Flyers Gameday: 2/18/21 vs. NYR
GAME 14: FLYERS vs. RANGERS
Alain Vigneault's Philadelphia Flyers (8-3-2), idle on the schedule since Feb. 7 due to four successive games being postponed due to COVID-19 outbreaks on the New Jersey Devils and the Flyers themselves, return to action tonight. They will host David Quinn's New York Rangers (4-7-3) at the Wells Fargo Center, with a 7 p.m. ET start time.
Sunday's game at Madison Square Garden, which was to be the first of eight meetings this season between the Flyers and Rangers, was postponed until a yet-to-be determined date and time. After this game, the Flyers will rematch with the Rangers next Wednesday (Feb. 24) at the Wells Fargo Center, March 15 and 17 at MSG, March 25 and 27 at the Wells Fargo Center and then April 23 back at MSG again.
One full practice (held yesterday) and one morning skate (today) will be all the prep the shorthanded Flyers get for the Rangers after a teamwide quarantine that began last Tuesday after Claude Giroux tested positive for the coronavirus and multiple other positive cases turned up in the days that followed.
Due to the four consecutive postponements, the Flyers dropped from second place in the East Division to third. The team has 18 points and a .692 points percentage through 13 games played. The second-place Islanders have 19 points and a .633 points percentage through 15 games. The first-place Bruins have 22 points and a.786 points percentage through 14 games. The Flyers are currently one point ahead of Washington with Philly holding a game in hand and three points ahead of Pittsburgh with a game in hand.
The good news is that the Flyers' COVID protocol list has not expanded in the last four days. The bad news, short-term, is that it also has not decreased and there's a strong possibility that the Flyers will remain shorthanded for Sunday's game against the Boston Bruins after this game against the Rangers. The team departs for Lake Tahoe early Friday afternoon.
With seven players unavailable due to being on the COVID-19 protocol list -- it is believed but not confirmed that most or all currently on the list are due to positive tests -- the Flyers are going to have to use a makeshift lineup among their forwards due to the current unavailability of team captain Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Travis Konecny, Oskar Lindblom and Scott Laughton. Also unavailable are veteran starting defenseman Justin Braun and rookie center Morgan Frost, who was already on the injured reserve list due to shoulder dislocation repair surgery.
Tonight's game will mark the first time since March 1, 2009 (a 3-0 road loss to the Devils), that the Flyers will ice a starting lineup that features neither Giroux nor Voracek. While Voracek did not arrive until the 2011-12 season, the aforementioned game was the last one that Giroux missed before Voracek's arrival. Ever since, every Flyers lineup has had one or both of the players in it. Giroux's streak of 328 consecutive games played will end tonight.
Starting in place of the absent forwards are Connor Bunnaman, and Taxi Squad players Samuel Morin (second NHL game this season), David Kase (first NHL game of the season), veteran center Andy Andreoff (first competitive game since March 2020) and second-year pro winger Maksim Sushko (NHL debut).
The Flyers held a full practice on Wednesday with all available players participating plus Taxi Squad veteran defenseman Nate Prosser in his first day off COVID protocol: a total of 24 skaters. Right now, the Flyers have exactly 12 available forwards, eight available defensemen (including Mark Friedman and Taxi Squad recall Derrick Pouliot) and three available goaltenders. Felix Sandström practiced with the Taxi Squad on Wednesday. Neither Taxi Squad goalie Alex Lyon nor Taxi Squad winger Carsen Twarynski skated on Tuesday or Wednesday, so it appears that both have been temporarily deactivated from the Taxi Squad (possibly but not confirmed to be due to COVID reasons).
Carter Hart will get the start in goal for the Flyers. Vigneault will speak to the media at 10:45 a.m. today.
The Rangers, who lost 5-2 to the Devils on Tuesday in New Jersey's first game back after a prolonged COVID-related layoff, are winless in their last four games. The team has had trouble scoring goals this season.
It appears, however, that superstar Artemi Panarin will be back in the Rangers lineup after missing the last two games. He practiced in full on Wednesday on a line with Ryan Strome and second-year NHLer Kaapo Kakko. Fast-rising young defenseman K'Andre Miller is also expected to return to the Rangers' lineup after missing the Devils game.
However, the Rangers will be without all-situations, minutes-eating defenseman Jacob Trouba for four to six weeks due to an upper-body (suspected wrist) injury. The team is also without talented young forward Filip Chytil, who was already on IR and was subsequently placed on the COVID-19 protocol list.
This game will be the Flyers first-ever meeting with 18-year-old left winger Alexis Lafreniere. The highly touted first overall pick of the 2020 NHL Draft has one point (a goal against the Sabres on Jan. 28) through his first 14 games in the NHL. This is hardly unusual or surprising. The now 20-year-old Kakko, selected second overall in 2019, had 10 goals and 23 points as a rookie last season. He has three points (2g, 1a) in 13 games played so far this year.
Much less expected for New York has been the struggles of Mika Zibanejad. Coming off a monster season last year that saw him rack up 41 goals and 75 points in just 57 games played, he is expected to be a prime contributor. The 26-year-old center, however, has just one goal and three points in 14 games this season.
Highly touted goalie Igor Sheshertkin has played well this season overall, but needs much better goal support than he's been getting. There have been rumblings about Quinn's job security if the team's struggles continue.
Projected lineups (Will be updated)
25 James van Riemsdyk - 14 Sean Couturier - 86 Joel Farabee
12 Michael Raffl - 13 Kevin Hayes - 62 Nicolas Aube-Kubel
82 Connor Bunnaman - 19 Nolan Patrick - 72 David Kase
55 Sam Morin - 10 Andy Andreoff - 64 Maksim Sushko
9 Ivan Provorov - 5 Phil Myers
6 Travis Sanheim - 53 Shayne Gostisbehere
8 Robert Hägg - 56 Erik Gustafsson
79 Carter Hart
[37 Brian Elliott]
PP1: JVR, Couturier, Farabee, Patrick, Gustafsson
PP2: Raffl, Hayes, Kase, Provorov, Gostisbehere (Aube-Kubel also took reps in a 4F/1D set)
Scratches: 3 Mark Friedman (healthy).
COVID-19 protocol: 28 Claude Giroux, 61 Justin Braun, 93 Jakub Voracek, 23 Oskar Lindblom, 21 Scott Laughton, 11 Travis Konecny, 48 Morgan Frost (IR, shoulder surgery).
20 Chris Kreider - 93 Mika Zibanejad – 89 Pavel Buchnevich
10 Artemi Panarin - 16 Ryan Strome - 24 Kaapo Kakko
13 Alexis Lafreniere - 17 Kevin Rooney - 43 Colin Blackwell
48 Brendan Lemieux - 21 Brett Howden - 33 Phil DiGiuseppe
55 Ryan Lindgren - 23 Adam Fox
79 K'Andre Miller - 42 Brendan Smith
25 Libor Hajek - 22 Anthony Bitetto
31 Igor Shesterkin
40 Alexandar Georgiev
PP1: Strome, Zibanejad, Kreider, Panarin, Fox
PP2:Lafreniere, Kakko, Buchnevich, Lemieux, Miller
Scratches: 8 Jacob Trouba (thumb, 4-to-6 weeks from Feb. 17), 12 Julien Gauthier (healthy),
27 Jack Johnson (groin injury rehab, questionable to doubtful), 72 Filip Chytil (IR).