When the Flyers host the New York Rangers on Wednesday, it appears they won’t have to worry about defending superstar left winger Artemi Panarin.
Panarin, who has a team-high 18 points in 14 games, is taking a leave of absence for personal reasons, the Rangers said in a statement Monday.
The Rangers released the statement after a Russian newspaper reported that Panarin’s former KHL coach, Andrei Nazarov, alleged the winger beat up an 18-year-old woman in Latvia in 2011. Nazarov has been critical of Panarin’s outspoken comments against Russian president Vladimir Putin.
In their statement, the Rangers called the report an “intimidation tactic” for Panarin’s political views, and said the player “vehemently and unequivocally denies any and all allegations of this fabricated story.”
Panarin, 29, has 21 points in 16 career games against the Flyers. The Rangers said he was “obviously shaken and will take some time away from the team.”
The last time the Flyers faced the Rangers, Panarin had just returned from missing two games because of an injury. He was dominating in New York’s 3-2 shootout win last Thursday, firing 16 shots (eight on goal), collecting an assist, and scoring the decisive goal in what Flyers coach Alain Vigneault calls “the skills competition.”
That was the first Flyers’ first game in 11 nights because they had four contests postponed due to the league’s COVID protocol. The Flyers were missing six regulars, all on the COVID list, in that defeat, and those players also missed their 7-3 loss Sunday to Boston in Nevada.
The Flyers are hoping to get some players off the COVID list and back in the lineup, perhaps as early as Wednesday against the Rangers, though Saturday in Buffalo seems like a more realistic target date.
When the NHL released its updated COVID list early Monday evening, it still included Claude Giroux, Travis Konecny, Scott Laughton, Jake Voracek, Oskar Lindblom, and Justin Braun. But some might come off the list Tuesday.
On Monday, the Flyers sent David Kase, Derrick Pouliot, Felix Sandstrom, and Matthew Strome from the taxi squad to the AHL’s Phantoms, seemingly an indication that some players are about to come off the COVID list.
When the Flyers do get their lineup intact, there are many areas in which they need to improve, including:
Faceoff percentage. The Flyers entered Monday 15th in the NHL with a 50.2% success rate in draws. They led the NHL in faceoff percentage last year (54.6% ).
Shot differential. The Flyers are last in the league in this category with a minus-10 differential per game. They are, by far, last in the league in shots (23.3 per game) and next-to-last in shots against (33.3 per game). A year ago, they surrendered just 28.7 shots per game, the fewest in the NHL.
Team defense. The Flyers are allowing 3.27 goals per game, 24th in the NHL. Last season, they were seventh in the league as they permitted 2.77 goals per game. That’s a half-goal per game difference. (Paging Matt Niskanen, paging Matt Niskanen.)
Special teams. The Flyers are 17th on the power play -- clicking at 20% -- and 29th on the penalty kill (71.2%) among the 31 teams.
When you put it all together, it’s amazing the Flyers are 8-4-3. They have masked their weaknesses by having the league’s highest five-on-five shooting percentage (13.3% ) and they are sixth in the NHL with an average of 3.40 goals per game.
The shooting percentage probably can’t be sustained; it would be the highest in NHL history since the league started tracking the stat in 2009-10, per NHL.com.