Ristolainen’s return should give Flyers’ defense some punch

Rasmus Ristolainen

VOORHEES, N.J. – Having hit their first bump in the road, the Flyers find themselves with a lot of moving parts heading into Thursday night’s home game against the Florida Panthers.

After a 3-0-0 start, the Flyers have lost two of their last three games including Sunday night’s 3-0 stinker against the visiting San Jose Sharks.

Philadelphia will hit the ice a bit short on the forward lines. In addition to James van Riemsdyk being out with a broken finger, center Tanner Laczynski is being given the night off to tend to a family matter.

After Wednesday’s practice at the Flyers Training Center, coach John Tortorella disclosed he will play the game with just 11 forwards (down from the usual 12) and add a seventh defenseman.

That’s because veteran Rasmus Ristolainen is set to return from injured reserve after dealing with an upper-body injury (twice) during the preseason.

One other bit of good news: Forward Owen Tippett is set to return after suffering a concussion in the season opener against New Jersey.

Ristolainen is happy to be back. It’s been frustrating just sitting around waiting to get cleared by the training staff.

“I feel personally I’m ready to go,’’ Ristolainen said. ““I’ve been around here everyday and I probably spend more time at the rink when you’re in rehab. You try to be in the meetings and watch games.

“It happened the first time early in training camp. I got better after a few days. Then I felt it again. But the last week or so I’ve been feeling pretty good. It’s happened to me twice so you have to be more careful.’’

Tortorella now has his top two pairings – Ivan Provorov-Tony DeAngelo; Ristolainen-Travis Sanheim – back and will rotate Justin Braun, Egor Zamula and Nick Seeler for the last pairing.

Tortorella appreciates the physical style Ristolainen provides.

“He’s been here, he’s a veteran guy,’’ Tortorella said. “He brings a little bit of physical presence.

“I don’t want him to try to do too much. It’s going to be a little weird with seven D. I just want him to keep it simple. I want him to use his strength. We need a big man back there. It (Florida) is a really big team we’re playing against. I think one of the weaknesses of our team right now is stopping plays offensively. I’m hoping he can do that with his big body. Just stop plays so we can get our coverages set.’’

Sanheim said getting Ristolainen back adds a big plus to his game.

“Obviously he’s a big part of our team,’’ Sanheim said. “He brings an element that we don’t have on that back end, his physicality. It will be a nice return for him and I’m sure he’s excited to get back.

“We work well together, we communicate well together. He plays that physical side that allows me to kind of play my game with skating and joining the rush and doing those things that I enjoy doing. It’s worked well so far and I’m excited to see what the season brings.’’

>Cates more comfortable at wing

Tortorella moved Noah Cates from center back to left wing on Tuesday and that had to do with both the rookie’s offense and defense.

Cates lit it up toward the end of last season but has struggled on offense in the early going. So the coach moved him back to wing

The line will now see Scott Laughton at center, Cates at left wing and Tippett at right wing.

“Talking to Scott, he’s more comfortable at center and I’m more comfortable at wing,’’ Cates said. “I think it will be a good relationship with us, for me to not have to be relied to do it all the time. I’m really excited to be getting back to wing, playing my game and being more comfortable.’’

At left wing, Cates doesn’t have to worry so much about faceoffs and defensive coverage.

Confidence level?

“I think playing center takes a little bit of the wind out of my sails,’’ Cates said. “I’m thinking a little too much. I’m thinking a little too much defensively. Just worrying about faceoffs and different things. It was kind of wearing me down a little bit. I think I’ll have a little more jump playing wing. I’ll just be a little more mentally free. To be one of the last guys out of the offensive zone, to be low, play my game down there a little bit more. Not worry about backchecking. It’s a welcome change for me. I’m really looking forward to it. I can help this team if I’m a winger. I think when I’m on wing, I can forecheck and be on my toes a little bit more.’’

Tortorella believes the move should get Cates back on track.

“I just think he’s dipped a little bit,’’ the coach said. “And I’ve given him a lot of minutes for a young guy. Put him in a lot of different pressure situations. I want him to be a little selfish, I think he needs to get his game going again. I want to give him a chance on the wing where he can just play.’’

>Bristol’s Barratt acquired in trade

Bristol-born forward Evan Barratt, a former star player from Penn State, was acquired by the Flyers on Wednesday in a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks, who received defenseman Cooper Zech in the deal.

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About Wayne Fish 1948 Articles
Wayne Fish has been covering the Flyers since 1976, a stint which includes 18 Stanley Cup Finals, four Winter Olympics and numerous other international events.