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.