Matt Niskanen

NHL Playoffs: How should top four East teams approach Round Robin?

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While the NHL’s Qualifying Round teams fight to make it into the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Round Robin is merely for seeding. Such a scenario presents the NHL’s Round Robin for Seeding teams (four in each conference) with many conundrums, including the age-old rest vs. rust debate.

PHT will take a look at such dilemmas for all eight teams in the NHL’s Round Robin for Seeding, starting with the East. We’re going East first because the Bruins a) won the Presidents’ Trophy and b) addressed such debates recently.

We might as well go in order as they would be ranked, too.

Debates for East top four teams heading into NHL’s Round Robin for Seeding

Boston Bruins

NBC Sports Boston’s Joe Haggerty reports that Bruce Cassidy said he’s open to the idea of resting players during the three-game Round Robin for Seeding.

“Would we like to win all three games? Of course, in a perfect world, but I think with all teams there’s going to be some sort of a preseason mentality worked in with how the lineups are constructed every game,” Cassidy said, via Haggerty. “But if the [veteran players] want to play every game then I’m going to listen to them. It’s their bodies and they would know best. Then in the last game in the third period we’re going to shut our eyes and hope nobody gets hurt in those situations.”

The Bruins are in a heightened situation. While it stings that they may lose the top seeding they earned with 2019-20’s only 100-point season, this is also a roster brimming with veterans.

Most obviously, Cassidy must manage Zdeno Chara (43) and Patrice Bergeron (34). Really, the list goes deeper even than Tuukka Rask, who’s 33.

Brad Marchand is 32, and stands as an example to other contenders. As you may recall, Marchand aggravated a previous hand injury before the 2019 Stanley Cup Final.

Maybe it was coincidental, but Marchand’s top line struggled during that seven-game slugfest with the Blues. If teams like the Bruins want to go deep, they should emphasize caution most of all.

So, beyond the obvious, there are players who’ve been banged up like Torey Krug. Charlie McAvoy‘s also dealt with bumps and bruises despite ranking as one of the younger Bruins.

Overall, the Bruins rank among the East Round Robin teams with the most incentive to rest key players.

[MORE: How should the West’s top four teams handle rest vs. rust?]

Tampa Bay Lightning

How should the team with the most to lose deal with the Round Robin for Seeding?

Imagine how badly things could play out for the Lightning. We all know that their historic 2018-19 season ended in a stunning first-round sweep. Kenan Thompson mocked it. Andrei Vasilevskiy looked really steamed.

What if the Lightning fall short under these strange circumstances?

It could cost Jon Cooper his job. And there’s the increased risk of scapegoating a lack of “preparedness” if the Lightning take a preseason approach to the Round Robin for Seeding.

You could definitely make the argument that the Lightning took a while to get back into their elite form in 2019-20, too.

But … the Lightning are smarter than to cave to bad takes, right?

Let’s not forget that the Lightning didn’t really take their feet off the gas during that 2018-19 regular season — not really. Rather than resting stars more aggressively, Nikita Kucherov and others chased history.

Personally, it really looked like Victor Hedman was far from 100 percent, even missing some of that first-round sweep.

This Lightning team boasts a fairly old defense beyond Erik Cernak and Mikhail Sergachev. Hedman is 29 already. Steven Stamkos is 30 (ponders own mortality for a second).

Cooper needs to find the right balance. If there’s any hint of failure in that regard, the vultures may start circling.

Washington Capitals

Zooming out, the most logical choice would be for the Capitals to promote rest.

Almost every major Capitals player is 30 or older, with the rare exception of breakthrough winger Jakub Vrana (24). There’s also some incentive to see if Ilya Samsonov (23) is still sharper than Braden Holtby (30).

But 34-year-old Alex Ovechkin doesn’t sit out a whole lot of games. Maybe the unique circumstances (and lack of a Maurice Richard Trophy to chase) might change Ovechkin’s approach, yet it’s not a slam-dunk to sit him. As Cassidy said, coaches will at times defer to players. It wouldn’t be shocking if such an approach occasionally backfires.

All things considered, the Capitals joust with the Bruins for the East Round Robin team with the most to gain from resting aging stars.

