VOORHEES, N.J. — The Flyers welcomed two more players out on to the rink for their practice following Saturday’s 6-3 win over Carolina.
Michael Del Zotto (lower body) and Scott Laughton (lower body) returned to the ice for the first time since suffering injuries within days of each other. Before Sunday’s light practice, Del Zotto and Laughton had skated two consecutive days prior to work on their conditioning.
“It’s nice to see them back with the group,” head coach Dave Hakstol said.
Laughton, who injured himself during a training camp practice after losing an edge, was a bit more forward than Del Zotto on when he hopes to return.
“I would say within the next five to seven days,” Laughton said.
The 22-year-old pointed to Saturday’s game with Pittsburgh as his target to return.
As for Del Zotto, the defenseman didn’t want to jinx anything, saying it’s a “day-by-day” situation. He would like to think he’s working on the same timetable as Laughton. If that’s the case, he would be back either a few days before or right on cue with the projected four to five weeks he was scheduled to miss after suffering an injury to his left knee in the preseason against the New York Rangers on Oct. 6.
“It’s kind of trial and error,” Del Zotto said.
Above all else, though, the two were just happy to be back with their teammates. Del Zotto said that being around everyone really rejuvenated his spirits.
“Just being back around the guys and having that team chemistry and camaraderie and being able to joke with the guys,” Del Zotto said, “it’s probably been the best thing for me.”
This past month has especially been hard on the two because of the timing and how last season ended for them.
While there’s never an ideal time to suffer an injury, the pair saw training camp and the approaching start of the regular season in a different light than most of their teammates.
It was supposed to be their new start. Last season, Del Zotto missed the final few months, including the postseason, after ligament damage to his left wrist. He was having a strong preseason, arguably the top defenseman in camp at the time before suffering his setback.
“Being out so long last year and having to sit and watch playoffs than having six months of grueling rehab to get back into it … that made it sting that much more,” Del Zotto said. “That’s part of the game. It’s a contact sport. I signed up for this.”
The same can be said for Laughton, who experienced a scary injury in Game 4 against Washington after being dumped head first into the boards.
“I was really excited to have camp and start the year here,” Laughton said.
The two will be traveling to Montreal with the rest of the Flyers for Monday’s contest. They will each do the morning skate with another bag skate afterward.
The second week of the season brought peaks and valleys for the Flyers. Uneven would be the appropriate adjective to describe this past week.
There was the high of Saturday’s 6-3 win over visiting Carolina when the offense exploded, the low of an uninspiring 3-2 loss to the Ducks in Thursday’s home opener and the comeback gone awry in Tuesday’s 7-4 loss in Chicago somewhere in between.
Let’s dive in to the week that was, starting with the hottest Flyers scorer on two skates.
• Matt Read has received his fair share of grief over the past few seasons. After scoring over 20 goals in two of his first three NHL seasons, the Flyers' forward struggled to produce with just 19 goals combined over the past two seasons, dealt with injuries and found it difficult to keep up with the speed of the game. Well, well, well … guess who’s tied for second in the entire league in goals with five tallies through five games this year. Yep, Read. For the first time in a long time, the 30-year-old is fully healthy, and it shows. It’s not just that Read is scoring again, it’s that he’s scoring from the tough areas the Flyers need score from. Not every goal can be a Claude Giroux-Jake Voracek passing clinic. Read has scored on deflections and in front of the net with defenders in his face. He’s proof that if a player goes to the tough areas, the player will be rewarded. His goal Thursday against Anaheim was an old-school Read goal, though, as he turned on the turbo jets, blew past a defender and made a slick deke at the net to beat John Gibson. It’s clear Dave Hakstol’s trust in Read is back, as the forward saw time on the top power-play unit this week and was even bumped up to the top line with Giroux and Wayne Simmonds when Michael Raffl left the game in Chicago with an injury. The offseason thumb surgery Read had seems like it’s done wonders, and that’s good news for the Flyers. He’s a confident player again and he’s earned his spot in the lineup.
