Alain Vigneault put it succinctly during a training camp practice last September when a new era of Flyers hockey commenced.
“I want to score f—ing hard,” the head coach was heard saying on the NHL Network’s “Behind The Glass” series, “and hard to the net.”
As he was implementing his system then, Vigneault will be harping on his methodology now in a pivotal Game 2 for the Flyers against the Islanders. The Flyers can either steady their best-of-seven second-round playoff series with New York or slip into a problematic 2-0 hole. In order for the Flyers to draw even, they’ll have to rediscover their goal-scoring tactics after a 4-0 loss in Game 1. Through the NHL’s return-to-play 24-team tournament, the Islanders have won eight of their 10 games, outscored the opposition 34-15 and allowed a playoff-low 1.50 goals per game.
After scoring 11 goals in their three-game round-robin sweep of the Eastern Conference’s best, the Flyers have netted only 11 markers through seven games over the first and second round.
And nothing will get easier.
“There’s no secret how the Islanders are going to play – they’re going to come at you, they’re going to forecheck hard, they’re going to finish every check, they’re going to be obviously very dependable in their own end, so it makes it hard to get to the front of their net,” Vigneault said Tuesday in a video interview. “We’ve got our work cut out for us.”
While giving New York credit, Vigneault felt the 4-0 score was not truly indicative of the game’s competitiveness. There’s validity to that. After the Islanders took it to them in the first period, the Flyers outplayed New York in the second period and trailed only 1-0 before a pair of costly third-period breakdowns finished Vigneault’s club. The Islanders’ final tally was an empty-netter following the goals by Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Anders Lee.
“I don’t think that our first period was good, I do believe that our second period was good and in the third period, their two plays – forechecking play where their guy outmuscled us and was able to find Pageau in front of the net and the other play where we’re going in on the forecheck and a missed assignment from one of our forwards led to a 3-on-2 that led to it in the back of our net,” Vigneault said.
“But again, I go back to we know exactly what to expect from the Islanders as far as them coming at us – you’ve got to be willing to take a hit to make a play with the puck. Our guys have always bounced back and [Wednesday] will be a big test to that.”
The forward that had the missed assignment on Lee’s 3-0 goal appeared to be Farabee, who is typically sound and smart away from the puck. Could the 20-year-old rookie have a different role for Game 2? How many changes will Vigneault make to his forward groups, if he makes any? Given the head coach’s propensity for in-series adjustments, it would seem likely Vigneault tries some new looks in an attempt to rekindle the club’s goal-scoring efforts.
“At this time, we’ve got to do what’s best for the team and to find ways to win one game, and that’s [Wednesday’s] game,” Vigneault said.
With that said, let’s have some fun and give a projection for what we’d like to see in the Flyers’ Game 2 lineup at forward.
Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
Scott Laughton-Kevin Hayes-Travis Konecny
Joel Farabee-Derek Grant-Tyler Pitlick
James van Riemsdyk-Michael Raffl-Nicolas Aube-Kubel
Putting back together the second line of Laughton, Hayes and Konecny would be intriguing.
Both Laughton and Konecny are looking for sparks. Hayes could create those sparks.
The group was dynamic during the round robin, showing innate chemistry and constantly creating chances, particularly around the net. Having Laughton as a second-line winger leaves the Flyers a bit thinner down the middle, but the Flyers have guys who can fill in at center.
Giroux, Couturier and Voracek could rejoin each other on the top line. Right now, simple will be better, and those three players know each other well and were good down the stretch of the regular season.
Farabee, Grant and Pitlick were actually really good during a short stint together in the July training camp. Pitlick and Aube-Kubel could also be interchangeable.
Raffl is more than capable of playing center. He won a career-high 99 faceoffs in the regular season and is commonly reliable in the bottom six. While the fourth line is not the ideal spot for van Riemsdyk and his skill set, this would get the two-time 30-goal scorer back in the lineup. The Flyers need all the offensive threats they can get right now.
Vigneault probably won’t be quick to take out the experienced Nate Thompson, who has been the Flyers’ top faceoff guy in the playoffs (minimum 20 taken), but in order to re-form that second line, keep Farabee in and get van Riemsdyk back, it would make the most sense in constructing the lineup above.
The puck will drop Wednesday a little after 3 p.m. ET. Regardless of how the Flyers look, they’ll have to score hard against these Islanders if they want to avoid consecutive losses for the first time in 37 games going back to Jan. 8 of the regular season.
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