Nolan Patrick practices again but will he return for a special homecoming?

Nolan Patrick practices again but will he return for a special homecoming?

WINNIPEG, Manitoba — When the Flyers' charter touched down early Wednesday morning, the team was greeted with its first snowfall of the early season. Mid-November in Winnipeg may as well be late January in Philadelphia. Temperatures in the 20s, scarf and glove weather, and cars caked in snow slush.

While Nolan Patrick recognized all the familiar sights of his hometown and was clearly comfortable in familiar surroundings happy to be back to see family and friends, very little changes here in the Canadian midwest. Perhaps more importantly, change for Patrick seems to move just as slowly. 

Just like he did three weeks ago, Patrick was on the ice practicing with his teammates, this time at the Bell MTS Place in Winnipeg. The Flyers' 19-year-old rookie did not have an ounce of enthusiasm in his voice as if he was preparing to play his first NHL game in the area he grew up watching, learning and playing the sport of hockey.

“Anywhere would be nice,” Patrick said. “Obviously to play here would be pretty cool, play my first game in my hometown, but that decision is not really up to me, so I guess we’ll see what happens.”

“I’ll make those decisions on game day,” said head coach Dave Hakstol, which leads one to believe Patrick's return to the ice is now based more on what works best for the team and not anything related to the protocol and baseline testing.

“It’s hard on any player. When you’re out of the lineup for an extended period of time, sometimes more so for a young player. He’s worked hard. He’s done all the things asked of him. Most importantly, he’s got a good group of teammates around him. Those are some of the most important people around him when he is out of the lineup.”

Patrick was quick to remind the Canadian media how he was struggling when he sustained the hit Oct. 24 against the Ducks. In the four previous games, Patrick had contributed just one assist and five shots on net. You can’t expect a player still learning the NHL game and having missed three weeks to be the offensive savior on a team that hasn’t scored a goal in its last 156 minutes of action.

“Hopefully I can contribute when I get back," Patrick said. "That’s something that I need to produce more when I get back. My last couple of games before I got hurt, I didn’t think I played really well. I’ll just try and get into a rhythm as fast I can when I get back.”

This ordeal isn’t much different than Patrick’s final season of junior hockey with the Brandon Wheat Kings when he was in and out of the lineup dealing with a multitude of core muscle injuries. 

“It’s not that frustrating,” Patrick said. “I’ve been through the injury process before so I know how to handle it. I just try and stay positive through the whole thing. I don’t think anyone wants to be hurt. It’s part of the game. Just stay positive throughout the process.”

Patrick circled Thursday on his calendar months ago when the NHL schedule was released, and the Flyers likely wanted Patrick to accompany the team, if anything, just to enjoy his first trip back to the town where he grew up. Eventually, he’ll have that first game in Winnipeg, but for now, it may not be what’s best for a struggling Flyers team searching for offense. 

'Mac' update
Defenseman Andrew MacDonald rejoined the team for the first time Wednesday in Winnipeg. MacDonald hadn’t skated since taking a slap shot off his leg Oct. 21 against the Edmonton Oilers. MacDonald just ditched the crutches the past Saturday, so it doesn’t appear as if he’s preparing to play against the Jets either.

“I’m not sure that’s realistic or not,” MacDonald said. “Just being off for the amount of time I was. It did feel really good, but again, we just have to go through the process of seeing how it feels tomorrow (Thursday), and kind of progress from there and make sure there’s no setbacks or anything.”

GM meeting
General manager Ron Hextall did not accompany the team to Winnipeg as he prepares to join the league’s other GMs in Montreal, where a number of topics will be discussed, including the effect of the new slashing penalty and the changes to the coach’s challenge.

Trade talks are always on the table now that injuries have created some holes on team’s rosters, while other teams are looking to fortify their position, especially after the three-team swap earlier this month that sent Matt Duchene to Ottawa.  

How Flyers prepare for life without Simmonds, Neuvirth

How Flyers prepare for life without Simmonds, Neuvirth

One Czech is out, and another has checked in.

Petr Mrazek has endured a rather eventful past 24 hours. Following news of the trade to the Flyers, Mrazek didn’t go to bed until 2 a.m. and was awake at 4 a.m. to catch a flight to Philadelphia that had him at the Wells Fargo Center in time for the Flyers' morning skate.

“I didn’t see it coming,” Mrazek said. “I got a call at 9:30 from (Red Wings GM) Ken Holland and then Ron Hextall. Yeah, I’m excited. A couple of months ago I had a good conversation with Ken Holland about it and he said if he had a good opportunity to do it, he was going to try and move me. I was really happy.”

With Michal Neuvirth now expected to miss the next 4 to 6 weeks with a lower-body injury, and Brian Elliott scheduled to be out until late March recovering from core muscle surgery, Mrazek will now be the Flyers' go-to guy in net. 

