The 13-14-6 Flyers will have to pull out an upset if they want to avoid a three-game losing streak Thursday night in South Philadelphia. They’re not just undermanned, they’re facing the hottest team in hockey in the 19-8-5 cross-state rivals Pittsburgh Penguins.
Here’s three storylines along with the projected lineups:
Because of COVID protocols, the Flyers will be without Claude Giroux, Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny, Travis Sanheim, Nick Seeler, and Jackson Cates. They also don’t have Sean Couturier (upper body), Ryan Ellis (lower body), and Nate Thompson (shoulder).
Konecny and Sanheim were placed in the NHL’s COVID protocol Wednesday. Giroux, Provorov, Seeler and Cates all missed the Flyers’ 4-1 loss Tuesday to the Ducks in Anaheim. Carter Hart and Scott Laughton had to stay home for the first three games of the Flyers’ 1-2-1 West Coast road trip.
“I’m trying not to worry too much about stuff like that,” James van Riemsdyk said Thursday of the league’s decision to still play the game. “Obviously it’s out of our control to a degree. You just have to hope that everyone making these decisions, that it’s kind of relatively fair across the board for that sort of stuff. I don’t want to waste too much energy thinking about stuff like that. Just trying to focus on the game tonight.”
As a result of the absences, the team called up defenseman Egor Zamula and forward Connor Bunnaman from Lehigh Valley.
Three 21-year-olds will play for the Flyers: Zamula, Cam York, and Joel Farabee.
“There’s not a lot of people out there that are going to feel sorry for us that we have people out of the lineup,” Flyers interim head coach Mike Yeo said Thursday after his team’s morning skate. “The bottom line is that two points are being awarded for this game tonight. I certainly know that our opponent’s not going to feel sorry for us. It’s been probably the best team in the league over the last little while.
“As far as I’m concerned, it’s a great challenge, it’s a great opportunity. The bigger the challenge, the greater the opportunity. We need guys to step up, we need guys to step up with strong individual games. Not play just to blend in, but play to make a difference, play to win a hockey game here tonight. Collectively as a team, we have to be real strong in our team game.”
The Penguins are rolling. And when I mean rolling, I mean rolling.
They’ve won nine straight, a stretch in which they’ve recorded eight regulation victories, 4.33 goals per game, and a plus-21 goal differential.
Pittsburgh played Wednesday night at home, picking up a 5-3 decision over the St. Louis Blues.
Thought they’ll be missing nine role players, the Flyers will be regaining forward Derick Brassard.
The 34-year-old forward missed 15 of the Flyers’ last 16 games because of a hip probably. Ideally, the Flyers would have liked to have gotten him in a practice before his return, but they can’t afford that right now.
“The good news is it’s not like he hasn’t been skating,” Yeo said. “[Player development coach] Kjell Samuelsson was doing a good job putting him through the paces back here. I know the skates were challenging for him.
“In a perfect world, would have had the opportunity to get him in there and compete and battle and get involved with the group. Number one, we don’t have the bodies. Number two, we haven’t had the practices. I think that we’ve had three practices since I’ve taken this position, three full practices just the way the schedule has been.
“Unfortunately, we’re not living in a perfect world right now and he’ll be in tonight. The good thing is 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.”
Project lineups via NHL.com.
Flyers projected lineup
Joel Farabee — Scott Laughton — Cam Atkinson
Connor Bunnaman — Kevin Hayes — Max Willman
Derick Brassard — Morgan Frost — James van Riemsdyk
Oskar Lindblom — Patrick Brown — Zack MacEwen
Cam York — Justin Braun
Egor Zamula — Rasmus Ristolainen
Keith Yandle — Kevin Connauton
Scratched: Gerry Mayhew
Injured: Sean Couturier (upper body), Nate Thompson (shoulder), Ryan Ellis (lower body)
COVID-19 protocol: Jackson Cates, Nick Seeler, Claude Giroux, Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny, Travis Sanheim
Penguins projected lineup
Jake Guentzel — Sidney Crosby — Bryan Rust
Evan Rodrigues — Jeff Carter — Kasperi Kapanen
Zach Aston-Reese — Teddy Blueger — Brock McGinn
Danton Heinen — Brian Boyle — Dominik Simon
Brian Dumoulin — Kris Letang
Mike Matheson — John Marino
Marcus Pettersson — Chad Ruhwedel
Scratched: Kasper Bjorkqvist, Mark Friedman, Juuso Riikola, Radim Zohorna
Injured: Evgeni Malkin (knee), Jason Zucker (lower body)
COVID-19 protocol: Drew O’Connor