The Flyers defense, which has lately included five players 24 years old or younger, is about to get a veteran back in the lineup.
Justin Braun is expected to return Saturday against visiting Los Angeles, coach Alain Vigneault said before the Flyers dropped a 4-1 decision Thursday to visiting Montreal. Braun, who turns 33 next month, has missed the last six games with a groin injury. He was originally expected to miss all of January but has made rapid progress.
Vigneault said he was “very optimistic” that Braun would play against the Kings.
“He’s been ahead of schedule. He’s been skating on his own. He’s practiced with us,” Vigneault said. “We’re not going to skate [Friday], but I’m confident that if he has a good morning skate Saturday that he’ll be” in the lineup.
Braun figures to replace Mark Friedman, a rookie who has played well since being recalled from the AHL’s Phantoms. Phil Myers, who struggled Wednesday in the dramatic 4-3 overtime win in St. Louis, is another candidate to sit, though Friedman is more likely.
Friedman has been steady in four games against elite teams, helping the Flyers go 3-1 against Washington, Tampa Bay, Boston, and St. Louis.
Heading into Thursday, he had an assist and a plus-1 rating while averaging 12 minutes, 28 seconds per game and being paired with Robert Hagg on the third unit.
“I’ve liked him,” Vigneault said of Friedman, who has been needed because of injuries to Braun and Shayne Gostsibehere (knee). “On our depth chart, he’s our ninth or 10th defenseman, and he’s come in and competed real hard and played well. In every game he’s played against real tough competition, he’s looked very comfortable.”
Friedman, 24, was a third-round selection in the 2014 draft. The Flyers’ first four picks in that draft were Travis Sanheim (17th overall), Nic Aube-Kubel (48th), Friedman (86th), and Oskar Lindblom (138th).
By the way, Hagg, who had four hits in Thursday’s defeat, lost a third-period fight to Jesperi Kotkaniemi and was in the trainer’s room after the game and unavailable to the media.
Vigneault called center Sean Couturier the Flyers’ most consistent player so far this season.
“He’s played the hardest, both ends of the rink, every night,” he said. “And anybody who’s playing with Coots seems to play well, and he seems to be a big force and a big leader in our group right now.”
Entering Thursday, Couturier had points in six of the last seven games, during which he had 11 points (three goals, eight assists)