Can Flyers compete without star players vs. Rangers?

Rookie Maksim Sushko practices on Wednesday at the Skate Zone in Voorhees, N.J. (Photo by Zack Hill)

It’s tough enough playing a hockey game after being off for 10 days, but in the Flyers’ case, it gets worse.

For Thursday night’s home game against the New York Rangers, the pandemic-strapped Flyers will be without six of their best players – Claude Giroux, Travis Konecny, Jake Voracek, Oskar Lindblom, Scott Laughton and Justin Braun – all in COVID-19 protocol.

There was talk of the NHL possibly scrapping this game but with the Flyers already having to make up four missed games down the road, this game pretty much has to be played.

It looks like the Flyers will have to make do with some substitutes, including forwards Maksim Sushko, David Kase and defenseman Derrick Pouliot.

Having not played a game since a Feb. 7 tilt in Washington, D.C. and with only a couple practices under their belt, the Flyers are bound to come out looking a bit rusty against the Broadway Blueshirts.

But perhaps the role of underdogs will supply them with a bit of extra motivation.

After Wednesday’s practice at the Skate Zone in Voorhees, N.J., coach Alain Vigneault acknowledged the task won’t be easy but his team is up for the challenge.

“It’s the situation that we have in front of us,’’ Vigneault said. “We’ve already had four games postponed that we have to play at another time in what was already a condensed schedule.

“So at the end of the day we have to play some games. What we have right now are 12 healthy forwards and eight defensemen (nine with Nate Prosser). I liked our group today. We have a morning skate tomorrow so no excuses. We have to try to find a way to win a game.’’

Will there be a rust factor?

“We’ve been totally out for more than seven days,’’ Vigneault said. “Couldn’t work out or come here and practice. But I liked our practice today. There was a buzz, there was energy.’’

James van Riemsdyk also expects the Flyers to give a representative effort.

“We’re happy to play,’’ he said. “Again, it’s that fine line of postponing games. You know you have to make them up at some point, too.’’

The Flyers shouldn’t have trouble developing chemistry with their reconfigured lines. Vigneault shuffles personnel around a lot anyway, so this isn’t anything new.

“Since AV’s been here, guys have been playing with different guys,’’ JVR said. “I think that comes in handy at a time like this. There has been a bit of mixing and matching over the course of his time here.’’

 

>Giroux ironman streak coming to an end

 

Giroux’s rather amazing ironman streak of 328 games, tied with Ivan Provorov for third-longest in team history, will come to an end on Thursday night.

Rod Brind’Amour holds the team record with 484 consecutive starts.

Giroux hasn’t missed a game since the 2015-16 season. He’s played in 902 games in his NHL career and missed only 10.

“I know it’s pretty impressive,’’ van Riemsdyk said.

Goalie Carter Hart added: “It’s too bad for ‘G’. He’s played a lot of games in a row. Pretty remarkable, his ironman streak. We’re going to miss those guys but we have some guys who will step up into other roles.’’

 

>Hart juggles to keep sharp

 

Hart said he’s been improving his juggling skills during the pandemic pause as a way to keep his eye-hand coordination sharp.

He was working with keeping a few balls in the air and now he’s up to four.

“During this past week I’ve perfected my four-ball juggling,’’ he said with a chuckle. “I’m up to doing four balls pretty solid now. A lot of my time was perfecting my four-ball this week.’’

 

>Lineup a work in progress

 

Generally NHL teams dress 12 forwards and six defensemen. But with the Flyers strapped for players, Vigneault can’t be sure if he might go with an 11-7 configuration for the Rangers game.

“Right now we have 12 forwards that are available,’’ Vigneault said. “Prosser (a journeyman defenseman who has played one game for the Flyers this season) is back from COVID protocol, but he’s not one that I would consider.

“With Pouliot, that gives me eight possible ‘Ds’ and 12 forwards. I’m just in the process of analyzing New York’s last couple games. I’ll make that decision at tomorrow morning’s practice.’’

 

>Kase, Sushko should be at full speed

 

Kase (Czech Republic) and Sushko (Belarus) have been able to keep playing hockey over in Europe so there should be no conditioning issues for these two.

This will be Sushko’s NHL debut. Kase, a right wing played six games for the Flyers last year and scored one goal. He played in the Czech League, then rejoined the Phantoms for three games this month.

Sushko has been playing in the Kontinental Hockey League in Russia, so he should be in full stride.

“I remember both players from last year,’’ Vigneault said. “This year, with the COVID situation, they are two players who were able to play over in Europe.

“In texting with (Phantoms coach) Scott (Gordon) back and forth, both were playing well. Kase’s got experience. Sushko’s got a big body, skates real well. Both I’m sure are excited to get an opportunity to play.’’

“Lots of people back home text me,’’ said Sushko, who just turned 22. “They said, ‘just play your best game.’+’’

Sushko once registered 60 points in 60 games for Owen Sound of the OHL back in 2016-17, so he knows his way around the net.

“My training camp (KHL) was in July and I’ve been playing since then,’’ he said. “It’s going to help.’’

About Wayne Fish 1449 Articles
Wayne Fish has been covering the Flyers since 1976, a stint which includes 18 Stanley Cup Finals, four Winter Olympics and numerous other international events.

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