Alain Vigneault turned things up a notch Wednesday.
The Flyers got after it with high-volume, condition-heavy practices as training camp continued in the team's preparation for the NHL's return-to-play 24-team tournament.
"Everything’s just kind of accelerated with a shorter camp and the meaningful games," Justin Braun said. "He’s pushing it; he’s not going overboard."
The team won't be on the ice Thursday. Here's its schedule through the weekend.
Let's dive into five observations over the camp's first three days. We'll have five more later today.
'That's a dangerous card to have'
Maybe it's the benefit of being only 21 years old. Monday marked the Flyers' first formal practice since March 11, a span of 124 days, and Hart somehow found a way to look like he had never stopped playing during the NHL hiatus.
Hart was impressive and it served as a reminder (even if you didn't need one) that this team possesses a huge amenity in the playoffs: a young goalie who can go on a run.
During one drill, Hart robbed point-producing prospect Morgan Frost, who skated away smiling. In another sequence, Hart denied a Matt Niskanen rebound attempt with a ridiculous split stop. Niskanen, who has a Stanley Cup ring and owns 125 career playoff appearances to his name, absolutely loved the save as he shouted out loud in appreciation.
I talked to him the other day and he said he feels good," Niskanen said Monday about Hart. "I don’t know anything on how to critique a goalie, but he looked awesome today. He’s shown what he can do, his capabilities. I think everybody’s real confident and excited to have him back there. Especially the further you go now, you've got a talented goalie and he gets hot, ooh, that’s a dangerous card to have. We have that potential with Carter and he looks fresh and happy. Looked pretty sharp to me today.
Hart was off his game Wednesday but the practice featured a ton of work for the goalies with all kinds of odd-man drills. Nothing to worry about. Nobody seems worried about Hart's first taste of the NHL playoffs.
"Whenever I play, I'm always nervous before games but that’s just because I care," Hart said Tuesday. "That’s not at the point where I let it affect me or let it affect my game. I'm sure there will be nerves that come when the first playoff game comes about here. That’s just part of hockey. As a younger player, that’s just part of the steps in your career that you have to take. It's definitely one step that I've been waiting for my whole life. It’ll definitely be very exciting and I know our group here is really ready to get things going."
Would anybody be surprised if Claude Giroux is able to play into his 40s?
We ask because his skill and smarts will never go away; if anything, they've gotten better with age.
Even after an unprecedented layoff like this, he stands out from the onset and looks like the best playmaker on the ice.
He put on a mini clinic Tuesday and gave Hart fits Wednesday (the captain scored a lot on the kid).
Like always, there will be many eyes on Giroux, who has four points and a minus-12 mark over his last two postseason series (12 games). The Flyers, though, are much deeper and more balanced in 2019-20, which has helped Giroux and could open things up for the 32-year-old during these playoffs.
The Vigneault factor
A plus for the Flyers should be Vigneault's experience. At his previous three stops (Canadiens, Canucks, Rangers), each of his first seasons resulted in playoff bids and at least one series win. In his 16 seasons as an NHL head coach before coming to the Flyers, Vigneault secured 11 playoff berths, with eight of those teams advancing past the first round.
"My focus here is not just to win the first round, but it’s the first step obviously," Vigneault said Tuesday. "It’s like anything else, when you’re in the playoffs, you’ve got to focus on that game, stay in that moment, so I think that’s what we’re going to do as a staff is make sure that our guys don’t look too far ahead, stay in the moment and do what we need to do the first game, then move on to the second game. It’s about players preparing, coaches preparing the team for specific adjustments that you need from one game to the other."
In Year 1 with the Flyers, Vigneault proved how good he is at getting his team to turn the page. That quality was a major reason why the Flyers went 19-6-1 since Jan. 8 without consecutive losses.
What will be a new experience for Vigneault (and Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy, Lightning head coach Jon Cooper and Capitals head coach Todd Reirden) is strategy in the round robin. The Flyers know the importance of the round robin as it offers them a chance to improve their seed and first-round matchup. Ultimately, though, Vigneault wants to be in the most ideal shape possible for that best-of-seven first-round series.
Brian Elliott and some of the Flyers' key extras are going to see action in the round robin, which Vigneault will use to help construct his best Game 1 lineup in the first round.
"Obviously if your intentions are going on a long playoff run, a lot of times there are some battle days and there are some days where you need guys to step up and chip in," Vigneault said Monday. "To do that, it would be safe to say at this time that I intend on using more than 20 guys for those four games (one exhibition contest, three round-robin matchups). As important as they are, I’m going to look at different players in different situations during that time. It’s not about an experiment, but it’s about finding out where guys are and then making the best decision for the team."
'Why not us?'
With the Flyers' renewed health because of the prolonged stoppage along with the acquisitions of Derek Grant and Nate Thompson at the trade deadline, Vigneault has good decisions to make, especially at forward.
One decision could come down to the veteran Thompson or rookie Joel Farabee as the team's extra forward. A thought would be Farabee gets the early nod in the lineup, but regardless, the Flyers have the ability to mix and match and adjust with nice depth on an expanded roster. It'll be a big storyline moving forward.
We like the depth of our club," Fletcher said. "I think you’ll see as you watch practices this week — we have six good forward lines, we have six good defense pairings and four talented goaltenders. We feel that we have the depth and we have the talent.
"We’ve put ourselves in a good position, we’re a good hockey team, yet we’re all coming off of a four-month pause. We’ll have to see what it means but we’re going to focus on what we can control, we like our team, we like our group. And why not us? Let’s push forward here and see what we can do.
Status of Ghost
Speaking of lineup decisions, Shayne Gostisbehere was forced to undergo arthroscopic surgery on his right knee about seven weeks ago. He had a procedure done on his left knee in January.
The 27-year-old defenseman has been through a lot and this latest hurdle could impact his ability or availability in the beginning of the tournament.
In early February, Gostisbehere tried to come back 23 days after his surgery. He was rusty in his return on Feb. 6 and then missed more time as he dealt with lingering issues before needing a conditioning loan to AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley on Feb. 20. Reps and rhythm were critical then, and that may ring true this time, as well.
"It was something I was trying to rehab personally and I hit a point to where there was no way I could rehab it anymore," Gostisbehere said after practice Monday about the most recent knee injury.
“I was compensating so much over time. My quads were kind of uneven and it was really hard to fix it off the ice and workout-wise.
"Trying to battle back from that. I haven’t really skated too much. It was awesome to get out there with the boys and see where I was at."
We'll have to wait and see if Gostisbehere feels like himself at the Flyers' start of the tournament Aug. 2. If Gostisbehere doesn't look very comfortable, swift and effective in the exhibition game or the round-robin contests, Vigneault's decision on the Flyers' sixth defenseman for Game 1 of the first round will not be as difficult.
“My ultimate goal is to get back in the lineup, get out there and do I what can do to contribute to this team, win a Stanley Cup," Gostisbehere said when asked if he'll have any limitations come tournament time. "Right now, I’m just focused on good skates, getting out there and getting that feeling. It’s been tough but just grinding my way, I want to work hard and I want to help this team win.
“It’s definitely been a tough road, especially with all this stuff going on. But I’m not going to feel bad for myself, there’s a lot of stuff going on in this world that people are worried about. I’m just going to do my best to get back, be healthy and help this team win."
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