The timing was nothing short of eerie.
On the day when interim head coach Mike Yeo finally released his anger with a strong verbal message to his team about attitude, one of the Flyers’ best players with a positive form of that trait was cleared for a return to play.
Kevin Hayes, an upbeat force in the Flyers’ locker room, expects to be back in the lineup for Saturday afternoon’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks.
From a Flyers’ perspective, Hayes will be a sight for sore eyes. He not only keeps players loose with his sharp wit but holds teammates accountable with his strong, responsible style of play.
After Friday’s optional practice at the Flyers Training Center in Voorhees, New Jersey, Yeo disclosed he had a rather one-way discussion with his players. He let them know in no uncertain terms their play over the past two months is far from acceptable.
Currently the Flyers are just 1-4-1 on a season-high eight-game homestand and have just three wins in 2022.
The way the Flyers crumbled in Thursday night’s come-from-ahead defeat at the hands of the Minnesota Wild probably pushed Yeo over the edge.
“We have to play with passion every night,’’ Yeo explained about the crux of the message. “With a hundred percent commitment and to buy into the group. If you don’t win when you do those things, you can live with that. But if you don’t have those things, we’re not going to accept that.’’
Only four players skated in the optional. But everyone was on hand to listen attentively to their coach.
“We had an uncomfortable conversation today,’’ Yeo revealed. “We’re going to have to push each other, players are going to have to hold each other accountable. We’re going to hold the players accountable. We really didn’t have that luxury before (with so many injuries). Now we’ve got players coming back. If guys aren’t doing the job, ice time is going to reflect that.’’
Veteran observers are practically astonished at the fragile nature of this team. It takes leads in the third period and give them back in the blink of an eye.
“The blueprint of the way we expect to play the game is there,’’ Yeo said. “Now we just have to make sure we have everybody on board. It’s about a winning attitude. Do you come to the rink and feel sorry for yourself? Maybe it’s not our night tonight? When you have that passion and complete drive. . .we don’t have that right now.’’
Yeo also spoke to the team after the Minnesota game, so the message is now perfectly clear. He continued that theme Friday morning.
“It wasn’t really a two-way conversation,’’ Yeo said. “It was uncomfortable. We have to get the players talking more. It has to come from them. We can provide direction but ultimately they’re going to have to be warriors, have to pay the price.’’
Yeo sounds determined to find answers.
“We have to hold the players accountable,’’ the coach reiterated. “The most important part of accountability is each player holding himself accountable. I’m not saying we’re guaranteeing wins but a work ethic, something we can be proud of.
Getting Hayes back will be a positive development
“He’s certainly a guy who’s going to bring some enthusiasm and some joy,’’ Yeo said. “A guy that can help you at both ends of the ice, help you on the special teams. It’s going to be interesting to see where he’s at. He played through a lot of pain and injury earlier in the year. I’m hoping we can get a healthy Kevin Hayes back because it would do a lot for us.’’
Hayes has been through a lot. He disclosed he’s been battling a significant infection, one which kept his playing status constantly in doubt. This after a total of three operations over the past year.
“I’m excited,’’ Hayes said. “This year has been a lot of ups and downs for me. Tried playing, still didn’t feel too good. Found out I had a real bad infection in my groin that spread through my leg on the left side. Got to a point where surgery was needed. Feel pretty good now.’’
Can the return of Hayes significantly change the mood in the room?
“I’m hoping I can come back and help the team win,’’ he said. “Being positive. I try to bring a real positive mindset to the team. Make sure everyone wants to win in a fun (yet) serious way. I truly believe with all my heart that every guy on the team tries their hardest.’’
Ivan Provorov appreciates what Hayes brings to the mix.
“Kevin is in that group who means a lot to our team,’’ Provorov said.
Yeo said he plans to use Hayes as his third-line center. Gerry Mayhew will come out of the lineup to make room for Hayes. Scott Laughton is being moved up to the first line center spot, with Claude Giroux sliding over to left wing and Travis Konecny on the right side.
Derick Brassard will center a second line with Cam Atkinson and Oskar Lindblom on the flanks.
Justin Braun left Thursday night’s game with flu symptoms. Yeo said he wasn’t sure of the defenseman’s status for the Chicago game.
“We’ll have to see how he’s doing tomorrow,’’ Yeo said. “We kept him away from the group just so he wouldn’t spread anything.’’
>Giroux coping with trade rumors
“I think we can all see it’s weighing on him,’’ Yeo said of Giroux playing under the cloud of a possible trade. “It’s hard to remember sometime that they’re human beings. You look at ‘G’ and this is not your average player. This is real difficult for him.’’
>Provorov declines Ukraine talk
Russian-born defenseman Provorov, who has family back in his native country, understandably declined to offer an opinion on Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
“I’m not here to talk politics, I’m here to talk hockey,’’ Provorov said. “My opinion is not you guys’ (media) business.’’
Provorov did share his thoughts on Yeo’s speech to the team over the past couple days.
“We really haven’t been on the same page,’’ he said. “It’s not mistakes, it’s more miscommunication. All we can do is turn the page and make sure it doesn’t happen again for the rest of the year. Was it an easy meeting today? No. But sometimes that’s what you need to do as a coach. Hopefully that’s the last message like this for the year.’’