Quick Hits: Practice Day, Covid List, Taxi Squad, Phantoms, TIFH
Quick Hits: February 23, 2021
1) The Philadelphia Flyers returned to the Delaware Valley yesterday on the heels of a 7-3 loss to Boston in the NHL Outdoor event in Lake Tahoe on Sunday. The team will resume practice today at the Skate Zone in Voorhees, convening for a noon session. On Wednesday, the Flyers will host the New York Rangers at the Wells Fargo Center.
2) Today marks two weeks since Claude Giroux and Justin Braun were placed on the NHL's COVID-19 protocol list. One or both could potentially exit the list today, although it might be tough to be available to play in a game with a single practice following two weeks in quarantine. On Thursday, it will be two weeks since the asymptomatic Jakub Voracek tested positive and was placed on the COVID list. Friday will be two weeks for Scott Laughton and Oskar Lindblom (whom the Flyers may opt to be extra cautious with in a return-to-play timetable because he is less than a year removed from a chemotherapy regimen while battling cancer). Sunday will be two weeks for Travis Konecny.
The timetables to practice and/or play would be shorter for anyone who was in the protocol for reasons other than a negative test. According to Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault, all of the Flyers players who tested positive for coronavirus either had mild symptoms or, as with Voracek, had asymptomatic infections.
The Flyers are on the road this weekend for back-to-back afternoon games on Saturday (1 p.m. ET) and Sunday (3 p.m. ET) against the Buffalo Sabres.
3) The Flyers cleared off four spots on their overcrowded Taxi Squad list on Monday, reassigning goalie Felix Sandström, defenseman Derrick Pouliot, and forwards David Kase and Matthew Strome to the AHL's Lehigh Valley Phantoms.
Teams are only allowed to have six players "actively" on the Taxi Squad at a given time, although they are permitted to temporarily "deactivate" players from the Taxi Squad list due to injuries or illness including COVID protocol. However, Taxi Squad players in the protocol are not identified on the NHL's official list.
For example, veteran defenseman Nate Prosser exited the protocol last Wednesday but was never part of the daily NHL report because he's on the Flyers Taxi Squad and not the active roster. Now that Prosser has had a few practices, he is available if needed for active roster duty again if called upon. Thus, Pouliot is now back with the Phantoms.
Last week, neither Carsen Twarynski nor goalie Alex Lyon skated at all with the Flyers' main group or the other Taxi Squad members. This likely meant that they were both deactivated, along with Prosser. The return of Sandström to the Phantoms' roster indicates that Lyon is now back on the "active" Taxi Squad and will practice today. However, one would think that Lyon gets a tune-up assignment to the Phantoms at some point soon because it's been more than 11 months since his last game action.
Strome was called up from the Phantoms to the Taxi Squad for one primary reason: the Flyers wanted a 13th healthy forward available for emergency duty because they only had 12 bodies at the time. Meanwhile, Lehigh Valley was still injury-riddled at the time and the call-up option for the Taxi Squad over the weekend in Lake Tahoe basically came down to Strome or Pascal Laberge. If 18-year-old Zayde Wisdom were to be recalled at some point, it would be to play and not for Taxi Squad duty. Wisdom had his second straight two-goal game for the Phantoms on Saturday.
Sushko, who remained in the lineup on Sunday in Lake Tahoe rather than Kase as Vigneault elected to dress Mark Friedman as a right winger (for the first time since minor hockey) and seventh defenseman option, is still with the Taxi Squad. Twice within the last week, Vigneault specifically said that he likes Sushko's combination of size (a 205-pound, 6-foot-plus frame) and above average north-south skating.
The Flyers basically had half a lineup the last two games and the rest was forced to be patchwork.
I thought it was an odd choice to dress Friedman as a winger, although he gave a pretty good accounting for himself in Sunday's game especially under the circumstances. I would also personally have kept in Kase over Sushko. I thought Kase played a little better than Sushko in last Thursday's game against the Rangers and is having a better early season with the Phantoms as well. Sushko had a solid rookie year in Lehigh Valley last and has long-term potential to become a viable bottom-six forward in the NHL but doesn't look ready yet to seriously make that push, at least not in my estimation at present.
