Travis Konecny twirled his stick in the air and let out a loud “Woo!” as he celebrated his first practice goal after being released from COVID-19 protocols.
Konecny, who entered protocols on Jan. 5, returned to practice Wednesday, along with defensemen Ivan Provorov (Jan. 4) and Justin Braun (Monday). Defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen was the only remaining Flyer in COVID-19 protocols as of Wednesday afternoon. He entered on Tuesday.
While in quarantine, Provorov missed three games, all losses. Konecny missed two. Braun would have missed the Carolina Hurricanes game, but it was postponed, so he missed only two practices.
“It’s great to have them all back,” interim coach Mike Yeo said. “These guys are not just players and important players in the five-on-five aspects of our game, whether it’s the matchups and playing against top players, but also you look at special teams.”
At practice, Konecny slotted right back into his spot on the top line alongside Claude Giroux and Joel Farabee. Yeo said that may help get Konecny’s offense going. Konecny, who has just five goals this season, has not scored in his last 18 games dating back to Nov. 18 against Tampa Bay.
“He’s been grinding really hard, obviously; everybody knows he hasn’t scored,” Yeo said. “He’s been putting a lot of pressure on himself with that. Maybe he can have a little bit of a reset here.”
However, instead of returning Provorov and Braun to the top pairing, the Flyers had Travis Sanheim skating with Provorov and Braun partnering with Cam York on the second pairing. Keith Yandle and Nick Seeler made up the third.
Yeo said he liked how Braun and York had been playing together, and he knows Provorov and Sanheim have partnered before.
“I think Braun is very good for Yorkie as far as his veteran presence and his communication with Yorkie on the ice and his steadiness,” Yeo said.
Konecny, Provorov, and Braun all also returned to the special teams units, which Yeo said have played a large role for the Flyers recently. Konecny returned to the slot on the top power-play unit while Provorov played on the right of the second. Braun was back on the penalty kill. Provorov also typically kills penalties.
Since all three players returned to practice the day before the Flyers’ game against Boston and all typically play a lot of minutes, Yeo said he will be managing ice time according to their energy levels.
The Flyers did not send any of the players they called up back to the Phantoms. They are still without injured defenseman Ryan Ellis and centers Sean Couturier and Patrick Brown. Derick Brassard, who Yeo said is “day-to-day,” was also absent from practice.
Since becoming a Flyer, Provorov had not missed a single game. For six years, he played through bumps and bruises, sometimes leaving the ice with injury only to return. At 403 games, he had the second-longest iron-man streak for consecutive games played in a Flyers jersey.
Provorov lost the chance to break Rod Brind’Amour’s club record for consecutive games played (484) when he tested positive for COVID-19 on Jan. 4. Stuck in his home while his teammates played, Provorov said he had no way of getting his mind off of the situation.
“Is it tough?” Provorov said. “Yeah, I mean, you’re willing to play through anything, any injury, any illness. And then here you get maybe a regular flu, I mean, not even. And then somebody tells you you can’t come back when you feel fine.”
If it had been a broken bone, Provorov said it would have been easier to accept. That would be something he’d be able to forgive himself for sitting out for. But to be forced out for a sickness with a high survival rate that he felt able to play through, Provorov had a hard time accepting it. The fact that the team is vaccinated, as are all its opponents (minus Detroit’s Tyler Bertuzzi), made it even more frustrating, he said.
Goalie Carter Hart spoke out on Jan. 5 about the need for change, and Provorov added his voice Wednesday.
“Something’s got to change, and hopefully it’s going to change soon,” Provorov said. “So we’ve got to find a way to get over this and live a normal life and, you know, get back to where it was two years ago.”
The Flyers play the Boston Bruins at TD Garden on Thursday at 7 p.m. ... Claude Giroux slammed into the boards but returned to practice and appeared fine. Wednesday was the captain’s 34th birthday, but he refused to lead the stretch circle to light-hearted “boos” from his teammates. ... Goalie Kirill Ustimenko joined the team halfway through practice. He will fill the vacant spot on the team’s taxi squad.