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2020 NHL playoffs: 5 things Flyers fans need to know for round robin

2020 NHL playoffs: 5 things Flyers fans need to know for round robin

The first part of the Flyers' process back to contention was building a much better regular-season body of work.

Following a seven-season span consisting of three playoff berths and no series victories, a retooling by the Flyers produced more approved regular-season results to an organization known for its competitiveness every year.

But that was not the only objective behind bringing in general manager Chuck Fletcher and head coach Alain Vigneault.

After the NHL's historic pause forced by the coronavirus outbreak, the next (and biggest) step is now finally ahead for the Flyers.

The postseason. And a desired run.

The Flyers enter the NHL's return-to-play 24-team tournament as the Eastern Conference's fourth seed and with a chance to climb before the first round of the playoffs. They begin play Sunday with the start of their three-game round-robin slate as they face the top-seeded Bruins (3 p.m. ET/NBC, Flyers Pregame Live at 2 p.m. ET on NBCSP).

Vigneault, who owns 12 playoff berths and two Stanley Cup Final appearances in 17 seasons as an NHL head coach, said his focus is "not just to win the first round."

Are the 2019-20 Flyers built for multiple rounds?

"Big, big part of this is mental, mental focus, mental strength that players bring," Vigneault said Friday in a video interview. "A lot of it has to do with the preparation that they need to do. And the will — the will to put yourself in the right frame of mind to go out there and play your best. A B-game at this time is not going to work — you’ve got to bring your best hockey.

"We’ve got obviously a reseeding phase to go through, but those three games, we’re going to need to be good. We’re going to need to play hard, we're going to need to have a real strong and smart work ethic. I believe this group has learned that, has learned about playing the right way and executing and bringing the right work ethic to games. I’m very confident with this group."

Let's get into five things you need to know for the Flyers' outlook in the round robin:

Line limbo

Here's how the Flyers' lines at forward will look for Game 1 of the round robin:

Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
Scott Laughton-Kevin Hayes-Travis Konecny
James van Riemsdyk-Derek Grant-Nicolas Aube-Kubel
Michael Raffl-Nate Thompson-Tyler Pitlick

Since the start of training camp July 13 and through Tuesday's exhibition game, the Flyers have tried different combinations with their forwards — and that is expected to continue in the round-robin tournament. As important as the round-robin games are for the Flyers, the all-important Game 1 to Vigneault and his staff comes in the first round, which is slated to begin Aug. 11.

The Flyers will utilize the round robin as an evaluation period to give players valuable reps and opportunities to build chemistry while, of course, trying to win. They're ultimately preparing for the first round and aiming to find their best Game 1 lineup.

So far, the Flyers have tried these different combinations from the opening of camp:

A few things to consider about the forward lines for the round-robin opener:

• They hold merit. The Flyers are playing the NHL's best team in their first meaningful game over 145 days. This is certainly what the coaching staff views as the club's best lineup right now.

Things can and will change. Not only are the Flyers expected to make tweaks throughout the round robin, but the playoffs are also a game of quick and purposeful adjustments. Patience is not exactly a virtue like it can be during an 82-game regular-season schedule.

"I would say we played one exhibition game and as meaningful as these games are coming up, there’s that balance that I need to find," Vigneault said Friday. "The balance that you have to have is, we don’t have a lot of time right now, so sometimes during the year you might give two, three, four games for somebody to get going. Right now, I don’t believe we have that luxury, but at the same time, you do have to give some people ... because they’ve got — the term I like to use a lot of times — more money in the bank, they’ve earned a right for a longer look. Well that’s a little bit of what’s going on right now.

"But if we feel certain things aren’t panning out the way we want to or some guys are just playing OK, then we'll make the decisions quickly that we have to make for the benefit of the team."

• Because of Joel Farabee's versatility and smarts away from the puck, the Flyers know the 20-year-old rookie can scale the lineup. Vigneault has said he sees Farabee as a player with top-six upside. Farabee opened training camp on the team's second line and stood out.

