Kevin Hayes can be a Vegas bachelor party on skates. Affable and unpredictable. When he rags the puck killing penalties, fans reach for the popcorn as coaches reach for the antacid.
He hands out nicknames like Halloween candy; even the coach calls the starting goalie “Cah-tah Haht,” mimicking Hayes’ thick Boston accent. He chirps at opponents and goes hard to the net.
Sean Couturier is the Flyers’ most important forward on the ice. Hayes might be the most critical in the locker room. All teams need personalities like Hayes, especially in pro sports where the pressure is immense and the margin between a win and a loss is thinner than a Karen’s skin.
Keeping things light
Claude Giroux and Justin Braun were added to the COVID-19 protocol list last Tuesday, which prompted the postponement of that night’s game against the Capitals. It was a sullen and sudden development for the Flyers, who mostly had escaped the wrath of COVID-19 save for Shayne Gostisbehere missing six games to start the season and Travis Sanheim sitting out Feb. 7.
“There’s nothing funny about COVID, obviously,” Hayes said. “But I just tried to Facetime ‘G’ and Justin when they were stuck in Washington, try to get them to laugh a little bit. I mean everyone that has COVID right now is handling it. The symptoms aren’t too bad. Hopefully, that keeps up.”
In addition to the injured Morgan Frost, there are six regulars on the Flyers’ COVID-19 protocol list who are not expected to play on Thursday against the Rangers. In addition to Giroux and Braun, the Flyers will be without Travis Konecny, Scott Laughton, Oskar Lindblom, and Jake Voracek.
“It’s tough to keep the mood light with guys who aren’t allowed to come to the rink and do the jobs that they’ve been doing for years now,” Hayes said.
Thursday is expected to be the first game Giroux misses in more than four years, snapping a 328-consecutive-game streak that is tied with Ivan Provorov for second in team history. Provorov, whose streak also is active, will move ahead of Giroux on Thursday and trail only Rod Brind’Amour (484 games).
Welcoming the new guys
The Flyers are 8-3-2 and were in third place after Tuesday’s games, with four of their own contests now postponed.
Coach Alain Vigneault is turning over, at least temporarily, one-third of his normal 18-player gameday roster. As stalwarts like Giroux and Voracek sit, taxi squad players such as Andy Andreoff, David Kase and Maksim Sushoff could be asked to contribute. Vigneault will have a better feel for Thursday’s lineup following Wednesday’s practice.
Hayes, meanwhile, will do his best to turn the pressure valve and release the built-up steam. But group texts and Facetime can only go so far. Nothing replaces the human contact of pulling off a locker-room prank or sticking an unsuspecting soul with a steakhouse check.
“I mean it’s tough with so many restrictions,” Hayes explained. “We’re not allowed to take them to dinner and stuff. [But] everyone is so welcoming. I’ve never been on a team, whether it’s in Philly or New York or Winnipeg, where new guys show up and you don’t welcome them.
“Hockey is a very welcoming sport and we do everything in our power to make sure that everyone is safe and happy and in their best spirits so they can provide their best efforts.”