Quick Hits: July 27, 2020
1) After four-and-a-half months without a hockey game, the Philadelphia Flyers will return to the ice tomorrow for exhibition game against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto. The game will be at 4 p.m. ET, and it will be broadcast on NBCSP+ as well as NBCSN. Round-robin games kick off on Sunday when the Flyers take on the Boston Bruins at 3 p.m. ET (NBC broadcast).
2) Last Thursday, Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault was asked about Oskar Lindblom's inclusion on the Flyers' playoff roster. As with everyone, Vigneault was thrilled by the news. However, when he was asked about a timetable for Lindblom to see game action -- and, specifically, whether he is preparing for that possibility -- Vigneault gave a direct answer that pumped the brakes on expectations of a quick return to the lineup.
"Not really. I’ve always been of the philosophy that you work with the players that are capable at that time to play for you. Oskar, right now at this time, is not, but that doesn’t mean at some point in the future he won’t be. For right now, I’m focusing on the guys who are here that are healthy. If we feel that Oskar can step in and play well for us, we’ll make that decision. But we’re not there yet," Vigneault said.
3) During the final practice session of training camp
in Voorhees, the Flyers went with the following line combinations at practice (note that the wingers rotated on the fourth line):
Claude Giroux - Sean Couturier - Jakub Voracek
Scott Laughton - Kevin Hayes - Travis Konecny
James van Riemsdyk - Derek Grant - Tyler Pitlick
Joel Farabee/ Michael Raffl - Nate Thompson - Michael Raffl/ Nic Aube-Kubel
Ivan Provorov - Matt Niskanen
Travis Sanheim - Phil Myers
Robert Hägg - Justin Braun
Shayne Gostisbehere - Mark Friedman
For Tuesday's exhibition game, the Flyers and Penguins will each be permitted to start 13 forwards and seven defensemen. As such, every forward who skated in Saturday's practice will likely be in tomorrow's linuep, along with seven of the eight defensemen (Friedman being the likely odd man out). Goaltending duties will probably be split in half for the exhibition game.
Come the start of the round-robin, the lineups will revert to the usual 12 forwards and six defensemen. In the round-robin phase (although not in the qualification round bracket), regular season overtime rules apply (3-on-3 for five minutes, followed by a shootout).
4) The players who skated on the fourth line are in competition for a starting lineup spot come Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, especially winger Farabee and center Thompson. If Thompson is not in the lineup, Scott Laughton could move back from left wing to center. Raffl will be in the bottom six forward group, per usual.
Farabee had a strong camp in every department except finishing scoring chances (which is the least important aspect when players are working their way back into game-readiness). He did score a nice breakaway goal in the second scrimmage after picking Mark Friedman's pocket at the blueline. After camp, Farabee was realistic about his current status heading into the round-robin seeding phase.
"Personally, just trying to stay ready. Doing whatever role I’m given that day, that’s what I try to do. Just trying to stay ready. If they need me, I’ll be ready," Farabee said.
"I'm kind of a bubble guy [to start] right now....From my perspective, you always know what you’re going to get from me in terms of work ethic and stuff like that. Personally, I’ve been pretty happy with how I’ve prepared for this camp and how well I’ve done. It’s the coaches’ decision to put the best roster out there for the game. I just got to stay ready. If my name is called and I get the opportunity, then I’ll do it to the best of my ability."
As of now, the decision comes down not only to how well Farabee plays, but also whether the Flyers would prefer to keep Laughton on left wing (which could bump Farabee out of the lineup), where he's played some of the best hockey of his career. If they are comfortable that they could place Laughton back at center and get enough from him to do without the specialized elements Thompson brings (strong on faceoffs, including off-side draws, plus being part of the PK rotation), it is possible the team could go back to something similar to the combos featured on the first three days of camp. At that stage, Thompson was centering a "fifth" line, with Laughton centering line 3 and Derek Grant as the 4C.
Aube-Kubel also would seem to have an inside track for the starting lineup based on his strong play after being recalled from Lehigh Valley. I wouldn't read too much into him rotating shifts with Farabee in the last practice.
When all the chips are down, I would expect that Aube-Kubel will be in the Flyers' lineup when the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals start. He had a solid training camp and was especially good in the second of the three scrimmages. NAK certainly played well before the NHL went into pause mode. Vigneault said he intends to get work for a variety of players even during the round-robin phase.
