Flyers weekly observations: The Folin decision, D pairs, JVR role

Flyers weekly observations: The Folin decision, D pairs, JVR role

The Flyers had a pair of 5-2 decisions this week to open the 2018-19 regular season.

One was a great victory Thursday over the defending Western Conference champion Golden Knights; the other was a not-so-great defeat Saturday to the Avalanche.

Some observations before the Flyers kick off their home slate Tuesday:

• Head coach Dave Hakstol said Christian Folin "earned" his spot in Saturday night's lineup. Folin didn't earn it for the home opener. It would be surprising if he again played over Radko Gudas.

The predetermined decision by Hakstol to play Folin over Gudas is a difficult one to dissect. Hakstol said he had decided beforehand that he would use all seven D-men on the two-game trip.

While it's a good idea to keep your seventh defenseman ready and fresh with an occasional outing, what if Gudas played the game of his life Thursday? Would he still sit Saturday just because a plan was in place for Folin to get a game?

Gudas, in fact, did play well in the opener but was still the healthy scratch Saturday. That approach — if utilized moving forward — might not sit well with the player who becomes the odd man out when they haven't lost the right to be in.


• The Robert Hagg-Andrew MacDonald pair isn't the ideal partnership and we saw why during the first period Thursday in Las Vegas.

Two specific plays stood out.

The first was with 13:48 left in the period when MacDonald drifted out of position after Hagg slightly got beat closing out his man in the neutral zone. By doing so, MacDonald left the entire middle of the ice open, allowing a clean mini-breakaway for Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, who didn't convert. Hagg's man got around him, but MacDonald should have stayed in position. A 2-on-1 is better than a breakaway.

The second play came seconds later when Jonathan Marchessault scored Vegas' first goal. MacDonald and Hagg got caught on a change — the whole team did. Hagg got off, MacDonald did not. MacDonald had to skate back to defend and couldn't get back in time.

It was a grotesque start for the two, but they eventually did settle down.


• We learned Monday about the extent of James van Riemsdyk's lower-body injury suffered in Saturday's loss.

JVR will miss approximately five to six weeks, so let's look at a lineup with the options that are here:

Claude Giroux — Sean Couturier — Travis Konecny
Oskar Lindblom — Nolan Patrick — Jakub Voracek
Jordan Weal — Mikhail Vorobyev — Wayne Simmonds
Scott Laughton — Jori Lehtera — Michael Raffl

Weal could slot into van Riemsdyk's spot on the third line. He has experience playing with Simmonds and would add some speed alongside Vorobyev. That turned out to be the third line at practice Monday (see story).

This way the fourth line can stay together. Laughton and Raffl have good chemistry, but it would not surprise me if Raffl eventually moved up to the second or third unit given his positional flexibility and playing higher in the past.


• Speaking of the Hagg-MacDonald pair, if the Flyers want to keep the two together, it would be wise for the coaching staff to get it into Hagg's head that he doesn't always have to be conservative. Hagg has better puck skills than he's shown with the Flyers, and I think we saw that too with his goal and assist against the Golden Knights. It was his first career multi-point game. 

Hagg has been taught to make the safe play, chip it out, and play to his strengths. He's a very strong defender in his own end, he's physical, and usually plays well positionally, but he's been prone to zone exits by chipping off the glass, and out. I think the coaching staff has to coach Hagg into realizing he can be a little more aggressive with the puck.


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'You know that word that starts with B?' — Alain Vigneault makes his point after frustrating Flyers loss

'You know that word that starts with B?' — Alain Vigneault makes his point after frustrating Flyers loss

Every so often, ever since training camp in mid-September, Alain Vigneault will remind everyone he wasn't here last year or the years prior.

He'll do so amicably when questions arise about a past season or trend with the club he now coaches. Vigneault likes to focus on the present and what's ahead.

After all, he doesn't want to act as if he's openly criticizing what happened before him. 

"It's the start of a new era, a new group," he said Sept. 13, Day 1 of training camp.

If he didn't know, the type of loss the Flyers suffered Thursday night has become a recurring theme in recent years, the kind that drives the fan base up a wall. One night, the Flyers will look like world-beaters against the NHL's elite. Another night, they'll lose a game that had victory written all over it, leaving fans scratching their heads.

Except, Flyers fans are no longer dumbfounded by those types of losses because, quite frankly, their team has tended to suffer them predictably.

On Thursday night at the Wells Fargo Center, the Flyers lost, 4-1, to the Canadiens, who are on the outside looking in at the playoff picture and had lost nine of their previous 11 games. What made the defeat particularly maddening was that the Flyers had just made a significant statement by beating the league's three best teams — the Capitals, Bruins and Blues — in the past four games.

