When Flyers defenseman Travis Sanheim was placed in COVID-19 protocol last Sunday, it was only natural people around the team might have feared the worst.
Sanheim had traveled to Washington on Saturday night, Feb. 6, along with the rest of the team but was pulled from the lineup before the Super Bowl Sunday afternoon game against the Capitals.
But much to his relief, the situation with Sanheim was simply a case of caution and possible contact with someone who had tested positive.
As it turns out, he tested negative. It wasn’t until captain Claude Giroux, among others, tested positive that the Flyers’ scheduled game at Capital One Arena on Tuesday, Feb. 9 was called off.
The Flyers would have three more games scratched prior to Thursday night’s home game against the New York Rangers.
“Didn’t have COVID,’’ said Sanheim during a media Zoom call following Thursday morning’s workout at the Skate Zone. “I’m fortunate that way. I had to go into protocol for a week, I was on the list, but I’m fortunate to not have any symptoms.
“I did travel with the team (to Washington); got the news that I was going on the (protocol) list. I was unavailable for that game. But I’m happy to be back playing tonight.’’
The Flyers knew they were going to have their hands full with the Rangers, especially because they were going to be without the services of Giroux, Jake Voracek, Travis Konecny, Scott Laughton, Oskar Lindblom and Justin Braun.
That figured to put an extra workload on those players in the lineup.
“A lot of us haven’t played for a good stretch here,’’ Sanheim said. “It’s going to be a good challenge for us. They (the Rangers) are going to be a desperate hockey team with what’s going on with them (four straight losses).’’
Coach Alain Vigneault mentioned the Flyers will be without the services of Giroux, et al, for Sunday’s outdoor game against the Boston Bruins at Lake Tahoe, Nevada as well.
“It’s just the way the year is,’’ Sanheim said. “A lot of teams have gone through what we’re going through right now.
“We expected at some point this was going to happen. We have to find ways to win games.’’
Vigneault said: “He (Sanheim) is an important part of our defensive corps. Plays against top-end players, plays big minutes, penalty kill, five-on-five. He’s got to use his abilities – his strength, which is skating, get away from the forecheck and put the puck in the hands of our forwards.’’
>Storm just adds another problem
Thursday’s snowstorm was just another headache for the Flyers. Because there are two tests per day, players living in Philadelphia had to drive to the Wells Fargo Center to be COVID tested there first before heading over to the Skate Zone for the morning skate.
There’s another test before the game.
“Today might be another step that we had to take,’’ Vigneault said. “Because of the conditions on the roads it was a bit more challenging. But it’s just part of what we had to do.’’
The hurdles just keep coming.
“A lot of things going on right now,’’ Sanheim admitted. “With COVID and now with the storm. You have to battle through.’’
>Traditional alignment for tonight
After some rather extensive contemplating, Vigneault decided to go with a conventional 12-6 alignment for Thursday night’s lineup.
>James van Riemsdyk-Sean Couturier-Joel Farabee
>Michael Raffl-Kevin Hayes-Nicolas Aube-Kubel
>Connor Bunnaman-Nolan Patrick-Kase
>Samuel Morin-Andy Andreoff-Maksim Sushko
>Ivan Provorov-Phil Myers
>Travis Sanheim-Shayne Gostisbehere
>Robert Hagg-Erik Gustafsson
Vigneault said veteran D-man Nate Prosser is just out of COVID protocol and isn’t ready. Defenseman Mark Friedman is a healthy scratch.
Sanheim, who’s played a lot with Myers over the past couple seasons, might have to adjust his game a bit because Gostisbehere is a bit more offensive-minded.
“I would like to think that we can feed off each other,’’ Sanheim said. “Use our skill sets to our advantage. Both (of us) are capable of jumping up. . .if we’re moving the puck and moving our feet, we shouldn’t spend a lot of time defensively.’’
>Challenge for coaches
Vigneault said his coaching staff had to put in a little extra work to make sure it stayed on top of things during the pause.
“There were daily discussions with assistants,’’ he said. “With the conditioning guys to make sure they were talking with the players. We didn’t know how long it (the break) was going to be. We had an idea but at the end of the day, the coaches and players made the best of the situation.’’
>Nerves for newcomers?
Sushko is making his NHL debut vs. the Rangers. Morin has only played a handful of games with the Flyers (just one this season). Kase did get into six games with the Flyers last season but that’s not a whole lot of experience. So these players might have a few jitters.
“I feel real good with what I’ve seen so far,’’ Vigneault said. “I would say let’s keep things simple, high percentage and keep our shifts short on the ice. For the new guys coming in, stay energized and trust your instincts.’’