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Flyers return to practice after week away, will host Rangers on Thursday

Skate with 16 players, had four games postponed because of COVID-19 protocols

by Amalie Benjamin @AmalieBenjamin / Staff Writer

The Philadelphia Flyers returned to the ice for practice Tuesday after a one-week absence because of NHL COVID-19 protocols, hoping to get back up to speed for their next game Thursday, when they are scheduled to host the New York Rangers (7 p.m. ET; TVAS, NBCSP, MSG, NHL.TV).

"We'll do the best we can," Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher said. "We'll put the best roster out that we can and we're just excited to be back practicing and looking forward to hopefully playing a game on Thursday night."

Sixteen players practiced Tuesday: 14 skaters and goalies Carter Hart and Brian Elliott. Four of the 14 skaters were members of the taxi squad. Eight more players are expected to be available Wednesday, Fletcher said.

Philadelphia is not expected to get back any of the seven players on the NHL COVID-19 protocol list: forwards Claude Giroux, Travis Konecny, Scott Laughton, Oskar Lindblom and Jakub Voracek, and defenseman Justin Braun. Forward Morgan Frost is on the protocol list but is not expected to play again this season because of a dislocated left shoulder sustained Jan. 19.

The Flyers have not played since a 7-4 win at the Washington Capitals on Feb. 7. Two days later, their game at the Capitals was postponed after Giroux and Braun entered COVID-19 protocol.

"We had practice the day before, we tested, all the tests came back negative," Philadelphia coach Alain Vigneault said. "We had two tests that we had to do prior to that game, rapid test and our normal test. I think it was [Giroux] that came back positive, and they didn't want to take any other chances so the game was [postponed]."

The Flyers were originally told they could practice as early as Monday, but the NHL advised them to wait until Tuesday. Four of their scheduled games after Feb. 7 had been postponed: the game on Feb. 9, games against the New Jersey Devils on Feb. 11 and 13 (the Devils had not played since Jan. 31 because of COVID-19 protocols). and at the Rangers on Feb. 14.

"Yesterday was the day that initially we were told we could return to practice," Fletcher said. "It was determined jointly that the smart thing to do would be to wait to Day Eight, which for the [16] players that practiced today was today."

In addition to the goalies, Philadelphia players who practiced Tuesday included forwards Andy Andreoff, Connor Bunnaman, David Kase, Joel Farabee, Kevin Hayes, Maksim Sushko, Michael Raffl and Nolan Patrick; and defensemen Derrick Pouliot, Ivan Provorov, Mark Friedman, Robert Hagg, Shayne Gostisbehere and Travis Sanheim

After hosting the Rangers, the Flyers will fly to Stateline, Nevada, to participate in one of the NHL Outdoors at Lake Tahoe, where they will play the Boston Bruins in the Honda NHL Outdoors on Sunday (3 p.m. ET; NBC, SN, SN1, TVAS). 

"After what we've been through the last week, our hope is that we will obviously have a full roster for Thursday and Sunday," Fletcher said. "I believe (NHL Deputy Commissioner) Bill Daly has described the process as day to day, which is accurate from our standpoint."

Fletcher said in addition to the eight players expected back Wednesday, he hoped a few more players would return "over the next week or so," though he did not specify players in either group.

"It shouldn't be difficult to be competitive," Hayes said. "It's just a next-man-up mentality. We obviously are down some important players, but I think everyone's going to compete, whether you're a regular in this lineup or you just got called up and you're playing your first game."

Vigneault said the situation could open a chance for some players to get a look they might not have gotten otherwise. He said Philadelphia could use a conventional lineup against New York, or it could use 11 forwards and seven defensemen.

"It's an opportunity for them to get a chance to play," Vigneault said. "Some guys have been waiting for that opportunity for quite some time, and now because of our situation, because of players that are under the COVID protocol, there's opportunity. Guys are going to have to jump on the opportunity and make the best of it."

Fletcher said the Flyers not playing in the outdoor game never was discussed, including during daily conversations with Daly.

"We've just been working together to get to where we are now, where we're back practicing, albeit with a smaller group," Fletcher said. "The whole focus has been on getting back and getting ready for Thursday and all going well, that's what we're hoping to do. But we didn't have any of those conversations, no."

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