Michael Raffl

Flyers injury update: Key players return to practice after NHL All-Star break

Flyers injury update: Key players return to practice after NHL All-Star break

Updated: 3:36 p.m.

As expected, the Flyers are getting healthier just in time for the start of their post-NHL All-Star break playoff push.

Shayne Gostisbehere (knee) and Michael Raffl (upper body) practiced Thursday ahead of Friday’s game against the Penguins in Pittsburgh (7 p.m. ET/NBCSP).

Gostisbehere underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee Jan. 14. The defenseman’s return would give the Flyers seven healthy blueliners, which may push Robert Hagg out of the lineup. Head coach Alain Vigneault could also go with a matchup-based approach on which defenseman sits moving forward.

It turns out, though, Gostisbehere is not quite ready for Friday. He'll travel to Pittsburgh but won't play. A return Saturday against the Avalanche at the Wells Fargo Center is possible (7 p.m. ET/NBCSP+).

Raffl missed the Flyers’ 3-0 win over the Penguins with his injury. His return helps the Flyers’ bottom six and penalty kill.

Carter Hart (abdominal strain) has improved but will miss a minimum of seven more days. The news is not alarming. The Flyers announced on Jan. 15 that the goalie would be out two to three weeks, so this is still on line with what the team expected. The Flyers will play it ultra safe with Hart’s injury as he is vital to the team’s postseason chances and, of course, its future.

“Carter’s going to be a few more days, a couple more practices," Vigneault said Thursday. "Carter skated before practice today, felt real good, so slowly but surely, we’re getting a couple of bodies back and we’re on the right track.”

The Flyers called up Alex Lyon and Connor Bunnaman from AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley. The two were sent down to simply stay fresh and play games during the Flyers’ NHL-mandated bye week from Jan. 22-30.

According to Hockey-Reference.com, the Flyers have a 47.3 percent chance to make the playoffs. They are three points out of third place in a deep Metropolitan Division and one point out of a wild-card spot.

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Flyers vs. Penguins: Live stream, storylines, game time and more

Flyers vs. Penguins: Live stream, storylines, game time and more

The Flyers would much rather go into their NHL-mandated Jan. 22-30 bye week riding a win over the Penguins than stewing over a loss to the division rival.

They'll decide their fate ahead of the break Tuesday night when the Flyers (26-17-6) host the Penguins (31-13-5).

Let's get into the essentials:

When: 7:30 p.m. ET
Where: Wells Fargo Center
Broadcast: NBC Sports Network
Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com

• If the Flyers want to beat Pittsburgh, they'll have to find a way to at least somewhat slow down Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

Since returning from core muscle surgery, Crosby has eight points (three goals, five assists) in four games, while Malkin has gone scoreless only twice over his last 19 games, a stretch in which he has put up 28 points (nine goals, 19 assists).

Those two have notoriously hurt the Flyers. Crosby owns 102 points (42 goals, 60 assists) in 68 career games against the Flyers and Malkin boasts 70 points (27 goals, 43 assists) in 56 lifetime meetings with the orange and black.

During the Flyers' 7-1 loss to the Penguins on Oct. 29, the lone matchup thus far in 2019-20, Crosby enjoyed a three-point game and Malkin was out. The Flyers have been far better defensively at home, so let's see what adjustments they make in Game 2 of the four-game regular-season series.

• Speaking of playing at home, the Flyers have taken significant strides in that area. They are 16-4-4 with 36 points at home after going 19-18-4 with 42 points last season.

Another important improvement has been their play against the Metropolitan Division. The Flyers are 8-2-3 vs. divisional opponents compared to a 10-16-2 mark against the Metro last season.

Interestingly, the Flyers and Penguins have been polar opposites against the Eastern and Western Conferences. The Flyers are 18-6-4 vs. the East compared to 8-11-2 against the West, while the Penguins are 11-9-3 vs. the East compared to 20-4-2 against the West.

• The Flyers will be without Michael Raffl (upper body) as rookie call-up German Rubtsov enters the lineup.

Joel Farabee, who has goals in back-to-back games, should see greater minutes.

Projected lineup

Forwards

James van Riemsdyk-Claude Giroux-Travis Konecny
Joel Farabee-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
Scott Laughton-Kevin Hayes-Nicolas Aube-Kubel
German Rubtsov-Connor Bunnaman-Tyler Pitlick

Defensemen

Ivan Provorov-Matt Niskanen
Travis Sanheim-Philippe Myers
Robert Hagg-Justin Braun

Goalies

Brian Elliott
Alex Lyon

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Flyers loan Morgan Frost to AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley, activate Michael Raffl off long-term injured reserve

Flyers loan Morgan Frost to AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley, activate Michael Raffl off long-term injured reserve

Morgan Frost's taste of the NHL is over ... for now.

The Flyers sent the 20-year-old back to AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley on Sunday night and activated Michael Raffl off long-term injured reserve.

Is the Frost demotion surprising? Somewhat. It seemed like Mikhail Vorobyev could have been the candidate to go down and have Raffl fill his fourth-line center spot.

Then again, Frost, one of the organization's top prospects, hit a bit of a wall production-wise after scoring two goals and three points in his first two NHL games. In 16 games since, the playmaking center had four points (all assists) and a minus-4 mark.

Frost gave the Flyers an offensive jolt down the middle when they desperately needed it. Lately, though, he had slid down to the third line. He is much more of a factor playing in a top-six role.

Having the 2017 first-round pick return to Lehigh Valley could allow Frost to regain his confidence and be ready to help down the stretch for the Flyers. With the Phantoms, he'll play big minutes and be relied upon heavily to score.

For now, the Flyers will look to Vorobyev to provide some offense at third- or fourth-line center as Raffl joins the bottom six down the middle. While the Flyers have improved their goal prevention, they still need offense. Frost is the type of player that is always a threat to make something happen even if he's struggling to put up points.

The veteran Raffl had been out since early December because of a broken right pinkie finger. Scott Laughton, another key role forward, is nearing a return from a groin injury. When he comes back, Andy Andreoff will likely join Frost in Lehigh Valley.

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