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:
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."
"I hope our line is going to form something special."— Jordan Hall (@JHallNBCS) August 1, 2020
- Kevin Hayes pic.twitter.com/WMdb1FJ4N0
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.
The Flyers since Jan. 8 prior to NHL stoppage. pic.twitter.com/icUrYeh98q— Jordan Hall (@JHallNBCS) April 5, 2020
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)
The Flyers went 22-8-5 against the Eastern Conference playoff field during the regular season.
Not too shabby. pic.twitter.com/vYuoeSCldZ— Jordan Hall (@JHallNBCS) May 27, 2020
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