Alain Vigneault might have been humming a song line – “everything’s goin’ my way’ – as a jet plane took the Flyers to Tampa Bay for a game last March.
Why not? Vigneault’s Flyers had just played well in a tight 2-0 loss to the Bruins, ending Philly’s nine-game winning streak.
The next day, March 11, 2020, the music stopped.
And so did the rest of the sports world, as word of the oncoming COVID-19 health crisis encircled the globe.
The Flyers would not play another game until late July.
Any momentum gained by that March run, which saw the Flyers get to within a point of the Washington Capitals for the Metropolitan Division lead., was nothing more than a distant memory when play resumed.
Since then, the Flyers have played well, but not quite to the level of the aforementioned streak.
They did manage to beat powerhouses Tampa, Washington and Boston in a round-robin tournament and won their first playoff series since 2012 with a six-game elimination of Montreal
But now the Flyers are still trying to find consistency in their game. If the playoffs started today, the Flyers wouldn’t be in them.
During a media Zoom call after Wednesday’s practice, Vigneault recalled what it was like to have a hockey season pulled out from under his team.
“I remember that day real well,’’ Vigneault said. “We’re in Tampa, we’re expecting to play, the game gets cancelled after the basketball (was cancelled) the day before.
“Gee, we were trending the right way. We had just played a real big game against Boston. We were trending. The pandemic stopped that.’’
Has this been the most challenging season of his 25-year coaching career?
“It’s been challenging for me but it’s been challenging for everyone,’’ he said. “No one feels sorry for us. There are a lot of people who are worse off than we are.
“We’re getting an opportunity to play. It has been challenging but we feel fortunate that we can play and let people see some hockey on the ice. We’re doing our part to get back to some form of normalcy as soon as possible. The vaccines are rolling out, doctors have found a way to help people with COVID. Hopefully everything works out in the near future.’’
>Finding a steady partner for Provorov
When Matt Niskanen retired, there was much speculation about who would take over the role of defenseman Ivan Provorov’s partner.
Some thought Phil Myers, partly because he’s a right-handed shot. Others thought Shayne Gostisbehere because the two had played together before. And even Justin Braun was in the mix, because he’s also a righty.
Well, 23 games into the season, it’s been more like a game of musical chairs. When the music ends, it’s been just about every ‘D’ on the Flyers’ roster.
Is it important to get some consistency there?
“We haven’t found chemistry in the back end right now,’’ Vigneault said. “We haven’t found, in my estimation, the ‘Nisky’ that was playing with Provy back there. We’ve tried different people, Phil being one of them. I like the way ‘Ghost’ (Gostisbehere) has been playing.
“I need someone to step up in that role. Travis (Sanheim) and Justin (Braun) seem to have some chemistry. I need someone to assume that role (with Provorov).’’
Provorov could sure use someone like Niskanen right now.
“I think this year has been a little different,’’ he said. “There have been a lot of changes. Guys in and out, players sick with COVID, hurt. Last year we had kind of a normal season. But this year is what it is. We have to kind of adjust, figure out what works best.’’
>Myers needs to improve
Myers was practicing with spare defenseman Nate Prosser at the Skate Zone in Voorhees, N.J. on Wednesday leading some to wonder if everything is OK physically with Myers.
“He’s good to go,’’ Vigneault said. “He’s just not consistent. He’s getting opportunities to be first on pucks, big body like himself. We’ve talked to him about it, we’ve shown him video, we expect him to be better than what he’s shown so far.’’
Vigneault makes it sound like the role with Provorov is there for the taking.
“He’s still a young man (23),’’ Vigneault said. “He’s got to push himself, if he does that, maybe we’ll find the defenseman we need to play with Provy.’’
>Getting Hart back on track
Carter Hart was pulled after one period on Tuesday night and that’s just been the latest chapter in the young goalie’s recent struggles.
Both Vigneault and No. 2 goalie Brian Elliott weighed in on what can be done to get Hart moving back in the right direction.
Vigneault continues to promote the idea that goaltending coach Kim Dillabaugh can come up with the winning formula for Hart, who appears to lack confidence at the moment.
“Well, you know, depending on. . .’Is this situation new or has it been trending?’ Every situation is different,’’ Vigneault said. “I think goaltender is a special position, I trust Kim quite a bit and I let him deal with both our guys.
“Carter is not the first player/goaltender to go through a challenging time. He’s got to work. There’s no secret formula to anything in life. The common denominator for people who have success is hard work and the right frame of mind to push yourself.’’
Elliott didn’t want to disclose what advice he might be giving Hart. He simply said he’s a “sounding board’’ for the young netminder.
>Elliott’s brilliant campaign
With a pair of games coming up against the high-octane Caps, Elliott wants to be ready.
He’s off to a great start (7-2-0, 2.29 goals-against average, .919 save percentage) mainly because he’s been healthy.
“Even in a normal season, you’re trying to get sharp, stay sharp, conserve energy,’’ Elliott said. “It’s trying to get yourself into a little bit of a groove.’’
Elliott was asked if, back when he was a young goalie, he took it more upon himself to feel the pressure than perhaps a position player.
“Like any position, you relate it to the golf swing,’’ he said. “You try harder and sometimes you push it even further – pull it, yank it. I think you have to let the game come to you.’’