“Petr’s a proven guy,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “That goes without saying. We’ve said all along we have confidence in Alex and he’s starting tonight, but Hexy alluded to it, going out and getting an established veteran NHL goaltender and that’s what Petr is.”

Mrazek’s game has definitely reached another level since the calendar flipped to 2018. The 26-year-old netminder has a 5-3-2 record to go along with a 2.29 GAA and a .925 save percentage since Jan. 1. 

“I changed a couple of things during the summer,” Mrazek said. “I didn’t play much the first half of the season and it was tough for me to find my game playing once in two weeks or once in three weeks. It was tough but I worked hard during that stretch on the ice to try and improve my game, and I think over the past few months it was going in the right direction.”

Mrazek will also find comfort in a clubhouse with three Czech teammates: forward Jake Voracek, defenseman Radko Gudas and Neuvirth. They’ve played together at the IIHF World Championships and the World Cup of Hockey.

“I won’t be surprised if we signed Jags after the Olympics,” said Voracek, jokingly regarding Jaromir Jagr. “Obviously, something needs to be done regarding Neuvy and Elliott. Petr’s a great goalie and I think we’re having a great season this year. Obviously, he’s very competitive. As long as we find a way to win with him in the net, that’s all that matters.”  

“They’re different style goalies for sure,” Gudas said of the differences between Mrazek and Neuvirth. “He’s a great goaltender who challenges a lot. That’s a good thing for us to have someone who cares as much as he does. I think our goalies were doing a really good job of keeping our defense intact and keeping them honest, and I think Petr is going to do the same thing, especially our young D corps, and help them out.” 

In Bloom
Many expected Oskar Lindblom to make the Flyers out of training camp. Few expected the call-up to come during the heat of a playoff race. 

Regardless, the 21-year-old Swede will make his NHL debut Tuesday against the Canadiens and should see an extended look into March following an upper-body injury to Wayne Simmonds. The Flyers' power forward is expected to miss the next 2 to 3 weeks of action.

“I’ve grown as a person and as a player,” Lindblom said. “I just felt I had to go down there (Lehigh Valley) and just do my thing and get better every day.”

“It’s so valuable going into the American League and have the opportunity to gain that experience, especially for Oskar being his first year in the smaller NHL rink,” Hakstol said. “He’s grown as a player. I think his confidence has always been good.”

Certainly, confidence won’t be lacking as Lindblom was lighting it up with the Phantoms, scoring a goal in three straight games, along with another scoring streak that included five goals in a six-game span.  

“I don’t know why I’ve been that way this season,” said Lindblom. “But it’s good when it comes and I need to keep riding on that wave a little bit.”

“He’s got a great shot, great hockey sense,” Claude Giroux said. “He’s been playing some great hockey with the Phantoms, and he’s a great guy in the locker room too, so I’m pretty excited to see him on the ice since I haven’t seen him in awhile.”

Lindblom will be on the Flyers' third line along with center Scott Laughton and winger Michael Raffl.

“He’s a smart player, a really heady player,” Laughton said. “I’m excited to play with him. I haven’t talked to him too much. I’m sure we’ll talk more before the game with what me and Raffl like to do and we’ll go out there and continue to push forward and look for him in the slot where he likes to score goals.”

Projected lines and pairings
Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Travis Konecny

Jake Voracek-Nolan Patrick-Jordan Weal

Oskar Lindblom-Scott Laughton-Michael Raffl

Jori Lehtera-Valtteri Filppula-Dale Weise

Ivan Provorov-Shayne Gostisbehere

Andrew MacDonald-Robert Hägg

Brandon Manning-Radko Gudas

Alex Lyon

Petr Mrazek

2 more key Flyers out with injuries

USA Today Images

2 more key Flyers out with injuries

There's more bad news on the injury front for the Flyers.

Winger Wayne Simmonds (upper-body injury) will miss two to three weeks and goalie Michal Neuvirth (lower-body injury) will be out the next four to five weeks.

With yesterday's news that the Flyers had recalled surging forward prospect Oskar Lindblom (see story), a corresponding move seemed imminent. With Simmonds out, Jordan Weal took his place on Nolan Patrick's line, which had been clicking lately, during the morning skate. It appears Lindblom will see his first NHL action on Scott Laughton's line along with Michael Raffl.

With Brian Elliott likely out for the rest of the regular season and Neuvirth's status, the Flyers' trade for goalie Petr Mrazek makes obvious sense (see story). Mrazek was on the ice for morning skate and will be available tonight vs. the Canadiens (7 p.m./NBCSP), according to GM Ron Hextall, who was a guest on 97.5 The Fanatic's midday show.