The Flyers must regroup against the Penguins, and a lineup shuffle appears imminent
Travis Konecny will probably move up in the lineup Thursday in Pittsburgh, and the Flyers could also make some defensive changes as they face the Penguins again.
For the first time since the second game of the season, the Flyers had all their regulars available to play Tuesday in Pittsburgh.
No one was injured. No one was on the league’s COVID-19 list. No one was suspended.
The Penguins, inspired by having some fans in PPG Paints Arena for the first time in almost a year, overcame the absence of superstar Sidney Crosby and whipped the Flyers, 5-2.
The result spoiled the return of Flyers right winger Travis Konecny, who played on the second, third and fourth lines. In the third period, he was primarily on the second line, alongside Kevin Hayes and Claude Giroux. He was also used on the power play.
Konecny had missed the previous five games while he battled the coronavirus. “It’s no joke. It’s a serious virus,” he said. “It hits some harder than others. I got it pretty good, and it’s just a matter of time of getting back into things and everything will start coming back.”
While he was sidelined, Konecny said that because his girlfriend is pregnant, “I spent a lot of my time in my room by myself” so he wouldn’t infect her. “It was a long quarantine for me, and I spent a lot of time just texting and trying to FaceTime and stay in touch with guys that were doing their quarantines.”
In Tuesday’s loss, Konecny had two shots and was minus-1 in 15 minutes, 46 seconds of ice time.
“It wasn’t as bad as I expected, but I definitely feel a little out of it,” he said after the Flyers’ three-game winning streak ended. “I mean, I think it’ll come back with just playing games and making more touches with the puck and making plays.”
On Sunday, the Flyers dominated the neutral zone, which led to several scoring chances in their 3-0 win in Buffalo. Pittsburgh was the better team in the neutral zone Tuesday, and that led to some high-quality chances.
Pittsburgh managed 27 shots, but many were Grade-A opportunities against Carter Hart, who played better than the stats suggest because the defense left him on an island.
The defensive pairs and pairings figure to be shuffled when the Flyers meet the Penguins again Thursday. The top pairing of Ivan Provorov (minus-4) and Shayne Gostisbehere (minus-3, costly turnover) was a combined minus-7 Tuesday and might be broken up. That could lead to changes in all three pairings.
“A couple plays from our side that we needed to be better at,” coach Alain Vigneault said of the defensive breakdowns. “We’re going to have to regroup, refocus, and get ready for the next game.”
If Konecny goes to the second line, Nolan Patrick might go back to center and could be on the third or fourth line. He has played right wing on the second line the last four games and has no points, though he did have four shots and four hits Tuesday.
The Flyers are trying to get Patrick, Konecny, and Oskar Lindblom producing. Patrick is pointless in his last 12 games, Konecny is goalless in his last eight games — seven before he went on the COVID list — and Lindblom has one point, an assist, in his last nine games.
Look for right winger Nic Aube-Kubel to return to the lineup Thursday after a one-game benching. Aube-Kubel’s physicality and forechecking were missed Tuesday. Connor Bunnaman, the fourth-line center, is a candidate to come out of the lineup.
Changes might be coming on the power play, as well, because it is 4-for-37 (10.8%) over the last nine games, including 0-for-5 Tuesday.
“It could have been a game-changer,” Vigneault said, adding he “liked the looks” the power play was getting.