However, the current second line of Scott Laughton, Kevin Hayes and Travis Konecny has shown impressive chemistry and makeup. The group clicked during the regular season and was arguably the Flyers' best line in the team's 3-2 OT exhibition win over the Penguins.

"They were very dangerous last game, created an awful lot of scoring chances," Flyers assistant coach Mike Yeo said Saturday. "Laughts is a big part of that. He certainly was last game, anyways."

With Laughton at second-line winger, it heavily dictates Farabee's spot in the picture. For one, Laughton isn't playing center, which creates a greater need for veteran Nate Thompson and, secondly, it obviously bumps Farabee into a more crowded, role-centric bottom six.

Currently, the Flyers are likely looking at Thompson over Farabee because the 35-year-old center gives them more of what they need in limited minutes — a bigger guy who knows exactly what his job is, can win some tough faceoffs and help the penalty kill.

Farabee is an exciting player to have in a coach's pocket. The Flyers should not wait long to call the 2018 first-round pick's name if they're in need of any offense. Expect to see Farabee get a nice look at some point during the round robin. There's no real reason why the Flyers shouldn't give him that tryout in healthier minutes.

"Joel's had a good camp," Yeo said. "Compared to playing on the second line, playing on the fourth line, those are the things that he's trying to figure out as a younger player. But his work ethic is outstanding, his hockey sense is outstanding. We are very well aware of what he's capable of and he will certainly be factoring into every one of our conversations as far as both getting in the lineup and where he fits in the lineup.

"A.V. did a great job setting the table with the players right from Day 1 of camp here, that the leash is short for everybody. Basically you have to perform, you have to go out, get the job done and we have a lot of good players that are capable if you're not going to get it done.

Staying true on the blue line

Here's how the Flyers' defensive pairs will look for Game 1 of the round robin:

Ivan Provorov-Matt Niskanen
Travis Sanheim-Philippe Myers
Robert Hagg-Justin Braun

No real surprises here. The Flyers didn't break up these defensive pairs all camp and the team's big 19-6-1 run since Jan. 8 featured mostly this look.

Shayne Gostisbehere might be the most talented seventh defenseman you'll find in the 24-team field. But he's had to deal with the unfortunate circumstances of having two arthroscopic surgeries on both of his knees in 2020, while the Flyers played some of their best hockey during his absence from the first procedure. In hockey, like any other sport, you often roll with what's working until it's not.

The offensive-minded Gostisbehere is not your prototypical third-pair blueliner. The Flyers have two of those in Robert Hagg and Justin Braun, which probably makes their decision a little bit easier.

Depending on the circumstances, Gostisbehere very well could see action in the round robin. Come the first round, though, he might have to wait for his shot until/if the Flyers experience an offensive funk or serious issues on the back end. 

"I really like the depth that we have on defense and Shayne is obviously a part of that," Yeo said. "Mark Friedman played a heck of a game last game, as well. In a perfect world, we'll get everybody in, we’ll get everybody in more often. I can say that we’ve obviously discussed these things, but I also think that we have to be pretty fluid with our plan moving forward. Our goal is to try to identify the group that is going to give us the best chance to win Game 1 as well as make sure that everybody's prepared, whether that’s the guys that are in that game or whether it's guys that might factor in a little bit later into the series or deeper into the playoffs."

Gostisbehere's mobility caught the eyes of the Flyers in camp and he fared well during the exhibition game. He's also been a good teammate through it all as he tries to show Vigneault his readiness.

"He's going to put the best lineup out there possible," Gostisbehere said during camp. "If I’m not in it, I’ll be the best cheerleader. I think for myself, it’s just focusing on myself getting better and this team winning a Stanley Cup."

No controversy here

Carter Hart will be the starting goalie for the Flyers' round-robin opener. The Flyers' decisions in net can get a bit trickier, though, after Sunday.

