Just because they were able to put on skates and hit the ice right after they had been cleared from COVID protocol doesn’t mean a half-dozen Flyers were in top hockey shape.
In fact, from Travis Konecny to Oskar Lindblom, it’s taken more than a week for these players to feel like themselves again.
However, some are recovering quicker than others, as typified by Claude Giroux’s recent brilliant work.
In his first game back last week, Giroux recorded three assists in a 4-3 win over the Rangers. He topped that o Thursday night with two goals, including the game-winner in a stirring come-from-behind 4-3 win over the Penguins at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh.
After Friday’s practice in preparation for game No. 3 of this one-of-a-kind three-game mini-series in the Steel City, several Flyers talked about the challenge of getting back to full speed.
“I felt better (Thursday night),’’ Konecny said via media Zoom call. “There are still times where I felt I was a little out of breath. I was taking a little bit more of a shorter shift to stay a little bit more fresh.
“I think it’s just going to take time and it will come back.’’
Konecny did hit the crossbar twice in the Thursday game, a sign he’s starting to regain his shooting eye which has produced 24 goals in each of the past three seasons.
Lindblom’s climb back to full capacity might be a bit more challenging because he’s less than a year out from the completion of treatments for Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer.
But his game might have even gone up a notch since coming back from COVID.
“Yeah, I feel like I’ve been feeling better the last three or four games here,’’ he said. “I’m trying to get rest and work on my game everyday, try to get better, because I feel I have more in me.’’
Justin Braun is the only defenseman from this current group (Shayne Gostisbehere had COVID back in January) to deal with the virus. Braun really hasn’t missed a step either, which is helping to keep Erik Gustafsson parked on the bench.
“When you’re out of quarantine and back among the guys, I think it gives you extra energy,’’ Braun said. “Just to be back to doing what you love.
“It’s a long time being around for 14 days, just having that extra jump. I feel like a lot of guys are looking and feeling pretty good out there.’’
>Myers doubtful for Saturday
Defenseman Phil Myers took a hard hit from Pittsburgh’s Anthony Angello late in Thursday’s game, this after getting blasted in Tuesday night’s game and his status for Saturday’s game appears doubtful. Myers played only one shift in the third period.
If Myers can’t go, Gustafsson likely will be paired with his familiar partner, Robert Hagg.
>Farabee status also uncertain
Leading goal-scorer Joel Farabee entered COVID-19 protocol prior to Thursday night’s game and his status for Saturday’s game is also doubtful.
Vigneault declined to comment, citing rules regarding COVID disclosure policy.
>Elliott to start again in goal
Veteran Brian Elliott will get the start for Saturday’s 1 p.m. game. After allowing three goals in a span of 1:11 just 3:57 (none of which were his fault), Elliott blanked the Penguins the rest of the way.
Vigneault indicated Carter Hart will get the start on Sunday vs. Washington at the Wells Fargo Center. Makes sense, since Hart is 3-1-2 at home this season and was 20-3-2 at the WFC last season.
“Six (games) in nine (days), back-to-back games (this weekend),’’ Vigneault said. “Both our goaltenders are playing well for us. We feel that coaches and players are comfortable with either one. ‘Moose’ (Elliott) come off a big come-from-behind win so we’ll go with him tomorrow and Hart on Sunday.’’
>Multiple games mean multiple hits
Emotions run high when teams play each other back-to-back. But when they go back-to-back-back, like they are in this series (the first of its kind in Flyers’ history), things can get a little testy.
Some of the hits have been skull-rattlers, but Vigneault and the players say that’s not surprising.
“There’s no doubt in these back-to-back games, when the other team wins the first one, players want to respond,’’ Vigneault said. “Part of being a little more physical is part of the response.
“We had some guys (Thursday night) who came to play hard, finished their checks and that was part of the winning process.’’
>Curing defensive breakdowns
Although the Flyers have been winning games since getting their COVID players back, defensive breakdowns remain a bugaboo.
Vigneault said this area of the game has been addressed.
“Our forecheck needs to be better,’’ he said. “A lot of those rushes that the opposition is coming off, (depends on) reading the proper way. It’s forwards not supporting the right way. There are reads we can improve on and we are. Most parts of our game are trending the right way.’’