MONTRÉAL -- During his three-hour ride up Interstate 87 and over the Canadian border, Erik Gustafsson played back last season in his mind.
Gustafsson, 24, played 7 of the Flyers’ 11 playoff games last spring. He appeared to be a lock for the Flyers’ opening night lineup this year, but a fractured ankle in mid-December while playing with the Phantoms during the lockout robbed him of the opportunity to compete for a spot.
In response, the Flyers signed free agent Kurtis Foster, and attempted to plug the holes with Andreas Lilja and Bruno Gervais. Even after Gustafsson was healed, those players created a road block for his return to the NHL.
Finally, the Flyers finally recalled Gustafsson on Saturday, and he will make his season debut at Bell Centre against the Canadiens. Gustafsson admitted he’ll be a little nervous playing in Montreal for the first time, but he has 37 games last year to fall back on.
“I was thinking a little about last year and the playoffs, and I thought I played pretty well against Pittsburgh,” Gustafsson said about his trip from Glens Falls. “It was mixed emotions. You were happy the league was starting up again, to get the game going, but at the same time, you wanted to try to compete for a spot. It was kind of tough there for a while.”
(Brian Boucher will start against the Canadiens in a battle of the backups with Carey Price out.)
Lilja was sent back to Adirondack to make room for Gustafsson. Kimmo Timonen’s status for Saturday’s game is still up in the air, but he was also at Bell Centre in workout clothes, so it’s possible that he’s not on the shelf for long if he doesn’t play.
With Timonen close and Andrej Meszaros skating again, the Flyers’ defense as it was likely originally intended could begin to round into form: Timonen, Meszaros, Braydon Coburn, Nick Grossmann, Luke Schenn and Gustafsson.
Gustafsson and Meszaros would quickly transform the Flyers’ slow back-end into a much more mobile one. Coach Peter Laviolette praised Gustafsson as a “good two-way player,” a nod to his ability to move the puck and get shots on net.
His mobility was an issue, coming off the ankle fracture in mid-December. Trying to get back to the NHL as quickly as possible, Gustafsson said he rushed the injury in the beginning. He struggled to pivot and start and stop. His skating - and his timing - is back now.
“It took a few weeks too many for me,” Gustafsson said. “I think I’ve played pretty well over the last 4-5 games with the Phantoms. I’m a lot more confident this year. I know what to expect. I feel pretty confident that I’m going to bring a good game.”
For the latest updates, follow Frank Seravalli on Twitter: @DNFlyers