No doubt there were some hard roster decisions for the Flyers to make heading into the first round-robin game but the final lineup came down to the eye tests from training camp.
In the end, head coach Alain Vigneault went with his instincts and chose Robert Hagg to start over Shayne Gostisbehere on the third defense pairing for Sunday’s match against Boston.
Another close competition finds rookie left wing Joel Farabee taking a seat after challenging for a starting job during two weeks of practices back at the Skate Zone in Voorhees, N.J.
Assistant coach Mike Yeo, who oversees the defense, acknowledged Gostisbehere has undergone two knee operations this year and might still be getting back up to a hundred percent.
But let’s not sell Hagg short. The Swede has been a shot-blocking machine and hits with the best of them. This isn’t the grittiest team in Flyers’ history, so it doesn’t hurt to have a few players who compete with an edge.
Meanwhile, the Flyers probably will try to get “Ghost’’ into at least one of these round-robin games just to get a true look at his progress under meaningful game conditions.
“I really like the depth we have on defense,’’ Yeo said during a Zoom teleconference call from Toronto. “Shayne is obviously part of that. In a perfect world, we’ll get everybody in more often.
“I can say we’ve discussed these things. But I also think we have to be pretty fluid with our plan moving forward. Our goal is to try to identify the group that is going to give us the best chance to win in Game 1, as well as make sure that everyone is prepared, whether in that game or might factor in later.’’
Yeo pointed out the Flyers have a three-day gap for practices before the next game on Thursday against Washington. So there will be more time to examine the situation and evaluate where the team is at.
How tough was the decision not to play Gostisbehere? This literally will be the first time he’s been scratched for an opening game, be it regular season or playoffs.
“It’s very difficult,’’ Yeo said. “First of all, you want all those guys to succeed, whether they’re in or out of the lineup. Working with them closer, you still see the work they put in, how bad they want it.
“Shayne recognizes a great opportunity here. He also recognizes with injuries, with the play of other people, his position in the lineup has slipped a little bit. He is very understanding of that. He has an outstanding work ethic and an outstanding attitude.’’
Physically, it looks like Gostisbehere is just about there.
“The one thing, with his knee being healthy, I feel like he has more pop, more jump than he did earlier in the year,’’ Yeo said. “This is going to be a great opportunity for him. When you have that internal pressure, it helps the rest of the group perform at a higher level.
“We know we have a guy in Shayne, whether it’s the following game or later down the road, who can come in and be a real story in a playoff round.’’
The promotion of Scott Laughton to the second line with Kevin Hayes and Travis Konecny may have had a ripple effect which pushed Farabee out of the lineup.
At the beginning of camp, it appeared Farabee might challenge for that second line left wing spot. But with Laughton playing so impressively, it looked like Farabee might be pushed to the fourth line.
However, Michael Raffl has much more experience, plus what’s the point of putting a skill player such as Farabee only on the ice for eight or nine minutes?
“AV (head coach Alain Vigneault) said it right at the start of camp, the leash is short for everybody,’’ Yeo said. “Basically you have to perform, you have to go out and get the job done. We have a lot of good players, if you’re not capable of getting it done.
“Joel’s had a good camp. Last game, it was a bit of a different situation for him (playing on the fourth line instead of the second). Those are things he’s trying to figure out as a younger player. But his work ethic is outstanding. We’re very well aware of what he’s capable of.’’