The best indication of the depth that the Flyers have this season among their forwards was a decision that coach Alain Vigneault didn’t have to make Thursday and hasn’t had to make throughout the team’s eight-game winning streak.
Before the Flyers’ 4-1 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes, Vigneault revealed that James van Riemsdyk had broken his right index finger Wednesday night in Washington and would miss four to six weeks of action. Rookie Joel Farabee, freshly recalled from the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, entered the lineup on the second line, joining Kevin Hayes and Travis Konecny and bumping Scott Laughton down to the third line, where van Riemsdyk had been.
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Van Riemsdyk has 19 goals this season, tied for fourth on the team, and his absence isn’t insignificant. But Vigneault apparently never considered breaking up the Flyers’ first line — Sean Couturier, Claude Giroux, and Jake Voracek — for the sake of trying to balance scoring among the four lines. And the reason he didn’t is obvious: He didn’t have to. Former coach Dave Hakstol gave Couturier his first chance to play with Giroux and Voracek at the beginning of the 2017-18 season, and the combination clicked right away. It led to Couturier’s scoring 31 goals, then a career high.
But the Flyers didn’t have the personnel, and that personnel didn’t have the experience, for Hakstol to keep that line together at all times. The alignment was too top heavy. Nolan Patrick wasn’t quite ready to be a No. 2 center. The acquisition of Kevin Hayes and the development of Travis Konecny, Laughton, and even Farabee have allowed Vigneault the luxury of not having to separate Couturier, Giroux, and Voracek. And as an added bonus, the Flyers also lead the NHL in goals scored by defensemen. They have enough balance without having to break up their top line, and Thursday was another example. Ivan Provorov, a defenseman, scored their first goal, and Michael Raffl and Nick Aube-Kubel, their fourth-line wings, scored their second and third, respectively.
Lou Nolan, the Flyers’ longtime public-address announcer, is still recuperating from an illness, and Keith Jones, the voice of Parx Racing in Bensalem, filled in for him Thursday night. Jones should be contractually obligated to mention Smarty Jones at least once a game. Not sure why he isn’t already.
Justin Williams, who began his seemingly endless NHL career with the Flyers in 2000, scored the Hurricanes’ goal Thursday, his fourth in 17 games since they signed him to a one-year contract in January. He has won three Stanley Cups in his career, including one with Carolina in 2006, and was the Conn Smythe Trophy winner in 2014 with the Los Angeles Kings. He’s 38. It only feels like he should be 48.
During the third period Thursday, the Flyers put a cartoon graphic on the Wells Fargo Center Jumbotron that showed Sylvester Stallone punching a cow wearing a Carolina Hurricanes sweater. Make of this what you will.