Following an extended holiday break, NHL games are set to resume on Tuesday.
The Philadelphia Flyers will start by heading west for a four-game swing. But they’ll be missing some important players when they open a three-in-four set on Wednesday in Seattle
Since returning from the holiday break, the club has announced that two staff members and five players have been added to the team’s Covid protocol list. Goaltender Carter Hart, forwards Sean Couturier, Derick Brassard and Scott Laughton and defenseman Ryan Ellis are all expected to be unavailable.
Willman re-joined the team on Monday. Philadelphia’s full practice after the holiday break featured a jumble of lines — especially down the middle.
Lines and pairings at practice:
— Charlie O'Connor (@charlieo_conn) December 27, 2021
On Monday, general manager Chuck Fletcher said he’s hopeful that Hayes and Frost could be cleared in time for the road trip. The Flyers are scheduled to play in Seattle on Wednesday, San Jose on Thursday, Los Angeles on Saturday and Anaheim on Jan. 4.
Having Hayes or Frost — or both — would go a long way toward helping coach Mike Yeo lock down his lines effectively.
“I would say that that’s sort of not what we’re expecting,” he said. “And that’s not because we don’t feel that he could do that. We just feel that he’s done such a good job with that fourth line. He can give us extra minutes. He can play in different situations.
“We’ve liked the identity of our fourth line and the role that he’s been playing in it. So if Hayesy or Frosty are capable of filling that position, then we’d be looking at that.”
Max Willman Returns
Willman was happy to be back at practice. After scoring his first two NHL goals and adding an assist in the four games before entering protocols, the 25-year-old journeyman admitted that it was frustrating to be forced onto the Covid list. He felt he’d been starting to gain confidence at the NHL level.
During his last four games, Willman saw his ice time creep up. And the Flyers went 3-0-1 — starting to show signs of improvement under their new coach.
Because Philadelphia’s last two games before the holiday break were postponed, the Brown University alumnus Willman ended up missing just one contest while he was sidelined — the Flyers’ 4-3 overtime win over the Ottawa Senators.
No Homecoming For Hart
Wednesday will mark the Flyers’ first-ever NHL game in the state of Washington. It’s a shame that local hero Carter Hart won’t get to make that start.
The 23-year-old was a junior hockey star with Washington’s Everett Silvertips. He was named the Western Hockey League’s top goaltender for three straight years, between 2016 and 2018.
Having Hart play Wednesday would also have set up a homecoming on Thursday for Martin Jones. He spent six seasons with the San Jose Sharks before he was bought out of his contract last summer. Subsequently, Jones signed with the Flyers as a free agent.
“I just told Jonesy on the ice that our plan’s out the window,” said Yeo. “We want Jonesy to play our first game (against Seattle). And then from there, we’ll just make a determination.”
Barring any other unexpected wrinkles, Felix Sandstrom is expected to make the trip as Jones’s backup. The 24-year-old was drafted in the third round by the Flyers in 2015. He has not yet played an NHL game.
With the Lehigh Valley Phantoms this season, Sandstrom has a record of 3-7-4, with an .896 save percentage and 3.08 goals-against average.
“We’re certainly very comfortable and confident playing Felix,” said Yeo. “I’ve had a chance to watch him play. He really looks like he’s taken a step in his career.
“That said, I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of playing Jonesy in the back-to-back games,” he added. “I think what what we’ll do is, we’ll just have a plan going into that first game and then make the reads after that.”
Sizing Up The Opponents
With the Omicron variant spreading like wreaking havoc on all the best-laid plans, the Flyers’ current Covid situation is far from unique.
The Kraken added a ninth name to their protocol list on Monday — forward Mason Appleton. And after already going through a major outbreak earlier in the season, the Sharks added goaltender Adin Hill to their list current on Monday. He joins forwards Jonathan Dahlen and Tomas Hertl.
In Los Angeles, five players are on the Kings’ list, including key forwards Phillip Danault and Dustin Brown and goaltender Cal Petersen. The Ducks added young forwards Sam Steel and Maxime Comtois to their list on Sunday.
Of course, lots could still change before those game days. The situation, once again, is fluid. On Sunday, the NHL introduced revamped taxi squads and tools to offer some salary-cap relief for teams with Covid roster issues. It’s clear that the league is now hoping to minimize postponements wherever possible. As of Monday evening, 70 games already need to be made up in order to complete a full 82-game regular season.
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