Playing on a rink next to Lake Tahoe with deer, trees and mountains as a backdrop, the Flyers knew Sunday’s game (which will now start at 7:30 p.m. instead of 2 p.m.) against the Bruins was going to be different.
But Saturday, after being told by the NHL they couldn’t practice on the new outdoor ice surface, in part due to weather conditions, things really entered the world of the unknown.
Apparently the league wanted to make sure the ice was OK for the two weekend games (Saturday’s Colorado-Vegas match being the other), so the Flyers and Bruins were forced to use an indoor rink, and that for only about 30 minutes.
So there was no getting accustomed to strange sight lines, bounces off boards or even possible sun glare.
Reportedly, the Avalanche and Knights practiced on the outdoor rink on Friday and chewed the ice up pretty good. So the planned Saturday practices, both for the Flyers and Bruins, were scrapped.
All that noted, the Flyers made a point of saying this shouldn’t be used as some sort of pre-game excuse.
They already have enough matters to worry about, such as playing without five of their top forwards – Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek, Travis Konecny, Scott Laughton and Oskar Lindblom – who are all in COVID-19 protocol.
Coach Alain Vigneault wasn’t exactly smiling when he discussed the ice situation during a media Zoom call from Nevada on Saturday afternoon.
The Flyers had a steep hill to climb before they got off their plane on Saturday night. They have yet to beat the Bruins this season (0-2-2) and that in itself is going to be a challenge.
“Obviously we would have liked to have had an opportunity to take a couple wheels on that sheet of ice,’’ Vigneault noted. “In this league, you have to learn to adapt to everything that’s thrown at you, not make excuses. . .and get the job done.’’
The Flyers planned to visit the rink later in the day, just to get a sense of what things look like.
“We’ve got the rest of the day laid out,’’ Vigneault said. “We’re going to walk down as a group this afternoon to check out the ice surface and the facility that we’re dressing in.
“It will be business as usual. But we would have liked to get a look at the layout. We’ll be able to do that tomorrow.’’
Goaltender Carter Hart might be the most challenged of the Flyers because goalies have to deal with a variety of issues.
“I would say for goalies, it’s getting their reference points,’’ Vigneault said. “Usually you’re looking at fans and stands. But I don’t think it will be an issue. Guys have skated before outside. From my standpoint, it shouldn’t be an issue.
“The only thing is the quality of the ice, making sure the ice is of good quality, so you can see that speed and skill. I think that’s what is concerning the NHL right now. It (moving practice) was probably a good decision on their part.’’
Added Sean Couturier: “It’s not ideal but it is what it is. I guess Boston is in the same situation as us so it’s an even playing field. You control what you can control and show up at game time.’’
Nicolas Aube-Kubel will be playing in his second outdoor game.
“It shouldn’t be that much different,’’ he said. “Sometimes the ice is a little worse at the end of a period but I guess we’ll see tomorrow.’
>Reason for time change
The NHL decided to change the start of the game time “in the interest of player safety due to Sunday’s forecast of sunlight with no cloud cover and unseasonably warm temperatures. Also, the game will now be telecast on NBCSN instead of NBC.
>Friedman might play defense and offense
Vigneault said he’s going to go with a modified 11-forward/seven-D alignment, using rookie defenseman Mark Friedman as a swingman. He could be a seventh backliner or he could play some minutes at right wing.
“It’s going to permit us to (maybe) use seven defensemen,’’ Vigneault said. “I’m not sure if he’s played right wing before.
Vigneault decided to scratch David Kase and keep rookie Maksim Sushko in the lineup.
“I think Friedman’s going to be fine, he’s a fine young man,’’ Vigneault said. “With that skating ability he has, he’s going to fit in real well.’’
It should be noted Vigneault has already converted career defenseman Samuel Morin to a forward this season.
>Will altitude make a difference?
The Flyers have played plenty of games at mile-high (5,280 feet) Denver against the Avalanche over the years but this game will be played at nearly 1,000 feet higher (6,224 feet).
Any concerns there?
“We talked to the players about different altitude,’’ Vigneault said. “Be sure they get their hydration in. But at the end of the day, you still have to play on 200 (feet) by 85 (feet) and play the right way. “The altitude in Denver has been a factor. Science throws different things at you. I think the fact we were able to get here yesterday and skate today, I think we’ll be fine.’’
>Hayes impressed by layout
Kevin Hayes has played in outdoor games before but he’s particularly impressed by the Lake Tahoe set-up.
“It will definitely be different without the fans,’’ he said. “It looks amazing. Any outdoor game is a memorable experience. I know guys on our team are very excited to play in this game. It’s a great view.’’
>Missing the Flyers’ best
With Giroux, Voracek, Konecny among others not in the lineup, are the Flyers still believing they can beat the feisty Bruins? Philadelphia is coming off a 3-2 shootout loss to the Rangers where they were without those elite performers.
“It’s not an easy situation,’’ Michael Raffl said. “But I think every team goes through this. There’s no hiding from COVID. Everyone’s doing what they can to stay safe.’’