The roster is set, and the Philadelphia Flyers will open their 2020-21 NHL regular season with a four-game homestand. They’ll start with Wednesday and Friday games against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Next Monday and Tuesday, they’ll host their new division-mates, the Buffalo Sabres.
With barely a week of preparation behind them, it’s straight into the fire — a sprint for a playoff spot in this tightly-packed 56-game season. But coach Alain Vigneault is shedding no tears.
“There is no doubt that we are no different than anyone else,” he told the media after his team’s Orange and White Intrasquad Scrimmage on Sunday. “Everyone has scrimmaged a little bit, had one or two intrasquad games like we have had tonight. Depending on your philosophy, you have your team ready to the best of your and their capabilities.
“I think, considering the format, come the 13th at 5:30, we are going to be prepared,” he continued. “We are going to be ready and we are going to go out there and compete. That is what I expect this team to do every night.”
At his last preseason practice on Tuesday, Vigneault stuck with the main line combinations and defense pairs that he used in the scrimmage.
This should be a good indication of what to expect on Wednesday night.
Flyers day before regular-season opener:
— Jordan Hall (@JHallNBCS) January 12, 2021
That group represents 20 of the 21 skaters on the Flyers’ official opening-night roster. Defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere is also on that list, but has been out of action since Saturday. He’s listed as ‘unfit to play.’
AV says that technically, it's still camp until tomorrow so they won't be giving any details right now on Shayne Gostisbehere's absence. Notes that he is on the 23-man roster (and not on IR) but that he won't be in the lineup for tomorrow's game.
— Charlie O'Connor (@charlieo_conn) January 12, 2021
In Gostisbehere’s place, Nate Prosser has slotted into the right side. He was one of seven Flyers to clear waivers Tuesday morning along with fellow defensemen Chris Bigras, Derrick Pouliot and Tyler Wotherspoon, forwards Andy Andreoff and Sam Morin, and goaltender Alex Lyon.
Four of those players will start the season on the six-man taxi squad: Lyon, Prosser, Morin and Andreoff, along with waiver-exempt forwards Carsen Twarynski and Connor Bunnaman. Morgan Frost, the 2017 first-round pick who’s also waiver exempt, showed well at camp. The 21-year-old makes the main roster as Philadelphia’s 13th forward.
Frost said he thought this year’s camp has been his best in terms of his commitment to winning one-on-one battles and making second efforts. “I really tried to focus on that,” he said. “I didn’t create as much offense as I have in the past or I would obviously like to, but I think I did some good things and showed that I can do that and win battles and play a more defensive game.”
With both Nolan Patrick and Oskar Lindblom back in the mix and looking like they haven’t missed a beat, this year’s forward group looks deep and well balanced. The lines boast an impressive balance of youth vs. experience, size vs. skill, and offensive hunger vs. defensive responsibility.
“Our forward group here is really good,” Hayes said on Sunday. “No matter who you are playing with night in and night out, you are going to be playing with a really good player.
“Coach demands your ‘A Game’ every night. If you don’t bring your ‘A Game,’ you are going to have a really good player trying to take it from you.”
New Defense Partners
On the back end, Justin Braun gets a big promotion to top-line minutes with Ivan Provorov, following the surprise retirement of Matt Niskanen during the offseason. Free-agent acquisition Erik Gustafsson has slotted nicely onto a pairing with his Swedish countryman, Robert Hagg. He’ll also play on the second power-play unit.
On Tuesday, the Flyers also officially announced their captaincy structure for the new season. Claude Giroux will start his ninth season as team captain and Sean Couturier will be a permanent alternate captain. Ivan Provorov will also serve as an alternate captain for all home games, while Kevin Hayes and Jakub Voracek will share an “A” for road games.
Four players will start the season on injured reserve. Forward Wade Allison was injured during training camp (undisclosed), while Tanner Laczynski, Isaac Ratcliffe and goaltender Kirill Ustimenko all missed camp.
After undergoing core-muscle surgery a month ago, Laczynski is close to being ready for action. He skated with the taxi-squad group on Tuesday.
Ratcliffe’s fractured rib is expected to keep him sidelined for a few more weeks, while Ustimenko is out for several months as he recovers from hip surgery.
Young Guns Join Phantoms
The Flyers also announced that they’ve assigned 14 players to the AHL’s Lehigh Valley Phantoms: Chris Bigras (D), Tyson Foerster (RW), Pascal Laberge (RW), Mason Millman (D), Derrick Pouliot (D), Roddy Ross (G), Linus Sandin (RW), Felix Sandstrom (G), Matthew Strome (LW), Max Willman (RW), Zayde Wisdom (RW), Tyler Wotherspoon (D), Wyatte Wylie (D), Egor Zamula (D).
It’s interesting to see three Major Junior players on that list. Normally, they can’t play in the AHL until they turn 20. But 18-year-old Tyson Foerster and Zayde Wisdom and 19-year-old Mason Millman all play in the Ontario Hockey League, which announced last month that it would not be starting its season as planned on Feb. 4.
As long as the OHL is off the ice, the trio is free to play in the AHL. That league’s 2020-21 schedule has not yet been released, but training camps are expected to get underway shortly ahead of a targeted start date of Feb. 5.