Flyers

How Flyers are playing an Alain Vigneault brand — and can they sustain it?

How Flyers are playing an Alain Vigneault brand — and can they sustain it?

The numbers last season weren’t pretty.

The Flyers yielded the NHL's third-most goals per game at 3.41.

They had a minus-37 goal differential.

And they rode this carousel of slow starts. Following games, players were often left scratching their heads trying to explain why they dug themselves another hole, resulting in another loss and repeated phrases about accountability.

One of the more glaring statistics to the 2018-19 season in which the Flyers fell glaringly short was the team’s minus-31 goal differential in the first period. The Flyers allowed 94 goals during the opening frame, second worst in the league, while scoring 63. They were far too frequently chasing the play and trying to survive in their own zone, which led to arduous uphill climbs in the second and third periods.

But maybe it didn’t always boil down to the Flyers simply not getting up for a game. That would be a lot of games in which NHL players inexcusably just went through the motions for one-third of a contest.

Sometimes, an aggressive, north-south method can naturally create better effort.

On Wednesday night, with Flyers fans wanting reasons for why they should believe this season will be different, everyone watched what can be a staple of Alain Vigneault’s system when it’s clicking.

Work, work, work, until you fully drain the opposition. 

That style leads to extended time in the offensive zone, added pressure on the opposing netminder and, eventually, goals.

The Flyers thoroughly outplayed the Devils in the second period of a 4-0 win, giving the club its first 2-0-0 start since 2011-12 (see observations). While Vigneault’s group scored only one marker and held just a 1-0 lead at second intermission, in many ways, the Flyers landed a slew of punches to put New Jersey into a stagger.

“After a pretty even first period, I thought in the second we really wore them down,” Vigneault said. “Had some great chances.”

At the end of the middle frame, Carter Hart made the Flyers’ effort stand up with a magnificent save as the penalty kill quelled a 5-on-3.

Less than a minute into the third period, the Flyers pounded home two more goals and had obtained what eluded them so much last season: Control of the game.

“Carter kept us in that lead,” Vigneault said, “and we were able to come out in the third and continue on what I thought we had done in the second and just take the game to them.”

The Flyers outshot the Devils, 15-7, in the second period despite racking up eight penalty minutes. They did what Vigneault wants to see and that’s dictate tempo with force, not finesse.

“In the second, I thought we kind of took over,” Sean Couturier said. “We got a lot of chances, except for penalty troubles. We carried that into the third and we got rewarded for our good work in the second.”

Devils head coach John Hynes agreed.

“The second period, we didn’t get out of our own end enough,” he said. “We got hemmed in with some execution things and weren’t able to get in the offensive zone and have some pressure like we had the first period.”

Two games into the 2019-20 season, the Flyers have played on their terms.

Keeping it up will be the next challenge.

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Is Jakub Voracek's trimmed ice time a big deal?

Is Jakub Voracek's trimmed ice time a big deal?

Jakub Voracek’s 14:30 ice time Saturday night was certainly noteworthy.

It marked the 30-year-old winger’s fewest minutes in a game since the 2015-16 season. When the Flyers were trailing, 2-1, during the third period, one of their best and most experienced playmakers saw no more than three minutes of the ice. In the final stanza, Voracek was bumped off the first line and had shifts with the team’s fourth unit.

The development, which comes in the third game of the season under a new head coach, is nothing to sweep under the rug as if it never happened.

Is it troubling, though? No, at least not yet.

The fact is the Flyers have great depth in their top six. So much so that James van Riemsdyk, a two-time 30-goal scorer and the Flyers’ fourth-highest-paid player, opened the season on the third line.

On Saturday night in a 3-2 shootout loss to the Canucks (see observations), the Flyers were looking to spark their offense during the third period. They had one goal and 17 shots on net at the time. Head coach Alain Vigneault has said how he’s still searching for the best chemistry within his forward combinations and defensive pairs.

JVR, who finished with 15:11 and 15:37 minutes in the Flyers’ first two games, respectively, played 20:19 Saturday night. His jump to the first line was effective as the Flyers outshot the Canucks, 14-6, during the third period with van Riemsdyk, Kevin Hayes and Claude Giroux creating plenty of offense.

When asked Tuesday if he was inclined to experiment with lines early in the season, Vigneault said:

Yes, until I find the chemistry. I’m a firm believer in I think players like to stay on the same line — chemistry gets formed and accountability gets formed also between linemates and D partners. Last game against Chicago was the first time that I felt throughout the four lines we had some chemistry that enabled us to play well defensively and generate some chances offensively. How long that’s going to stay? It’s going to depend obviously on the players’ performance. Until I find the right mix — it could be a duo with a guy going in and out, it could be a line. I’d prefer it be lines, but that obviously depends on the players’ performances.

Vigneault will switch things up and try different combinations. He will also spread out ice time to maximize his push-the-pace, hard-on-the-attack style.

