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PREVIEW: Split-Squad Wednesday

Meltzer's 'What to Watch For' as Flyers battle Islanders twice in one night

by Bill Meltzer @billmeltzer

In recent years, it has become something of an early preseason tradition for the Flyers to play split squad games on the same night.

Last September, with a host of Flyers players unavailable due to World Cup of Hockey obligations, the team played split-squad road games against the New York Islanders (3-0 loss) and New Jersey Devils (2-0 loss). This year's exhibition game at the PPL Center marks the third straight year the Flyers have played a preseason game at the home rink of their American Hockey League affiliate, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. So far, the PPL Center has been friendly confines for the Flyers. The team has won both of its preseason games there to date.

Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol will coach the game in Lehigh Valleym while assistant coaches Gord Murphy and Ian Laperriere will share the duties behind the bench in Brooklyn. Beyond that, here are three things to watch in Wednesday's game:

CLICK HERE to see both rosters for tonight's games.

1. A move away from "A" Roster vs. "B" Roster? - It is common early in the NHL preseason, especially in split-squad settings, for teams to play most of their established NHL roster players at home and to test out young players and potential AHL recall players on the road. As such, many early preseason games have a feel akin to one team's "A" squad with many NHL regulars facing another team's "B" group with mostly prospects and farm team personnel. 

Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol indicated on Monday, however, that he aims to send a fairly evenly distributed mix of veterans and young players in each of the two split-squad games. Simultaneously, the Flyers also want to give the fans in Allentown a chance to see many of the Flyers' most familiar names as well as some of the organization's highly touted prospects.

2. Rolling the lines - Apart from the game-night rosters and line combinations often looking different during the preseason, teams also approach in-game management a little differently early in the exhibition season. Different players will be looked at in a variety of game situations (for example, trying out various personnel on the penalty kill or when protecting a third period lead) to see how they handle these assignments. There won't be much, if any, "shortening the bench" over the latter portion of the game and lines will not particularly be deployed based on which zone the next faceoff will be held. As the preseason gets its latter stages, however, the game will be managed more in line with how it would be in the regular season.

3. Preparing for cutdowns - The next round of roster cuts are looming in every NHL training camp, including the Flyers. Once the need to fill two rosters worth of players for split-squad duties is over, there will likely be a slew of roster cuts. That is especially true with the Phantoms slated to begin their own training camp on Thursday. 

It is likely that some players who dress for the Allentown game with the Flyers will remain there to start AHL camp the next day under Phantoms head coach Scott Gordon. 

Meanwhile, with junior hockey regular seasons about to get underway, some of the CHL affiliated prospects will return to their clubs in the Ontario, Western or Quebec Major Junior league. For some of these players, the split-squad game could be a chance to leave a solid impression that could bode well for their NHL ambitions down the line.  

Meanwhile, for players in the thick of the current battles for NHL opening night roster spots with the Flyers, each preseason game presents a chance to make a case for staying off the next list of cuts.

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