PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Keith Yandle’s hands were soaked in blood, teeth in his fist, some choppers even littered on the ice as he skated off to the locker room hunched in pain, an emergency dental visit ahead.
He lost nine teeth thanks to a puck to the face, got some Novocain and Yandle still hurt the next day.
Yet he played the next game.
And the next one.
And on it went, through busted teeth, injuries and slumps and new teams, he played and played and played some more, all to this point: Yandle will tie retired center Doug Jarvis on Monday for the NHL record for consecutive games played with 964. The Philadelphia Flyers defenseman can set the record on the road Tuesday against the New York Islanders.
For Yandle, it was that November 2019 game, when he played for Florida and was struck by the puck against Carolina, when his Iron Man ethos truly took hold. He happened to meet Bobby Orr soon after that game and the Hall of Famer told him, “If you can skate, you can play. When a legend like that is saying it to you, you’ve got to suck it up and play.”
Jarvis played 964 straight games over his entire career from Oct. 8, 1975, to Oct. 10, 1987, with Montreal, Washington and Hartford. He never played a game outside the streak.
The 35-year-old Yandle started his streak March 26, 2009, with Phoenix and he has played 1,073 games with the Coyotes, New York Rangers and Florida Panthers.
“It’s kind of the way hockey players are built. You kind of try to play through as much pain as you can,” Yandle said Sunday. “There’s been some times I’ve not felt great. It was tough sledding. But it’s one of those things where you just try to battle through it and help out your team.”
His tenure with the Panthers ended with one giant asterisk in his Iron Man status: Yandle had played in 57 straight playoff games, but was a healthy scratch in three of Florida’s playoff games last season.
Yandle’s regular-season streak was set to end last January when former Florida coach Joel Quenneville said publicly Yandle would not play the next game — much to the dismay of a close family friend.
“I’ve seen his mouth get destroyed and go back in the game. I can’t understand why anyone would try and sabotage his iron man streak,” Iona coach Rick Pitino tweeted on Jan. 15, 2021. “Despicable and disappointing.”
Yandle, who was 22 when the streak started, did indeed play and scored his 100th career goal. The Panthers bought out the remainder of Yandle’s contract at the end of the season and the Flyers signed him to a $900,000, one-year deal.
He thought he signed with a playoff contender.
The Flyers’ slogan this season was “Bring It To Broad.” The “It” turned out was a pair of 10-game losing streaks, the first franchise to ever suffer two such streaks within the first 40 games of the season. The Flyers made it 11 straight with a 6-3 loss Saturday at Buffalo and can match a franchise record for most consecutive losses against Dallas.
“Right now it feels like we hit rock bottom. It feels like we can’t catch a break,” Flyers captain Claude Giroux said. “We do a lot of good things out there. when something bad happens, it’s really bad.”
The Flyers also lost 10 straight games from Nov. 18 to Dec. 18; the first skid cost coach Alain Vigneault his job after the first eight games in the skid. Flyers interim coach Mike Yeo lost the final two games of that one and, of course, all 11 in this streak that started Dec. 30 at San Jose.
The Flyers lost a franchise-record 12 straight from Feb. 24, 1999, to March 16, 1999.
The Flyers entered Sunday in last place in the Metropolitan Division, 16 points out of a playoff spot and closing in as one of the worst teams in franchise history. The 2006-07 Flyers went 22-48-12. The Flyers won 37 games combined from 1968-1970, with 70 losses and 45 ties over those two seasons. Those two teams were in the franchise’s infancy. This year’s team was expected to make the playoffs after an offseason shakeup that brought in a slew of new faces, including Yandle.
With history at hand, Yandle has been one of the biggest busts of all the signings.
He has been among the league’s least productive defenseman this season, entering Sunday’s games, and bad numbers on a bad team could end the streak before injury or retirement. Yandle has yet to score a goal (he has 102 in his career), is at minus-22, and has just 13 assists. It gets worse.
Entering Sunday’s games:
— Yandle’s minus-16, even-strength goal differential is worst on the Flyers, sixth worst among NHL defenseman.
— His 12:35 of even-strength ice time is second fewest among Flyers defenseman.
— He’s been on the ice for six short-handed goals against, most in the NHL.
Yeo talked around a potential decision to bench Yandle once he sets the record.
“I would say there’s been times Keith has played real well and, just like our team, there have been times where he hasn’t,” Yeo said. “We have to continue to evaluate what we’re getting from everybody and putting the best players on the ice that give the team the best chance to win.”
Jarvis suffered an ignominious fate once his streak ended, with a demotion in 1988 to the Hartford Whalers’ American Hockey League affiliate in Binghamton.
Yandle also might not hold the record for long. Arizona’s Phil Kessel has played in 940 consecutive games and is productive enough to keep it going.
“They all have a pretty good opportunity that they will bypass 964, I would think,” Jarvis told The AP last year. “I’m happy for them. To be able to play in the game of hockey at the NHL level for all those years and those games and to really basically avoid injury, I think that’s tremendous.”
Yandle said he’s never petitioned to keep his streak alive and understood it could end if the Flyers decide to lean on younger players down the stretch. But he’ll be happy to hold the record, even if it doesn’t last long.
“As long as there’s an NHL symbol jersey, that means you’re having a good day,” he said.