Let's be honest here, though: It didn't really matter which Taxi Squad players the Flyers dressed on Sunday. There was simply no making up, in terms of lineup potency, for the absences of Giroux, Voracek, Konecny, Lindblom and Laughton (or even the injured Morgan Frost) against the powerhouse Bruins. That was way too much to expect from the likes of Sushko or Kase, Andy Andreoff, Samuel Morin or NHL roster player Friedman in a new position. The hope was that they'd hold their own and not got caved too badly.
4) Speaking of the Phantoms, Lehigh Valley is finally starting to get some forwards back after their lineup was shredded almost beyond recognition due to Taxi Squad/NHL recalls and a slew of injuries. Over the weekend, both Tanner Laczynski (groin) and Linus Sandin (undisclosed) returned to the lineup from injury-related absences. The team is still missing rookies Wade Allison (ankle surgery) and Tyson Foerster (shinbone fracture) as well as second-year pro Isaac Ratcliffe (ribs, collapsed lung).
Meanwhile, the club is off to a 3-0-1 start. Veteran goalie Zane McIntyre has played very well so far, as has second-year AHL contract forward Max Willman. Kase (playing center) clicked instantly with Wisdom, and those two figure to be reunited now that Kase was returned to Lehigh Valley after his one-game NHL/ one-game Taxi Squad stint with the Flyers.
5) Come tomorrow night, the New York Rangers will not have superstar Artemi Panarin in the lineup. They will also not have Kaapo Kakko, the second overall pick of the 2019 NHL Draft. Kakko and Panarin each scored shootout goals against the Flyers last Thursday, and Panarin also made a gorgeous setup in the third period for a Brendan Smith slam-dunk.
Kakko is on the NHL's COVID-19 protocol list. Panarin is taking personal leave from the club to tend to published allegations in the Russian media levied by his former KHL head coach, ex-NHLer Andrei Nazarov, that a 19-year-old Panarin physically assaulted an 18-year-old female in a hotel bar back in 2011.
Panarin vehemently disputes this story, and the Rangers have pledged to stand behind him, deeming the allegation to be entirely fabricated. There's also a strong political undercurrent to this story as Panarin is an unabashed critic of Vladimir Putin's regime and has shown social media support for opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Nazarov, conversely, is a staunch Putin supporter.
6) Feb. 23 Flyers Alum birthday: John Druce (1966).
7) Today in Flyers History: Feb. 23, 1988
The Flyers battered the Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena by an 11-6 score after trailing 3-0 early and 5-1 in the second period.
Philly broke loose for seven unanswered goals in the third period. Mark Howe led the way with two goals and an assist. Murray Craven also tallied twice. Rick Tocchet, Doug Crossman, JJ Daigneault, Ron Sutter, Dave Poulin and enforcers Dave Brown (11th goal) and Craig Berube (2nd goal) rounded out the scoring. Scott Mellanby and and Brian Propp each collected three apples. Ten of the Flyers' 11 goals were scored at even strength.
8) Today in Flyers History: Feb. 23, 1995
To the dismay of the partisans at Le Colisee, Flyers captain Eric Lindros racked up a hat trick and an assist in a 6-6 tie between Philly and the Quebec Nordiques. Mikael Renberg had a goal and an assist, as did John LeClair. The Flyers' other goal was scored by defenseman Karl Dykhuis on a power play. However, the Flyers were unable to preserve a 6-3 lead in the third period and settle for a tie.
This game marked the third time during the lockout-shortened season that Quebec rookie center Peter Forsberg, selected by the Flyers sixth overall in 1991 before his rights were traded to the Nordiques a year later in the Lindros trade, played against Philadelphia. He recorded an assist in this game, setting up a Sylvain Lefebvre goal in the second period.