Derek Grant and Nate Thompson didn’t make splashy debuts with their new team Tuesday, but considering the circumstances, the veteran centers held their own and should get better as they get acclimated to their linemates and Alain Vigneault’s system.
“For the most part, I thought both players showed smarts to their game,” Vigneault said after the Flyers defeated visiting San Jose, 4-2, for their fourth straight win. “And I thought they got better and more comfortable as the game went on.”
Grant centered the third line, with James van Riemsdyk and Tyler Pitlick as his wingers, and Thompson centered Michael Raffl and Nic Aube-Kubel on the fourth line. Both newcomers played about 12½ minutes, including shifts on the penalty kill.
For Grant, it was a particularly long travel day, which contributed to an expected slow start Tuesday. He took a red-eye flight from California and arrived in Philadelphia early in the morning before heading to the Wells Fargo Center for video sessions and the morning skate.
“He flew all night. I knew he would be looking for his legs a little bit,” said Vigneault, whose surging team will host the streaking New York Rangers on Friday.
Despite not getting much sleep, Grant, 29, contributed three hits and won six of 10 faceoffs in the Flyers’ win.
“You’re running on adrenaline and nervous excitement to start,” he said. “I started to settle in as the game went on. It’s always nice to get the first one over with.”
Grant said you’re “gripping your stick a little bit, obviously, in your first game” and “thinking a little bit more than normal. A little bit of different systems and stuff and playing with new guys. But usually it takes a couple practices and you start feeling better. I’m just excited for the opportunity.”
Thompson, 35, echoed Grant’s sentiments. He, too, had a sluggish start but got into a rhythm as the game progressed. He contributed a blocked shot, a takeaway, and two hits, winning 2 of 5 faceoffs. He played 1 minute, 26 seconds on a penalty-killing unit that was 2-for-2.
“I kind of had a rough first period, just kind of getting my timing and getting some chemistry with my linemates and the team,” he said. “I felt as the game went on, we got better and better.”
Thompson and Grant were happy to be traded from non-playoff teams to a contender.
“It’s a great group of guys,” Thompson said of his early impression of his new teammates. “Seems like they are having a lot of fun, so it’s fun to be a part of it. We just need to keep it going.”
The Flyers (36-20-7) will play a home-and-home series with the Rangers (34-24-4) on Friday and Sunday. The Blueshirts have won a franchise-record eight straight road games; overall, they have won four in a row.
The Rangers, who dropped a 5-1 decision in Philadelphia on Dec. 23, will play at Montreal on Thursday.