Nolan Patrick has been sidelined all season with a migraine disorder, causing Flyers coach Alain Vigneault to constantly shuffle the third- and fourth-line centers.
Michael Raffl, Scott Laughton, Morgan Frost, Kevin Hayes, Misha Vorobyev Andy Andreoff, German Rubtsov, and Connor Bunnaman have spent time as bottom-six centers this season.
Patrick had been expected to be the No. 3 center, with Laughton penciled in at No. 4. But Patrick’s absence and in-season injuries to Raffl and Laughton — two players who are now healthy — have caused a revolving door at those positions.
In Monday’s game against visiting Boston, Laughton was the No. 3 center, and Bunnaman, recalled from the AHL’s Lehigh Valley Phantoms on Sunday, was the fourth-line center for the first time since Oct. 16.
Bunnaman made the most of his opportunity, scoring late in the second period for his first NHL goal, aiding the Flyers’ wild 6-5 comeback victory in a shootout.
Before Monday’s game, Vigneault conceded that the Lehigh Valley-to-Philly shuttle may not stop “unless we get performances that give us the confidence to use the same people. Misha’s had a couple of looks and hasn’t quite done it for us.”
Now it’s Bunnaman’s turn to try to impress the brass and stay for a while. He had three goals over his last four AHL games.
“We’re all buddies,” Bunnaman said of the Phantoms. “We all want to see each other move up and live their dream.”
Vigneault conferred with Phantoms coach Scott Gordon before the 6-foot-1, 207-pound Bunnaman was recalled.
“With the games we have coming up, I wanted a little more size,” said Vigneault after Monday’s morning skate, mindful that the Flyers play heavy teams (Boston, St. Louis) in their next two contests.
Bunnaman, 21, made the Flyers out of training camp, played just four games, and was sent to the Phantoms. A high ankle sprain caused him to miss almost a month, but the center said he was now 100 percent healthy. “He gives us skating ability and size in the middle, and hopefully he can make the right decisions with the puck," Vigneault said.
The Flyers could be in the market for an inexpensive bottom-six center before the Feb. 24 trade deadline.
“It’s something we have been looking at,” Vigneault said. “It’s evident by the number of people we’ve tried in that bottom-six role. … That’s an area we’re looking to improve, but we need our big boys to come up big for us.”
Vigneault made changes to all four lines and the power play.
He was trying to get more out of his offense and, by putting much bigger players on Sean Couturier’s line, hoping to shut down Boston’s ultra-successful top line: Patrice Bergeron centering Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak.
The most noteworthy new lines: Couturier centered Raffl and Jake Voracek, and Hayes centered Claude Giroux and Travis Konecny.
Vigneault also had a double net-front presence (Konecny and James van Riemsdyk) on the top power-play unit. At the morning skate, Van Riemsdyk and Hayes moved to the top unit, and Couturier and Voracek went to the second unit.
The Flyers’ power play was 0 for its last 13 before going 1 for 3 on Monday.
The Flyers posted their fourth straight regular-season win over Boston for the first time in franchise history.