In the midst of the Flyers’ 13-game losing streak marked by injury misfortune, even the smallest iota of good news is welcomed.
For the second straight day, an hour before the Flyers’ 11 a.m. practice, skills coach Angelo Ricci led a well-attended rehab skate for a handful of injured players. The Flyers chave nine players out with injuries, but a select group of them have been hitting the ice.
Sean Couturier (upper body), Kevin Hayes (adductor), Joel Farabee (upper body), Patrick Brown (MCL), Derick Brassard (hip), and Phantoms forward Tyson Foerster (shoulder) each made appearances on either Thursday or Friday.
“It’s weird to say that it’s good news that there’s a lot of people out there doing rehab skates, but it is compared to where we were a week ago,” interim head coach Mike Yeo said. “That’s encouraging. And obviously real hopeful that we can get some of these guys back. It would give our team a huge boost. The idea that there’s some guys that could be coming back, as far as the positive mindset for the group, I think that could be very encouraging.”
Getting those injured players back on the ice serves as the first step in their eventual returns to the lineup. However, Yeo offered no updates on their individual timelines. Going by their initial timelines when the announcements were first made, Farabee and Hayes could return in mid-to-late February, Brown could return in early February, and Couturier is still out indefinitely.
Brassard is likely the closest to making a return to the team. He participated in a rehab skate Thursday and then skated with the full team Friday in a white non-contact jersey. Brassard was not a full participant in Friday’s practice, which will be a necessary step before he rejoins the lineup.
“He was able to push himself at a higher level today,” Yeo said. “Which is crucial because obviously one of the main things about getting back and coming into play is your conditioning. And until you can start doing things at a high pace and the high effort level, then that’s not going to come back to you. So that was a good first step.”
At the conclusion of practice Friday, Yeo joined the players in a huddle to relay a final message before the game Saturday against the Los Angeles Kings at the Wells Fargo Center. After the Flyers started out sluggishly last Saturday afternoon in a 6-3 loss to the Buffalo Sabres, giving up four goals in the first period, Yeo emphasized the importance of being prepared at puck drop.
“We haven’t played a lot of afternoon games this year,” Yeo said. “We have some older players that have a lot of experience with that. We have some players that don’t have a lot of experience with that. So you have to find a way to make sure that you are prepared, whether you adjust the way that you wake up in the morning, the way that you eat. The way that you get your head into it.”
Five-year veteran defenseman Travis Sanheim is well-acquainted with the early afternoon starts, which he said each player chooses to approach differently.
“You don’t get your pregame nap in, your pregame meal is now at 9 a.m. instead of noon or 1 o’clock,” Sanheim said. “What you’re eating’s different, how much are you going to eat before the game. Obviously the routine changes and that’s just how you handle it and how you prepare yourself.”
Ratcliffe eager for NHL debut
Before the Flyers officially announced Wednesday that forward Isaac Ratcliffe would be called up from the Phantoms to make his NHL debut against the Kings, Ratcliffe received a call from Phantoms head coach Ian Laperrière with the good news.
“That’s pretty much what he said, that he loves giving those phone calls, that I’ve been working hard lately and I’ve been given a great opportunity here,” Ratcliffe said. “So just go out and make sure I take care of the puck, make sure I take care of the puck at both blue lines and do whatever I need to do to help the Flyers win tomorrow.”
After dealing with a fractured rib that led to a collapsed lung and multiple surgeries before the start of last season, Ratcliffe returned to action in early March. He appeared in 22 games and registered eight points (two goals, six assists). Now, after using the offseason to come back stronger, Ratcliffe has had a robust season with the Phantoms — in 31 games, he has scored four goals and six assists.
“I felt good in camp, I felt like I had a good camp and I needed to show a little bit more down in the American League just to make sure that I was ready to play in an in-game situation and use my body, use my size, and just to be a little bit more consistent,” Ratcliffe said. “I think that’s what I’ve been focusing on the last half year since the start of the season. I think that’s what helped me get this opportunity.”
The 6-foot-6 Ratcliffe will be the fourth Flyer to make his NHL debut this season, joining Max Willman, Felix Sandström,and Linus Sandin.