Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher said on Tuesday that center Nolan Patrick, who has been battling a migraine disorder, is making progress, and that he expects him to play this season.
In a wide-ranging midseason news conference in which Fletcher talked about possible trades, gave medical updates and reflected on the team’s progress, the general manager’s comments about Patrick were probably the most significant.
Fletcher also said he will meet with the NHL in a couple of weeks to try to find ways in which the Flyers’ schedule can be improved.
The Flyers play the most back-to-back games (17 sets) in the league and, according to mathematician Micah Blake McCurdy, play more “tired” games (eight, based on back-to backs or three games in four nights) against rested opponents than any team in the NHL.
“What we’re trying to do is find out what we need to do from the league,” Fletcher said. “Are we not giving them the right dates? What do they need from us to create a better schedule or create some situations that are a little less onerous on our players. There’s probably things we need to do better in terms of date submission. It’s a little bit more difficult because we share the building with the 76ers."
Fletcher said he was “not throwing the league under the bus here at all because we may be doing things that aren’t helping our own schedule. We’re going to sit down and have a really proactive conversation and see what they would suggest we do to help maybe alleviate some of the back-to-backs, maybe pick different nights. Maybe we need to take on more dates early in the season.”
As for Patrick, 21, who has been sidelined all season, Fletcher said, “I do expect him to play this year. That’s just my guess. I’m purely speculating there. He’s been skating harder. He skated again today, getting his heart rate up higher. I think he’s feeling a bit better. And again it’s hard to predict. ... I can just tell you from the on- and off-ice workouts, he is progressing, but there isn’t any clear path as to which way this will go.”
Fletcher said he still believes Patrick “has a real good future ahead of him, and speaking to the medical people who have dealt with him, they all anticipate him coming back, so I’m optimistic but just can’t give you a time frame.”
Patrick’s absence has had Fletcher searching for a right-handed center who can fit in the bottom six. The trade deadline is Feb. 24, but the Flyers have only about $579,000 in cap space.
Fletcher is puzzled by the team’s home/road disparity.
“Our goals-against on the road, our specialty teams on the road, have not been very good,” he said. “Some of it is goaltending. Some of it is you fall behind and you chase the game, and when you chase the game you tend to open up and take chances, and that invites some other bad things to happen.”
He said the coaches have done different things to try to improve the road play.
“I know they’re working on it and [asking], ‘Do you have a morning skate? Do you not have a morning skate? Do we stretch differently? Do we eat differently? Do we change the times of meetings?’ There’s lots of different things that the coaches have been working on. So we just keep plugging away.
“The good news," he added, “is that most of our extended road trips are over. We certainly have some tough games, [Wednesday] night in St. Louis being one of them. Hopefully, with shorter road trips maybe we can have better focus and just find a way to have better results."
The Flyers’ longest road trip from now until the end of the regular season is a three-game journey to New York, South Florida and Tampa from Feb. 11-15.
Fletcher pointed out that, a year ago, Carter Hart was better on the road than at home. This season, he is 13-2-2 at home with a 1.69 GAA and .940 save percentage. On the road, he is 2-9-1 with a 4.01 GAA and .850 save percentage.
“In the scheme of things, it’s a small sample size. It’s certainly trending in the wrong way right now, but I’ve got to believe it’s going to correct itself," Fletcher said. "It’s pretty hard to have an .879 save percentage [for both goalies] five-on-five on the road. These guys are talented goalies, and we have good players.”
Fletcher was asked if Oskar Lindblom, who is undergoing treatments for a rare form of bone cancer, was in his plans to be on the ice next season.
“I hope so. I pray to God for that,” he said. “Obviously, for him to return to play hockey, that means he’s in a great spot in his battle. We’re just keeping our hopes up. I’m sure he’s got a lot of things on his mind right now. But if he’s playing hockey this time next year, that would be a great conclusion.”
Fletcher said he was most pleased by the defensive strides the team has made, though that area has slipped since the holiday break ended.
“Last summer, we talked about the need to improve our goals-against, and I think as we sit here today in all-situation goals, we’re down almost half a goal a game,” he said. “I think we’re defending a lot better. The last few games, we’ve probably had a little more leakage as far as defensive-zone coverage. But on the whole, we’re not giving up a lot, whether it’s shots or expected goals in advanced stats. I think we’re a team that certainly has better structure. We defend better, our penalty kill is better.”