Flyers

Intriguing Penguins ties, Patrick's spot, more in 3 Flyers thoughts

Flyers

The Eagles have Dallas week.

Is this Pittsburgh week for the Flyers?

With an April game rescheduled for this week, the Flyers play three straight road games against the Penguins over Tuesday (7 p.m. ET/NBCSP), Thursday (7 p.m. ET/NBCSP) and Saturday (1 p.m. ET/NBCSP).

Ahead of the intrastate three-game set, let's get into our latest three Flyers thoughts.

1. Flyers ties in Pittsburgh

The Flyers are 11-4-3 with 25 points and the Penguins are 11-8-1 with 23 points. Both clubs are meeting for the first time since their season-opening two-game set in which the Flyers swept by a combined score of 11-5.

There's always intrigue to Flyers-Penguins matchups, but there are some fresh and fun storylines to this series.

Former Flyers general manager Ron Hextall is now GM of the Penguins. Last weekend, Hextall brought on board Chris Pryor as his new director of player personnel. Pryor was Hextall's right-hand man in Philadelphia and spent 20 years in the Flyers' organization. He was critical to the team's renewed scouting efforts under Hextall and the franchise's talent evaluation going back to the early-2000s.

When the Flyers play the Penguins this week, Hextall and Pryor will see many players they scouted, drafted and developed in Philadelphia. Pryor's handiwork goes back to the likes of Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier. 

Hextall brought one of their 2014 Flyers draft picks to Pittsburgh last week when the Penguins claimed Mark Friedman off waivers. The Flyers had to get Friedman through waivers if they wanted to place him on their taxi squad. Friedman hasn't made his debut in Pittsburgh yet; perhaps that comes against the Flyers this week.

 

"We knew we were taking a risk, but we wanted to have the possibility of maybe playing [Nate] Prosser if needed to be," Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault said last Friday. "To do that, we had to put Mark available. He's a good, young player and he got picked up by Pittsburgh. We wish him nothing but the best. I talked to him after he got picked up, he was excited. We wish him nothing but the best."

2. Fitting in Konecny

Travis Konecny skated Monday and was headed to Pittsburgh to rejoin the Flyers after a 14-day stint on the NHL's COVID protocol list. The Flyers' 2020 All-Star is expected to partake in the club's morning skate Tuesday and is considered a game-time decision.

This is purely a hunch, but it seems plausible Nolan Patrick could sit a game in Pittsburgh. Vigneault said last Friday that he could rotate personnel on the back end and up front because of the team's jam-packed stretch of six games in nine days.

In the last 11 games, Patrick has gone scoreless with four shots. The natural center has played right winger the past three games on the Flyers' second line with Kevin Hayes and Giroux. Vigneault moved Patrick to the right wing "to sort of help him get going a little bit here," the head coach said last Tuesday.

Konecny is a right winger and an obvious candidate for the second line. The first line is staying together and the third line of Oskar Lindblom, Scott Laughton and Jakub Voracek was good in the Flyers' two-game sweep of Buffalo. Vigneault has also liked the effectiveness of the fourth line, which has been centered by Connor Bunnaman.

In the Flyers' 3-0 win Sunday over the Sabres, Patrick played 13:30 minutes and only 3:22 in the third period as the Flyers closed things out. Patrick will likely move back to center in the bottom six at some point. It has been a huge positive that Patrick is healthy and has played all 18 games after he missed 2019-20 because of a migraine disorder. Prior to the season opener, Patrick hadn't played an NHL game in over 650 days.

"It took me a while to find my game and I feel like the last couple of games, I've been trending in the right direction and playing more confident, getting closer to the top of my game," Patrick said last Friday after his first game at right winger. "It's obviously tough missing that amount of time, but I'm feeling good and having fun being back."

Vigneault sat 24-year-old defenseman Philippe Myers for a game over the weekend. Allowing Patrick to watch a game and reset both physically and mentally wouldn't be the worst thing for the 22-year-old.

 

More: Konecny returns to lineup, Aube-Kubel comes out

3. The Ekholm buzz

Tony Androckitis of InsideAHLHockey.com reported that the Predators scouted AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley's game last Saturday night.

The Athletic's Pierre LeBrun recently noted how Nashville (10-11-0) could be looking to retool and 30-year-old defenseman Mattias Ekholm might be one of its biggest trade chips. LeBrun identified the Flyers as a team he views as a potential fit for Ekholm. Per CapFriendly.com, Ekholm has a $3.75 million cap hit and can become an unrestricted free agent after the 2021-22 season.

There's still time before the NHL trade deadline, which is April 12. March will be a telling month for the Flyers, who are now healthy on the back end and coming off back-to-back shutouts. They've looked a lot more like the club that surged down the 2019-20 regular-season stretch.

Long story short: give it some more time and we'll then see around April if the Flyers need external help on defense.

More on these topics here with the Flyers Talk podcast

Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Stitcher | Art19 | YouTube