After playing to vacant houses since July due to the pandemic, the Flyers get their first look at something besides empty seats for Tuesday night’s game.
Pennsylvania is slowly lifting restrictions so approximately 2,800 fans will be in PPG Paints Arena to watch the Flyers-Penguins tussle, the first of three games in the Steel City this week.
Who knows? There might even be a few wearing Flyers jerseys.
Regardless of the rooting interest, Vigneault says it will be a welcome sight to have fans back in the stands after months and months of dealing with the pandemic, which is mainly to blame for this quirky schedule.
It will be only a matter of time until the Wells Fargo Center opens its doors to a limited crowd. The earliest that can happen is Sunday when Washington visits.
“I think everyone’s been waiting for this moment for quite some time here,’’ Vigneault said during a morning media Zoom call after the pre-game skate. “Even though we’re on the road, having the fans, feeding off that energy is always a positive thing.
“They’re starting with a smaller percentage but it’s good to have them back. I’m sure everyone appreciates it.’’
James van Riemsdyk expressed similar feelings.
“It’s certainly weird still, you miss that energy the crowd always brings into the game,’’ he said. “Whether it’s home or away. It’s going to be fun tonight with a little bit of an atmosphere. I know people are excited to come back to watch some hockey and we’re excited to be playing in front of a crowd.’’
>Konecny to play, NAK to sit
Vigneault announced right wing Travis Konecny (COVID protocol) will return to action for the first time since Feb. 7 and start the game playing on a fourth line with center Connor Bunnaman and left wing Michael Raffl.
Konecny skated Sunday and Monday at the Skate Zone, plus at Tuesday morning’s skate at PPG Paints Arena, so he should be ready to go, according to Vigneault.
With Konecny back in the lineup, Nicolas Aube-Kubel was scheduled to sit this one out.
“I talked to him (TK) briefly this morning and he wants to play,’’ Vigneault said. “He was the only player I wasn’t able to give a real full practice. “But he says he feels good.’’
Having Konecny start on the fourth line will allow Vigneault to manage his minutes. Typically, that line only plays about 11 minutes per game.
Vigneault said Aube-Kubel has been playing well but with six games in nine days, everyone could use a breather now and then. The coach needed to sit one of the fourth-liners and NAK drew the short straw.
JVR understands the wisdom of giving players a break. Such was the case with defenseman Phil Myers on Saturday in Buffalo. He hadn’t been playing badly but Vigneault wanted him to sit one game to kind of regroup and work on some things. He looked much more energized on Sunday.
“Lots of teams are going through busier schedules,’’ van Riemsdyk said. “It means taking care of your body that much more important. As players, you want to pay attention to that – warming up, cooldown, good medical treatment, good sleep, eating right to try to withstand the busier schedule.’’
>Crosby out due to surgery
Sidney Crosby will miss the three games due to going on COVID protocol.
>Hart gets the start
Carter Hart, coming off a bounce-back 3-0 win over Buffalo on Sunday, will get the start in goal for the Tuesday night game. There’s a good chance Brian Elliott will start Saturday’s game at Pittsburgh because the Flyers play the next day at home against the Caps.
Van Riemsdyk goes along with the premise these three games should almost be approached with a playoff mentality.
“I think you always realize how hard it is to beat a team a bunch of times in a row,’’ JVR said. “It’s a different challenge. Usually the ebb and flow. . .if a team wins the first game, the team that loses is going to be ready to roll in the second one and come out with a pretty strong push.
“It brings that sort of (playoff) element to it. But ultimately what I like having a few games in a row is that it’s less about video stuff, Xs and Os and things like that. It’s more about just going out there and playing.’’