The Russians are coming. The Russians are coming.
If the Flyers go through with their proposed game plan for Saturday night’s game at Buffalo, they will put together a first-time Russian defense pairing of veteran Ivan Provorov and rookie Egor Zamula.
For Zamula, just recently called up from the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, it’s sort of a dream come true. In recent years Zamula sat in front of a TV set and watched Provorov play in the World Junior Championships and then quickly make his mark with the Flyers.
The two practiced together on Friday at the Flyers Training Center in Voorhees, N.J. and when it was over, the 22-year-old Zamula was all smiles.
Actually there’s only a three-year age difference between the two players but Provorov has played in 442 NHL games and Zamula just four, so there’s a lot to be learned.
“When I signed my (free-agent) contract here with the Flyers my dream was to play with him maybe one time, maybe two times maybe everytime,’’ Zamula said with a grin. “But today before practice I was watching TV, my name and Provy’s were together. So it’s a dream come true. He (Provorov) said, ‘I’m going to help you play better, teach you something.’ ’’
Interim head coach Mike Yeo said he overheard the two players out on the ice speaking in Russian. He didn’t understand a word of it but there might be some comfort taken knowing they can communicate in their native language and avoid any confusion.
Can it help?
“Maybe a little bit,’’ Zamula said. “For me, speaking the (Russian) language is easier. Sometimes our teammates don’t understand us. Sometimes it helps, sometimes not.’’
Zamula said there are still parts of his game which need improvement.
“I have to play hard every game, it’s the best league in the world,’’ he said. “It’s a dream. You wake up, come to the rink every morning and enjoy. . .work hard with a smile on your face. For me, I need to play defense hard.’’
Zamula isn’t sure if he will spend the offseason in North America or back in Russia. When asked if the current situation involving Russia and Ukraine might make it difficult to travel back and forth, Zamula shook his head and said he doesn’t know.
One thing he will work on is adding a little more weight and strength to his 6-foot-3, 177-pound frame.
“I know it’s a big summer for me,’’ he said. “I want to spend all my summer in the gym, work with my coaches. I don’t know my (travel) plans. There’s frustration in the world.’’
Added Yeo: “He’s got all the tools. I think this summer is going to dictate a lot of that (staying with the Flyers next year) as far as getting stronger, the time he spends in the gym. It’s the work that he puts in to be physically fit enough to be an NHL player on a nightly basis.’’
Provorov is known for his strong work habits. Maybe some of that will rub off on Zamula.
“He’s a top two, top one Russian defenseman in the league,’’ Zamula said. “I want to play on the same level as him. I think if I play with him I will learn more and it will be better for me.’’
Yeo wants to get a good look at Zamula. He saw some skill back in training camp.
“I want to give him what he deserves (top pairing),’’ Yeo said. “I thought he played a real strong game last game. I think he and Provy should be pretty excited. It’s good to hear them talking. He (Zamula) is poised with the puck. He’s in good position when he has it. Sees the ice really well.’’
Cam Atkinson, who missed Wednesday night’s game against the Rangers after suffering a lower-body injury in a collision with the Caps’ Tom Wilson in Washington, is listed as out for Saturday’s game at Buffalo but possible for the rematch against the Sabres in Philadelphia on Sunday afternoon. Yeo said Atkinson has somewhat recovered from the Wilson hit but is being given some rest due to overall body soreness.
Cam York is out for Saturday’s game and is listed as day-to-day. Another defenseman, Rasmus Ristolainen, won’t play in either Buffalo game.
Goaltender Carter Hart (right leg injury) could be out for the last two weeks of the season. “We haven’t ruled him out,’’ Yeo said. “But it’s pretty unlikely (he will play again).’’
Martin Jones will start in goal for the Flyers in Buffalo and rookie Felix Sandstrom will take that assignment on Sunday in Philadelphia.