For the Flyers, Day I of Training Camp II was, well, a little bit different Monday.
For one, there wasn’t a packed crowd watching in Voorhees. Because of the coronavirus protocols, no fans are allowed at practices.
For another, players came into camp in various conditions because not everyone had access to training facilities/apparatus during the four-month virus pause.
The hope is that after about three weeks of practices and one exhibition game, the Flyers will be ready when they restart their season Aug. 2 by playing Boston in the round-robin tournament in Toronto.
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At times, Flyers captain Claude Giroux didn’t think the season would resume.
“There were a lot of things happening. One week I would think we would come back. The other week I thought there would be no chance,” he said after camp opened Monday in Voorhees. “To be where we are right now, it’s pretty fun to get all the guys back together.”
“Once things were starting to get under control and we were able to get back here, there was a lot of excitement going through the group chats,” right winger Travis Konecny said. “We’re definitely excited to be here now.”
Giroux said the Flyers “started the season with one goal -- to win the Stanley Cup. Now we have a chance to do that. Guys are pretty excited to get back on the ice and compete together. Should definitely be a little different. Obviously there are a lot of things: no fans, staying in one city. It’s very different, but we are going to have to get on the same page and try to enjoy it.”
They also need to get back into sync quickly. Camp won’t last long. The Flyers will head to Toronto on July 26.
The Flyers had won nine of their last 10 games before the season was halted March 12.
“Everybody is starting from Point A,” Giroux said. “The momentum is obviously huge in hockey. We have to find the way we were playing. We need to work on working as a team and keep playing the same way we were at the end of the year. A lot of teams, even us, we have a few guys back [from injuries]. It’s definitely a unique situation here. For us, it’s trying to be able to get the momentum as fast as you can.”
Giroux liked the way the team looked Monday but knows the Flyers have lots of work ahead of them.
“We have two weeks here to get in the best shape we can. Get our legs under us. Get our hands going,” he said. “I think we are going to have some good practices here. It’s going to be important that we’re all in this together. We’re going to try and find our game. That’s all I can say.”
As far as pace and execution, defenseman Matt Niskanen said, Monday seemed like a typical first day of camp after a long layoff.
“We had almost normal off-season in length of time, but players’ availability for gyms and ice times were a really wide range,” Niskanen said. “Some guys skated a lot. Some not much at all. Kind of all over the map there. I felt all right [Monday]. Certainly hope I feel better soon. For the first day, I thought it was productive. Guys’ passes were all right. Guys’ legs were all right. It was a productive first day. It’s going to be a process, for sure. I’m sure nobody felt fantastic. Hopefully we get a little better every day and hit a high level when we need to in a couple weeks.”
As camp progresses, the drills will get faster and cleaner. Gradually, the players’ timing will return. The sooner the better.
Niskanen said the team’s exhibition game and the round-robin tourney will help immensely.
“Obviously those three games are for seeding, but we’re going to view that as we need to get better each game,” he said. “When that first round hits (Aug. 11), everybody’s got a good feel for the game back again and feel for your linemates. Everybody will be on the same page again on how we want to play and what are systems are -- our trigger moments and all that good stuff. It’s going to be a process.”
A process, the Flyers hope, that will be accelerated because of the confidence they gained by their outstanding play before the season was paused.
Practice was divided into two groups -- one in the morning, the other in the afternoon -- on Monday.
That meant there were some line combinations and defensive pairings that seemed logical and others that will undoubtedly be adjusted.
For what it’s worth, here they were:
Aug. 2: Flyers vs. Boston in Toronto.
Aug. 6: Flyers vs. Washington in Toronto.
Aug. 9: Flyers vs. Tampa Bay in Toronto.
If you had to grade both GM Chuck Fletcher and head coach Alain Vigneault since they started with the Flyers, what would you give them?
(@theashcity via Twitter)
Answer: Thanks for the question, Luc. Fletcher, in his first full season as the Flyers’ GM, has benefited from ex-GM Ron Hextall’s strong drafts but has put his stamp on this year’s team by acquiring and signing Kevin Hayes and adding Matt Niskanen, Justin Braun, and Tyler Pitlick in moves that turned golden. He also made deadline deals for Derek Grant and Nate Thompson, and both moves were helping the Flyers before the season was paused. I’d give him an A-minus.
As for Vigneault, his first season with the Flyers has been superb heading into the 24-team NHL tournament. He led the Flyers to the NHL’s biggest turnaround this season and is one of the top coach-of-the-year candidates. Vigneault gets an A for the regular season, but how the Flyers fare in the playoffs will finish off his grade. Ditto Fletcher.