James van Riemsdyk will get a chance to show he belongs in the lineup when the Flyers meet Tampa Bay on Saturday to determine the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed.
The veteran left winger did not play in the Flyers’ 3-1 round-robin win over Washington on Thursday.
Earlier in the week, coach Alain Vigneault said he “needed more” from van Riemsdyk. He toned down his criticism Friday, saying his decision Thursday was “less about benching James than looking at the big picture. Yes, James had been just OK so far after having, in my estimation, a real strong training camp.”
Vigneault said he wanted to get the physical and speedy Connor Bunnaman into the game and thought it was a good matchup for him against the Capitals. Bunnaman and linemates Nate Thompson and Tyler Pitlick did a solid job when matched against Alex Ovechkin’s physical line.
Van Riemsdyk, who had 19 goals and 40 points in 66 games this season, was asked if the benching would serve as a motivation.
“For me, when I look back on my career and playing in the playoffs, I’ve had success in the past and my approach is going to stay the same,” he said. “Try to be the best player I can be and maximize every day. That’s always been the way I approach things no matter what.
“I mean, I love the game, and we have a great team and a great shot this year. My motivation and my approach remains consistent day in and day out, no matter if I have a day that doesn’t go your way or if you have a day where things are going well.”
The Central Jersey native said he was “doing the little things right,” before the benching, but he would like to be more creative and productive.
Van Riemsdyk, 31, will be on the third line with center Derek Grant and right winger Nic Aube-Kubel.
In other moves, rookie Joel Farabee will go to the top line to replace Jake Voracek, who is ill or injured, and Shayne Gostisbehere will be the No. 6 defenseman as steady Robert Hagg comes out of the lineup.
Gostisbehere has had more mobility since recovering from two knee surgeries over the last seven months, and he figures to get work on a power play that is 0-for-8 after the two round-robin games. The Flyers spent more time than usual on their power play at practice Friday in Toronto.