PHILADELPHIA — Alain Vigneault said Monday his decision to replace Sean Couturier with rookie Morgan Frost had much to do with the opinion that it’s time for Frost to manifest his innate skills on the ice.
But that chance might not have been given easily to Frost if the Flyers’ other three lines hadn’t started the season so in sync.
With the loss of Couturier, out for at least two weeks with a rib cartilage tear, Kevin Hayes becomes the Flyers’ No. 1 center. But during the team’s brief training camp and through the first two games against Pittsburgh, that had seemingly already been established.
That’s because Hayes has clicked so well with new linemate Claude Giroux, the former top-line center and longtime captain who is still in the midst of a career renaissance at left wing. They clearly complement each other, so much so that it’s even obvious to them.
“He’s a great player, one of the best in the league, and has been for a long time,” Hayes said of Giroux. “It makes the game easier. He’s responsible defensively, and he’s very offensive as well. He played center for a lot of his career, and he (still) takes faceoffs on his strong side.
“He makes it a lot easier for myself and the other guys on the ice, as well.”
Volleying back, Giroux saluted Hayes for his ability to protect the puck, his superb vision on the ice and his sense of defensive responsibility.
“We’re trying to find our chemistry,” Giroux said. “We have some shifts where it goes pretty well, and a few shifts that maybe it’s not as good. Without a preseason game, that’s been a little tough. But I think we’re on the right path.”
While that pair seems a natural match, it has been enhanced by right wing Joel Farabee, who at 20 appears much stronger on the puck and on Opening Night registered four points against the Penguins.
In addition to Farabee’s four, Giroux and Hayes have registered three points each over the first two games. But that’s not the only line that’s been clicking offensively.
A not-so traditional third line of center Nolan Patrick, James van Riemsdyk and Jake Voracek has chalked up seven points, while Couturier’s wing comrades Oskar Lindblom (two goals) and Travis Konecny (three goals, two assists) have also lit up the scoreboard.
Then there’s the Flyers’ one true checking line, which had Vigneault tossing more raves Monday prior to the team’s game against the Buffalo Sabres.
“I like the identity of the fourth line,” Vigneault said of center Scott Laughton and wingers Michael Raffl and Nik Aube-Kubel. “I think that line brings energy, it brings physicality, and all three of those guys are penalty killers. I didn’t want to play with that.”
Given how well the Flyers’ forwards have melded so quickly in the early going, Vigneault did want to play Frost in one of the most visible positions on the ice, plugging the huge hole created by Couturier’s injury.
“Morgan has earned the opportunity,” Vigneault said. “He’s considered a very skilled player. A young player, but very skilled. … At some point, if he develops the right way with the right work ethic and the right attitude, he’s a player who should develop in a top-six, top-nine role.
“I believe that Morgan with this opportunity is very excited, and he’ll step in and do well for us.”
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NOTES >> It’s been presumed that for the past week Shayne Gostisbehere has been dealing with coronavirus issues. Details on that have been limited, but it appears Gostisbehere has a ways to go in his recovery, as Monday he was placed on Non-Roster Status. The Flyers have recalled minor league forward Connor Bunnaman from the so-called taxi squad in his place. … The Sabres began the season with the unpleasant task of a two-game series with the Washington Capitals. Buffalo lost both games, but Vigneault warned of its upbeat offense, especially the top line of Jack Eichel, Taylor Hall and Sam Reinhart. He called Eichel and Hall, “one of the best duos” in the league.