Despite being mandated by the NHL to play Thursday while being severely shorthanded because of the COVID-19 protocol, the Flyers aren’t complaining.
Fact is, they just want to get back on the ice.
They will host the New York Rangers in their first game in 11 days.
“We’ve already had four games that were postponed that will have to be played at another time, and it was already a very condensed schedule,” coach Alain Vigneault said Wednesday after practice in Voorhees. “At the end of the day, we have to play some games. What we have right now are 12 healthy forwards and eight healthy D. ... No issues. We have to go out and try to find a way to win a game.”
“We’re happy to play,” left winger James van Riemsdyk said. “Those decisions [on postponing games] are above my pay grade, so we’re playing [Thursday] and I’m just excited to get back out there.”
The Flyers will be missing six regulars who are on the COVID-19 protocol list — Claude Giroux, Travis Konecny, Jake Voracek, Scott Laughton, Oskar Lindblom, and Justin Braun — and will use their B team. Five of the sidelined players are forwards, and four of them are among their top scorers.
At Wednesday’s practice in Voorhees, the Flyers had 24 players, up from 16 the previous day, when some were still going through a quarantine. They will also have a morning skate Thursday.
The NHL determines whether a game should be played when the coronavirus is a factor.
“The COVID situation is a wild card, but that is why we have a taxi squad,” Bill Daly, the NHL’s deputy commissioner, said in an email to The Inquirer.
And, yes, the Flyers will use their taxi squad against the Rangers.
Based on Wednesday’s practice, five new forwards will be added to the lineup: Andy Andreoff and Samuel Morin from the taxi squad; Maksim Sushko and David Kase after being promoted from the Phantoms; and Connor Bunnaman, a frequent extra player.
Daly was asked if there was a certain number that determined whether a COVID-stricken team would or would not play. The Flyers have seven players on the list, so Daly was asked if, say, a team must play if less than eight players were on the list.
“There is no magic number,” he said.
So the Flyers will patch together a lineup Thursday.
The Flyers’ game in Washington on Feb. 9 was postponed even though Philadelphia had just three players on the COVID-19 list. Because of contact tracing, however, there was concern that more positive tests could be coming. As it turned out, that’s exactly what happened.
The Flyers’ COVID list has steadied in recent days. Some of the players on the list might be able to play next week.
Minnesota, Buffalo, and New Jersey all returned this week after long coronavirus-caused pauses in their schedules. Minnesota played its first game in 14 days, Buffalo played its first in 15 days, and New Jersey played its first in 16 days.
The Flyers (8-3-2) will be playing their first game in 11 days, and they have more players on the COVID list (seven) than the Wild (5), Sabres (4) or Devils (3) when they returned.
In their return to action, Minnesota lost to Los Angeles, 4-0; Buffalo lost to the Islanders, 3-1; and New Jersey defeated the Rangers, 5-2.
The Rangers (4-7-3) are expected to get superstar winger Artemi Panarin (15 points in 12 games) back in the lineup Thursday after missing two games with an unspecified injury.
New York has one of the NHL’s lowest points percentages (.393).
Based on Wednesday’s practice, here is how the Flyers’ revised lines and pairings will look Thursday:
Line 1: Sean Couturier centering van Riemsdyk and Joel Farabee.
Line 2: Kevin Hayes centering Michael Raffl and Nic Aube-Kubel.
Line 3: Nolan Patrick centering Kase and Bunnaman.
Line 4: Andreoff centering Morin and Sushko, 22, who is expected to make his NHL debut.
Pairing 1: Ivan Provorov and Phil Myers.
Pairing 2: Travis Sanheim and Shayne Gostisbehere.
Pairing 3: Robert Hagg and Erik Gustafsson.
Vigneault said there is a chance he will go with seven or eight defensemen, but he later hinted that he will use a 12-forward, six-defensemen lineup.
Mark Friedman and Derrick Pouliot are the other defensemen available, Vigneault said.
Asked about how much the rust factor would bother his team, Vigneault said, “That’s a real good question, and I don’t have an answer for you. ... But I really liked today’s practice. I really liked our focus, our intensity, and our execution was good. There was a buzz, there was energy.”
They will try to take that onto the ice Thursday.
“Let’s go and let’s play some hockey,” Vigneault said.