Flyers

Change in plan shows Alain Vigneault isn't messing around with Flyers

Change in plan shows Alain Vigneault isn't messing around with Flyers

VOORHEES, N.J. — Alain Vigneault knows how to massage a message. He coached in Montreal, Vancouver and New York; this is not his first rodeo.

When he spoke Friday about suddenly changing the Flyers' preseason plan to ramp up the preparation and concepts for the veteran players, he chose his words wisely.

But make no mistake: Vigneault can't be thrilled with the progress.

"It has nothing to do with the outcomes, it has everything to do with the process," the Flyers' head coach said. "For me, the process needs to accelerate at this time — and that's what I intend to do."

The Flyers were ready to play a mixed group of NHLers — about nine players that would likely make the team — and prospects to compete in Saturday's exhibition game against the Rangers at the Wells Fargo Center. Instead, following a lackluster 3-1 preseason loss to the Bruins' B-squad Thursday, Vigneault met with general manager Chuck Fletcher and assistant general manager Brent Flahr Friday morning about adjusting the approach. With four exhibition games remaining, the Flyers will expedite cuts to focus on whittling down the roster and increasing the reps for the main players ahead of the season opener.

"Between the 25 and the 30 players that I feel right now have the best chance of maybe making this team," Vigneault said. "Instead of waiting until Monday, Tuesday's practice, we're going to be at that number [Saturday]."

Is it a startling change? If anything, it's proactive. The Flyers have missed the playoffs in four of the last seven seasons and haven't won a series since 2012. They've notoriously started slow in recent history. Last season, the team was in last place of the Metropolitan Division at Thanksgiving for the second straight year.

It cost people jobs and, ultimately, it's why Vigneault is in place.

After looking at the last couple of days, I feel that this is a different situation than I've been used to in the past. I've been used to coming to camp in the past and my teams have been in the playoffs. Usually I give the veteran players three of the six or seven games that we play. I feel at this time, our veteran players need more games that I originally planned. I'm going from the three that I planned to four and some might even get five out of the seven. 

I'm going on the amount of teaching that we're doing, there's a lot there, there's a lot to be assimilated by the players. I'm going by what I'm seeing about the players' performance, how they're executing, and I just feel at this time we need to make a change and that's what we're doing.

- Vigneault

In 16 NHL seasons as a head coach, Vigneault has 11 playoff berths. Eight of those teams advanced past the first round, three won the Presidents' Trophy and two went to the Stanley Cup Final. He has impressive results in Year 1 on the job (see story).

"When you're in the playoffs and you go for a round, two rounds, three rounds, four rounds, that's intense hockey, that's a longer season," Vigneault said. "This group has been off for a while and, in my mind, it just needs a little bit more preparation. There's nothing better than game situation, where games are on the line.

"With a new staff coming in and everything that we need to touch on, I need to get these guys into more games. So what we've decided to do is just accelerate the process."

Does Vigneault's track record allow him to make this change and have it stick with the players?

"They don't have a choice," Vigneault said. "That's just the way it is."

Oct. 4 is nearing and a new system from a new staff is expected to spearhead a jump back into contention for the Flyers.

"Once you get down to one group, the internal competition gets a little bit better also," Vigneault said. "That's what we need to do here, we need to get down to one group to have everybody in the same room, at the same time, and make sure that they're grasping the concepts that we're trying to apply. 

"I'm very confident that this will be better for the group."

How the Flyers start the season will provide the true answer.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Flyers

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.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Flyers

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).

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Flyers