It should be added, though, that Vigneault and the coaching staff quietly push the rookie. He is particularly close with assistant coach Ian Laperriere, whose way is not to coddle, but to encourage and needle in a good-natured way. As a staff, the message to NAK seems to be to keep up the good work and not to let himself get too comfortable.
In public, is has been noticeable that Vigneault has been carefully measured in how much he praises Aube-Kubel. He will issue praise and then stress that the young player is still proving himself at the NHL level. Vigneault's comments on Aube-Kubel made on Feb. 21 encapsulate that viewpoint. The head coach was asked about the player's progress and whether he's solidified his started spot based on his play.
"Ever since we called him up, he's played better. It's my sense he's improving. We see the speed, the size the physicality, going into the tough areas. Can he put it all together and become an effective NHL player [on a sustained long-term basis]? Time will tell," Vigneault said.
During Phase 2 workouts, Aube-Kubel noted that he knows he has to keep up what he did on the ice before the league stoppage. Specifically, he noted that he can't take for granted that he's automatically in the Flyers' lineup to stay.
"It's hard to say that because I only played half a season. For sure, I'll see after the playoffs. Hopefully we make a statement in those playoffs and I get my spot for next year," Aube-Kubel said to Flyers senior director of communications Zack Hill.
I think that Aube-Kubel understands that a strong postseason -- both round-robin and playoffs -- will go a long way toward cementing a spot in the starting lineup for the longer haul. He seems poised to do just that. As such, the rep-splitting in a single training camp practice is nothing to get too worked up about right now. It's just one day at the rink.
5) The decision the Flyers made to include prospect defenseman Egor Zamula on the playoff roster was a strong vote of confidence in the youngster. That's especially true in light of him coming off season-ending back surgery right after the World Junior Championships.
The Flyers would have to have some major attrition on the blueline for Zamula to get into a game this postseason. He is basically on the "5th pair", along with right-handed veteran Andy Welinski. Robert Hägg and Shayne Gostisbehere are in competition for the final starting spot i everyone else is healthy. Mark Friedman would be the next man up if an 8th defenseman needs to play. Welinski, who was paired with Zamula throughout camp, offers some experience.
Nevertheless, the mere fact that the Flyers are bringing Zamula to the Bubble speaks to how highly they regard his potential. The combination of height, mobility, breakout passing ability, up-ice potential and the level of poise that he shows for such a young player is intriguing. Zamula has also begun to add some strength to his frame but that is still a work in progress.
6) Among the Black Aces on the roster, it was a lock that center Morgan Frost and goalie Alex Lyon would be on the roster for the Bubble. The question marks would be whether the Flyers would take 3 or 4 goalies to Toronto, and who would be on outside looking in among the forwards.
Ultimately, the Flyers decided it was better to be safe than sorry in goalie depth. Rookie pro Kirill Ustimenko would only dress as a backup if there were two goalie injuries/illnesses in Toronto, but he is there in case of such an occurrence. Taking Ustimenko left one fewer open roster spot for a forward.
Ultimately, the Flyers decided to take along Connor Bunnaman and Andy Andreoff, and to leave Carsen Twarynski and German Rubtsov off the roster going to the Bubble. What hurt Twarynski (who had one of the stronger camps among the bubble players) is that he is exclusively a winger, whereas both Bunnaman and Andreoff can move between wing and center as needed. The 29-year-old Andreoff also brings more pro experience than Twarynski.
Rubtsov, with the exception of two notable plays with the puck across the scrimmages, mostly contented himself with playing diligent defense. He was solid on the backcheck and usually in the right position to help out. He is another player who can play center or wing.
In the bigger picture, the Flyers hockey ops staff has stated that they'd like to see Rubtsov get back to being more assertive in making plays with the puck. He did so before his season-ending shoulder surgery last season, and again very early this season in Lehigh Valley before suffering another, less serious, shoulder injury. When he came back, Rubtsov played very conservatively. The solid D he plays gives him a good foundation to contribute to a lineup, but the Flyers believe there's more offensive game that he can unlock, too.
Rubtsov did not have a bad camp. But he also did not do anything that would force the issue to move him up from the pre-camp depth chart spot he occupied. It was unlikely that he'd jump over fellow first-round pick Frost among the Black Aces but Bunnaman and even Andreoff were higher on the call-up list over the course of the season.