Philadelphia Flyers

The knee-jerk reaction would be to say that the Flyers want to shake off rust.

For one thing, the Flyers boast several core players in the younger range. Travis Konecny and Ivan Provorov are both 23, while Carter Hart is 21. The Flyers also are “playing with house money” as a team that could climb to the top spot if they end up hot during the Round Robin for Seeding.

But the Flyers have plenty of reason to be careful, too.

To start, the drop-off between Hart and Brian Elliott (or another goalie) looks pretty severe. You don’t necessarily want to increase injury risks with Hart, then.

Also, there are veterans to manage. Philly should aim to keep Claude Giroux (32) and Jakub Voracek (30) fresh, not to mention someone like Matt Niskanen (33). While Sean Couturier is only 27, he’s the sort of player you’ll lean on a ton in playoff situations. So you might want to tread lightly there.

Rather than overtaxing go-to guys, this could be an opportunity for others. Could Nolan Patrick crack the lineup if his migraine issues are behind him? Perhaps a prospect from Philly’s impressive farm system will make a jump?

The Flyers have a lot to like about this situation. Even so, they also need to avoid getting too greedy.

MORE ON NHL PLAYOFFS, ROUND ROBIN FOR SEEDING:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Philadelphia Flyers: Biggest surprises, disappointments

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With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the surprises and disappointments for Philadelphia Flyers.

Vigneault and overall front office among very positive surprises for Flyers

Like many, I wondered if Alain Vigneault was really the right hire for the Flyers.

While I was impressed with Vigneault during his time with the Canucks, his latter Rangers years inspired fears that he was behind the times. Leaning so much on the likes of Tanner Glass? Not great.

There were some similar fears with GM Chuck Fletcher coming in pretty recently. Was this just going to be a team full of rehashes? Would a fairly talented foundation end up being wobbly at the top?

So far … nope, things have gone really well. It sure sounds like the Flyers are taking a progressive approach. Consider Vigneault’s comments about the analytics approach back in December, via The Athletic’s Charlie O’Connor (sub required).

“In the past, (analytics) were more used by the general manager,” Vigneault said. “Chuck has made it really open, and I’m going to those guys (in the analytics department), and we’re exchanging information. They were part of our meetings this summer. So it’s an area that I think our hockey people are using more and more now.”

Vigneault used such information to pull goalies aggressively, and seemed to be making generally wise lineup decisions.

In general, the front office has been one of the season’s most promising surprises for the Flyers.

Konecny leading the team in scoring ranks among the bigger surprises for the Flyers

From the eye test alone, you could tell that Travis Konecny possesses brilliant talent. Still, it’s not a given that a player will also translate potential to production.

With that in mind, Konency’s rise is an even more pleasant surprise for the Flyers.

Despite being pandemic-limited to 66 games played, Konecny tied his career-high of 24 goals (from the two previous seasons, curiously). Konecny pushed his point total to a career-high of 61 points, seizing the opportunity of getting a big bump in ice time.

While you can nitpick a bit (a 17 shooting percentage is a touch high), it sure seems like the Flyers have a star on their hands.

Some other big situations worked out, too.

Matt Niskanen enjoyed a nice rebound year. More importantly, Ivan Provorov rebounded as well. Carter Hart continued his trajectory up the ranks of the NHL’s most promising goalies. There was a lot to like for the Flyers in 2019-20, right down to a hot finish.

Slightly disappointing season for Giroux

In the grand scheme of things, Claude Giroux remains a very good player. Giroux pumped out solid possession stats, as usual. Take, for instance, this sturdy-looking RAPM chart from Evolving Hockey:

It’s fair to say that Giroux’s point totals (53 in 69 games) were modest by his lofty standards. Chalk it up to a substantial drop in ice time (21:27 TOI average last season vs. 18:59 in 2019-20), or maybe unusually quiet power play production, but Giroux’s playmaking plummeted. He actually scored almost as many goals (21 vs. 22) in fewer games, yet his .46 assist per game average ranked as his lowest since 2009-10.

I wouldn’t be too concerned overall, though at 32, there is slight worry about Father Time messing things up.

Frustrating health luck for Flyers

Injuries strike just about every team (even the Washington Capitals every now and then).

