Alain Vigneault is going with Tyler Pitlick as the right winger on the first line, and the Flyers coach insisted there is no message being sent to James van Riemsdyk.
In fact, the coach stressed, this is a fluid decision.
“We’ve got to do what’s best for the team,” Vigneault said Tuesday. “Not saying it’s going to be the case for the whole game tomorrow or the games moving forward.”
Wednesday’s visit to Colorado will be the Flyers’ first full game without Travis Konecny, who has busted out in his fourth season and was leading the team in scoring while playing alongside Claude Giroux and Morgan Frost.
Van Riemsdyk, after a tough November, has surged the last several games playing limited minutes on the fourth line. When Konecny went out late in the first period of Saturday’s game with a concussion, Vigneault initially moved JVR up with Giroux and Frost. But at Tuesday’s practice, it was Pitlick.
“I want balance in the four lines, and if I need to make adjustments, I will make them,” Vigneault said.
Van Riemsdyk has points in four of his last six games, after a drought of one goal in 14 games. He’ll start off on the left side of Misha Vorobyev and Chris Stewart. Wednesday’s game will be the only one in a five-day window, so if Vigneault wants to shorten his bench, he can.
The Flyers will next play at Minnesota on Saturday and at Winnipeg on Sunday.
Van Riemsdyk will continue to work on the power play, which also required some juggling with Konecny’s injury.
Pitlick has been playing well lately on the fourth line despite scoring just two goals in 26 games. He saw a season-high 14 minutes, 20 seconds of ice time Saturday and will be asked to be responsible defensively. Colorado figures to try as much as possible to put its top line up against the Giroux line, which is centered by Frost.
That line, led by the NHL’s third-leading scorer, Nathan MacKinnon, is healthy again. Colorado leads the league in goals per game at 3.7.
“Over the years, I’ve gotten chances when things have happened to move up the lineup" said Pitlick, 28. “It’s not something that’s not in my toolbox. I think I have the skill to do it. I just have to play the same game. I can’t change my game. I can’t try to play the skill game.”
Goaltender Carter Hart will start Wednesday, which means Brian Elliott will get one of the two weekend games. ... Defenseman Phil Myers (back spasms) skated for a portion of Tuesday’s practice, but will not play Wednesday. Vigneault said he expects Myers to be available for the weekend. ... Chris Stewart, who’s played just once in the last 18 games, will be back in the lineup. Michael Raffl (broken pinkie) skated Tuesday, but will be out for about a month. Stewart watched Saturday’s game against Ottawa with injured defenseman Sam Morin. Every time a skirmish erupted, the two had to contain themselves. “I was fired up to say the least,” Stewart said with a laugh.