The win over defending champion St. Louis came Wednesday night on the road. So on Thursday night, the Flyers were facing the second game of a back-to-back set, coming off the high of beating the champs in their building, and playing without either of their regular two goalies (see observations).

When "emotional letdown" was brought up at his postgame press conference, Vigneault wouldn't even tiptoe the line.

“You know that word that starts with B?" Vigneault asked.

Begins with bull and ends in ... ?

"I mean, these are big games," Vigneault said. "There’s almost nothing separating teams. And tonight, it’s a couple plays. I understand emotionally, but points are the same. This game was worth two. Last game was worth two. You’ve got to get up for it, you’ve got to get yourself ready, it’s going to be a battle.

"You do know the word I’m talking about, right?”

Sure do.

And his Flyers know those losses can't become a theme.

Vigneault will call out that bulls--t if he sees it.

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Flyers upended by Canadiens for the type of loss that always seems to anger fans

Flyers upended by Canadiens for the type of loss that always seems to anger fans


These ones irritate Flyers fans the most.

After playing up to the competition for four straight games and generating bona-fide excitement, the Flyers played down to the competition in a 4-1 loss Thursday night to the Canadiens at the Wells Fargo Center.

Sure, Montreal boasts a big-named goalie, but it had lost nine of its last 11 games before upending the Flyers, who had just won three games over the top three teams in the NHL.

This was a letdown any way you slice it for the Flyers (25-17-6) following victories over the Capitals, Bruins and Blues.

The Canadiens (21-21-7) salvaged the final game of the three-game regular-season series with the Flyers after dropping the first two matchups in overtime.

• The Flyers were coming off an emotional high of beating the defending champs on the road and playing the second game of a back-to-back set, but everyone should expect more than losing by three goals on home ice to a team outside of the playoff picture (see story).

On Saturday night at the Wells Fargo Center, the Flyers should come out like gangbusters against the Kings, who are near the basement of the West.

• With Carter Hart (right lower abdominal strain) out two to three weeks and Brian Elliott playing an overtime game on the road Wednesday night, Alex Lyon made his first start of the season for the Flyers.

The 27-year-old has played well in his fourth season with AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley.

“Alex has put in a lot of time,” Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault said before the game. “He spent the summer here in Philly to work out. I thought he had a good camp and he's been playing well. This is his best start in Lehigh Valley. He is just coming off a shutout and he deserved a chance to play.”

Lyon became the third goalie to suit up for the Flyers. At this date last season, the Flyers had already played seven goalies.

He was strong until he allowed a goal with 55 seconds left in the first period. From the end of the opening stanza to the beginning of the second frame, Lyon allowed three goals in a span of three minutes, 14 seconds.

The tallies weren’t all on Lyon. The Flyers were a step behind on all three. The second was a power play goal in which the Flyers allowed Shea Weber all kinds of room to wind up a slap shot and create a rebound in front (see highlights).

Lyon made 35 saves.

Montreal goalie Carey Price, who won his previous two games with 72 saves on 73 shots, enjoyed the lead and finished with 40 stops to beat the Flyers for the 16th time in his career.

• In the wins over the Capitals, Bruins and Blues, the Flyers were forced to kill 14 of 15 power plays. That’s a lot of work for the PK and it felt like the rising number of trips to the box would eventually burn the Flyers.

They allowed Ilya Kovalchuk’s go-ahead power play goal early in the second period and then the Canadiens scored another marker 11 seconds later to seize a 3-1 lead.

It was a momentum-changing sequence all started by a penalty, albeit a cheap hooking call on Kevin Hayes.

The Flyers also hurt themselves by going 0 for 4 on the power play.

• Kovalchuk, who signed a one-year, $700,000 deal with the Canadiens two weeks ago, gave Montreal a 2-1 lead on the second-period power play goal. He tacked on the fourth and final goal.

The 36-year-old winger has seven points (three goals, four assists) in seven games with the Canadiens.

Should the Flyers have been interested?

• Recalled a day after being loaned to the Phantoms for the purpose of creating space for Lyon, Joel Farabee scored a big goal to open the game’s scoring.

The marker was Farabee’s first in 16 games. The 19-year-old has offense to add to the Flyers — and if he can show it on the fourth line, his role will grow as the games grow bigger.

“I'd like him to get a little bit more than nine or 10 minutes but we've seen that go up and down, and my expectation is that that’ll come back,” Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher said Tuesday.

With the addition of Connor Bunnaman, the Flyers’ fourth line has been a positive over the past three games.

• Before the game, Vigneault said he was very optimistic about defenseman Justin Braun’s return Saturday from a groin injury.

• The Flyers play two more games, both at home, before their NHL-mandated Jan. 22-30 bye week — Saturday vs. the Kings (7 p.m. ET/NBCSP) and Tuesday vs. the Penguins (7:30 p.m. ET/NBCSN).

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