that is thanks to the hard work from back in October. 

In an End to End series, NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Brooke Destra, Joe Fordyce and Jordan Hall will be grading players based on individual performances. 

Today we will be looking at Michael Raffl.

Destra

If there’s one thing I’ll never understand, it’s the lack of appreciation for Raffl and his work as a bottom-six forward. When he’s tasked to perform in the role he’s supposed to do, there’s not much that can go wrong. In the 2019-20 preseason, not many were in favor of him cracking the official roster, but it’s great that as the Flyers and NHL head to the playoffs, he’s proved the haters wrong. 

Though he missed some time with an injury (broken finger), he still managed to tally 20 points (eight goals, 12 assists) through 58 games. Raffl has always been quite the staple on the penalty kill during his seven-year career with the Flyers and this past season has been no different. What’s great is that he also gained a teammate in Kevin Hayes and the two have been able to lock down the penalty kill pretty nicely. 

I’m going to give Raffl a B for 2019-20. 

Fordyce 

I think a good Raffl season is a B season, so the Flyers should be happy. Raffl did miss a handful of games with injury, which always disrupts a player’s flow during the course of a season. In less games, Raffl equaled the point totals of his average season over his seven-year career, so from that aspect, it was a solid season.

There are times during the season when it seems as if Raffl is holding back some of his ability, like when he elects to pass rather than shoot from time to time especially when taking a shot would seem like a no-brainer. On the other hand, Raffl is another guy who can play anywhere up and down the lineup and he will not hurt you. He is a smart, responsible player and this season was another example of just that.

B for Raffl.

Hall

Raffl was his usual reliable, versatile self for the Flyers.

Going back to 2013 with the club, Raffl has made a career out of honing in on those characteristics as a valuable role forward.

He provided those role qualities across the board in the 2019-20 regular season. He played winger and center, won a career-high 99 faceoffs, helped kill penalties and scored 20 points (eight goals, 12 assists) while playing a little under 12 and a half minutes per game over 58 contests.

One example of Raffl playing his role was Aug. 24 when the 31-year-old blocked a hard shot with 41 seconds left in the third period and his team leading the Blackhawks 4-1.

“Great message for our team,” Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault said two days later. “You’ve got to play the right way from the beginning to the end, and that’s what he did.”

A solid B for Raffl.

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2020 NHL playoffs: Standings in round robin, series updates as Flyers, Lightning eye No. 1 seed

2020 NHL playoffs: Standings in round robin, series updates as Flyers, Lightning eye No. 1 seed

The Flyers have earned at least a point against every Eastern Conference team this season except one:

The Lightning.

On Saturday at Scotiabank Arena, the Flyers will meet Tampa Bay in what has become the East's round-robin championship of the NHL's return-to-play 24-team tournament.

In the round-robin fight for top seeding, the Flyers have set themselves up well with a 4-1 victory over the Bruins and a 3-1 decision over the Capitals.

"I think it’s just important to play the right way and keep building on this momentum we’re gaining right now," Sean Couturier said in a video interview Thursday night after the Flyers' win over Washington. "We want to win, we want to finish the highest possible seed, but I think as long as we’re at our best once the real playoffs start, that’s the biggest thing."

Let's answer four questions heading into Saturday's showdown against the Lightning:

What's on the line?

The winner of the game will earn the Eastern Conference's No. 1 seed in the first round of the playoffs, while the loser will settle for the No. 2 seed.

Both seeds are obviously advantageous, but there's certainly a difference between them. The No. 1 seed will hold home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs. With no fans, that distinction still holds importance because home teams are awarded the last line change in games, which can be critical to matchups when outcomes are in the balance.

Below are the current round-robin standings:

1. Lightning — 2-0-0, four points
1. Flyers — 2-0-0, four points
3. Capitals — 0-1-1, one point
4. Bruins — 0-2-0, zero points

Who could Flyers play in 1st round?

Given they will finish with either one of the East's top two seeds, the Flyers cannot face the fifth-seeded Penguins or sixth-seeded Hurricanes in the first round.

It's still possible the Flyers can face the No. 7 Islanders, No. 8 Maple Leafs, No. 9 Blue Jackets, No. 10 Panthers or No. 12 Canadiens in the first round.

If the Flyers earn the No. 1 seed, they'll meet the lowest seed to advance past the qualifying round. If they're the No. 2 seed, they'll get the second-lowest seed to advance past the qualifying round.

Here's the latest on the best-of-five qualifying series:

No. 8 Maple Leafs vs. No. 9 Blue Jackets (CBJ leads 2-1; Game 4 — Friday, 8 p.m. ET)

No. 7 Islanders vs. No. 10 Panthers (NYI leads 2-1; Game 4 — Friday, noon ET)

No. 6 Hurricanes vs. No. 11 Rangers (CAR wins 3-0)

No. 5 Penguins vs. No. 12 Canadiens (MTL leads 2-1; Game 4 — Friday, 4 p.m. ET)

When are final round-robin games?

The Flyers-Lightning round-robin game is Saturday but the start time is TBD. We'll know the time of puck drop at some point Friday.

The Capitals and Bruins finish the round robin Sunday (start time TBD).

The first round of the playoffs is scheduled to begin next Tuesday.

How do Flyers fare vs. Lightning?

Among the round-robin teams, the second-seeded Lightning were the club that gave the Flyers the most trouble in the regular season. The Flyers dropped two games in regulation to Tampa Bay — albeit one was a 1-0 defeat and the other was a chippy 5-3 loss with an empty-netter during the final 22 seconds.

The Lightning can flat-out score, putting up a league-best 3.47 goals per game during the regular season.

However, the Flyers hung with Tampa Bay in other statistical categories and didn't have trade deadline acquisitions Derek Grant or Nate Thompson during the two regular-season matchups.

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NHL playoffs: Flyers fans are losing their minds after win against Capitals

NHL playoffs: Flyers fans are losing their minds after win against Capitals

Yo, the Flyers. 

We can’t get enough of this team right now — but can you blame us? After entering the round robin as the fourth seed, its 3-1 win against the Capitals on Thursday now guarantees at least the second seed moving forward. Top of the East will be on the line Saturday when the Flyers face the Lightning. 

If you haven’t already, it’s time to start acknowledging Alain Vigneault’s team for all that it is this season — but if you’re a Flyers fan, being the underdog is nothing new.

This team does more than simply go through the motions. Its chemistry is off the charts and makes for an entertaining game from start to finish. 

Now, having a 2-0-0 record in the round robin so far, reality is setting in across the league about just how talented this team is. Even if you’ve been keeping an eye on the Flyers, it’s been a long time since the franchise has seen a roster with this much talent — so, it’s OK if you’re still in shock. 

Running over the Capitals though certainly started to put things into perspective for Flyers fans. 

Who knows what this game would have looked like without the line of Scott Laughton, Kevin Hayes and Travis Konecny? 

Well, we’ll never know … and that’s a wonderful thing. The Flyers’ second line dominated play and combined for eight points on the day. Since they seem like an inseparable line, is it time to start thinking about nicknames for it? 

It has to have something to do with chirping, don’t you think?

The Capitals also had a lot riding on this game. After an overtime loss to the Lightning earlier in the week, this was essentially a must-win. 

And if the players didn’t realize that during the game (their six minor penalties sure made it seem like that) — fans certainly made enough noise following the loss. 

Oh, did I mention Alex Ovechkin didn’t tally a single point against the Flyers in five games this season? Just something to think about. 

Buckle up Flyers fans, this is only the beginning. 

Sports Uncovered is on all podcast platforms: click here to subscribe now!

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