The Philadelphia Flyers were the first of 12 NHL teams to arrive in their Toronto hub city on Sunday.
After practice on Monday, the Flyers will play their first game in more than four months when they face off against their cross-state rivals, the Pittsburgh Penguins (4 p.m. ET, NBCSN).
Bubble Life Is Good
Philadelphia coach Alain Vigneault told reporters on Monday that the move to Toronto went seamlessly.
“Everything ran quicker and smoother than we anticipated,” he said. “People were everywhere waiting for us, following the guidelines, following the safety measures.
“We got spoken to by Health Canada. Basically, we’ve just done what people have told us.”
Preparation or Competition?
Now, Vigneault is turning his attention to how to make the most of the four games that lie ahead before Philadelphia’s first-round playoff series begins in two weeks’ time. Wins in the three round-robin games could move the team up from its current fourth seed in the Eastern Conference. But the round-robin games also offer an opportunity to do further preparation in a relatively low-stakes environment.
“There’s that fine balance in between both,” Vigneault admitted. “The worst we can be is fourth, but we do have an opportunity to improve. We have to measure — What’s the best thing for us right now? Higher seed, or prepare our team, prepare our players the best we can in this situation.
“I think we’re going to find that balance.”
Latest NHL News
Finding Their Legs
“I think it’s nice that we have these four games, including our exhibition, to get back into game mode, just to feel things out,” said goaltender Carter Hart.
“We’ve put ourselves in a good position. We’re lucky to have these four games to see what it’s going to be like.”
“I think it’s a little less pressure right off the bat,”
added center Sean Couturier
, still wearing his hospital bracelet on his wrist following the birth of his first child on July 23.
“We can…not ‘ease’ our way in, but get back into it as quickly as possible without the risk of losing and getting kicked out. I think it’s going to be important to be able to find our game as quickly as possible and ramp up the intensity so that we’re ready right off the start of the actual playoffs.”
Part of that preparation will still involve some lineup decisions.
“We’ll use these games to find what’s working best for us,” said Vigneault. “Not knowing exactly how players are going to respond after such a long layoff, we might have guys pushing to take that ice time and those roles.”
Teams are allowed to dress two extra players for their exhibition games. Vigneault said he plans to use 13 forwards and seven defensemen, and to try to distribute ice time fairly evenly at 5-on-5 against the Penguins.
“We have good internal competition going on within our group right now. Guys haven’t played for almost five months. They’ve got to get their rhythm, get back their timing on the ice. Get back to where they were, hopefully, when we stopped playing.”
Emotions always run high when the Penguins and Flyers face off, but general manager Chuck Fletcher doesn’t think his players will need that extra boost to get excited about Tuesday’s game.
“I think, not only speaking for our team but every team, everybody’s so excited to play a game right now,” Fletcher said. “Normally at training camp, you practice for three or four days and by the fourth day, you’re playing games.
In this case, it’s basically Day 15. This is like old-school training camp back in the 80s and 90s. The rivalry will be nice, but the guys are excited to play.”
Here’s the Flyers’ round-robin schedule:
Sunday, August 2 – 3 p.m. ET – Philadelphia vs. Boston (NBC)
Thursday, August 6 – Philadelphia vs. Washington (time & TV TBD)
Saturday, August 8 – Philadelphia vs. Tampa Bay (time & TV TBD)