Alain Vigneault: Professional Button-Pusher
A few weeks into Alain Vigneault’s second season, it has become clear the Flyers Head Coach could not care less about anyone’s feelings. That toughness is one of many reasons why Philadelphia loves him so much.
Most coaches across professional sports would find the prospect of benching one of their stars for a poor run of form to be a bad idea. Some might even say the potential fallout could damage team chemistry. Alain Vigneault, however, is not most coaches. Admittedly, hockey locker rooms do not have the same proportion of diva superstars that sports like basketball and football might have. Even so, benching Travis Konecny, the Flyers’ leading point scorer and goal scorer, for the Jan. 30th Revenge Game against the Islanders took some serious guts.
Many were left puzzled by Vigneault’s decision. Barzal. Clutterbuck. Varlamov. These are names Flyers fans hear as they wake up screaming in the middle of the night. And now we had to face them without TK Thunder?? The fans were not alone in their surprise, as it became clear from reports that the locker room was not thrilled by Konecny’s benching, and it led to some awkward vibes at practice before the game.
AV explained his choice to bench TK prior to the game:
“I believe TK is one of our top three forwards, [with] tremendous potential… But I also believe our five-on-five play is not where it needs to be, and I’ve been talking to the players about it for some time… TK is the one tonight who is not going to play… I had a good conversation with him this morning, and I expect him, the next time he’s in the lineup, to play the right way.”
As surprising as Vigneault’s move might have been, it made sense considering Konecny’s recent struggles despite the team putting together a sweep over the NJ Devils. TK only registered one shot over the three games before the first matchup against the Isles. The Flyers’ 5-on-5 offense was stalling, and AV needed to make a change. His team was getting outshot by large margins, even in wins. That’s not winning hockey in the long run.
However sound AV’s logic is here, it does not negate the massive risk he took. Everybody, and I mean everybody, loves Travis Konecny. He is the undisputed King of the Chirps and has produced the most legendary Mic’d Up moments in modern Flyers history. Vigneault risked pissing off his guys but, ultimately, he’s so respected in that locker room it did not rock the boat. Instead, it had his intended effect: lighting a fire under their asses.
The second-round rematch against the Islanders resulted in a hard-fought OT win, a familiar sight from the bubble. Scott Laughton netted the winner in a show of quality team hockey that can only occur in 3v3 overtime. The Flyers only put 17 shots on goal, with Semyon Varlamov stopping 14. On the other end of the ice, Carter Hart stopped 26 of 28 shots from the Islanders. What a hoss.
AV’s decision to bench Konecny may not have had the exact effect he wanted over those two games. However, the Flyers looked more cohesive against a quality opponent. Plus, the boys showed improvement once Konecny was back on the ice for the second leg.
Vigneault’s ability to push his guys’ buttons is key to ensuring sustained success throughout a full season. Holding guys accountable is essential in every sport and you could argue AV does it better than any coach in Philadelphia. He’s drawn comparisons to Doc Rivers among the TLL staff due to his ability to get the most out of guys and make sure his top players are fully engaged and involved.
The Flyers are fortunate to have a coach like AV. He’s been able to keep guys fighting hard on the ice despite the absence of Sean Couturier. The Flyers should be pleased with these two wins over the Islanders. Hopefully, AV and the boys can carry that momentum into the next two games against the Bruins and get some more revenge this week.
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Mandatory Credit: Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images