For the second time in less than a month, Jake Voracek will not be available to play hockey on a Saturday.
The first occasion took place on July 18 when results from a COVID-19 test proved inconclusive and the Flyers veteran right wing had to sit out a day of training camp at the Skate Zone in Voorhees, N.J. Ultimately, the re-test came back negative.
Now, heading into Saturday’s final round-robin game against Tampa Bay for all the marbles in the round-robin tournament (and No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference), the 30-year-old Voracek will be scratched again.
Why? Coach Alain Vigneault knows but he’s not saying.
Which, according to NHL protocols, is his right.
Voracek completed Thursday’s game against Washington (a 3-1 Flyers win) with no apparent injury.
Vigneault said Joel Farabee will move up to play right wing in place of Voracek on the Flyers’ top line with Sean Couturier and Claude Giroux.
“Jake won’t be available for tomorrow’s game,’’ Vigneault said in a Zoom call from Toronto on Friday afternoon. “He’s not available, that’s all I can say for tomorrow.’
James van Riemsdyk, a healthy scratch, will return to the lineup and play on the third line with Derek Grant and Nicolas Aube-Kubel.
Rookie Connor Bunnaman, who made his Stanley Cup playoff debut against the Capitals, will remain in the lineup and play on the fourth line with Nate Thompson and Tyler Pitlick. Michael Raffl (undisclosed leg injury) will sit for a second straight game.
Defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere, scratched for the first two games of the round robin, also is expected to play against the Lightning.
“Ghost will be in the lineup, I’m going to put him with Justin Braun,’’ said Vigneault. “I was thinking coming in I would like to see Ghost play at least two games (he played against Pittsburgh in the preseason game), give him another opportunity to play tomorrow.
“It’s that balance between winning and getting the team ready for whatever our first-round opponent is going to be.’’
Vigneault wants to make sure Gostisbehere is ready, even if he doesn’t start at the beginning of the first round of the playoffs next week.
Matt Niskanen and Carter Hart, who will get the start in goal on Saturday, said losing a player of Voracek’s stature is significant.
“Obviously Jake is one of our best players,’’ Hart said. “Especially on our top line there and our power play. The last couple games, everyone’s been rolling. I’m sure we have someone who will step up and play hard.’’
Niskanen added: “Jake has a unique skill set. He’s a veteran guy who’s been around, plays in the big games. We’ll welcome him when he comes back. In the meantime, keep chugging forward with the guys we have.’’
Voracek was not made available for comment.
Vigneault said one of the main points of attention at practice on Friday was the power play.
The Flyers have gone 0 for 9 with the man advantage, including 0 for 6 against Washington, during the round robin.
“With Jake being out, we tried a couple different looks today,’’ Vigneault said. “I’m going to meet with my staff and decide which look we like the best and which one we’re going to go with tomorrow.
“With players being out for the amount of time they were and the pressure they’re seeing from penalty killers, it makes it a little more challenging. We’ve spent a great deal of time on it lately. I think it’s just a matter of time until we start executing the way we have to. In our last 20 games, our power play had been one of the better ones in the league – I’m very confident whether Jake in or Jake out this group will get it done.’’
>Waiting for a start time
As of mid-Friday afternoon, the Flyers still didn’t know what time Saturday’s game would start. A little disconcerting perhaps, especially when it could be 12 noon or 8 p.m.?
“We did talk to the guys about different possibilities,’’ Vigneault said, mindful of the complexities of the TV schedule for so many games at the moment. “Noon, 3 or 4 or 8, whatever it is. We’ll know at some point today. We just have to be ready for it. That’s just the way the situation is right now. You have to prepare yourself whenever time you play and that’s what we’re going to do.’’