Criticize the slumping Flyers ‘til the cows come home but understand this: The mounting list of injuries and insane schedule demands would take their toll on the best of NHL teams.
Add center Nate Thompson (shoulder injury) to the crazy roster of sidelined players which already includes defenseman Ryan Ellis, centers Kevin Hayes and Derick Brassard, plus right wing Patrick Brown.
Oh, and that doesn’t even include two rookies who were penciled in as possible regulars this season – Wade Allison (ankle surgery) and Tanner Laczynski (hip surgery).
On top of all that, the Flyers – winless in their last five games and falling fast in the Metro Division — just finished three games in four nights, then play three games in four nights starting Sunday night in New Jersey. The following week the Flyers play five games in seven nights, something coach Alain Vigneault says he “has never done in a normal season.’’
After Saturday’s practice at the Flyers Training Center, Vigneault tried to explain what’s been happening with his team while trying to avoid using injuries and scheduling as an excuse.
“We’re pretty stretched out here throughout our organization, here and with our farm teams,’’ Vigneault said. “I think we have 14 or 15 guys out (including the AHL Lehigh Valley Phantoms) so we’re just sorting out the pieces and by tomorrow we’ll have a plan.’’
The Flyers have already recalled Morgan Frost and Connor Bunnaman from the Phantoms. They’re probably going to have to bring up somebody else to bolster the fourth line, pending the results on Thompson’s shoulder, which was injured in Friday’s 6-3 loss to Carolina and underwent an MRI test on Saturday.
“We’re going through a rough patch with wins and losses,’’ Vigneault acknowledged. “We have to find a way to grind our way, win tomorrow in New Jersey, grind our way through this, then hopefully a few players can come back and help us out.’’
Sean Couturier had a personal matter to attend to and was late getting started for practice, so the Flyers initially only had 10 forwards and six defenseman on the ice. Couturier joined the group later.
“Usually for a practice you have four lines and eight defensemen,’’ Vigneault said. “We don’t have that available right now but I thought we did some good work on a few things as far as the positioning of some of our forwards.’’
Vigneault was asked if the Flyers suffered any sort of letdown after the abortive comeback tries of Ellis (groin) and Hayes (abdominal) ultimately failed.
“I think injuries are part of a season,’’ Vigneault responded. “That’s why each organization makes sure they have depth. We started the season without Kevin and at some point Ryan went down. We lost our seventh defenseman (Sam Morin), then Allison and Laczynski, who was projected as having a real chance of making our team. They’re out, they’re done. It just seems like it has snowballed ever since. So with the number of games we’re playing, six in nine (nights), it’s real taxing physically and mentally.’’
It should be noted the Flyers have not been playing too many cupcakes here: Carolina, Dallas, Calgary, Tampa, Boston, Tampa, Florida and Carolina.
The five games in seven crucible will be no bargain either.
“It’s the way it is,’’ Vigneault said. “It’s going to be demanding on bodies. Right now we’re stretched out, keeping our fingers crossed that it stops and we get some guys back. We have a good team but we’re like anybody else, right now we’re really stretched out.’’
There were boos raining down from the cheap seats at the conclusion of Friday’s game. Vigneault is asking for patience.
“I would say to them we have a good team and at the end of the day we all have to be better and that starts with me,’’ Vigneault said. “ believe in these players. We’re going to take it one day at a time and try to get through here. We need a few guys to step up here and give us more.’’
The season might be nearly a quarter complete but Couturier believes there’s time to turn things around. A healthier roster and a more sane schedule would help.
“I don’t like to panic because there’s a lot of hockey left,’’ Couturier said. “We definitely need to find some solutions to play better hockey and get some wins.’’
How are things going in the locker room? Is morale still good?
“We’re battling hard, we’re sticking together,’’ Couturier insisted. “We just need to play better overall. It’s plain and simple. Find ways to control the puck.’’
Even if Hayes and Ellis were playing, Couturier said that probably wouldn’t have changed the outcome of some of these games.
“I don’t think even if they were there, the way we’re playing, the way we’re finding ways to lose games, it would have made a difference,’’ he said. “We just need to overall be better.’’
>Morin skates Morin, battling through knee troubles the past few years, skated on Saturday. Vigneault called it a “positive step.”