If anything, this is an indication that competition is aplenty among the Flyers’ forwards. There is talent available and minutes are up for grabs.

If you want those minutes, you have to earn them and then keep them.

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Interesting developments as Flyers suffer 1st loss of 2019-20 season

Interesting developments as Flyers suffer 1st loss of 2019-20 season

BOX SCORE

The Flyers nearly had their fifth 3-0-0 start in the last 30 years.

Instead, though, they stomached their first loss of the 2019-20 season with a 3-2 shootout defeat to the Canucks at Rogers Arena on Saturday night.

Elias Pettersson and Tanner Pearson beat Carter Hart in the skills competition as the Flyers (2-0-1) had to settle for a point.

During their first two games, the Flyers dictated possession and pace. On Saturday night, the Canucks (2-2-0) stemmed the tide with their speed and skill.

• Vancouver goalie Jacob Markstrom entered with a 1.73 goals-against average in six career games against the Flyers. Once again, he was pretty good vs. the orange and black.

The Flyers got after the 29-year-old and he yielded only two goals on 32 shots. He faced 14 of those shots in the third period and the goal he allowed was on the power play in which he had no chance as Matt Niskanen, Travis Konecny and Oskar Lindblom made a spectacular play.

Markstrom finished off the Flyers by denying Jakub Voracek and Kevin Hayes in the shootout.

• Interestingly, Voracek played no more than three minutes in the third period. He was replaced by James van Riemsdyk on the first line with Claude Giroux and Hayes.

Voracek finished with 14:30 minutes, his lowest ice time in a game since the 2015-16 season. He appeared to be healthy as he skated on a late power play and took the team's first shootout attempt.

Head coach Alain Vigneault has shown that, veteran or youngster, you have to earn your ice time.

• The Flyers impressively broke the Canucks' penalty kill — which had been a perfect 12 for 12 on the season — with five minutes left in regulation to tie the game.

Niskanen, who was great in all areas, started the play with speed on the entry. Konecny made a nice read and pass for his sixth point through three games.

• JVR is without a point in three games but he had quality looks and was pretty good in 20-plus minutes of action Saturday night.

He also nearly drew a penalty during the third period as the Flyers were trailing, 2-1. The helmet came off of Tyler Myers as the Vancouver defenseman and van Riemsdyk were battling in front. Myers did not go to retrieve it and instead pursued van Riemsdyk along the boards.

Here is the new rule implemented by the league this offseason:

Player on the ice whose helmet comes off during play must (a) exit the playing surface, or (b) retrieve and replace his helmet properly on his head (with or without his chin strap fastened). A Player who is making a play on the puck or who is in position to make an immediate play on the puck at the time his helmet comes off, shall be given a reasonable opportunity to complete the play before either exiting the ice or retrieving and replacing his helmet. Failure to comply with the above will result in a minor penalty being assessed on the offending player. 

The officials clearly did not view it as a penalty because Myers was not whistled and finished a hit on van Riemsdyk.

• The Canucks' 1-0 lead after the opening period marked the Flyers' first deficit at an intermission this season.

The Flyers outshot the Blackhawks and Devils in the second period by a combined 30-14. In the middle frame against Vancouver, the shots were 10-7 in favor of the Flyers. The Flyers picked up the pace early in the period but the Canucks answered the momentum of the Flyers' equalizer by going back ahead 1:13 later.

• Hart, coming off his first career shutout, allowed two goals on 24 shots.

On the first goal, Vancouver gave the Flyers a taste of their own medicine. It was quicker and hungrier, which eventually resulted in Brock Boeser sending home a loose puck.

On the second goal, Pearson made a sharp deflection right in front of Hart. Nobody accounted for the winger and he took advantage.

Hart really wasn't a problem and kept the Flyers in the game.

• Carsen Twarynski started slowly with the Phantoms last season in his first year as a pro. He scored one goal over his first 20 games, finished with a so-so year (10 goals, 24 points) and never got called up after impressining in the preseason.

A season later, he flat out earned his roster spot and netted his first NHL goal in Game 3 of 2019-20. He did so during the second period to tie the game briefly.

Good for him.


(Zack Hill/Philadelphia Flyers)

• Two role guys that make subtle differences are Justin Braun and Tyler Pitlick.

On Saturday night, Braun broke up Vancouver threats with his stick and added an assist. The 32-year-old knows how to play defense.

Pitlick was also good on the fourth line. He mentioned how he's a north-south skater and it has been evident. He made an excellent backcheck in the second period to impede a breakaway by Pettersson, which could have easily resulted in a 3-1 hole for the Flyers.

• To finish a three-game road trip, the Flyers play their first back-to-back set of the season when they take on the Flames Tuesday (9 p.m. ET/NBCSP) and the Oilers Wednesday (9:30 p.m. ET/NBCSP).

The Flyers are back home Saturday to play the Stars (7 p.m. ET/NBCSP).

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