The Pittsburgh Penguins will be facing the same challenge Thursday when they play the second of three consecutive home games against the Philadelphia Flyers.
The Penguins will be without team captain Sidney Crosby, who is tied for the team lead with 18 points, for the second straight game.
Pittsburgh learned Tuesday morning that Crosby, as well as assistant coach Todd Reirden, were being placed on the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol list.
It’s unclear how long Crosby will be out — the league prohibits the distribution of information on whether a player has tested positive or is in protocol as a precaution based on contact with someone who has — but it is expected to be at least for Thursday’s game and perhaps for all three of these games against Philadelphia. He did not practice Wednesday.
“That pretty much sums up the COVID season for you,” said the Penguins’ Bryan Rust. “There’s a lot of unexpected things that happen, and you’ve got to just roll with the punches.”
Pittsburgh did that Tuesday, when it was forced to ditch its morning skate at the last minute yet still rallied that night without Crosby to down the Flyers 5-2.
“It was a challenge,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “Those are difficult, unexpected circumstances.”
The most impactful of those circumstances, losing Crosby, will continue.
“He’s our leader,” said Kasperi Kapanen, who scored two goals for Pittsburgh on Tuesday.
The Flyers, who had their three-game winning streak and two-game shutout streak snapped on Tuesday, are more concerned with their own personnel and level of play.
“We have to regroup,” said Joel Farabee, who did his part Tuesday by scoring both Philadelphia goals. “We’re playing these guys twice more in a row, and we have to come up with a better effort.”
One area that could help is the power play. The Flyers were 0-of-5 on Tuesday, leaving them 4-for-37, 10.8 percent, over their past nine games.
“I like the looks we’re getting on the power play, but we don’t have the results at the moment,” Philadelphia coach Alain Vigneault said.
The Flyers also could use Travis Konecny, coming off three straight 24-goal seasons, back to top form. He had no points Tuesday and played on the fourth line in his return from a five-game absence to do COVID-19 protocol.
He’s still shaking some rust.
“It wasn’t as bad as I expected, but I definitely feel a little out of it,” Konecny said. “I mean, I think it will come back with just playing games and getting more touches on the pucks and making plays in practice.”
The teams are getting to experience a limited number of fans in the PPG Paints Arena stands during this “series.” About 2,800, or 15 percent of capacity, attended Tuesday, and that will continue under newly revised COVID-19 rules in Pennsylvania.
“It just creates the environment that we’re all accustomed to, that we’re all longing for, that we haven’t had in quite a long time,” Sullivan said.
Even members of the Penguins’ archrivals appreciate the chance to play in front of some fans on the road.
“You miss that energy a crowd always brings to the games, whether it’s home or away,” Philadelphia’s James van Riemsdyk said.
The Flyers will welcome a limited number of fans at their home games beginning Sunday.
–Field Level Media