It would be a monumental task just to try to fill the skates of elite defenseman Ivan Provorov.
But when another Flyer defenseman, Rasmus Ristolainen, also went into COVID protocol it suddenly put a lot more urgency into rookie Cam York’s sudden apprenticeship.
The 2019 first-round draft pick underwent a baptism of fire last week when the roaring hot Pittsburgh Penguins rolled into town.
Things didn’t expect to get much easier on Thursday night when the Flyers visited another Eastern Conference powerhouse, the Bruins, at Boston’s TD Garden.
Justin Braun, who was cleared to play after his COVID tests proved to be false-positive, was scheduled to play with York and said he’s already seen some progress made by the youngster.
“He’s been moving the puck really well,’’ Braun said via media Zoom call after the morning skate. “It’s a big part of his game, hitting guys (with passes) in the neutral zone, making good plays in the offensive zone and doing the right things in the D-zone. So far, so good with him.’’
>Key players back
Provorov, Claude Giroux and Travis Konecny were three key players returning to the lineup after a COVID respite.
With Patrick Brown (sprained MCL) the latest Flyer to go down, it was almost imperative to get Giroux back against the likes of Boston’s elite Patrice Bergeron line.
“It’s big,’’ Scott Laughton said. “When a couple guys go down, a guy like Brownie who takes a lot of big draws on the penalty kill, its good getting the best faceoff man in the league (Giroux) back and everything that he brings. It just makes it a lot easier when you start with the puck. It’s especially nice to have him take those faceoffs on the power play. It’s good to get some bodies back.’’
>More grumbling about COVID protocol
One day after Provorov harshly criticized the league policy on COVID protocol quarantine (which broke the Russian’s 403 consecutive game streak), Laughton empathized with his teammate.
Losing Braun for a couple days due to a false-positive test only added to the frustration level.
“For him (Provorov), playing five-six years and it’s really hard to play so many consecutive games in this league,’’ Laughton said. “I know you try to play as many as you can. I can see his frustration and where he’s coming from. You’re sitting at home feeling kind of helpless.’’
No doubt a lot of players feel this way.
“I’ve said it before, it’s very frustrating,’’ Laughton said. “It’s a tough time right now. I think it’s even tougher for guys who don’t have any symptoms. They feel OK, they’re sitting at home and (and can’t play).’’
Although the NHL hierarchy has come under fire, in all fairness, the league has been working with the NHL Players’ Association for key decisions, such as pulling out of the Olympics. There’s a delicate balance here, deciding when to postpone games because one or both teams are strapped for players.
Clearly, outside the lines, the players are unhappy with the way all of this is shaking down. Like general society, it’s been almost two years of precautions and with the overall risk of the virus seemingly lower, professional athletes are getting more critical of restrictions.
“I don’t know what the league is going to do to try to change it,’’ Laughton said. “Or what the protocols are going to be. But I think something needs to be done, where guys are feeling OK and they can come and play – kind of like the NFL, where you’re not pausing as many games. It’s a little different (in hockey) with the Canadian border and what’s going on there right now. It’s really tough. We have to find a way to move past it.’’
For the Flyers, maybe the worst of it is over. “I guess we’re lucky that we had all those guys out when we did,” Laughton said. “And hopefully we don’t have to worry about it for the rest of the years.”