It’s one thing to make your NHL debut back, say, in the first week of the season against a team like the Sabres or Devils.
It’s quite another when the “stage lights” go on in Pittsburgh – with Sidney Crosby staring into your eyes – and there are only 14 games left in the season, each one practically do-or-die.
That was the challenge for 23-year-old Wade Allison as he suited up for Thursday night’s game against the Penguins at PPG Paints Arena.
Allison might have made his first NHL appearance a lot sooner if not for ankle surgery in late January. He was injured just a couple days into training camp at the Skate Zone in Voorhees, N.J.
During a pre-game media Zoom call, coach Alain Vigneault said he was putting the Western Michigan University graduate at right wing on a line with Nolan Patrick and Oskar Lindblom.
Also, the coach decided to bench Nicolas Aube-Kubel, who has taken too many penalties in recent games to the coach’s liking.
Allison, a 6-foot-2, 205-pound native of Manitoba, Canada, figures to add some size and strength to a Flyers’ lineup which got pushed around by the NHL’s biggest team, the Washington Capitals, in Tuesday night’s 6-1 drubbing in D.C.
“You could tell right away in training camp, he’s kind of a power forward,’’ Claude Giroux said of Allison before the game. “He skates strong and can shoot the puck.
“I think he’s got good hockey sense, too. I’m pretty excited to see him play a hockey game here.’’
It looks like the Flyers have begun a bit of a mini-youth movement in their roster, having traded Michael Raffl and Erik Gustafsson on Monday. Another young prospect, Tanner Laczynski, was recently called up from the Phantoms and has held his own.
Allison played four seasons at Western Michigan and recorded double-digit goal totals in three of them.
The Flyers chose him in the second round (52nd overall) of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft.
In eight games with the Phantoms this season, Allison has posted four goals/nine points with an impressive plus-9.
“He’s not a player that I know real well,’’ Vigneault said. “I’ve seen him a couple times on video when he was at Lehigh Valley. The description I’m getting from (general manager) Chuck (Fletcher) is a power forward that goes to the tough areas.
“He can be physical, got a good shot. Kubel has taken too many penalties lately so we decided to make that change.’’
Vigneault acknowledged some fresh blood might provide the Flyers with some energy. In losses vs. Buffalo and Washington, the Flyers looked a bit out of it.
“There’s no doubt shaking the mix and getting a look at (new) players (can up the tempo), especially when other guys aren’t performing (up) to our expectations,’’ the coach said. “That is something we can do.
“You have to remember, that there’s a roster limit and money comes into play. We have four recalls that we’re allowed to make at this time but there’s still a limit to the shuffling that we can do.’’
Whether the Flyers stay in contention for a playoff spot or not, Allison can enhance this audition by playing well enough to stick around regardless of the circumstances.
“Wade has played well,’’ Vigneault said. “He’s going to get an opportunity to show what he can do with it.’’
>Myers back, Hart to start
Vigneault said he was bringing Phil Myers back into the lineup on defense and sitting Sam Morin. He said he was simply giving Morin a breather against a speedy Pittsburgh team. Morin might be better served playing against two bigger, more physical teams – namely, Washington on Saturday afternoon and the Islanders on Sunday night (both games in Philly).
>Has COVID been the culprit?
Scott Laughton, recently signed to a new five-year, $15-million contract, said the other day that the COVID outbreak on the team was one of the reasons why the Flyers slumped since the end of February.
Vigneault didn’t want to use it as an excuse.
“It’s not that I don’t want to reflect on the past,’’ he said. “We’ll be able to do that at some point. The COVID reality was our schedule was condensed. Since then (COVID), it’s been even more condensed.
“That’s made it challenging for everyone. We came back from COVID, one practice and in. It’s been a challenge.’’
>Facing off against an old friend
While the Flyers have played ex-teammate Jeff Carter plenty of times over the past 10 years with the L.A. Kings since he was traded, Thursday night’s game against Carter in a Penguins jersey promised to feel a little different.
Giroux and James van Riemsdyk are the only remaining Flyers who played with Carter on the Flyers’ 2009-10 Stanley Cup Finals team.
“I was talking to ‘Riemer’ (JVR) earlier today,’’ Giroux said. “Saying how weird it’s going to be to play against him in a Penguins jersey. It’s definitely going to be odd.’’