(Photo: Brian Born/Philadelphia Flyers)
Sunday was travel day for the Flyers and the team was the first to arrive in Toronto. The Flyers will also be the first team to get to play in a game, when they face the Pittsburgh Penguins at 4 p.m. on Tuesday.
For now, though, this was about adjusting to their new normal. For the next few weeks (at least), this is going to be home. But the Flyers are doing their best to adjust.
“The bubble’s been tremendous so far,” GM Chuck Fletcher said. “We’re in a beautiful hotel and the weather's been great. Everything’s worked like clockwork. It’s been a great experience so far. Amazing that the NHL and the union could put this together in such short notice. It’s only going to get more efficient. It’s already efficient. It’s been tremendous.”
“I have to say that everything ran smoothly. We got through customs, on the bus, at the hotel. Everything was set up,” Alain Vigneault said. “Everything ran basically quicker and smoother than we anticipated. We anticipated to be a little bit longer. We were prepared for it. To the contrary, people were everywhere, waiting for us, following the guidelines and following the safety measures. We got spoken to when we landed by Health Canada, told us what we could do and not do. We got here at the hotel and had the same thing. Basically we’ve done what people have told us. Got a chance to practice a couple of hours ago. We’re going to play our first game tomorrow. We’re getting a chance to play. It’s run smoothly so far.”
And fear not, Vigneault has found a way to get his drink of choice.
“I’ve already found a martini, don’t worry,” Vigneault said. “The facility we’re at is a great facility. We have activities that we can do from working out to tennis that we have to ask time for, but we’ve got to get through the first five days, safe and healthy. You can only do that if you follow the guidelines and that’s what we’re doing.”
Of course, the biggest sense of normal will be playing games, and the Flyers get the first one on Tuesday afternoon. Vigneault announced some details with his lineup for Tuesday, saying that Carter Hart will start in goal and play two periods before giving way to Brian Elliott for the third. The team is able to dress 13 forwards and seven defensemen for the game. The 13 forwards will be the typical top group that has been in practice the last few days. On defense, Shayne Gostisbehere, Mark Friedman and Egor Zamula will all dress for the game, so that means a couple of veterans are sitting out.
“There’s that fine balance in between both. The worst we could be is fourth, but we do have the opportunity to improve,” Vigneault said. “We, as a staff, a team and an organization, have to measure what’s the best thing for us right now. Is it to be higher seed or is it to prepare our team and prepare our players the best way that we can in this situation. I think we are going to find that balance.
“Obviously right now, first and foremost on my mind, we got some good internal competition within our group right now for different roles, different spots on the team. We’ve got to sort that out. At the same time, guys haven’t played for almost five months here. They’ve got to get their rhythm. They’ve got to get their timing on the ice. We got to get back to hopefully as close as to where we were prior to when we were stopped from playing. We’ll balance that out. We’ll sort out the decisions we have to make. We’re going to do the big picture here moving forward.”
Facing the Penguins is also a bonus. Having a rivalry game, even if it’s an exhibition, can certainly be a way to get the juices flowing and the emotions high after not having a game for nearly five months.
“It’s a rivalry so emotions are probably going to get high,” Sean Couturier said. “Can’t ask for a better way to get back into it, especially going into the playoffs. I kind of like that.”
Through all of this, the Flyers remain focused on the main goal of being ready for the start of the first round of the playoffs, still two weeks away. The Flyers are safely in the playoff picture and will play four games before the playoffs really begin and they have a set opponent for a series. They are using this time to find the best combinations and lineup.
“I think it’s nice we have those four games here including our exhibition. Kind of get back into game mode and just feel things out,” Hart said. “It’s going to be a different environment for everybody. Something we are not used to. We’re all in the same boat. It’s going to be different to start. We put ourselves in a good position, so we’re lucky to have those four games here to see what it’s going to be like. As opposed to some teams that get one exhibition game and then have to fight for their lives to get into the postseason. I think we put ourselves in a spot to get these four games. It’ll be nice to ease our way back into things.”
So far, one member of the Flyers roster is not with the team just yet. Oskar Lindblom was on the final playoff roster and will join the team in Toronto at some point, but for now is home with family in Sweden. Once he joins the team, he will be able to participate in practices and work his way back to possibly playing in games as long as the Flyers remain in the playoffs. Just the thought of Lindblom possibly being on the ice soon has his teammates excited.
“It was already amazing to see him just before we left here before he went back home,” Couturier said. “It’s nice to see him happy and doing well. Obviously we’re happy to see him back in the lineup one day. We’ll see when it is, but we’re definitely looking forward to that day.”
There was good news around the NHL. On the first day of bubble life, the NHL reported that there were no positive tests for COVID-19 in the last week of Phase 3 training camps from team facilities and only two positive tests reported for the last two weeks of Phase 3. With the teams now in the bubble, it appears to be full steam ahead for the NHL.
So let the games begin, starting with the Flyers and Penguins on Tuesday afternoon.