One of the major reasons for the New York Islanders’ somewhat surprising trip to last season’s Eastern Conference finals was the play of their fourth line.
The energy provided by the trio of Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck proved instrumental in series wins over Washington and the Flyers before a loss to eventual Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay.
Perhaps noting this, Flyers coach Alain Vigneault appears to be trying to construct an effective fourth line of his own this season.
When Sean Couturier went down the other night with a rib-related injury, rookie center Morgan Frost became “next man up.’’
But rather than shuffle his lines and break up his fourth unit of Scott Laughton, Michael Raffl and Nicolas Aube-Kubel, Vigneault chose to put Frost precisely in Couturier’s spot and leave the other trios alone.
The Laughton line has shown merit already, with Raffl scoring what proved to be the winning goal in last Wednesday night’s 6-3 season-opening win over Pittsburgh.
On the defensive side of the puck, all three players have been instrumental on the penalty kill, which allows Vigneault to spread out those minutes and maybe even give someone such as Kevin Hayes a bit of a breather.
With Buffalo in town the next two nights, Vigneault figured to use Laughton’s threesome at times against the high-voltage pairing of Jack Eichel and Taylor Hall.
The Laughton gang has the potential and the wheels to at least keep Eichel-Taylor somewhat in check.
“North, south. . .they (Laughton, et al) get pucks in deep,’’ Vigneault said during a Monday morning media Zoom call. “They go and forecheck. When they forecheck, they bring that physicality.’’
Knowing one has a reliable fourth line can certainly help in these crucial back-to-back situations. Remember, with the entire 56-game season consisting of only intradivision play, points are at a premium.
Spreading out ice time, specifically penalty kill duty, can make things much easier.
“It (physicality) can wear down the opposition,’’ Vigneault pointed out. “I think all those three guys bring that. All three are working on killing penalties.
“I think they have the possibility of being a real effective line for us. It’s not just about getting on the scoresheet, it’s doing all the little things. When you’re playing like we are, back to back, that line is effective, wears down the opposition and that’s what we need them to do.’’
Barring injury, etc., Vigneault sounds like he wants to keep the Laughton line together long term.
“All three of those guys are penalty killers,’’ the coach reiterated. “So I didn’t want to play with that (mix up lines).’’
>Flyers make move with Gostisbehere
The Flyers have placed defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere on Non-Roster Status and have recalled forward Connor Bunnaman from the Taxi Squad.
>Better five-on-five play needed
Everyone pretty much agrees the Flyers have to do a better job playing even-strength hockey than they did in the two games against Pittsburgh.
If nothing else, Vigneault wants (and expects) quicker and cleaner zone exits, plus a reduction of neutral-zone turnovers.
“I do believe five-on-five we have to be better,’’ Vigneault said. “We can be better and we will tonight (vs. Buffalo).’’
Mindful of the back-to-backs, the Flyers did not have a Monday morning skate.
>Hayes-Giroux chemistry improving
Hayes and Giroux have been together on the second line going all the way back to the start of training camp. These two, along with Joel Farabee, look like they’re starting to click.
“He (Giroux) is a great player,’’ Hayes said. “One of the best players in the league, he has been for a long time. He makes the game easier, he’s responsible defensively. And offensively, he had a hundred and some points (102 in 2017-18) one year.
“It’s nice as a centerman because he played center for a lot of his career. He takes faceoffs on his strong side, I take them on my strong side and it makes it easier.’’
Giroux had equally good things to say about Hayes.
“He protects the puck really well,’’ Giroux said. “He’s got good vision on the ice. Defensively he’s responsible. We’re trying to find our chemistry. We have some shifts that go well, then a few shifts that are not as good.
“We’re trying to find that chemistry but with no preseason games it’s tough. But I think we’re on the right path.’’