PHILADELPHIA – Time and again, John Tavares would take a pass from assistant coach Manny Malhotra, work his edges hard in tight turns around the circles, deke an imaginary defender, and fire a puck into an empty net.
Then he’d wince.
The Toronto Maple Leafs captain poured in an unusual amount of pre-game work Wednesday morning – approximately 40 minutes’ work – during his club’s optional skate and is hopeful to play against the Philadelphia Flyers.
Officially, Tavares is listed as a game-time decision. Ditto winger Ondrej Kase.
Both forwards missed Tuesday’s practice with undisclosed ailments suffered in Monday’s loss to the Los Angeles Kings, so coach Sheldon Keefe views it as a positive sign that they returned to the ice.
“Both guys were preparing as though they’d play, but they needed to skate and see how that went,” Keefe said. “They’ll remain game-time decisions right until after warmup, so we’ll give them as much time as we can to make sure they’re feeling good.”
Tavares has been scorching hot of late, scoring six goals and notching four assists in the Maple Leafs’ past six games.
If Tavares plays, it appears he’ll be doing so through pain.
If he’s unable to play, we’d expect to see the NHL debut of KHL import Kirill Semyonov, who would slot into the fourth line and bump Nick Ritchie up with Mitch Marner and Alexander Kerfoot.
Semyonov, a 27-year-old centre, has put up nine points in his first nine AHL games with the Marlies.
On the back end, Travis Dermott will be up in the press box as Justin Holl returns to the lineup after sitting five games as a healthy scratch.
“I know he’s excited to play here. He’s had to be on the sidelines longer than we thought he might,” Keefe said.
“Just want to see him not to overthink it, not to overdo it. When he’s playing well, he’s skating offensively and defensively. He’s getting in people’s way. He’s physical. He’s getting plays stopped and moving it up the ice to our forwards and getting us going on offence.”