Still, the Flyers had to weather some unexpected health issues that make you wonder if this team could have been even better.

Most frighteningly, Oskar Lindblom saw his season end after he was diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer. Obviously, his health stands as a far larger concern than wins and losses.

Nolan Patrick experienced his own struggles as his 2019-20 campaign was derailed by migraine issues. It’s unclear if Patrick will be able to alleviate such issues in the long term, but at minimum, it sidelined him this season.

Overall, the good surprises outweighed on-ice disappointments for the Flyers. Most of all, here’s hoping for positive news regarding Lindblom’s health.

MORE ON THE FLYERS:
Looking at their 2019-20 season

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

WATCH LIVE: Flyers host Bruins on NBCSN

Flyers Bruins Livestream
Getty

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Tuesday’s matchup between the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Philadelphia Flyers and Boston Bruins have been the NHL’s two best teams over the past 25 games and they meet on Tuesday night on NBCSN.

The Flyers enter the game riding a league-best nine-game winning streak and are looking to take over first place in the Metropolitan Division. Starting goalie Carter Hart also looks to continue his nearly unbeatable play on home ice.

Boston, meanwhile, is starting to run away with the top spot in the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference playoff races. Winger David Pastrnak is also not only emerging as a potential MVP candidate, he is closing in on the 50-goal mark and is in a back-and-forth race with Alex Ovechkin for the goal scoring title.

Pre-game coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN while puck drop is scheduled for 7 p.m. ET from Philadelphia.

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6:30 P.M. ET ON NBCSN]

 

WHAT: Boston Bruins at Philadelphia Flyers
WHERE: Wells Fargo Center
WHEN: Tuesday, March 10, 7 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Bruins-Flyers stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

BRUINS

Brad MarchandPatrice Bergeron – David Pastrnak
Nick RitchieDavid KrejciOndrej Kase
Sean KuralyCharlie CoyleJake DeBrusk
Joakim NordstromPar LindholmChris Wagner

Zdeno CharaCharlie McAvoy
Matt Grzelcyk – Jeremy Lauzon
John MooreConnor Clifton

Starting goalie: Tuukka Rask

FLYERS

Claude GirouxSean CouturierJakub Voracek
Joel FarabeeKevin HayesTravis Konecny
Scott LaughtonDerek GrantTyler Pitlick
Michael RafflNate Thompson – Aube-Kubel

Nate Provorov – Matt Niskanen
Travis SanheimJustin Braun
Robert HaggShayne Gostisbehere

Starting goalie: Carter Hart

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

WATCH LIVE: Flyers host Hurricanes on NBCSN

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Thursday’s matchup between the Philadelphia Flyers and Carolina Hurricanes. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

This game will be the second of a back-to-back for Flyers, who beat the Capitals in D.C. Wednesday night. Philadelphia heads into the stretch on a season-long seven-game win streak, their longest since winning eight straight from mid-Jan. to early Feb. last season.

After the Canes topped the Flyers in OT in their most recent meeting on Jan. 7, the Flyers sat behind Carolina in the standings. Since then, the Philly has taken off and played as well as any team in the league, while Carolina has faltered as they look to get back to the postseason. The Flyers are seeking their first division title since the 2010-11 season. They’ve alternated missing and making the playoffs in each of the past seven seasons with three postseason appearances (all Round 1 exits).

Philadelphia has earned 50 points at home this season (23-5-4), tied for the 3rd-most points at home in the NHL. They have won 5 straight home games coming into this one, and 8 of their last 9 at Wells Fargo Center overall.

Sebastian Aho saw his career-long 14-game point come to an end in the loss to Montreal Saturday. He had 21 points (12G-9A) during his streak, which was the 3rd- longest in the NHL this season (Eichel – 17 / Kane – 15). Aho is in the midst of a breakout season. He leads the team with 36 goals and 62 points. His 36 goals are a career high and rank fifth in the NHL. The last Hurricane to reach 40 goals in a season was Eric Staal, who had 40 in the 2008-09 season.

