Rookie Nolan Patrick practiced with Flyers teammates Monday for the first time since late October and will accompany the team on its two-game road trip to Minnesota and Winnipeg.
"It was good," Patrick said Monday after practice. "It was fun to get back out there and be a part of the team again. It was a pretty short skate but it was good."
Patrick, who was injured when his head slammed against the glass Oct. 24 vs. Anaheim, last skated with the team came during the Flyers' trip to Toronto in late October, and after he was scratched prior to the game against the Maple Leafs, the organization backed off Patrick's practice regimen. It remains to be seen how much practice time the prized rookie will require to get ready for the pace of a regular-season game.
"It's early in the process," said head coach Dave Hakstol. "He's on the front end of conditioning, timing and there's a lot of things that have to come back to game level. That's no different for any player, but certainly for a young player, he's at the front end of that and he'll continue to work hard at that."
By every indication Patrick, along with Matt Read, will be the extra skaters when the Flyers head to Minnesota to face the Wild on Tuesday in the second leg of their home-and-home series. However, if given the opportunity, Patrick would love to play in front of friends and family in his hometown of Winnipeg, where the Flyers will square off with the Jets on Thursday.
"It would be pretty cool to play in my hometown," said Patrick, who grew up about 15 minutes from the MTS Centre in Winnipeg and still remembers the exact day the NHL announced the Jets were coming back to Winnipeg on May 31, 2011.
"Yeah, I was in grade eight (8th grade) when they got the team. It was obviously pretty exciting. I was in home-ec class sewing when I found out that the team was coming back. I was making some brutal sweater I think. Obviously it was pretty cool for Winnipeg and everyone around the city was pretty fired up for that."
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Without Patrick in the lineup, the Flyers were shutout a league-leading fourth time Saturday when the Wild escaped Philadelphia with a 1-0 win. Hakstol elected to rearrange the furniture, so to speak, during Monday's practice. While the top line of Claude Giroux, Sean couturier and Jakub Voracek has consistently excelled this season and the "Honey Bee" line of Taylor Leier, Scott Laughton and Michael Raffl has generated some buzz in the offensive end of the ice, the middle lines have been stagnant during even-strength play.
Jordan Weal moved to center from left wing Monday on a line with Wayne Simmonds and Dale Weise, suggesting Hakstol is looking for more speed down the middle of the ice. Weal scored in the season opener in San Jose, but has just one goal in his last 14 games since.
"I don't think the numbers not being there are indicative of how the play has been," Weal said, "I've played a lot of games at center ice. I've probably played 200 games professionally as a centerman and 400 junior games as a centerman. I've played a lot of center. It's not something that's foreign to me."
"It's a different mix," said Hakstol. "Sometimes just a little bit of a change has a way of breaking things loose. It's a little different look for Weal, as well as his linemates, and something that could add a little bit of a spark."
"We got to do a better job getting to the net, mucking it up and getting greasy," said Simmonds. "I haven't been very good myself for probably the last 10 games. It's up to me and the rest of the guys to get our nose dirty. We've been shut out four times in 17 games, so it's unacceptable."
After a strong defensive performance in St. Louis against his former team, Jori Lehtera and his offensive play have lagged recently and the offense has been non-existent as Lehtera has generated just four shots on goal over his last seven games with no points to show. Hakstol chose to move Lehtera back to left wing on a line with center Valtteri Filppula and right winger Travis Konecny, the latter of whom certainly seems out of place on that line.
"It's a new look," said Konecny. "We'll see how it pans out. Lehts (Lehtera) and Fil (Filppula) have a little bit of a connection there. They feed off each other so it could definitely work, so we'll see how it plays out."
General Manager Ron Hextall said Saturday he was hopeful that Andrew MacDonald could rejoin the team for the first time in over three weeks after taking a puck to the side of his leg in a game against the Edmonton Oilers on Oct. 21. However, MacDonald did not skate and the team chose to recall Mark Alt from Lehigh Valley. Alt will serve as the Flyers seventh defenseman on their two-game road trip.
Projected lines vs. Wild