As Travis Sanheim stepped onto the practice rink, all of his Flyers teammates paused to tap their sticks and welcome him back.
Sanheim, who tested positive on Jan. 5, was the first of four top Flyers to return from COVID-19 protocols. Captain Claude Giroux, forward Travis Konecny, and top-pair defenseman Ivan Provorov have all fulfilled their five quarantine days but were not at practice Monday. Interim coach Mike Yeo said there’s a chance they could get all three back soon, but they’re waiting for negative test results.
Tuesday’s scheduled home game against the Carolina Hurricanes was postponed because of COVID-19-related issues affecting the Flyers.
Sanheim returned to the same defensive pairing he left, partnering with Rasmus Ristolainen in drills. However, Sanheim grabbed his sticks and walked off the ice after practicing for half an hour. He did not return.
“That was planned,” Yeo said. “We wanted him to participate in all except that last drill, and that’s when we booted him off.”
Since Sanheim was cleared Monday morning, the Flyers didn’t want to overwork him.
Sanheim typically carries a heavy load for the Flyers’ blueliners, but he will have to take on even more responsibility since his return coincided with Justin Braun’s positive test. If Provorov does not return soon, the Flyers will be down both of their top-pair defensemen as well as injured Ryan Ellis, who started the season on the top pair.
In their absence, the Sanheim-Ristolainen pair moved to the top. Nick Seeler and Cam York made up the second pairing, and Keith Yandle and Kevin Connauton remained the third pairing.
One step forward, two steps back
The Flyers are trying not to get frustrated during their five-game losing streak because that’s “just not the path that you want to go down,” Cam Atkinson said. They’re trying to focus on positives, like increased opportunities for young players, but circumstances keep working against them.
“You know, I think we have shown signs of playing the right way, but as soon as we show signs, it seems like something bad happens,” Atkinson said. “But, like I said, I think we have to continue to keep pushing each other and keep getting better.”
At first it was the extended holiday break that cut into their momentum. Since then, injuries and positive COVID-19 tests have piled up.
In addition to the players in COVID protocols, Ellis, Sean Couturier and Derick Brassard are still out with injuries. Brassard is still day-to-day. Couturier “didn’t feel real good” Monday. Yeo said he’s in a “wait-and-see” stage, but they don’t expect him back this week. And center Patrick Brown, who was in a collision Saturday, is now out with a lower body injury.
Yeo also gave an update on defenseman Samuel Morin, who has been out since the offseason after knee surgery.
“He’s not skating at all right now,” Yeo said. “He’s not looking like any time soon, let’s put it that way.”
Until Yeo talks to Morin and general manager Chuck Fletcher, he’s simply calling it a “lower body injury,” he said. However, Yeo doesn’t expect Morin back this season.
Yeo knows it would be easy for the Flyers to get frustrated but said it’s his job to make sure the team does not. Instead, he pointed out what the Flyers did well in past games and acknowledged that a lot of the problems stem come from unnecessary mistakes.
“So some of the reads and some of the plays that we make with the puck are crucial, and that’s what we have to understand,” Yeo said. “Especially right now, when you are missing guys. We have to just, I don’t want to say play error-free hockey, but that’s pretty close to what we have to have as far as a mindset.”
James van Riemsdyk, who scored two goals in the Flyers’ last game, was absent from practice because his wife had a baby. ... After Connecticut high school hockey player Teddy Balkind died last week from a collision on the ice, players across the league reached out to Atkinson, who is from Riverside, Conn. Atkinson said that his heart goes out to everyone involved and that he will be raising money in support. He will share details through social media.