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6 P.M. ET ON NBCSN]

WHAT: Carolina Hurricanes at Philadelphia Flyers
WHERE: Wells Fargo Center
WHEN: Thursday, March 5, 6 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Hurricanes-Flyers stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

HURRICANES
Nino Niederreiter – Sebastian Aho – Teuvo Teravainen
Ryan DzingelJordan StaalJustin Williams
Andrei SvechnikovVincent TrocheckMartin Necas
Warren FoegeleJordan MartinookBrock McGinn

Joel EdmundsonJaccob Slavin
Haydn FleuryBrady Skjei
Jake GardinerTrevor van Riemsdyk

Starting goalie: Alex Nedeljkovic

FLYERS
Claude GirouxSean CouturierJakub Voracek
Scott LaughtonKevin HayesTravis Konecny
Joel FarabeeDerek GrantTyler Pitlick
Michael RafflNate ThompsonNicolas Aube-Kubel

Ivan ProvorovMatt Niskanen
Travis SanheimPhilippe Myers
Robert HaggJustin Braun

Starting goalie: Carter Hart

John Forslund and Pierre McGuire will call the contest from Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pa. Thursday’s studio coverage will be hosted by Paul Burmeister alongside analysts Mike Milbury and Scott Hartnell.

***

NBC Sports will utilize an all-female crew to broadcast and produce game coverage of Sunday’s Blues-Blackhawks game, coinciding with International Women’s Day and marking the first NHL game broadcast and produced solely by women in the U.S.

Kate Scott (play-by-play) will call the action alongside U.S. Olympic gold medalists Kendall Coyne-Schofield (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) and AJ Mleczko (analyst) from United Center in Chicago, Ill. Game production will be led by producer Rene Hatlelid and director Lisa Seltzer.

WATCH LIVE: Flyers visit Rangers on NBC

Hayes Sanheim time
Getty Images

NBC’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Sunday’s matchup between the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers. Coverage begins at 12 p.m. ET on NBC. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

After the Flyers defeated the Rangers 5-2 on Friday night in Philadelphia, these Metro Division rivals meet again on Sunday at Madison Square Garden. It is the third of four regular-season matchups (season-series concludes on Apr. 1 at NYR – on NBCSN).

The Flyers currently sit in second place in the Metro, three points behind the division-leading Capitals. The Rangers sit just two points outside the second Wild Card in the East. If New York wins Sunday, they’ll be in a playoff spot (at least momentarily) for the first time since the morning of Oct. 12.

Philadelphia is now riding a five-game winning streak and are looking for their first six-game winning streak under Alain Vigneault. The Flyers have 81 points through 64 games this season.

With both Columbus and Carolina losing on Friday, the Rangers missed a key opportunity to make up some ground on their Metro rivals.

Chris Kreider suffered a fractured foot in Friday’s loss against the Flyers. Kreider, who was on pace for the first 30-goal season of his career, signed a seven-year, $45 million contract extension on trade deadline day.

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 12 P.M. ET ON NBC]

WHAT: Philadelphia Flyers at New York Rangers
WHERE: Madison Square Garden
WHEN: Sunday, March 1, 12 p.m. ET
TV: NBC
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Flyers-Rangers stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

FLYERS
Claude GirouxSean CouturierJakub Voracek
Scott LaughtonKevin HayesTravis Konecny
James van Riemdsyk – Derek GrantTyler Pitlick
Michael RafflNate ThompsonNicolas Aube-Kubel

Ivan ProvorovMatt Niskanen
Travis SanheimPhilippe Myers
Robert HaggJustin Braun

Starting goalie: Carter Hart

RANGERS
Phil Di GiuseppeMika ZibanejadPavel Buchnevich
Artemi PanarinRyan StromeJesper Fast
Brett HowdenFilip ChytilKaapo Kakko
Brendan LemieuxGreg McKegg – Julien Gauthier

Brendan SmithJacob Trouba
Ryan LindgrenAdam Fox
Marc StaalTony DeAngelo

Starting goalie: Henrik Lundqvist

Mike Emrick, Eddie Olczyk and Brian Boucher will have the call from Madison Square Garden in New York, N.Y. Sunday’s studio coverage on NBC will be hosted by Liam McHugh with analysts Mike Milbury and Keith Jones.