By Nat Marlowe
Nothing has come easy for the 2019-2020 Philadelphia Flyers so far. Although the Flyers have jumped out to their best start in ten years, they have had their work cut for them so far this season. Now they’re going to have to start their upcoming road trip without one of their star players, Travis Konecny.
Early in Saturday’s game against the Ottawa Senators, Ottawa defenseman Mark Borowiecki body checked Konecny hard in the open ice. The 6’2″ 205 pound Borowiecki is four inches taller and thirty pounds heavier than Konecny. The force and momentum of the hit rocked Konecny’s body down to the ice. Borowiecki seemed completely unfazed even though he sustained a cut on the head, which caused him to miss the rest of the first period. Konecny, who is the Flyers’ top scorer, went to the locker room and never returned to the game. The Flyers’ players, coaches and fans argued that Borowiecki hit Konecny high and late. However, the officials ruled that it was a clean hit. In the middle of the game, it was disclosed that Konecny suffered an upper body injury. Late Monday morning, it was revealed that he has a concussion and will be out indefinitely. Konecny has 11 goals and 17 assists for 28 points total, and is the team leader in all three of those categories.
Flyers Head Coach Alain Vigneault remains optimistic about Konecny’s absence, and sees it as a chance to further evaluate their talent. “It’s going to give the opportunity to someone else to see more ice time and step up and contribute,” Vigneault said Monday morning.
Chris Stewart is most likely going to play again for the Flyers on their next road trip. But there is also the option to call up players like Carsen Twarynski and Connor Bunnaman who have already seen NHL action with the Flyers this season. Mikhail Vorobyev filled in for Michael Raffl after Raffl broke his pinkie finger last Tuesday against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
This also provides opportunities for players who are already in the Flyers’ lineup to improve their game. James Van Riemsdyk has seen more fourth line action than fans and analysts were expecting. Vigneault may move Van Riemsdyk up to one of the scoring lines to get his rhythm back, just as as Jakub Voracek has this season. At times, the Flyers have had some offensive struggles, especially in 3-on-3 overtime, but they can still rely on Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier and Oskar Lindblom as their other top scorers.
When it comes to the Flyers’ blue line, Matt Niskanen, Justin Braun and Travis Sanheim have helped the Flyers secure wins and remain competitive in games through their shut down style of defensive play. Ivan Provorov and Phillipe Myers are gifted puck movers who are able to transition the puck from their own zone effectively into the offensive zone. Shayne Gostisbehere has been on a roll lately scoring a goal in three out of his last five games. Of course, excellent goaltending from the duo of Carter Hart and Brian Elliott can continue to help the Flyers win key games, just as it has for the past month.
While it’s questionable when Konecny will return and how he will perform once he comes back, as of now there is little reason for the Flyers to panic. In the case of Scott Laughton, he has scored in four out of his past six games after returning from a broken finger he suffered in late October. Coach Vigneault has also emphasized the importance of rest to his players so that way they can be more effective in practice and in games. Once Konecny has fully recovered, he can pick up right where he left off, as long as he doesn’t force himself to come back too soon.
The Flyers will begin their upcoming road trip this Wednesday against the Colorado Avalanche, a team that has dealt with injury problems of their own, and still found ways to win. The Avalanche suffered a major blow when they lost forwards Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog who were on the same line as superstar Nathan MacKinnon. Others who missed time due to injury included forwards Andre Burakovsky and Matt Calvert, as well as defensemen Ian Cole and Nikita Zadorov. On top of this, the Avalanche are currently missing Colin Wilson, Nazem Kadri, Erik Johnson, rising star defenseman Cale Makar, and goaltender Philipp Grubauer. The Avalanche currently sit at second place in the Central Division.
The Flyers will then face the Minnesota Wild on Saturday and then the Winnipeg Jets on Sunday. Both the Wild and Jets have been slowly yet surely overcoming some early season struggles. The Wild recently went on a five-game winning streak, while the Jets have been able to string together shorter yet more consistent winning streaks. The Flyers will then return home for a two-game home stand against the Anaheim Ducks and then the Buffalo Sabres.
For these next five games, even without Konecny, the Flyers can continue to gain ground in the standings by using their depth up and down the roster. This stretch will be a test and a proving ground for the Flyers to see if they can remain one of the top teams in the NHL.