-- For their final full practice before the start of the playoffs, every healthy member of the Philadelphia Flyers
was on the ice for Wednesday's practice here at Virtua Health Flyers Skate Zone, except for one -- captain Mike Richards
Richards skipped the workout due to what General Manager Paul Holmgren
said was a "maintenance day," but in a text message to Comcast SportsNet's Lisa Hillary, Richards said he had a minor head cold and will play Thursday when the Flyers host the Buffalo Sabres
in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series (7:30 p.m. ET, VERSUS, TSN).
Holmgren said in a text message that, "(Chris) Pronger is day to day, game-day decision for Game 1. All other players are healthy."
Coach Peter Laviolette
wasn't overly concerned with his captain's absence, saying he knew in advance Richards would not be on the ice.
"It's unusual to not have Mike here because he's here every other day of the year," said Laviolette.
Richards played 81 games this season, only missing one game due to the flu. Last season he played all 82 games, plus all 23 Stanley Cup Playoff games as well as seven games for Canada at the Olympics.
"We would have liked to have had him out there today, sure," Laviolette said of Richards. "And Pronger, and everybody else."
While Richards stayed off the ice, Pronger skated and handled the puck for about 40 minutes Wednesday before the full team came out.
Pronger worked on puckhandling and skating drills with assistant coach Joe Mullen
and fellow injured defenseman Oskars Bartulis
. Pronger made soft passes and his only shots had little to no force on them.
It was the first time in about two weeks that Pronger had worked on the ice handling the puck.
Skating and working with the puck was a change from recent workouts for Pronger, including Tuesday, when he took part in a 50-minute skate without pucks.
Pronger did not speak with reporters Wednesday, but said Tuesday working away from the team 24 hours before the opening of the Stanley Cup Playoffs was a frustrating situation.
"It's tough," he said. "You'd like to be able to be out there prepping, going through all the drills and preparing properly. But I have my own path, I guess, and we'll use it for what it is."
Pronger originally hurt the hand Feb. 24 against the New York Islanders
when he was hit by a shot. He missed one game, returned to play four games, and then re-injured his hand during a win against the Edmonton Oilers
on March 8. He hasn't played since.
Laviolette said Tuesday he only was concerned with the healthy players he has to work with.
"Certainly you'd like to have your pieces in there, but we don't," he said. "At this point, today in practice, he wasn't there, so we prepare and plan to play Buffalo today with the guys we have on the ice. That changes daily and I think we have a lot of confidence. We dealt with injuries last year and all this year. Most teams do. They (Buffalo) are missing some players, too. Injuries are a part of the game. It's a cliché, but it's an opportunity for other guys to step up, and I think other guys have stepped up."
Options for Laviolette for Thursday include: rookie Erik Gustafsson
, who played three games with the Flyers but spent most his first professional season in the AHL; Danny Syvret
, who played the last four regular-season games, averaging about 12 minutes per game; and veteran Nick Boynton
. Matt Walker
, who cleared waivers Tuesday, also will be available. Two hip surgeries and a knee operation limited him to just 15 games this season between the NHL and AHL, but Holmgren said Tuesday that Walker has been medically cleared to play.
The Flyers certainly have experience playing without Pronger, who missed 32 games this season due to knee, foot and hand injuries. They went 16-9-7 in his absence, but that doesn't mean they like playing without the 17-year veteran.
"We'll welcome him back with open arms for sure," forward Scott Hartnell
told NHL.com. "It's definitely a different game back there with him not in the lineup. I think he instills some fear in the opponents. We've had to adapt without him. Hopefully this round, second round, third round, when he comes back, we'll welcome him back."
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK