Let the games begin.
Those would be the matches involving the Flyers against the New York Rangers on Thursday night and the Boston Bruins on Sunday in Lake Tahoe, Nevada.
There were some questions about whether either one would be played, given the current state of the Flyers’ health.
They’ve been idle since Tuesday morning, Feb. 9, when, in the words of coach Alain Vigneault, captain Claude Giroux tested positive for COVID-19.
That development set in motion a week-long quarantine and cancellation of the aforementioned Feb. 9 game at Washington, followed by a pair against the New Jersey Devils and a fourth versus the New York Rangers this past Sunday.
Originally, the NHL had instructed the Flyers to keep their Skate Zone training facility in Voorhees, N.J. closed until Monday.
But in a move with an abundance of “precaution,” the Flyers chose to wait an extra day and hold off on practice until Tuesday, albeit with only 14 skaters and two goalies on the ice.
The contracted number from the usual 22 or so is because, according to general manager Chuck Fletcher, some players’ start to the mandated quarantine period is different than others.
That group (not on the COVID-19 list) includes Sean Couturier, James van Riemsdyk, Nicolas Aube-Kubel and Philippe Myers.
Meanwhile, Giroux, Travis Konecny, Jake Voracek, Oskar Lindblom, Scott Laughton and Justin Braun are in COVID protocol. They were not on the ice Tuesday and won’t play in the game against the Rangers.
Among those expected to play on Thursday include Ivan Provorov, Nolan Patrick, Kevin Hayes, Michael Raffl, Joel Farabee, Connor Bunnaman, Shayne Gostisbehere, Robert Hagg and Mark Friedman.
No doubt the Flyers will have to use some players from their taxi squad for at least one of the two games.
Speaking on a media Zoom call late Tuesday morning, Fletcher says he expects to have an additional eight players back on the ice for Wednesday’s practice.
When play does resume, the Flyers are going to have a real challenge on their hands.
They could be using taxi squad/reserve players such as forwards Andy Andreoff, David Kase, Maksim Sushko and defenseman Derrick Pouliot.
“Our hope is that we will have a full roster for Thursday,’’ Fletcher said. “We expect eight more (players) to return tomorrow, which would allow us to have a full roster for Thursday.
“Over the next week or so, hopefully we’ll get a few more players back. We’re just excited to be back practicing, looking forward to hopefully playing a game on Thursday night.’’
How unsettling has all the idle time and constant testing been?
“I think there’s always a high level of anxiety when a virus is potentially spreading through your team,’’ Fletcher said. “Obviously everyone is human, no one wants to get sick, you’re worried about your family, your teammates, yourself.
“So I think we’ve all gone through a lot the last week. Clearly we’ve had some players who have tested positive, some players who are in quarantine.
“The good news is, over the last four days, we’ve had one player added to the list, one player removed from the list. You can never say you’re out of the woods but certainly the last four days we’ve seen a positive trend.’’
Playing the Rangers after 10 days without game action and reliance on reserves will be a challenge, to say the least.
“It’s an opportunity for them (spares) to get a chance to play,’’ Vigneault said. “Some guys have been waiting for that opportunity for quite some time, and now because of our situation, because of players that are under the COVID protocol, there’s opportunity.
“Guys are going to have to jump on the opportunity and make the best of it. We basically haven’t seen anybody for the past week, we’ve been in lockdown.’’
Also, once play resumes, the Flyers will have to make up the four missed games which will be wedged into a compressed calendar. Probably a couple more back-to-backs.
“We’ve got four games that we’ve got to make up in a very condensed schedule already,’’ Vigneault said. “We’ve got basically very limited practice time to get ourselves ready for Thursday and then we’ve got to fly five hours to Lake Tahoe to go play a noon game.’’
Shutting things down before the Washington game also proved to be a taxing situation.
“We had practice the day before, we tested, all the tests came back negative,’’ Vigneault recalled. “We had two tests that we had to do prior to that game, rapid test and our normal test.
“I think it was ‘G’ (Giroux) that came back positive, and they didn’t want to take any other chances so the game was cancelled. We set up transportation the best way we could to keep everybody safe knowing we had the results of those tests and bussed back to Philly. Since that time, we’ve been shut down. We’ve been testing and going home and staying home. We’ve been doing exactly what the NHL wants us to do, and hopefully we got it in time and now this virus is going to stay away from our team.’’
Hayes and his wit are known for keeping the Flyers’ spirits up. That’s not easy to do at a time like this but he’s trying his best.
“It’s definitely scary, but I try to make them laugh about it a little bit,’’ Hayes said. “There’s nothing funny about COVID obviously, but I just tried to Facetime (Giroux) and (Braun) when they were stuck in Washington, try to make them laugh a little bit.
“Everyone that has COVID right now is handling it that way and symptoms aren’t too bad, so hopefully that keeps up. It’s tough to keep the mood light when guys aren’t allowed to come to the rink and do their job they’ve been doing for years now. But the group chat’s still firing away, we’re still chatting and stuff.
“It’s definitely different. It’s a different season, but every team’s going through it, we’re all battling through it, we’re all taking the right protocols. Ultimately, we have to do everything in our power to get back on the ice and provide entertainment for our fans and the people watching, and that’s what we’re trying to do.’’
>Flyers rescheduled games announced
The NHL announced on Tuesday the following reschedule dates for Flyers’ games:
>Washington Capitals at FLYERS, originally scheduled for April 27, will now be played on March 7.
>New York Islanders at FLYERS, originally scheduled for April 25, will now be played on March 22.
>New Jersey Devils at FLYERS, originally scheduled for Feb. 11, will now be played on April 25.
>FLYERS at New Jersey Devils, originally scheduled for April 1, will now be played on April 27.
>New Jersey Devils at FLYERS, originally scheduled for Feb. 13, will now be played on May 10.
The NHL does not yet have reschedule dates for the following games:
>FLYERS at Washington Capitals, Feb. 9.
>FLYERS at New York Rangers, Feb. 14.
>FLYERS at Boston Bruins, March 7.