VOORHEES — When the pandemic hit the pause button on the NHL season back in March, the Flyers had to be rolling their eyes in frustration.
Here they were, winners of nine of their last 10 games, breathing down the necks of the Washington Capitals for the Metro Division lead and looking for all the world like big-time title contenders.
Four long months have passed and now the health crisis has resulted in a somewhat awkward restart with a rather even playing surface. Any momentum or even thought of what would have been home-ice advantage are out the window.
Still, both Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher and head coach Alain Vigneault believe their team can pick up the pieces and take up where they left off when action gets underway Aug. 1.
They said as much during press briefings after Monday’s first day of training camp at the Skate Zone.
“We’ve worked hard all year, we’ve put ourselves in a good position,’’ Fletcher said. “We like our team.
“Why not us? Let’s put forward and see what we can do. I’m confident in our group, I believe in our group. As the year progressed, we’ve gotten better and better. The question is, can we pick up where we left off? I really like the plan AV (Vigneault) and his staff have put together.’’
Vigneault also expressed confidence he can continue to build on the chemistry the Flyers had going before the break.
“Our group is excited, focused, energized,’’ the coach said. “We’ve been waiting a long time here for this opportunity to compete for the Stanley Cup. And we’re going to get it.
Meanwhile, Flyers management is doing whatever it can to keep the Skate Zone as safe and clean as possible.
Safe to say, health is paramount.
“We’re in a pandemic right now, a situation where we have to be careful and even if you are, you can contract the virus,’’ Fletcher said. “We need to make sure we’re playing the odds and doing the right thing both on and off the ice to protect ourselves.’’
Everyone is trying to keep a safe social distance, even on the bench.
“One of the keys is staying safe,’’ Vigneault said. “And making sure we follow the NHL guidelines, here and outside the facility.’’
Vigneault said he and his staff had to go through four straight days of testing.
“Today, when you got up, you had to take your temperature,’’ Vigneault said. “You have a set of (health) questions you have to answer. Once you get to the rink, they take your temperature again twice. Another set of questions and then a normal hockey life.’’
If the Flyers can make it through these initial phases in one piece, they believe they have a real opportunity here.
“In the meeting this morning, I expressed the opportunity to win the Stanley Cup,’’ Vigneault said. “As a group, you could tell in our players’ faces, there’s excitement, an understanding of the opportunity that was in front of us. I think we’ve taken some great strides since Sept. 12.
“We’ve earned the right to compete for the Cup. Now it’s up to us to do the work and get it done.’’
>Patrick not on playoff roster
Nolan Patrick, the Flyers’ 2017 first-round draft who missed this entire past season due to a chronic migraine headache condition, was left off the playoff roster.
Fletcher said the Flyers are gearing toward the 2020-21 season.
“Frankly, our focus is getting him ready for the 2020-21 season,’’ Fletcher said. “We really want to be prudent about this matter and prioritize his health and safety for the long run. We have a very short runway before we jump into playoff hockey. So we felt at this stage, if you have time, use it.’’
Patrick experienced some success his first two seasons but this was supposed to be a year when he made significant progress, this before the medical condition came up.
“I have to rely on what Nolan has said to me (for updates on symptoms),’’ Fletcher said. “He’s indicated that lately this is the best he’s felt the last 12 months.
“So, he feels he’s making progress, he’s sleeping better, able to exercise, able to skate, so I’ll just rely on those comments.’’
Department of Corrections:
In Sunday’s column, the site of the Stanley Cup Final was listed as Toronto, when in fact the championship series will be played in Edmonton. We regret the error.