With the Eastern Conference's No. 1 seed up for grabs Saturday, the Flyers' No. 1 line will look differently and the reason for why is unknown.
What we do know is Jakub Voracek will not play in the Flyers' round-robin finale against the Lightning at Scotiabank Arena.
"He's not available," Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault said Friday in a video interview, "that's all I can say for tomorrow."
As we learned during training camp when Voracek was absent from a scrimmage, there will be various levels of weirdness, uncertainty and inevitable speculation when a player is unavailable. Because of a mutual agreement between the NHL and NHLPA to respect an individual player's right to medical privacy during this time, clubs are not allowed to release specifications for any injuries/illnesses in the return-to-play 24-team tournament.
Naturally, time will tell about the severity of or length of time needed to return for Voracek's undisclosed absence.
Regardless, not having Voracek hurts the Flyers' chances to win the round robin. If the Flyers beat Tampa Bay, they'll secure the Eastern Conference's No. 1 seed in the first round of the playoffs, which is slated to begin next Tuesday. If the Flyers lose to the Lightning, they'll settle for the No. 2 seed. The team has won its first two round-robin games by a combined score of 7-2 over the Bruins and Capitals.
When the Flyers started rolling in November of the regular season, Voracek was one of the club's best players. Since Nov. 1, the facilitating winger had 47 points (eight goals, 39 assists) and a plus-14 rating in 58 games. He finished the regular season with a team-best 44 helpers, 56 points and a plus-14 mark in 69 games.
"Jake's got a unique skill set, a veteran guy that's been around and has played in some big games," Matt Niskanen said Friday in a video interview. "We'll welcome him when he comes back. In the meantime, keep chugging forward with the guys we have."
The Flyers will chug forward with 20-year-old rookie winger Joel Farabee climbing to an exciting spot in the lineup. He'll play on the first line with Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier, while James van Riemsdyk will return to the lineup after being interestingly scratched for the Flyers' 3-1 win Thursday over the Capitals. Connor Bunnaman, a 22-year-old forward who will likely be an extra come the first round if the Flyers are healthy, played in van Riemsdyk's place.
"It was less about benching James than looking at the big picture," Vigneault said. "Yes, James had been OK, just OK so far, after having in my estimation a real strong training camp. But I wanted to get Joel in, I also wanted to get Bunny in at some point, and I felt with the opposition, that it was the right time. Probably less to do with benching, more to do with the big picture."
The 31-year-old van Riemsdyk will join the third line. Vigneault is known to communicate with his players when they're taken out of the lineup or there's a notable change. The two-time 30-goal scorer wouldn't disclose the message between the player and coach, but van Riemsdyk was positive Friday, taking everything in stride.
“With those types of conversations, generally like to keep those in-house," van Riemsdyk said.
“For me, I look back at my career and playing in the playoffs and all these things, I’ve had success doing that in the past. My approach is going to stay the same and try to be the best player I can be and maximize every day. That’s always the way I approach things no matter what, I love the game. We have a great team and have a great shot this year, so my motivation and approach remains consistent day in and day out. No matter if you have a day that doesn’t go your way or if you have a day where things are going well, you go to the next day and you have to do it all over again.”
On the defensive side of things, Shayne Gostisbehere will draw into the lineup for Robert Hagg. Vigneault and his coaching staff had wanted to get Gostisbehere some action in the round robin. They trust the 27-year-old defenseman who could give a boost to the Flyers' power play, which is 0 for 8 through the round robin. Expect to see Hagg back with Justin Braun when the first round begins.
Here is the Flyers' lineup for Saturday's round-robin finale:
Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Joel Farabee
Scott Laughton-Kevin Hayes-Travis Konecny
James van Riemsdyk-Derek Grant-Nicolas Aube-Kubel
Connor Bunnaman-Nate Thompson-Tyler Pitlick
Ivan Provorov-Matt Niskanen
Travis Sanheim-Philippe Myers
Shayne Gostisbehere-Justin Braun
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