Sports coverage can tend to be a land of exaggeration, so let’s stipulate something right away before getting into the Flyers’ 3-2 shootout loss to the Rangers on Thursday night, a game that they played, because of a COVID-19 outbreak within the team, without six of their most important players. The virus has been killing people and creating havoc and stress and upending our lives for nearly a year now. Yet plenty of people are doing their jobs, plowing ahead as best as they can.
That’s all the Flyers did Thursday. After going 11 days without a game, they plowed ahead. Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek, Travis Konecny, Scott Laughton, Oskar Lindblom, Justin Braun: all of them, on the NHL’s COVID-19 list. None of them was there at the Wells Fargo Center against the Rangers, and none of them will travel to Lake Tahoe for the Flyers’ outdoor game Sunday against the Bruins.
There is a light at the end of this tunnel, for all of us. But we’re not there just yet. So we hang on a little longer, and for the Flyers, in their corner of the rink, hanging on will mean relying on Andy Andreoff, Maksim Sushko, and David Kase, not just Thursday but Sunday, too. Against the Rangers, it meant Carter Hart stopping 31 shots, including a penalty shot by Pavel Buchnevich. It meant Joel Farabee scoring a tying goal with 1 minute, 14 seconds left in regulation, off a goal-mouth scramble. It meant killing off a New York power play in overtime.
“Really liked the way we competed,” coach Alain Vigneault said. “We tried to play a simple, north-south game. Able to come back and get that point. We lost in a skill competition.”
“I don’t think we’re satisfied with just getting a point,” Farabee said. “We obviously want to win that game. Felt like we had our chances, for sure, but in my opinion, I really liked the effort from the guys. We had guys [who] stepped in tonight who haven’t played in a while or are in and out. Overall, I felt like it was a good effort, but we’ve had better.”
They will need to be better on Sunday, against the Bruins, against a team that is better and hotter than the Rangers, who had been winless in their previous four games entering Thursday. And they will need to continue negotiating the cumbersome day-to-day logistics of the pandemic, which meant several players and coaches had to negotiate the 42 Freeway and the Schuylkill on a snowy Thursday morning, as they shuttled from the Wells Fargo Center, which had enough testing equipment to accommodate them, to the Skate Zone in Voorhees for their pregame skate, then back to the Center hours later.
The Tahoe trip will be more of the same. The NHL announced that it had moved up the puck drop an hour, to 2 p.m. Eastern time; a forecast of sun, with no cloud cover, promises a disruptive glare during the game. So “to keep their bodies in the same time zone,” as Vigneault put it, the Flyers were flying west Friday after practice, holding another practice Saturday at 8 a.m. Pacific time (11 a.m. Eastern), and convening for two team meetings Saturday night and a quick one before warmups Sunday. In such circumstances, the game itself can seem a welcome respite, a routine, no matter who is on the ice alongside each other.
“It’s a weird season with COVID,” center Kevin Hayes said. “Guys are out right now. Myself, I prepare the same way. We had two practices before to get ready. Felt pretty similar to me.”
All in all, it looked pretty similar. In the first period, the Flyers held the Rangers without a scoring chance when the teams were five-on-five. At their best, the Flyers play that sort of suffocating style, and though they weren’t as sharp thereafter, to limit a team top-heavy with skilled scorers, with Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider, to two goals in 65 minutes was a worthy effort, considering. They plowed ahead. It’s all anyone can ask of anyone else these days.