When center Kevin Hayes began the season on long-term injured reserve while recovering from abdominal surgery, the Flyers were forced to embrace the next-man-up mentality starting with their first game against the Vancouver Canucks.
Now, more than a month later, not much has changed for the still-shorthanded team.
Hayes was inactive against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday despite appearing at morning skate and practicing the day before. He made his 2021-22 home debut against the Calgary Flames on Tuesday in which he scored his first goal of the season before making a brief exit during the second period after getting tangled up with forward Elias Lindholm. He returned for the third period.
The second-line center is expected to be inactive once again with the Boston Bruins in town on Saturday night as head coach Alain Vigneault said the Flyers will roll with the same lineup as the one that faced the Lightning.
Hayes was the only Flyer not present for morning skate on Saturday. Vigneault confirmed that Hayes’ absence is injury-related, however he said he wouldn’t be able to share more specific information until 48-72 hours after Thursday night’s game. The beginning of that timeframe would start following the Flyers’ game against the Bruins.
“He’s a pretty elite player for us,” winger Joel Farabee said of Hayes. “He brings a lot, I think, off the ice in terms of just his energy and how he lifts guys up and things like that. When he’s not playing, it’s definitely a hole to fill. I think just the story of this year has just been that next-man-up mentality.”
In Hayes’ absence, the Flyers called up forward Max Willman from the Lehigh Valley Phantoms on an emergency basis prior to their game against the Lightning. Willman skated at left wing on the fourth line (two shots, minus-one, 9 minutes, 53 seconds of ice time) alongside center Nate Thompson and right winger Zack MacEwen.
Farabee, who first met Willman when he was a freshman at Boston University and Willman was a graduate transfer, said he’s confident the newcomer is capable of stepping up and contributing to the team. Although Willman’s responsibilities on the fourth line are primarily defensive, he has proven to be a sound scorer for the Phantoms (seven goals, two assists in 12 games).
“He’s definitely a guy that approaches the game the right way, thinks it right and does all the little things off the ice,” Farabee said. “Definitely someone I can admire.”
Although Willman rounds out the Flyers’ lineup as the 12th forward, center Derick Brassard will be the one filling in for Hayes on the second line. Brassard slipped back into the second-line center role on Thursday alongside wingers Claude Giroux and Cam Atkinson after playing on the third line against the Flames. He picked up two assists against the Lightning, both on Giroux’s two goals, and now has nine points (two goals, seven assists) this season.
The role is familiar to Brassard, who skated for the majority of the first month of the season on the second line with Farabee and Atkinson.
“He’s played in this league a long time, so he knows what he needs to do,” Farabee said. “He uses his speed really well. Had a great assist to G on that first goal the other night. So he’s been really big for us and he wins faceoffs and does all the little things right.”
A storm is Bruin in Philadelphia
The Flyers welcome back a familiar foe in the Bruins to the Wells Fargo Center after beating them 6-3 at home on Oct. 20. Once again, the Flyers must focus on limiting quality opportunities for the Bruins’ top line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrňák to replicate their success last month.
Through 13 games, the trio has combined for nine goals at five-on-five and a 65.52 Corsi For percentage (according to Natural Stat Trick), demonstrating their knack for finding the back of the net and controlling the puck.
“They’ve got one of the best lines in hockey,” Vigneault said. “That Bergeron line plays offense the right way. They play defense the right way. They bring momentum to their team.”
On Saturday night, goalie Martin Jones will be the Flyers’ last line of defense against the Bruins and their dangerous top line. Jones, who has a .931 save percentage and a 2.27 goals against average in four games this season, denied 37 out of 40 shots the last time he faced the Bruins on Oct. 20.