Flyers optimistic about their chances in first season under Vigneault

Alain Vigneault

PRAGUE, Czech Republic – Not that all statistics mean that much but there’s an interesting one which might provide insight into the Flyers’ upcoming season.

The last nine coaches to start and finish their first full year in Philadelphia have made it to the playoffs.

You have to go all the way back to the infamous Terry Simpson regime of the early ‘90s to find a coach who didn’t experience success in his initial complete campaign with the Flyers.

So maybe the Flyers can make history work in their favor as they begin their 2019-20 season Friday night at O2 Arena here against the Chicago Blackhawks.

Come to think of it, new coach Alain Vigneault has had some first-time excellence of his own with his prior teams, too, including the 2013-14 New York Rangers, who made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final.

Speaking at a press conference after Thursday’s practice, Vigneault said he isn’t so sure about past achievements but he does believe his team is ready to do good things.

“Every team is different, every team’s dynamics are different,’’ Vigneault said. “We’re in a process now, I’m still trying to figure out line combinations.

“I feel that the lines that we’ve put together, the duos on ‘D’ that we’ve put together are going to be good for tomorrow.’’

One significant development came out of Thursday’s workout. Right wing Tyler Pitlick, who’s made notable progress from a severe wrist injury, was cleared to play and will start on the fourth line.

Vigneault is shaking up some long-time pairings for the first game, including the separation of stars Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier.

Giroux on the left side will be centered by newcomer Kevin Hayes and joined by old pal Jake Voracek on the right.

Couturier will center a “second’’ line of Oskar Lindblom and Travis Konecny.

A third line will have Scott Laughton centering James van Riemsdyk on the left and rookie Carsen Twarynski on the right.

Another rookie, Connor Bunnaman, will center Michael Raffl and Pitlick.

On defense, look for Ivan Provorov to play with Justin Braun as a top pairing, followed by Travis Sanheim-Matt Niskanen and Shayne Gostisbehere-Robert Hagg.

Carter Hart will start in goal.

“We’re going to be ready,’’ Vigneault said. “Our guys are looking forward to this first game. I know Jake is looking forward to playing in front of his fans. Hopefully, we’ll all play well and give him a win back home.’’

General manager Chuck Fletcher sounded equally optimistic.

“I’ve really noticed a shift in the focus getting on the plane to come here,’’ he said. “You can see the guys are excited now.’’

While it often takes a while for players and coaches to build chemistry, Fletcher believes the two groups have already earned a trust, a bond, which can lead to good things.

“The coaches really respect the players, how they’ve worked and tried to buy into what they’re selling,’’ he said. “In turn, these practices are very business-like, there’s not a lot of standing around.

“I think the players appreciate how organized the coaches are and the coaches appreciate the players and their effort.’’

The players themselves believe they will get back to the playoffs after missing last season. They haven’t won a playoff series since 2012, the longest drought in franchise history.

“Last year we succeeded a lot in the second half of the season,’’ Hart said. “If we play like that for a full season, we’re going to be back in the playoffs.

“We added a couple pieces this year to strengthen our group. With these new guys being added to our group, I’m looking forward to a very long season with these guys.’’

Laughton had perhaps the best training camp of his career. He’s been around some seven years and has a good feel for a team’s outlook.

“There are a lot of new faces,’’ Laughton noted. “I think it’s going to be a good year for us. We’re really, really excited to start the year off. We’re on the road for a while but it’s going to bring us closer together. I think we’re building something special here.’’

Hagg expressed similar comments.

“This trip is going to make us better,’’ he predicted. “Everybody has gotten together. There’s a good vibe in this locker room.’’

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About Wayne Fish 2452 Articles
Wayne Fish has been covering the Flyers since 1976, a stint which includes 18 Stanley Cup Finals, four Winter Olympics and numerous other international events.

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