Vigneault has said he plans to play Brian Elliott in the round robin. But if the Flyers beat the Bruins, their Game 2 of the round robin becomes that much more important. Would they go Hart or Elliott?

The Flyers trust Elliott and rightfully so. Regardless of if the Flyers win or lose Sunday, one would think Elliott plays the Capitals in the second round-robin game (he went 2-0-0 with a 2.00 goals-against average against Washington during the regular season) and Hart takes the third matchup (or some of it depending on the game's implications).

Barring some crazy unforeseen events, Hart will be the Flyers' main guy when the first round arrives. Eight goalies in 2018-19 doesn't feel so bad anymore, right?

How the round robin works

The East's top four teams — the No. 1 Bruins, No. 2 Lightning, No. 3 Capitals and No. 4 Flyers — will play each other once and total points afterward will determine their seeds for the first round. If there's a tie among points in the round-robin tourney, regular-season points will serve as the tiebreaker.

The round-robin games will follow regular-season overtime rules (3-on-3 OT and then the shootout if necessary).

The playoffs will consist of reseeding after every round.

Here are the East's qualifying-round matchups — which are currently underway — with the winners moving on to face the top four seeds:

No. 8 Maple Leafs vs. No. 9 Blue Jackets

No. 7 Islanders vs. No. 10 Panthers

No. 6 Hurricanes vs. No. 11 Rangers

No. 5 Penguins vs. No. 12 Canadiens

Mark your calendars

In the Eastern Conference's hub city Toronto, the Flyers, along with the rest of the 12-team field, practice at the Ford Performance Centre and play their tournament games at Scotiabank Arena.

For analysis on the Flyers' round-robin matchups, click here.

Below is the Flyers' schedule, along with key dates for the entirety of the tournament:

Flyers vs. Bruins, Sunday, Aug. 2 — 3 p.m. ET (NBC)

Flyers vs. Capitals, Thursday, Aug. 6 — TBD

Flyers vs. Lightning, Saturday, Aug. 8 — TBD

Aug. 11 — First round begins
Aug. 25 — Second round begins (tentative)
Sept. 8 — Conference Final series begin (tentative)
Sept. 22 — Stanley Cup Final begins (tentative)
Oct. 4 — Last possible day of Stanley Cup Final (tentative)

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

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Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

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Flyers Talk podcast: Is this team convincing us in round robin of NHL playoffs?

Flyers Talk podcast: Is this team convincing us in round robin of NHL playoffs?

On the latest Flyers Talk podcast, NBC Sports Philadelphia's Brooke Destra and Jordan Hall discuss the team's climb in the round robin.

From the Flyers' best line to what's ahead, let's dive in:

1:00 — Exciting times for Flyers fans

5:55 — Who has been the most impressive on the second line?

11:55 — Something we've noticed with the Flyers' first-line production

16:05 — Has this two-game stretch convinced us if we weren’t convinced already?

22:10 — What did we think of James van Riemsdyk being scratched? Big deal or no?

27:50 — Speaking of lineups, would we keep the same D pairs vs. the Lightning?

 33:00 — What we like and dislike about the Lightning matchup

 40:00 — The matchup could do a ton for Carter Hart's confidence

Subscribe and rate Flyers Talk: Apple Podcasts | Google Play | Spotify | Stitcher | Art19 | YouTube

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Flyers

Jakub Voracek out, James van Riemsdyk back and more changes as Flyers aim to win round robin

Jakub Voracek out, James van Riemsdyk back and more changes as Flyers aim to win round robin

With the Eastern Conference's No. 1 seed up for grabs Saturday, the Flyers' No. 1 line will look differently and the reason for why is unknown.

What we do know is Jakub Voracek will not play in the Flyers' round-robin finale against the Lightning at Scotiabank Arena.

"He's not available," Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault said Friday in a video interview, "that's all I can say for tomorrow."

