Folks in hockey always say the best way to evaluate is by game action.
Despite the Flyers' disappointing slide out of the playoff race, the club's final 11 games in the 2020-21 season hold plenty of importance. The 11 games provide management and the coaching staff a solid sample size for evaluation ahead of the 2021-22 season, an objective that has moved to the forefront.
General manager Chuck Fletcher and head coach Alain Vigneault will use these games to gather the best read possible on their team before what could be a franchise-shifting offseason.
"We're going to find out a lot about our guys here in these last games as far as them being true professionals," Vigneault said Tuesday. "I've talked to Chuck about this on a couple of occasions, there are probably a couple of young guys that we're going to want to take a look at here moving forward, so we're going to use this time wisely. Right now, I want our guys to be in the present."
As the evaluation continues with a back-to-back set at Madison Square Garden against the Rangers, the Flyers continue to navigate forward with moving parts.
Carter Hart did not accompany the Flyers to New York. He will miss the team's games Thursday and Friday against the Rangers because of a mild knee sprain. The injury kept Hart out of two games last weekend and the club's pair of practices this week. Vigneault said Hart's injury is "nothing serious" and labeled him as day to day. Hart has already undergone an MRI and been evaluated. The Flyers are 11 points out of a playoff spot, so they're going to err on the side of caution with their 22-year-old goalie.
"I'm not concerned at all," Vigneault said Wednesday.
"It's just taking a little longer than what we originally had anticipated. It's not serious, but it's just taking a little longer. Hopefully in the next few days he's back on the ice with his teammates."
Nolan Patrick has been back on the ice with his teammates and will return to the lineup after missing the past two games. In last Thursday's contest, the 22-year-old center was hit in the head by a shot.
It has been a huge positive that Patrick has played 42 games this season after he missed the entire 2019-20 campaign because of a migraine disorder. Patrick, who had gone over 650 days without playing an NHL game prior to the Jan. 13 opener, has eight points (four goals, four assists) and a minus-19 rating this season.
Patrick and the Flyers know he's capable of much better production. He'll be a player the Flyers continue to evaluate to see where he fits moving forward.
"Just try to keep improving and get closer to finding the top of my game," Patrick said Tuesday of his goals for the rest of the season. "Obviously it's been a tough year, up and down, but just try to keep improving and do everything I can to improve my game."
Tanner Laczynski, one of the younger players the Flyers were just starting to give an extended look to, is dealing with a hip injury. The 23-year-old center has missed the last two games and on Wednesday was getting a second opinion on the injury. The Flyers will know more on his status over the next few days.
Laczynski made his NHL debut earlier this month and is very much in the mix for a job next season.
Jackson Cates, another center, could see his NHL debut soon. The 23-year-old was a college free agent and signed an entry-level deal with the Flyers last week. He had his first practice with the full team Wednesday but was alongside defenseman Samuel Morin in practice reps, signifying that he'll be an extra Thursday night.
"Chuck gave me a little bit of the rundown as far as him being a center, being a hard-worker, playing a 200-foot game," Vigneault said Tuesday. "We're going to look at our games here moving forward. There is a good possibility that he's going to get into some games."
Here's how the Flyers looked in Wednesday's practice:
Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
Joel Farabee-Kevin Hayes-Wade Allison
James van Riemsdyk-Scott Laughton-Travis Konecny
Oskar Lindblom-Nolan Patrick-Nicolas Aube-Kubel
Ivan Provorov-Justin Braun
Travis Sanheim-Robert Hagg
Shayne Gostisbehere-Philippe Myers
The Flyers are coming off a tough-to-stomach 1-0 overtime loss to the Islanders last Sunday. They exhibited the north-south, hard-on-the-attack style that was a staple to their 2019-20 success.
The problem is the Flyers have seldom shown it consistently this season. Instead, they've permitted 3.51 goals per game, second most in the NHL.
"We want to be hard to play against," Sean Couturier said of what the Flyers want to accomplish the remainder of this season. "It feels some nights it's a little easy to play against us, but I think we've got to play like last game — we were tight defensively, didn't give up a whole lot, wait for chances and be patient. Just play a hard game.
"I think it's right to say you see the character of guys in tougher times, tougher moments. It's not easy right now, so we'll see how guys respond."
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