Kevin Hayes is feeling better than he has in a long time, since before he had his first surgery.
Hayes had surgery on his abdomen in May then had another surgery during training camp. He returned Nov. 13 for the Flyers’ game against the Dallas Stars and played — and scored — the following game, against the Calgary Flames.
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Despite an awkward fall in the Nov. 16 game against the Flames, Hayes skated at practice the next day, although he said he kept it light. But when he woke up ahead of the Nov. 18 game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, he said, “I felt like I should figure it out.”
“When you don’t skate for so long, you feel fine, and then you think you’re good, and then you go out and play a couple of games, and all of a sudden, you’re back to square one,” Hayes said.
To avoid a cycle of playing a few games and then having to recover for a few games, Hayes felt it was in his best interest to sit out a little bit longer and to talk to the doctors to make sure he was completely ready to play.
Now that he’s back, Hayes plans to give it his all, and coach Alain Vigneault plans to let him, with the exception of playing him on the penalty kill. Vigneault said he will give Hayes a regular five-man shift and let him participate on the power play. Hayes doesn’t foresee there being further issues or a reason to take it slow.
“I don’t think so,” Hayes said. “I hope not. I mean, I’m stepping back in the lineup to give it my all every shift and to play 100%.”
There’s no way to predict there won’t be further injuries, Hayes said, because anyone can get injured at any time. But with regard to this specific issue, Hayes said he believes he’s healed.
Hayes is returning in time to play the New York Rangers, his old team from from 2014-19. However, after almost three years, he said the team is very different. The Flyers have basically as many of his former teammates and coaches, including Vigneault, Derick Brassard, and Keith Yandle, as the Rangers do.
Shuffling the deck
When Hayes returned for the first time this season, Vigneault responded with drastic changes to the lines. Hayes’s return to practice Tuesday also coincided with new-look lines.
“I did shuffle a few things yesterday,” Vigneault said. “We’re trying to find the right combinations and hopefully, we have.”
At practice, the first line was Joel Farabee, Sean Couturier, and James van Riemsdyk. Hayes is centering the second line with Scott Laughton and Travis Konecny on the wings. Claude Giroux, Morgan Frost and Cam Atkinson make up the third line, and Oskar Lindblom, Connor Bunnaman and Zack MacEwen the fourth.
The defensive pairings are different, as well, despite no new faces. Ivan Provorov and Nick Seeler are on the top pair, and Justin Braun and Yandle are the third pair. The second pair remains intact with Travis Sanheim and Rasmus Ristolainen.
As the Flyers try to stop their six-game skid, Vigneault said he knows he needs to get more out of his players.
“We’re trying to get the players performing up to their potential, their capabilities,” Vigneault said. “We’re working extremely hard, and when I say we, I mean management, coaches, players, to get back on the right track and play the right type of hockey.
“We get an opportunity tonight against a real good team, and let’s rise to the occasion.”
The Flyers play the Rangers at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Madison Square Garden. ... Carter Hart will start in goal. ... Vigneault said he didn’t think Brassard’s injury would last this long. General manager Chuck Fletcher said Brassard is still day to day with a “bit of a hip issue.”