Remember the good old days of late 2019? Optimism was as rampant as Gritty’s hair (or whatever that is he’s covered in) and the Flyers were surging.
It’s been the complete opposite lately. Alain Vigneault is not happy and he’s changing up the lines.
“We’re trying to find better combinations that are going to be more efficient on the ice,” the coach said after practice Monday in Raleigh, N.C.
Sean Couturier will center Claude Giroux and Travis Konecny. Kevin Hayes will be in the middle of James van Riemsdyk and Nic Aube-Kubel. Michael Raffl will center Tyler Pitlick and Jake Voracek. The fourth line has Misha Vorobyov between Scott Laughton and Joel Farabee.
The defense pairings will remain, except Robert Hagg will slide in for the injured Justin Braun, who is out for several weeks with a groin injury.
Brian Elliott will start Tuesday in Carolina as the Flyers wrap up their six-game trip. They have lost four of the first five games and been outscored, 23-12.
The coach is miffed at everybody -- except one guy.
“[Tyler] Pitlick for me has been one of the most consistent players. Every night, I know what to expect. I’m going to get that 100 percent effort,” the coach said. "It might not always be pretty, but I know what I’m going to get.
“From some other guys, we’ve proven without a doubt lately that we can be very inconsistent in our play and in our defensive play,” Vigneault continued. “We’re addressing it with the group. It’s not an easy thing to fix when you’re going through adversity, but we’re working very hard and hopefully we can fix it by tomorrow.”
Slow starts killing Flyers
The Flyers struggled periodically in the first period even when they were winning, but lately the opening 20 minutes have been a disaster.
Saturday’s loss to the Coyotes was the third consecutive game they have allowed a burst of three goals in less than four minutes in the first period. The last three losses have been like riding a bicycle with two flat tires and the chain popped.
The coach is hot about it, too.
“I thought we had a pretty good plan going into Arizona on how to fix it,” Vigneault fumed. “Our guys didn’t play well. We obviously addressed it with our guys today. We flew in yesterday, showed them the video proof that we did not do what we had talked about doing. So now it’s a matter of them executing -- executing defensively, and executing when you have the puck.”
Reminds us of the time late Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach John McKay, who had a wonderful sense of humor, was asked about the execution of his woeful team. “I’m all in favor of it,” he quipped.
But Vigneault is in no laughing mood. The Flyers went into the Christmas break two points out of second place in the Metropolitan Division and in fourth place overall in the conference. They woke up Monday fifth in the division and ninth in the conference. They would not be in the playoffs, left out by a tiebreaker.
Carolina has dropped two in a row and is one point ahead of the Flyers. A quick surge could get either into third place. An extended slump could be fatal.
The Flyers have an even bigger challenge Wednesday when the Capitals -- the best team in the conference -- visit the Wells Fargo Center. On Saturday, Tampa Bay -- the hottest team in the conference -- is in town. On Monday, it’s Boston, which leads the Atlantic Division.
“Obviously, it’s not what it was 10 days ago, when everybody was saying that this is the best group I’ve ever been with and that they’re tight,” Vigneault said. “It’s challenging. You come out of it, you come out of it stronger. In an 82-game schedule you have to expect that at some point you’re going to face some adversity and we are right now.”