Mike Yeo and the Flyers know they have an important game ahead of them as they try to make their four-game road trip a successful one.
For that important game, they'll get at least one important player back — and very possibly two.
Scott Laughton and Carter Hart joined the Flyers in Anaheim, California for practice Monday. Laughton will enter the lineup Tuesday against the Ducks while Hart is expected to suit up and may start (10 p.m. ET/NBCSP).
Laughton and Hart missed the first three games of the Flyers' West Coast road trip because of COVID protocols. The Flyers are 1-1-1 on the trip. Hart, their No. 1 goalie, hasn't played since Dec. 16.
"My initial conversation with him this morning was that he was feeling good," Yeo, the Flyers' interim head coach, said Monday after his team's practice at Honda Center. "But we wanted to make sure we get through practice, see how he does coming off the ice. I expect him to be in the lineup and I would say that there's a decent chance that he's a starter for tomorrow."
Hart missed the Flyers' final game before the NHL-mandated holiday break on Dec. 18 as he had a bout with the flu. When the team returned from the extended hiatus, he tested positive for the coronavirus.
"I legit had the flu for a couple of days, didn't feel good at all," Hart said. "Then come back after the break, test positive and had pretty mild symptoms, if any at all. It was pretty wild."
Hart is 2-0-0 with 70 saves on 73 shots in his career against the Ducks. If he starts Tuesday, it'll be his first game action in 19 days.
"I feel good now," Hart said. "It's nice to be back with the boys. Sitting in your apartment all day isn't a lot of fun, so it's good to be back with the boys here in Cali, too. I felt good on the ice today, it was nice to get on; I haven't touched the ice in a while, so I had to shake the rust off and it was good to get back in the mix with the boys."
Laughton also dealt with COVID-19 in February of last season. His own 14-day quarantine combined with the team's mandatory shutdown, Laughton had missed close to three weeks. He lost his taste and smell then, which caused some weight loss.
"I just felt really weird at the end of last year," Laughton said in September during training camp. "Almost weak and a little bit frail."
This season, Laughton said it was "frustrating" and "draining" to miss time following the holiday break. The 27-year-old forward said he cleaned his apartment and spent time with his fiancee Chloe and their cat.
"I had no symptoms, was really surprised that I tested positive," Laughton said. "You just try and follow the league protocols and go through it, but yeah, it's frustrating. It's a tough situation in the world right now and nothing you can do about it."
On Monday, forward Jackson Cates, defenseman Nick Seeler and a club staff member were placed on the NHL's COVID protocol list. With Cates now out, the Flyers can simply plug Laughton in without having to make any other changes at forward unless there's another unforeseen absence.
However, the Flyers won't have Derick Brassard back. He exited COVID protocol with Laughton and Hart but did not end up making the trip to California. The 34-year-old forward has also dealt with a hip issue, having missed 14 of the team's last 15 games.
"It was a change of plans," Yeo said. "He didn't end up flying out, he wouldn't have been an option for tomorrow. ... We felt it was just best for him to stay behind and get a skate there. I definitely want to see him in a practice before we throw him into a game, but he's not ready for tomorrow's game."
Laughton and potentially Hart are valuable additions. Laughton is a Swiss army knife and playing a career-high 16:02 minutes per game, while Hart is sporting a career-best .918 save percentage to go along with a 2.74 goals-against average.
The Flyers (13-13-6) are coming off of a 6-3 loss New Year's Day to the Kings, which snapped their season-best seven-game point streak. A win Tuesday would give them a successful road trip and more progress under Yeo. A loss would give them three defeats in four games.
"I think it's a very important game," Yeo said. "First of all, you want to bounce back from a loss; that's what good teams do. We lost last game — created some more opportunities, kind of climbed back into it but not really — so we want to bounce back from that. We win that game tomorrow and I think we're all coming home feeling pretty decent about the trip. Not necessarily an outstanding trip, but a pretty good trip.
"It gives us a chance to get back on the horse, get some momentum going into some games coming up at home. We find that game important to make it a good road trip, but I think more importantly, let's bounce back, let's show that last game is not who we are and let's get back in the win column."
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