PHILADELPHIA – Craig Berube doesn’t like shaking up his lineup. Unlike other coaches, Berube believes that chemistry is established by playing together for an extended period of time.
Sure, there will be changes. Injuries sometimes cause that. Other times, excellent play by a player or two, or substandard play by the team in general will precipitate the juggle.
The Flyers have been pretty much rolling with the same four lines for quite some time, and have done so with more than a modicum of success.
After all, you don’t win five straight games against teams with a combined record of 172-82-38 without that quality of cohesion that is formed by consistency.
But the last couple of games left the Flyers feeling a bit lacking. In each game, they played roughly 20 minutes of good hockey and 40 minutes well below the bar of expectation.
Without much time remaining in the season for combinations to figure it out and with the team still pursuing a playoff berth, Berube decided a shake up was needed.
And it was probably the right time.
So, when the morning practice began today, only the top line was still together.
Vinny Lecavalier, who by his own admission has a harder time playing on the wing than at center, was back in the middle – but on the fourth line between Zac Rinaldo and Adam Hall.
It certainly isn’t a spot he’s accustomed to, but one that could serve as a bit of a wake up call to the Flyers veteran forward.
The one thing about Berube is he pulls no punches. He lets you know where you stand, positively or negatively.
And right now, Lecavalier’s uneven play on the wing has earned him this spot further down the lineup.
It’s not a complete demotion for Lecavalier, who is still on the second power play unit and will likely see some other odd offensive shifts following special teams situations, but it’s definitely not something he was expecting.
“No [It wasn’t],” Lecavalier said. “But I’ll do my best tonight and make sure our line is ready to go.”
And it should be, as Zac Rinaldo and Adam Hall, who along with Michael Raffl have been a good sparkplug line for the Flyers – and one that has chipped in more than expected in the offensive end.
Throwing Lecavalier into that mix, only enhances the possibility of offensive production from the fourth unit.
Although his 15 goals ad 15 assists this season are lower than anyone expected, Lecavalier could, in fact, find some life in his legs playing with guys who skate at 130 percent every shift.
In conjunction with this move, Tye McGinn will replace Lecavalier as a second line right wing with Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds while Michael Raffl moves onto the shutdown line with Sean Couturier and Matt Read – a line that could stay together for the long haul.
McGinn and Schenn have some familiarity playing together last season both with the Flyers and with the Adirondack Phantoms during the lockout.
Putting three of his best defensive forwards together on one line, it’s almost a guarantee that Couturier, Read and Raffl will matchup almost exclusively against the Toronto top line of Phil Kessel, Tyler Bozak and James van Riemsdyk.
Couturier and Read have played 62 games together this season and have only been on the ice for 29 even strength goals while playing against the best players of the opposition every game.
Adding Raffl to that unit only makes it more potent, as the line encompasses three of the top four forwards used on the Flyers stifling penalty kill unit.
As for Lecavalier, he’s a professional and a team-oriented guy and he’ll embrace the new role as a challenge and try to make it work.
NOTES: Berube also had Jay Rosehill taking shifts with the fourth line in practice, likely waiting until the Leafs submit their lineup before deciding finally who will be in and who won’t… Steve Mason will start in goal for the Flyers…. Steve Downie skated for the first time since suffering an upper body injury on his first shift against St. Louis last week. He is still out of the lineup, missing his third straight game tonight, but appears to be close to being ready to return…. Magic number count (Number of points that need to be gained by the Flyers and/or lost by other teams for the Flyers to clinch a playoff spot): Columbus – 17, Detroit – 15, Washington – 15, Toronto – 13, New Jersey – 11, Ottawa – 9, Carolina – 8, New York Islanders – 1.
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