Sean Couturier mentioned how outdoor games can produce different hockey.
The NHL Outdoors at Lake Tahoe game will be particularly different with no fans and mostly nature's finest encompassing the rink.
"It's always special, it's always memories that you make throughout your career," Couturier said Friday before the Flyers flew to Stateline, Nevada, in the afternoon. "Those are the games that stand out when you look back. It's different hockey, though, the way the ice is outside, when you look around, knowing where to be out there, it seems a little different. The game seems to be a little different when you're playing. You're used to having fans or stands right against the wall. Now it's just nature over there, trees and the golf course. It's a different game."
The Flyers could look different, as well. No, not just without six important regulars who had to stay back because of COVID protocols, but also from a tactical standpoint. In Friday's practice, Alain Vigneault had defenseman Mark Friedman take reps with forwards Andy Andreoff and Samuel Morin. The Flyers' head coach very well could roll with the more nontraditional lineup of 11 forwards and seven defensemen against the Bruins on Sunday at Lake Tahoe (7:30 p.m. ET/NBCSN).
Maksim Sushko made his NHL debut Thursday, playing only 5:55 minutes on the fourth line with Andreoff and Morin in the Flyers' 3-2 shootout loss Thursday to the Rangers.
After the Flyers' indoor practice Saturday, Vigneault confirmed the Flyers will go with the 11-7 approach, but with a small twist.
"I'm going to dress Friedman, but I'm going to play Friedman as a right winger up front," Vigneault said. "He's been working really hard, he's been skating well. He's going to get an opportunity here to play, it's going to permit us maybe also to use seven defensemen and spread out the ice times a little bit more to some of the other forwards."
One can see why Vigneault wants to employ seven defensemen and go with more experience in Friedman. The East Division-leading Bruins are 10-3-2 and boast the imposing trio of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak up front. With the Flyers so undermanned, there's a higher probability of Boston gaining steam up ice and making plays in the offensive zone. An extra blueliner in Friedman would increase the Flyers' ability to kill plays and make high-percentage decisions with the puck in the defensive zone.
The Bruins can eat the opposition alive if it doesn't make sound decisions with the puck.
The 25-year-old Friedman is a mobile skater and at his best when he's playing with tenacity in puck battles. The Flyers have to win a good chunk of their 50-50 puck battles against Boston. Vigneault has said before that he likes when Friedman plays with "bite." The Flyers will need all the energy, effort and outwork-you mentality Sunday.
Sushko is only 22 years old and coming off his first NHL game. An outdoor spectacle on national television against Boston is no small order for a 22-year-old prospect. However, it sounds like Vigneault is emphasizing size and physicality on Sunday. Vigneault is keeping Sushko (6-0/206) in the lineup as David Kase (5-11/169) will come out for Friedman. Vigneault could be looking for the safer, defensive play in this spot. To boot, Friedman should be pretty motivated. The Flyers have pushed him to give them more.
"Mark has been OK but my expectations are higher of his play," Vigneault said last month. "I need to see a little bit more urgency from him in his game."
Coming into the season, the Flyers liked their young depth at forward. Unfortunately for the club, with it really needing it, a slew of those depth options aren't healthy. Carsen Twarynski, Morgan Frost, Wade Allison, Tanner Laczynski and Linus Sandin have been out. They would have been clear candidates for opportunities during the Flyers' current COVID-19-created predicament.
The Flyers will get their first look at the Lake Tahoe rink at some point Saturday. Then it's go time Sunday.
"Without fans there, it's going to be different, but you know, when we were young and we were playing in the outdoor rinks or on the pond, there weren't any fans and we were enjoying it," Vigneault said. "So obviously it's going to be a little different feeling, but I expect our guys to go out there, enjoy the game and play hard — that's what we're going to Lake Tahoe to do. We know Boston's a real good team, they're fully healthy; we're in a little different situation but we're next man up and no excuses."
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