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Michael Del Zotto returns to Flyers’ lineup, Boyd Gordon placed on LTIR

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Del Zotto’s back, Gordon’s out for a while, Gostisbehere’s happy.

NHL: Philadelphia Flyers at Washington Capitals Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The Flyers temporarily lost their presumptive #1 defenseman for the 2016-17 season at the end of training camp, when Michael Del Zotto suffered a left knee injury, putting him on the shelf for the first month of the season.

After 12 missed games, he is finally ready to go.

Per the beats at the morning skate in Montreal, Del Zotto skated with Shayne Gostisbehere and is expected to play tonight against the Canadiens. In order to make room for Del Zotto’s return, the Flyers moved Boyd Gordon from normal IR to long-term injured reserve.

The big news here is obviously the return of Del Zotto to the lineup. In his absence, Gostisbehere has been forced to play alongside Andrew MacDonald and Nick Schultz for the majority of the season, both of whom will almost certainly be out of the lineup tonight. Finally, Philadelphia will be able to roll an optimized defense, with Radko Gudas, Ivan Provorov, Mark Streit and Brandon Manning filling out the rest of the ranks.

By placing Boyd Gordon on LTIR to accommodate Del Zotto, the checking center will now be forced to sit out at least seven more games (assuming his LTIR is backdated), due to CBA rules. It was initially believed that Gordon might only miss a week when he originally suffered the injury, so this could either be a case of his ailment proving more serious than previously thought, or Ron Hextall deciding that his best cap move was to essentially “park” Gordon on LTIR even if he returns to full health sooner than he is eligible to play.

Del Zotto led the Flyers’ defense in 2015-16 in time on ice per game, averaging over 23 minutes per contest. He might be eased into the lineup a bit, but expect him to immediately jump into a top-four role at even strength and receive significant penalty killing minutes. It will be interesting to see if Del Zotto moves back into his past position on the second power play unit, however, or if Ivan Provorov retains his spot there.

Regardless, this is a huge boost to the Flyers’ backend. Del Zotto posted a strong +4.76% score-adjusted Corsi relative to his teammates last season (per naturalstattrick.com), despite playing in a true top-pairing role for the first time in his career. Considering the fact that he is in the final year of his contract with the Flyers, this is a massive season for the 26-year old, and he’s likely raring to go.