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, when they are scheduled to host the New York Rangers on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; TVAS, NBCSP, MSG, NHL.TV).
“We’ll do the best we can,” 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 also 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,” 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 also had their game at the Rangers on Sunday postponed.
Philadelphia was told it could practice Monday, but the NHL advised the Flyers to wait until Tuesday to return.
“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  players that practiced today was today.”
In addition to the goalies, Philadelphia players that 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 .
The Flyers have a busy week ahead. After hosting the Rangers, they are set to fly to Stateline, Nevada, to participate in the NHL Outdoors at Lake Tahoe, a set of two outdoor games with no fans in attendance. The Flyers and Boston Bruins will play in the Honda NHL Outdoors on Sunday (3 p.m. ET; NBC, SN, SN1, TVAS); the Colorado Avalanche will play the Vegas Golden Knights in the Bridgestone NHL Outdoors on Saturday (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 dress a conventional lineup against New York, or it could choose to dress 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.”
That might even mean a chance to play in the NHL Outdoors game. Fletcher said the Flyers not playing in that 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.”