Upcoming action should tell Flyers where they’re really at

Alain Vigneault

Now we find out if that 7-2-1 record is for real.

Starting tonight, the Flyers play their next four games against two of the top teams in the East Division.

It begins with an 8 p.m. (thanks, NBC) match this evening against the Boston Bruins, followed by a Friday home rematch against the Beantowners.

Then it’s on to Washington for a two-game set against the Capitals (Sunday-Tuesday).

When those four games are completed, the Flyers should have a better idea whether this fast 10-game start, one of the best in team history, is or is not a mirage.

“There’s no doubt playing Boston, one of the top teams in the league – we played them a little while back,’’ said Flyers coach Alain Vigneault, mindful of 5-4 shootout and 6-1 losses at Boston last month. “They were just coming back from a four-game road trip where they hadn’t scored a lot five-on-five.

“They really took it to us. We’re looking forward to playing one of the best teams in the league. They’re a tough opponent to play against. You need to be on top of all areas of your game.’’

Making matters even more challenging is the return of Bruins elite forward David Pastrnak (from hip surgery). Pastrnak’s 48 goals last season allowed him to share the Rocket Richard Trophy for most goals with Washington superstar Alex Ovechkin.

Pastrnak’s comeback makes the top line of Patrice Bergeron-Brad Marchand-Pastrnak even more dangerous.

“There’s no doubt with Pastrnak on that line it makes it even more powerful than it already is,’’ Vigneault said during a Wednesday morning conference call. “Bergeron’s line has been one of the best in hockey.

“They play the right way, that full 200-foot game. They defend when it’s time to defend and they have a tremendous amount of offensive capabilities, weapons. They’re one of the best in the league on the power play. You have a powerful force, a powerful line there. We have to do a good job against them tonight.’’

After the Boston games, it’s on to Washington, starting Super Bowl Sunday for a 12 noon game. This will be the first time the two teams have met this season. The Capitals (6-1-3) are tied with the Flyers for the East Division lead and are coming off a 5-3 defeat by Boston, Washington’s first regulation-time loss of the season.

Give the Capitals credit. They had been playing without a number of stars due to COVID concerns. In fact, defenseman John Carlson moved up to center to take Ovechkin’s spot on the team’s first line for a couple games. Ovechkin was back for the Boston game.


>Gustafsson in, Hagg out


Vigneault decided to go with Erik Gustafsson on defense for Wednesday night’s game with Robert Hagg going to the bench. The Flyers now have seven healthy defensemen (nine, if you count spares Mark Friedman and Nate Prosser), so look for more rotating in the games ahead.

“I would say I’m looking for the six best defensemen that us a chance to play (and win) on any given night,’’ Vigneault said. “So far, on our third pair, one guy or two guys haven’t stood out to say they deserve to play on a regular basis.

“We’re putting players in and out right now in that spot. We’ve had some injuries (Shayne Gostisbehere with COVID; Phil Myers with a rib injury), it’s given us an opportunity to see the other guys. But right now we’re in a pretty good spot and we need to play the guys who deserve to play the most.’’



>Better puck management


On Tuesday, general manager Chuck Fletcher talked about the need for his team to exercise better puck management. During games there have been long stretches where the Flyers have been outshot, lose faceoffs and spend a lot of time in their zone.

Vigneault acknowledged this and said the Flyers have to do a better job in that area.

“We’ve been talking to our guys about different options,’’ Vigneault said. “We feel if we can get that puck out a little bit quicker from our end, quicker through the neutral zone, we’ll spend more time in the other team’s end.

“Our group understands it. It’s just a matter of a little bit better execution. Getting everyone on the same page.’’


>Hart in goal


Carter Hart will start in goal tonight for the Flyers. He’s coming off a 3-2 overtime win over the New York Islanders.

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About Wayne Fish 2473 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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