Given all the pandemic and injury issues, the uniform numbers on the Flyers’ nightly lineup sheet have taken on the look of some weird lottery game ticket.
Coach Alain Vigneault has been forced to do more juggling than goaltender Carter Hart and his four-ball magic.
Somehow the Flyers made it through 21 games without losing two consecutive games in regulation time, actually a 48-game streak which dates back to Jan. 4, 2020.
For Tuesday night’s game against the slumping Sabres (seven straight losses, no Jack Eichel), Vigneault planned to keep together his top two lines (Sean Couturier centering James van Riemsdyk and Joel Farabee on one; Kevin Hayes centering Scott Laughton and Travis Konecny on the other).
With Michael Raffl sidelined by a hand injury (X-rays revealed no fracture), Claude Giroux was scheduled to center Jake Voracek and Oskar Lindblom, while Nolan Patrick figured to play pivot for Connor Bunnaman and Nikolas Aube-Kubel.
On defense, Robert Hagg was returning to his spot with Erik Gustafsson heading back to the bench.
It’s been a challenge for Vigneault to keep lines together, something which might be a bit underrated when it comes to developing chemistry.
“I’d like to get to the point where we’re more consistent in our lines,’’ Vigneault said during a Tuesday morning media Zoom call. “And our ‘D’ pairs. There’s been so much movement with guys coming back at different times from COVID protocol.’’
Hayes has played with a bunch of different players on his flanks and only has two goals in his last 11 games. It probably would help to have some consistency with set partners.
“Everyone wants consistency, whether it’s in sports or in life,’’ Hayes said. “It makes it a lot easier when you’re playing with the same guys every night, especially if you’re feeling good about your game.
“It’s the coach’s decision, he needs to put together the lines that he thinks are going to make this team win. I think the lines we have going tonight are great combinations. Hopefully all four lines can get chemistry and get going.’’
>Streak shows consistency, resilience
The aforementioned just ended 48-game streak of not losing back-to-back games in regulation time in 14 months shows the Flyers are pretty consistent with their performances.
“I mean this is a hard-working team,’’ Vigneault said. “The guys prepare themselves, they come to play, to compete. When they have had those losses, they’ve been able to quickly bounce back and play the right way the next game.
“The last game (a 3-1 loss to Washington to complete a six-in-nine game stretch) was very challenging for our group. They (the Caps) were sitting here waiting for us (the Flyers played in Pittsburgh on Saturday). But boy, we came out hard. If we stayed away from those decisions with the puck that gave them momentum in the second period, we’re in great shape.’’
>Flyers get one franchise first, trying for another
The Flyers entered Tuesday night’s game having shut out the Sabres three straight times. That’s a franchise first. Also, they’ve never shut out an opponent four times in one season. They entered the game having blanked the Sabres a total of 181 minutes, 11 seconds.
Joel Farabee started the Buffalo game with a team-leading 11 goals, all of them even strength, which puts him in a four-way tie for the NHL lead in that category. Farabee’s 0.52 points-per-game average this season puts him fifth on the franchise list for players who were not 21 years of age before Feb. 1 of that season. Todd Bergen’s 0.79 leads the list; Eric Lindros holds the second, third and fourth spots.
>Important week for Flyers
As if three games against Pittsburgh last week weren’t tough enough, the Flyers get three games against the Capitals this week. Currently the Flyers are in a dogfight for that fourth and final playoff spot in the NHL’s East Division. When the week is over, the Flyers will be nearing the halfway point of the season.
“If you look at the standings, everyone’s right there,’’ Hayes said. “When you have home games, you have to take advantage.’’