When Ryan Ellis and Kevin Hayes joined their Flyers teammates for practice Tuesday, they both shook things up a little.
Hayes, returning from sports hernia surgery, was sporting a freshly shaven jaw, making it hard to recognize him at first. He joined the penalty kill on a four-on-three drill and cycled in on the fourth line, playing with a mix of Nate Thompson, Nic Aubé-Kubel, Patrick Brown, and Zack MacEwen.
Coach Alain Vigneault said Hayes has been cleared for practice completely, including contact drills, but he has not been cleared for games yet. The earliest he sees Hayes returning is next Tuesday against Calgary.
“I’m assuming we’re at the six- or seven-week period right now, so I’m assuming he should be cleared shortly,” Vigneault said.
Ellis, who has been out with a lower-body injury, didn’t go so far as to shave his beard. But he stayed on the ice after the warmup and made up the third pair with Keith Yandle. Justin Braun, who played with Yandle until the injuries hit the defensive unit, continued to play on the top pair with Ivan Provorov. Nick Seeler, the player who has helped the Flyers get through this recent string of injuries, made up the fourth pair with multiple forwards acting as his partner.
When Ellis was healthy, he played the point on the second power-play unit. Yandle, who started out on the top unit, moved to the point of the second group. Ellis only played on the penalty kill at practice Wednesday.
Vigneault said Ellis, whose status has been “day to day” since last appearing in a game Oct. 20, has a chance to play Wednesday based on how morning skate goes. If he’s not ready, though, he might not travel with the Flyers on the Raleigh-Dallas trip.
“We’ll see how he responds tomorrow. I’m not saying that he won’t play tomorrow. I haven’t talked to Jimmy [McCrossin] yet,” Vigneault said, referring to the team’s director of medical services. “But there is an outside chance. If he doesn’t play tomorrow, practices Wednesday and feels good, not Wednesday, Thursday, then might be one of those two. If he’s a definite no for either game, he’s not coming.”
If he does play, Ellis will ease back in by starting on the third pair with Yandle.
Who’s in goal
Vigneault knows Carter Hart will be starting in goal Wednesday. After that, he does not know who will start where in the two back-to-back road games.
» READ MORE: Derick Brassard the unsung hero in Flyers' hot start
So far, it hasn’t mattered for the Flyers. Whether Hart or Martin Jones is in goal, the Flyers have received solid goalie play. Through seven games, Hart has a .926 save percentage. Jones, has been just impressive in his three starts, compiling a .950 save percentage,including against tough opposition like Boston and Washington.
It’s a good sign for the team as it moves forward for multiple reasons.
“The consistent factor in the NHL if you look at the teams that are winning, take a look at the goalie stats, too,” Vigneault said. “They’re related. Both our guys right now are on top of their game, which I think just breeds confidence throughout the rest of the lineup.”
Forward Travis Konecny said the goalies are an example of a major theme the team talked about at the start of camp. The Flyers emphasized internal competition so that players would push each other to be better.
Although Konecny doesn’t try to score on Hart or Jones in games, he’s gone up against them at practice, where both goalies have been sharp as well.
“You notice when Hartsy and Joner are making good saves,” Konecny said. “It’s good for us, too, in practice. It’s challenging to score, so it’s fun.”
The Flyers play Toronto at 7:30 Wednesday at the Wells Fargo Center. The Maple Leafs are 7-5-1. ... Forward Samu Tuomaala has been loaned from the Phantoms to Kärpät of the Finnish Liiga. ... Sean Couturier is looking forward to seeing the Maple Leafs’ Wayne Simmonds. Simmonds used to be a Flyer, and Couturier said he’s lucky to be his friend.