With Flyers short on goals, Alain Vigneault tweaks power-play units, forward lines at Thursday’s practice
Vigneault also reveals that both Ryan Ellis and Kevin Hayes could return from injury on Saturday vs. Dallas.
After the Flyers concluded their Thursday afternoon practice following a 3-0 shutout loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs the previous night, the power play specialists remained on the ice to take a few extra reps.
Claude Giroux, Cam Atkinson, and Sean Couturier huddled in a corner of the rink, discussing plays that could help dig the team out of a man-advantage malaise that has seen the Flyers go 2-for-21 on the power play over the last 2½ weeks. Against the Leafs, the Flyers went 0-for-4 on the power play.
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“Those guys are very skilled,” Atkinson said of Giroux and Couturier. “I think you just let your skill take over and let the puck do most of the work. I think when you start gripping a little bit too hard, that’s when you start forcing plays. We talked about that a little bit. Just getting pucks to the net and causing some traffic and havoc and trying to get a greasy goal.”
To spark an offense that has averaged 1.33 goals per game over the last six games, coach Alain Vigneault mixed up personnel on both power-play units. Keith Yandle is back on the first unit and Ivan Provorov and Oskar Lindblom slid in on the second. Rasmus Ristolainen has been dropped from the second unit.
“We’re gonna go both units, we’re probably gonna go four forwards and one D. And this way, I think it spreads out the wealth the right way,” Vigneault said. “We know we weren’t very good on the power play yesterday. We had a quick refocus before practice. Worked on it again at practice today and I’m expecting good results [Friday].”
The forward lines have a new look, too. Lindblom is now on the second line with center Derick Brassard and Atkinson. Joel Farabee takes Lindblom’s former spot on the third line with center Scott Laughton and right winger James van Riemsdyk. Farabee skated with Laughton and van Riemsdyk last season and produced solid results. The trio posted a goals-for percentage of 85.71% through 55:37 minutes of ice time in 52 games, according to Natural Stat Trick. (GF% is the percentage of total goals scored while that player is on the ice that are for that player’s team.)
Lindblom, who is still looking for his first goal this season, played two early preseason games with Brassard and Atkinson.
“He’s a very smart player out there,” Atkinson said. “He’s always positionally sound. I think we work well with each other and just our tendencies and sort of how we think the game. Excited to play with him and hopefully we can get on the score sheet together.”
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Ellis and Hayes on the cusp
According to Vigneault, defenseman Ryan Ellis (lower body) and center Kevin Hayes (abdominal muscle) will make the road trip ahead of the Flyers’ back-to-back games this weekend against the Carolina Hurricanes and Dallas Stars.
Neither player will be available against the Hurricanes on Friday. However, Vigneault said he is “very, very optimistic” that Ellis will play on Saturday, which would mark his first game since Oct. 20 against the Boston Bruins.
“He’s missed three weeks,” Vigneault said. “Has had a few real good practices. Had a good discussion with him prior to stepping on the ice, talked about the different possibilities. We just feel that with today’s practice, another skate tomorrow in Carolina and he should be good to go on Saturday.”
Meanwhile, Hayes could also make his return to the lineup on Saturday. Earlier this week, Vigneault said that Hayes would return at the earliest on Nov. 16 against the Calgary Flames. However, Hayes has been “on a campaign” to play during this road trip.
“He’s gone to everyone in my staff, medical, the doctors, [saying] that he wants to play on this trip,” Vigneault said. “He just hasn’t come to me yet. But I know that’s gonna follow. So, I would not count him out.”
Brassard exited practice early after suffering from dehydration, Vigneault said. “[The medical staff will] IV him and he’ll be good to go for tomorrow.” ... Carter Hart will get the start in net against the Hurricanes. Hart (3-3-2) has a .924 save percentage and a 2.49 goals-against average.