With six Flyers regulars sidelined by the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol, coach Alain Vigneault challenged some of his younger players to step up Thursday against the New York Rangers.
Some would get more playing time, and some would move up in the lineup, Vigneault said.
Joel Farabee fit that description, and then played one of his strongest games of the young season in the Flyers’ 3-2 shootout loss to the Rangers.
Farabee, a winger whose on-ice instincts you usually don’t find in a player his age — he turns 21 on Thursday — enabled the Flyers to salvage a point by hustling to the net and scoring on a rebound with 74 seconds left in regulation.
Getting just a point at home against a struggling Rangers team normally wouldn’t seem like an accomplishment. Normally is the operative word here.
There’s nothing normal, of course, about how the Flyers’ season has gone in the first 14 games — or 25 percent of their (fingers crossed) 56-game season.
They have gotten badly outshot in 12 of their 14 games, but still have an 8-3-3 record.
Their power play, 2 for 23 in the last seven games, is stuck between mediocre and awful, and yet the Flyers pile up points anyhow.
Oh, and they have been hit harder than most teams by the coronavirus, having four games postponed and putting six players on the league’s COVID-19 protocol list.
And, so, yes, it was commendable that Farabee and his teammates were able to collect a point Thursday while several of their top players were in quarantine. The Flyers used a patchwork lineup that included four forwards who were recalled from the taxi squad and entered the night having played a combined one NHL game this season.
“I really liked the effort from the guys,” Farabee said after the shootout loss. “We had a lot of guys step in that really hadn’t played in a while or are in and out. Overall, I thought it was good effort, but I feel like we can be better.”
Comfortable on the top line
The winger led the Flyers in shots (four) and shot attempts (eight) while playing on the revamped top line with James van Riemsdyk and Sean Couturier. Farabee, who has been used mostly on the second and third lines this season, also played a career-high 21 minutes, 18 seconds, two-plus minutes more than his previous high of 19:05.
The Flyers were badly outshot Thursday, this time by 33-22. Some of it could be attributed to not having Travis Konecny, Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek, Oskar Lindblom, and Scott Laughton in the lineup. Then again, New York was missing its top defenseman pairing, Jacob Trouba and K’Andre Miller, because of injuries, and it used blueliners who were sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth on the depth chart when the season opened.
That patchwork D helped the Rangers block 27 shots — five more shots than the Flyers put on goal.
“We’ve definitely got to get to the net a little bit more,” Farabee said. “I thought they did a pretty good job at trying to keep us to the outside. … I think we put in a good overall effort, but like I said we’ve got to get the net a little bit more and take [the goalie’s] eyes away, hopefully get some more scrambles.”
This is Farabee’s second season, but there is no sophomore jinx in his game. Instead, he is having a breakthrough season and has been one of the Flyers’ most effective performers, a major reason they have an impressive .679 points percentage.
In 14 games, Farabee has seven goals, which is tied with James van Riemsdyk for the team lead. As a rookie, he scored eight goals in 52 games.
Farabee is making former Flyers general manager Ron Hextall look good. In 2017, Hextall traded dependable forward Brayden Schenn to St. Louis, and, as part of the deal, the Flyers got a pair of No. 1 picks who turned out to be Farabee and Morgan Frost. (The other player the Flyers acquired, Jori Lehtera, was forgettable.)
Frost’s season is probably over because of a separated shoulder, but the center is probably the Flyers’ top prospect not playing in the NHL. Farabee’s season is becoming more interesting every time he steps on the ice. Besides his scoring, he is playing a 200-foot game and is tied with Ivan Provorov for the team’s best plus-minus rating (plus-7).
The Flyers will be leaning on Farabee again on Sunday. They will again be missing six regulars and they will face a more difficult challenge than Thursday. This time, the opponent is powerful Boston in an outdoor game in Lake Tahoe.
Again, Vigneault will ask his outmanned players to show they can handle more ice time — and, in some cases, play on a higher line — than usual.
Farabee showed Thursday the top line fits him well. If he repeats that type of performance against Boston, well, he just might stay there — even when his teammates come off the COVID-19 list.