After over a week of COVID-related postponements, the Flyers are scheduled to finally return to the ice tonight against their most ancient enemy, the New York Rangers. That is the good news. The bad news is that the team that takes the ice will look a less like the Flyers you are used to, and more like a Frankenstein-esque attempt to recreate the Flyers using various pieces of the Lehigh Valley Phantoms.
The Orange and Black will be without Claude Giroux, who is missing his first game since October of 2016, Jakub Voracek, Oskar Lindblom, Travis Konecny, Scott Laughton and Justin Braun. Taking their place will be taxi squad/Phantoms callups such as Connor Bunnaman, David Kase, Sam Morin, Andy Andreoff and Maksim Sushko, who is making his NHL debut
This game could very well be ugly, but hey, let’s look on the bright side here! The good news is that these fresh faces should bring an energy and intensity to the Flyers that had largely been lacking this year. This year’s iteration of the Flyers has just seemed…too nice. They haven’t been involved in much fighting and haven’t been throwing a ton of big hits or getting involved in cross-checking battles in front of the net either.
This is a little surprising, considering that their schedule thus far has been made up entirely of teams they have historically despised.
The insertion of the five players mentioned should help make the club tougher to play against. Of the five, Kase is the only player shorter than 6-0, as well as the only one weighing less than 190. Look for Sam Morin in particular to bring the pain tonight. He earned a reputation as a thumper when he threw a whopping seven hits in his NHL debut back in 2017. He has continued the physical play this year, adding three more checks in only 5:31 of ice time in his only start this year.
Hopefully, Alain Vigneault will stress defensive responsibility and will allow these guys to use their natural size, as well as the energy that often accompanies AHL callups to their advantage. It may be their best shot at victory. You certainly don’t want to get into a shootout against a talented New York offense with this lineup.
The other good news is that while the Rangers certainly have their share of big names and offensive potential, the results haven’t been there for them yet. They’re currently seventh in the East at 4-7-3 and are somewhat surprisingly ranked 11th in the NHL in goals against (39) but only 27th in goals for (33). This may very well flip though, as they recently lost a pillar of the blueline in Jacob Trouba. However, they are getting back star winger Artemi Panarin.
Of course the best news is that even though the Flyers have been off for over a week, they really haven’t lost much ground in their division. Although they did slip down to third in the East behind those pesky Islanders, they are only a single point out of second place, and now have games-in-hand on every team in the division, except Buffalo and New Jersey. Even if they do lay an egg tonight, they’ll still have enough points to keep them in a playoff spot.
So for now, just be happy to have something resembling the Flyers back, and try to keep your expectations low.