In a perfect world, coach Mike Yeo would have watched Derick Brassard go through a practice before playing him in a game. But the world is far from perfect, and the Flyers have lost the luxury of time.
The Flyers are heading into Thursday’s game game against the Pittsburgh Penguins missing nine players because of COVID-19 protocols and injuries. They “don’t have the bodies,” so Brassard will be thrown out there on the second line despite not having participated in a practice run by Yeo.
Brassard, who has been out with a hip injury, has been at morning skates, but the last time he practiced, Alain Vigneault was the coach. He was close to returning but went into COVID-19 protocols ahead of the Flyers’ holiday trip. Once he came out, the Flyers decided it would be best for him to wait out the trip before returning to the team. Luckily, Yeo said, Brassard has been skating on his own, so he’s not completely unprepared.
“Kjell Samuelsson was doing a good job putting him through the paces back here and I know the skates were challenging for him,” Yeo said. “The good thing is that he is a player that plays with his head a lot, too. I don’t expect it to be a real difficult transition for him. I think he’ll get in there quickly and find his game.”
At Thursday’s morning skate, Brassard worked on a line with Morgan Frost and James van Riemsdyk. Before his injury, Brassard had mostly played center, but he was on the left with Frost in the center. Like Yeo, van Riemsdyk thinks he’ll transition back well since he’s “an extremely smart and skilled player,” and they have chemistry.
Brassard’s return comes the day after top-line forward Travis Konecny and defenseman Travis Sanheim were placed in COVID-19 protocols. While on the West Coast, forward Claude Giroux and defenseman Ivan Provorov tested positive on Jan. 4, and defenseman Nick Seeler and forward Jackson Cates entered on Jan. 3. Top-line center Sean Couturier and top-pair defenseman Ryan Ellis are both out of quarantine, but they have not returned because of injuries. Forward Nate Thompson is also still out with an injury suffered Nov. 26.
The last time Yeo spoke with all the players in COVID-19 protocols, they all said they were asymptomatic and feeling fine. Those who tested positive on the West Coast safely returned to Philadelphia Thursday.
With so many absences, lots of players have been called to step up. Rather than get frustrated about the situation, van Riemsdyk said they’re trying to focus on the positives while trusting that the people making decisions are keeping it “relatively fair across the board.
“It’s good opportunities for guys to play an expanded role or to get a chance to show what they can do,” van Riemsdyk said.
Connor Bunnaman and Egor Zamula are the Flyers’ latest callups.
Poised for a debut
With two defensemen down with COVID-19 and one out with an injury, Zamula came up from the Lehigh Valley Phantoms for his Flyers season debut and his third career NHL game.
Although Zamula hasn’t skated with the Flyers since training camp, he showed presence and poise Thursday, which impressed the veterans.
“He seems to just really know how to play the game,” van Riemsdyk said. “So I think that’s the biggest thing that jumps out about him.”
Yeo said he has heard good things about Zamula’s performance with the Phantoms, and believes he’s seen the characteristics of a good defenseman in him. Yeo also said Zamula has poise, as well as size, skating ability, and a good range and reach with his stick. Zamula is still missing the strength to compete needed at the NHL level, but Yeo thinks that’s something he’ll develop.
Zamula will be skating on the second pair with Rasmus Ristolainen, who was helping him and directing him through morning skate. The Flyers expect the Penguins will challenge him on the forecheck and will jump on any execution errors.
“They’re gonna get on you,” Yeo said. “For you to be able to relieve that pressure, to get out of your zone, whether it’s to get off the ice or to get on the attack and he has certainly shown an awful lot of that ability, so that’s [what] we’ll be looking for from him tonight.”
The Flyers play the Penguins at 7 p.m. at Wells Fargo Center. They are coming off their holiday trip, which they finished 1-2-1. ... With so many absences, the Flyers had to rework the power play units in addition to the lines. Keith Yandle is the point on the top unit. Van Riemsdyk is net front, Cam Atkinson is in the slot, Kevin Hayes is on the left and Joel Farabee is on the right. The second unit is Zack MacEwen (net front), Oskar Lindblom (slot), Cam York (point), Frost (left), and Brassard (right).