After seeing players enter and exit COVID-19 protocols for the past month, the Flyers are back to full health — as it relates to the virus, at least, but not injuries.
Defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen cleared COVID protocols on Saturday and participated in the Flyers’ morning skate in advance of their game against the New York Rangers. Now, for the first time since Dec. 14, the Flyers do not have any players in protocols. Ristolainen missed one game on Thursday night against the Boston Bruins while out with COVID.
However, despite clearing protocols, Ristolainen “doesn’t feel quite there yet,” according to interim head coach Mike Yeo, and will not be in the lineup against the Rangers.
“He’s been playing a lot of really good hockey for us,” Yeo said of Ristolainen. “A real competitive guy. Miss him on the penalty kill. Miss him in defensive situations. But obviously, you’ve got to make sure the player’s ready.”
Yeo said he spoke with Ristolainen while he had the virus and his symptoms were “very mild,” but Ristolainen needs time to get back into playing condition. With Ristolainen out, Yeo opted to keep taxi squad defenseman Cam York in the lineup. York has primarily played on the second pairing with veteran Justin Braun and has been the quarterback of the Flyers’ top power play unit for the last two games.
During Thursday’s game against the Bruins, Yeo started with Braun and York together, but ended up pairing York with Travis Sanheim and Braun with Ivan Provorov after the first period. At morning skate on Saturday, Yeo decided to roll with those same duos, with defensemen Keith Yandle and Nick Seeler rounding out the third pairing.
“We made the switch last game, and we thought that both Yorkie and Sanny were really strong and played really well together, as well,” Yeo said. “So it didn’t feel like [York’s] game tapered off or he dropped in any way whatsoever. If anything, I thought that our team game got a little bit stronger when we put Provy and Brauner back together and Yorkie and Sanny did a real nice job together. I thought their execution, couple of really nice breakouts to help relieve pressure to get to the offensive zone.”
While Yeo will start with those defensive pairings, he emphasized that they are fluid and are subject to change during the game. Through four games this season, York has one assist and is minus-two.
Struggling to sustain momentum
Following the Bruins’ 3-2 victory over the Flyers on Thursday, Yeo said that the team had “spurts” of strong play. However, the Flyers ultimately couldn’t sustain the momentum they created by scoring two consecutive goals in the second period, giving up the Bruins’ go-ahead goal less than two minutes later.
“You can see little glimpses, little spurts of where we’re doing the right things,” Yeo said. “The challenge for us is when we play against these good teams, to do a lot more of it. And you can’t win a game by having a good 15 to 20 minutes, period of a hockey game.”
Since he took over as interim head coach, Yeo has stressed the importance of the Flyers creating good habits and doing the little things well, like winning one-on-ones. Winger Joel Farabee said focusing on those details within the game can help the team build momentum as they look to snap a six-game skid.
“Coach just really harps on the little things, whether you’re F1 on the forecheck and you’ve got to beat your D back up the ice,” Farabee said. “Little things like that I think are crucial to our system, our system doesn’t work without the hard work and the skating. So I think if we just simplify the game a little bit, try not to shoot ourselves in the foot, and stick to our system, play the right way, I feel like we’re a really strong team and we can really hem teams in at times.”
Carter Hart (22 games played, .912 save percentage, 2.93 goals against average) was the first goalie off the ice at morning skate, indicating that he’ll get the start against the Rangers on Saturday. ... The Flyers have sent forward Max Willman from the taxi squad down to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. Taxi squad forwards Jackson Cates and Gerry Mayhew will be in the lineup against the Rangers. ... Sean Couturier (upper body), Ryan Ellis (lower body), and Derick Brassard (hip) are not skating, according to Yeo. Brassard is still considered “day-to-day,” but Yeo did not share timelines for Couturier and Ellis.