Kevin Hayes’ season might be compared to starting a car on a cold winter morning – it takes a few times cranking the ignition key before the engine finally turns over.
He’s had to come back initially from a pair of abdominal surgeries, an aggravation of those medical procedures and now a recovery from a stay in COVID-19 protocol.
Hayes also has had to deal with the death of his older brother Jimmy (also an NHL player) who died at age 31 before the season began.
With the Flyers short on centers (Sean Couturier and Scott Laughton on the COVID list; Derick Brassard still out due to injury), the Flyers need a return to form for Hayes as they embark on a four-game western road trip, beginning Wednesday night in Seattle.
The Flyers plan to have another center, Morgan Frost, back in the lineup off the COVID list as well.
Hayes has played only 11 games so far (two goals/six points with a plus-2). Clearly he hasn’t hit his stride yet.
He’s a proven talent, having scored 23 goals in the COVID-shortened 69-game 2019-20 season and 12 in the 56-game campaign a year later.
“Kevin is such an important player for our team,’’ interim coach Mike Yeo said via media Zoom call after Tuesday’s practice at the Flyers Training Center in Voorhees, N.J. “We have ‘Coots’ (Couturier) coming out and the matchups he has night-in, night-out, defensively going against the top offensive line; for a guy like Kevin to be able to go in, if he can fill that spot. . .we believe he can.’’
Yeo has Hayes has penciled in at the pivot between Travis Konecny and Joel Farabee.
“With Kevin’s size and his ability to control the puck and make plays, make the reads defensively, that’s what I see when I see Kevin play his best game,’’ Yeo said. “I see a guy who’s really hard to play against on the defensive side but he’s also a guy who’s really hard to get the puck off of. Hopefully there should be a lot of motivation for him playing with Joel and TK, a couple guys who are dangerous in the offensive zone and off the rush. It’s a great opportunity to find some rhythm, find some confidence in his game.’’
Hayes said he’s not feeling any aftereffects from the bout with COVID and looks forward to finally getting his season going for good without any more breaks.
“My COVID battle wasn’t too bad,’’ Hayes said. “It’s a serious thing but I had no symptoms at all. I was shocked I tested positive but I went into quarantine and felt pretty good.’’
As for this road trip, which includes games at San Jose (Thursday), Los Angeles (Saturday) and Anaheim (Tuesday), Hayes indicated the Flyers have to keep their momentum from a 4-0-1 streak going after the break.
“It’s huge,’’ he said. “Every game in this league is important for points but when you go through the losing streak (0-8-2) we did, every game becomes important. We’ve been able to battle back in these last five games and had a pretty good groove going. I think guys are really excited to get back on the ice and keep trending the right way.’’
Yeo said both Hayes and Frost looked fine from a conditioning standpoint at Tuesday’s practice.
“We had a lot of battle drills,’’ Yeo said, “and I thought they held up fine.’’
Added Frost: “I feel fine. I thought I would feel worse in the practice but I felt pretty good. I just tried (in the quarantine) to stay in shape as much as I could.’’
Cam Atkinson played with Hayes at Boston College so he knows when his teammate appears to be getting back to normal.
“He’s huge for us,’’ Atkinson said. “On the power play, special teams. He drives the play with the puck. We’re going to need him a lot, especially on this road trip.”
>Mayhew ticketed for third line
Gerry Mayhew, recently called up from the Phantoms, appears to be set to play on the third line with James van Riemsdyk and Frost. The Michigan native, who turns 29 on Friday, has played 17 NHL games with the Minnesota Wild.
“First, he’s not a young guy,’’ Yeo said. “He does have some experience. He’s a guy who has the ability to make some plays.’’
Mayhew and Frost spent some time playing together with the Phantoms so there could be some built-in chemistry.
“He and I are pretty good friends off the ice,’’ Frost said. “We had some good success in the minors. He’s definitely a goal scorer and I like to find him. Hopefully we can find some success up here, too.’
>York, Ustimenko available if needed
The Flyers recalled defenseman Cam York and goaltender Kirill Ustimenko to their taxi squad from the Lehigh Valley Phantoms on Tuesday. The Flyers are bringing York along on the road trip in case there’s an illness or injury among their starting six backliners.