• Speaking of earning a spot in the lineup, how impressive has Brandon Manning been on the Flyers’ blue line early on this season? It’s safe to say the 26-year-old has been the best defenseman on the team through the first five games of the season. He’s played a smart, stay-at-home style and not tried to do too much. That goal he scored against the Hurricanes on Saturday night was a thing of beauty, though. Who knew he had the deke and backhand tuck in his repertoire? He’s also got three assists on the young season. Manning leads the Flyers with a plus-5 rating early on and it just seems like good things are happening when he’s on the ice and around the puck. It’s going to be interesting to see what Hakstol does when Radko Gudas is eligible to play Tuesday vs. Buffalo when the burly defenseman’s suspension ends. Manning is staying in, and that was true even before Saturday’s stylish goal.
• Another week, another set of slow starts for the Flyers, who fell behind in all three games this week. It’s troubling trend they have to get control of soon. Constantly battling uphill is no way to play in the NHL and the Flyers know it. They fell behind 4-0 to Chicago, 1-0 to Anaheim and 2-0 to Carolina. The counterpoint here is the Flyers fought back in all three of those games and had legitimate chances to win in third period against both the Blackhawks and the Ducks. You have to like the never-say-die attitude they showed in Chicago when they scored four goals in just under six minutes to tie things up after a lackluster showing for most of the first two periods. Chicago is a tough place to play, but still, the starts have to be better. It’s frustrating because these kinds of comebacks show what the Flyers are capable of when they turn it on and leaves you wondering where it’s at from the beginning of the game.
• That 1-for-7 showing on the power play against the Ducks was flat-out ugly. Just brutal. It cost the Flyers the game. Think about this: the Flyers had seven power plays and finished the game with 22 total shots on goal. That just can’t happen. It was a game reminiscent of the playoff series vs. Washington when the power play haunted the Flyers and really cost them the series. They came back with a 1-for-4 showing against the 'Canes, but things still weren’t great. The man advantage is stagnant. Teams are keying in on Giroux at the half-wall and Shayne Gostisbehere at the point and putting pressure on them immediately, which throws all the timing off. It might be time for the Flyers to switch something up and try to focus on starting from below the goal line out. The kinds of dirty goals Simmonds scored on the power play this week are the ones the Flyers need to score. The pretty ones aren’t always going to be there. Get the shots through and go to work.
• It was a good week in net for Steve Mason, who was saddled with two hard-luck losses to the Blackhawks and Ducks. In Tuesday’s relief effort vs. Chicago, his defense did him no favors on the ‘Hawks’ late goals and his forwards didn’t help with neutral-zone turnovers, either. Giroux’s turnover at center ice on Chicago’s winning goal was ugly. Mason was hung out to dry against the Ducks, as the Flyers’ defense had a bad night. He was really good against the ‘Canes and that third-period save he made on his back during a net-front scramble could have been a game-saver. Michal Neuvirth struggled in his start in Chicago, giving up four goals on 16 shots. The ‘Hawks’ skill can do that to goalies. The Flyers have a back-to-back set Monday and Tuesday this week, so I expect the goalies to split those starts. But it seems, as of right now, Mason is the guy Hakstol is most comfortable with. And Hakstol has shown he’s not afraid to ride the hot hand in net.
• I’ve given the NHL’s Department of Player Safety plenty of grief in the past. Its inconsistency in suspension rulings can be dumbfounding at times. And the fact that whether or not a player is or isn’t hurt on a play factors into a ruling is just ridiculous. A guy isn’t hurt, so the dirty hit is OK. Right, whatever you say. That said, it got the three-game suspension on Dale Weise right. He left his feet and drilled Ducks defenseman Korbinian Holzer right in the head Thursday. It’s a textbook illegal check to the head. He didn’t have to leave his feet and eventually follow through to the head. Factor in that Weise was suspended in 2013 when, as a member of the Vancouver Canucks, he delivered a hit to the head of Taylor Hall that garned a three-game suspension, and the three-game ban here fits.
• I have a confession to make. After finally seeing the Flyers’ gold-trimmed 50th anniversary sweaters in action on Thursday, they’re really growing on me.
Coming up this week (all games on CSN): Monday at Montreal (7:30 p.m.), Tuesday vs. Buffalo (7:30 p.m.), Thursday vs. Arizona (7:00 p.m. – 50th anniversary celebration night for hall of famers), Saturday vs. Pittsburgh (7:00 p.m.).