As we learned during training camp when Voracek was absent from a scrimmage, there will be various levels of weirdness, uncertainty and inevitable speculation when a player is unavailable. Because of a mutual agreement between the NHL and NHLPA to respect an individual player's right to medical privacy during this time, clubs are not allowed to release specifications for any injuries/illnesses in the return-to-play 24-team tournament.

Naturally, time will tell about the severity of or length of time needed to return for Voracek's undisclosed absence.

Regardless, not having Voracek hurts the Flyers' chances to win the round robin. If the Flyers beat Tampa Bay, they'll secure the Eastern Conference's No. 1 seed in the first round of the playoffs, which is slated to begin next Tuesday. If the Flyers lose to the Lightning, they'll settle for the No. 2 seed. The team has won its first two round-robin games by a combined score of 7-2 over the Bruins and Capitals.

Update: What Flyers fans need to know for round-robin finale, 1st-round matchups

When the Flyers started rolling in November of the regular season, Voracek was one of the club's best players. Since Nov. 1, the facilitating winger had 47 points (eight goals, 39 assists) and a plus-14 rating in 58 games. He finished the regular season with a team-best 44 helpers, 56 points and a plus-14 mark in 69 games.

"Jake's got a unique skill set, a veteran guy that's been around and has played in some big games," Matt Niskanen said Friday in a video interview. "We'll welcome him when he comes back. In the meantime, keep chugging forward with the guys we have."

The Flyers will chug forward with 20-year-old rookie winger Joel Farabee climbing to an exciting spot in the lineup. He'll play on the first line with Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier, while James van Riemsdyk will return to the lineup after being interestingly scratched for the Flyers' 3-1 win Thursday over the Capitals. Connor Bunnaman, a 22-year-old forward who will likely be an extra come the first round if the Flyers are healthy, played in van Riemsdyk's place.

"It was less about benching James than looking at the big picture," Vigneault said. "Yes, James had been OK, just OK so far, after having in my estimation a real strong training camp. But I wanted to get Joel in, I also wanted to get Bunny in at some point, and I felt with the opposition, that it was the right time. Probably less to do with benching, more to do with the big picture."

The 31-year-old van Riemsdyk will join the third line. Vigneault is known to communicate with his players when they're taken out of the lineup or there's a notable change. The two-time 30-goal scorer wouldn't disclose the message between the player and coach, but van Riemsdyk was positive Friday, taking everything in stride.

“With those types of conversations, generally like to keep those in-house," van Riemsdyk said.

“For me, I look back at my career and playing in the playoffs and all these things, I’ve had success doing that in the past. My approach is going to stay the same and try to be the best player I can be and maximize every day. That’s always the way I approach things no matter what, I love the game. We have a great team and have a great shot this year, so my motivation and approach remains consistent day in and day out. No matter if you have a day that doesn’t go your way or if you have a day where things are going well, you go to the next day and you have to do it all over again.”

On the defensive side of things, Shayne Gostisbehere will draw into the lineup for Robert Hagg. Vigneault and his coaching staff had wanted to get Gostisbehere some action in the round robin. They trust the 27-year-old defenseman who could give a boost to the Flyers' power play, which is 0 for 8 through the round robin. Expect to see Hagg back with Justin Braun when the first round begins.

Here is the Flyers' lineup for Saturday's round-robin finale:

Forwards

Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Joel Farabee
Scott Laughton-Kevin Hayes-Travis Konecny
James van Riemsdyk-Derek Grant-Nicolas Aube-Kubel
Connor Bunnaman-Nate Thompson-Tyler Pitlick

Defensemen

Ivan Provorov-Matt Niskanen
Travis Sanheim-Philippe Myers
Shayne Gostisbehere-Justin Braun

Goalies

Carter Hart
Brian Elliott

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

Subscribe and rate Flyers Talk: Apple Podcasts | Google Play | Spotify | Stitcher | Art19 | YouTube

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

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