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MELTZER: Pitlick Promoted

A look at the line shuffle from Alain Vigneault at practice as the team departs to Denver

by Bill Meltzer @BillMeltzer

It took awhile for right winger Tyler Pitlick to demonstrate to the Flyers the form he had shown while a member of the Dallas Stars. 

Two separate surgeries on the same wrist within the 2019 calendar year and missing almost all of training camp in September contributed to him getting off to a slow start this season, and spending a stretch as a healthy scratch.

Over the last six weeks or so, however, Pitlick has quietly been one of the team's most consistent players. His speed in skating north-south, tenacity on the forecheck and two-way hustle made him a mainstay in the lineup.  

With Travis Konecny sidelined indefinitely due to a concussion, Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault has opted to move Pitlick up from the fourth line to the line with team captain Claude Giroux on left wing and Morgan Frost in the middle. 

James van Riemsdyk will start Wednesday's game in Colorado on a line with Mikhail Vorobyev and Chris Stewart. With the Flyers taking only 12 forwards on the trip, Stewart will return to the starting lineup for the first time since Nov. 16. 

Vigneault said he also considered moving up van Riemsdyk at five-on-five -- and still may if the in-game situation dictates it -- but there were two specific reasons he opted for Pitlick.

"It had to do with two things: balance of the lines and comfort of the position. There's no doubt that Tyler has been playing well and working extremely hard. But JVR has also been playing hard. So that's where my dilemma was," Vigneault said.

By arranging the lineup this way, there's a minimum of disruption of the other starting line combinations that produced a 6-1-1 run over the last eight games. In Konecny's absence, Pitlick's prime assets can inject some forechecking presence and ability to create space for his linemates.

Pitlick does have some past experience in the NHL playing with a team's skill players. During a breakout season in Dallas in 2016-17, he spent a spell on a line with team captain Jamie Benn at a time when Benn was struggling and both Pitlick and Radek Faksa were playing their best hockey of the season. 

"That's not something that I think I don't have in my toolbox," Pitlick said. "I think I have the skill to do it. But I can't change my game. I need to grind it, chip pucks, skate hard and keep doing the little things I've been doing."

The second reason for the decision: the fact that James van Riemsdyk exclusively plays left wing (the same side preferred by Giroux) and Pitlick is more comfortable at right wing than left factored into the decision.

For his part, Stewart is happy to get back in the lineup.

"The boys are rolling. We've got four lines going. The D is playing great. And it doesn't matter which guy we've got in the net right now, they've both been getting the job done.... That's a situation where it's great to get in the lineup," Stewart said.  

The Flyers departed for Denver today where they kick off a three-game road swing against the Western Conference, and more specifically, the Central Division. Up first are the Avalanche in a nationally televised game on Wednesday. Puck drop is 9:30 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network or listen live on 97.5 The Fanatic.Video: Hear from Pitlick, Stewart and Vigneault

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