Five preseason games down, one to go and it’s looking more and more like it’s going to be difficult for a rookie to crack this season’s Flyers starting lineup.
Coach Alain Vigneault has been getting a good look at some of his freshman players, including Tuesday night’s 3-0 loss to the New York Islanders at Webster Arena in Bridgeport, Connecticut.
With the exception of Morgan Frost, who’s technically a rookie but already has 22 games of NHL experience, the chances of a rookie player making the starting roster for opening night on Oct. 15 appear slim.
Make no mistake, several newcomers have looked impressive. Tyson Foerster can fire pucks like a big league veteran. Defenseman Cam York can break up plays with a quick stick and skating skills. Center Connor Bunnaman could serve as a 13th forward with the Flyers, mainly due to a door left open by the absence of Kevin Hayes (abdominal surgery).
One thing the Flyers have learned in this preseason is the Islanders are going to be a tough opponent in this year’s Metropolitan Division race. The Isles went 2-0 against the Flyers in the preseason.
New York took advantage of a penalty to the Flyers’ Nicolas Aube-Kubel in the first period of Tuesday night’s game and scored at 1:33 off a shot from Anthony Beauvillier. Later, Islanders captain Anders Lee (returning from last season’s ACL injury) muscled past York and sent a shot past Flyers goaltender Martin Jones.
Jones settled down after that and kept New York off the scoreboard until the final seconds.
The Flyers, 2-2-1 in the preseason, finish up the exhibition campaign with a game at Washington on Friday night. It’s expected Vigneault will dress a lineup pretty close to what he uses when the Vancouver Canucks visit on Oct. 15.
Philadelphia still has 42 players left in training camp and Vigneault expects to send about 20 of those packing before the Flyers hit the ice in D.C.
“Today we had some young players playing with some veterans,’’ Vigneault said before the game. “The veterans we know are going to be with us, they’re working on getting themselves ready for the season, getting their timing, their tempo up to speed. For us, it’s opportunity for us to evaluate them. I’ve said this before, we don’t make the decisions, the players make them for us by how they play, whether in a positive way or a negative way.’’
>Sanheim-Ristolainen building chemistry
The Flyers’ projected second defense pairing of Travis Sanheim and Rasmus Ristolainen has been clicking of late and that’s probably the duo which will open the season together.
“I really like the chemistry that’s forming there,’’ Vigneault said after the game. “You could see both guys were reading well off one another, making some good plays on breakouts, doing a good job defensively.’’
Added defenseman Adam Clendening: “Yeah, that pair is going to be pretty good. They play a pretty similar style. They’re both big, they’re physical. They take time and space away. And they can move, which always helps.’’
>Clendening in the mix
Vigneault said both Nick Seeler and Clendening played well as they compete for the No. 7 defense position. Clendening played for Vigneault back in New York during the 2016-17 season so that might give him a little bit of an edge.
“It’s always a good thing when you’re playing than when you’re not,’’ said Clendening, a native of Niagara Falls, New York. “It’s an opportunity and I’m just trying to make the most of it.’’
Clendening just wants to stay within his limits. He’s aware the coach already knows his game. Now it’s just a matter of execution.
“I think it’s just playing my game, AV knows a little bit about me,’’ Clendening said. “He had me previously. Being responsible in my own end, moving the puck, my feet, which I think I have done over the last couple games.