When the Flyers announced that Kevin Hayes would miss the first month of the regular season with an abdominal injury, there were many questions as to who would fill the void as a second line center.
Many thought it would be prospect Morgan Frost, a former first round draft pick with high-end skill. But Frost still has a lot to learn at the professional level, and as such was relegated back to the AHL to start the season.
What would the Flyers do? Move Claude Giroux back to center temporarily? Rely on Swiss Army knife Scott Laughton to jump up into a top six forward role for a brief period of time?
And while both options seemed reasonable, and the latter came to fruition – sort of – with Laughton centering Oskar Lindblom and James van Riemsdyk on a line many thought would get those second line minutes, Flyers coach Alain Vigneault had another idea.
He put Derick Brassard at center – a position Vigneault always believed was Brassard’s more natural position than on the wing, where he’s played for the last several years, and put him between Cam Atkinson and Joel Farabee, two guys who are always looking to shoot the puck.
Through two games, this trio has made Vigneault look like a genius. And with the acronym representing the first letter of each of their last names as well as serving as a good descriptor for how they’ve played, the FAB line has been the most impressive story of the first week of the season.
Farabee and Atkinson both scored goals in the opening game loss to Vancouver while Brassard had a goal and two assists, Farabee a goal and an assist and Atkinson an assist in a 6-1 win over the Seattle Kraken Monday.
Here's that whole sequence. A good chip-in by Atkinson at the red line and the forwards to go work pressuring the defensemen (with some friendly bounces). Sanheim steps up to intercept a clearing attempt and rings it around the horn for Brassard's goal. https://t.co/V5kfEdXCbw pic.twitter.com/7iCZGBRxHj
— Ryan Gilbert (@RGilbertSOP) October 18, 2021
The trio has nine points total in two games for the Flyers.
Now, two games is way too small a sample size to get excited. It should also be noted that when they don’t have the puck, this line hasn’t been good at limiting chances in their own zone. The have been outshot through two games 20-11 at 5-on-5. Those 20 shots against are way too high a number.
So the Flyers need to clean that up, either by the trio being more defensively conscious or the coach deploying them in more offensively favorable situations.
Still, the reality is, if they can continue to produce at a high level, it will force opposing defenses to decide who they want their best defensemen against – the Brassard line or Sean Couturier’s line with Giroux and Travis Konecny?
If the opposition chooses to defend Brassard’s group, it opens things up for Couturier’s line. If they send their top defensive players out against Coot’s group, Brassard’s line has a little more room to free-wheel.
Ryan Ellis! He has scored his first goal in Flyers' uniform after great pass by Derick Brassard! The Flyers lead 4-0 against the Kraken in 2nd period. Ellis has been really good this season so far. pic.twitter.com/Nm0tWP3CIo
— Andy & Rono 📊 (@HockeyStatsCZ) October 19, 2021
This is why it’s so important for good hockey teams to have at least two lines going offensively at all times – it puts so much pressure on the opposing defense, that it’s a boon for the team, even if they aren’t scoring.
Yet, they are. Both lines, actually. Giroux and Konecny have both scored a goal in each game this season as well – netting the comeback goals against Vancouver and the opening salvos against the Kraken.
This allows Laughton’s line to slot into a more traditional third line role, where it can play to the two-way strengths of all three players.
It’s a good mix for the Flyers right now, but what happens when Hayes finally returns in mid-November?
It’s a good question, but it’s one that doesn’t need to be answered just yet. A lot can happen in the next eight games or so that could change the trajectory of everything.
But, if everything is the same as it is after two games when Hayes is ready to return, it’s unlikely that Vigneault would break up Brassard’s line. It’s unlikely they will continue to average 4.5 points per game, but if they are consistently producing, he won’t fix something that isn’t broken.
Atkinson fires the puck and Joel Farabee puts home the rebound. 6-1 Flyers pic.twitter.com/KoMMEW2lPs
— Snow The Goalie: A Flyers Podcast (@SnowTheGoalie) October 19, 2021
So, at that point you’ll probably see Hayes replace Laughton in the middle of the third line, and then one of those three players (because of Laughton’s flexibility to play the win) would slip down to line four.
And if not, if the Flyers start to struggle a bit offensively, well, then Hayes can take his expected spot on the second unit, and the changes will be made further down the lineup.
Either way, it’s a good problem to have at this point for Vigneault, and one that he hopes he still has as the season progresses.
With Rasmus Ristolainen still sidelined with an upper body injury, the Flyers had Nick Seeler in the lineup for the second straight game.
Hardly noticeable in the opener, Seeler stood out big time against the Kraken. He blocked a shot, was a plus-3 and took on big man Jamie Oleksiak in a fight. It was the first of two fights for the Flyers in the game.
Not that we want more fighting in hockey – this isn’t my father’s NHL – but, sending a message to the league that the Flyers are no longer a pushover team. That they no longer will accept being shoved around and that they will, in fact, stick up for one another, is not a bad thing.
That said, Seeler’s time in the spotlight is fleeting. There’s a real good chance Ristolainen will make his Flyers debut Wednesday against Boston. And if not, it will most certainly be Saturday against Florida.
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