VOORHEES, N.J. – After three straight seasons of 24 goals, Travis Konecny experienced a bit of a hiccup last season with just 11 markers in 50 games of the pandemic-shortened schedule.
The Flyers’ talented right wing knew his troubles went beyond a minus-5 plus/minus rating. He was inconsistent throughout the season and never seemed to find a rhythm. There were scoring gaps of 12, nine and six games.
Whatever the cause for the setback, the 24-year-old Konecny wasn’t going to let it happen again.
He trained furiously during the offseason and came into training camp as, in coach Alain Vigneault’s words, one of the best conditioned players on the roster.
That bodes well for the Flyers, because they need his offense, especially playing on a first line with Sean Couturier and Claude Giroux, plus a power play which needs a kick in the pants.
Vigneault indicates he’s putting last season in the past and rather contemplate prospects for the upcoming campaign.
“I think right now we still have a young player who is a very important part of our team,’’ Vigneault said at the Flyers Training Center on Friday. “He came here in incredible shape this year. He’s one of our top two or three conditioned athletes. He worked extremely hard, he was able to work out. . .society permitted it and (he) took full advantage of it. We expect him to be a true force for us this year.’’
Konecny confirms he wasn’t satisfied with his play last season and hopes to get back to being a difference-maker.
“I feel good,’’ he said. “I had a good opportunity to train down here with (assistant strength and condition coach) Dan (Warnke) this summer. It’s a different feeling when you’re here as opposed to when you’re coming in (from Canada) a week or two before camp and you’re trying to see how everyone looks. When I was here, I felt like I was ready to go. I definitely feel physically good, for sure.’’
With Jake Voracek gone to Columbus and Kevin Hayes (abdominal surgery) expected to miss the first month of regular season action, Konecny should see more action on the power play.
“We’re still getting back into things as far as moving the puck,’’ Konecny said. “Five-on-five, feeling it out, feeling out your linemates. That alone is still coming. That’s going to come with the power play, it’s a lot of skill. It’s definitely getting better each day.’’
Also, the Flyers are counting on that first line to have a collective bounce-back season. All three players saw a dip in their numbers.
“Those guys get the job done all the time and I just try to be a part of it,’’ Konecny said. “I don’t know who wouldn’t want to play with those two guys. I just try to contribute, be a part of it than just be along for the ride. It’s nice to be in with those guys, I’ve been with them a lot in the past. We know where each other are so it’s nice to have that from the start right away.’’
Although Konecny does a lot of talking on the ice, he’s satisfied to leave that role there and not make too much noise in the locker room. That may come in time but for now he’s ceding that role to some of the older players, at least it would appear.
“I’m not always the voice in the locker room that’s going to step up and say something,’’ he said. “I’m comfortable around the guys but I think it’s more when I’m on the ice I like to play hard for my teammates. I think that shows how I want to contribute – try to lead by example. There are enough guys in our room that have a voice, have a lot more experience than me. Just listen to those guys now and when I can help out, I’ll help out.’’
Early in his career, Konecny would sometimes go over the top with his instigation tactics, be they verbal or physical. He maintains he’s still working on striking a balance of when to antagonize and when to play it straight.
“I think for me I want to play hard, I want to play physical,’’ he said. “Focus on my linemates each shift and not try to get involved with some of things I did in the past.’’
The numbers bear that out: Each year, his penalty minutes total has dropped, last year bottoming out at just 26. He’s still no choirboy but the focus is more on pure hockey performance.
The NHL has stated it’s cracking down on cross-checking penalties, as the Flyers were rudely reminded during Thursday night’s 4-2 preseason game loss at Boston. Two early such violations resulted in Bruins goals.
“It’s definitely going to be an adjustment for the first couple preseason games here and feeling it out,’’ Konecny said. “There are times when you just might be creating space, pushing off somebody and it might look like a cross-check. It’s going to be interesting, everyone’s in the same boat. Just have to find a way to get out of your habits and move forward.’’
Vigneault disclosed Martin Jones will start in goal for the Flyers in Saturday night’s preseason home game against the Washington Capitals. He’s scheduled to play the entire game. Carter Hart is scheduled to start Monday’s home game against the Boston Bruins. Jones will play Tuesday’s road game vs. the New York Islanders at Bridgeport, Connecticut.