Flyers look to avoid another holiday hangover

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Flyers look to avoid another holiday hangover

It was at this exact point in the schedule a year ago when the wheels started to fall off the Flyers' season.

Coming out of their 10-game winning streak, the Flyers had positioned themselves nicely for the playoff push over the final 46 games of the regular season. The had a similar stretch of three games over four days — where they finished 1-1-1 — heading into the holiday shutdown period. At that time, they occupied one of the three automatic playoff spots in the Metropolitan Division.

And then something happened.

“Reflecting on last year, you want to learn from your mistakes,” defenseman Andrew MacDonald said Wednesday. “I think we maybe got a little complacent after those 10 games. We kinda got away from the things that were making us successful. Sometimes when it comes off the rails, it’s tough to put it back on. We found that out the hard way last year, and we certainly don’t want that to happen again.”

Coming out of the Christmas break, the Flyers performed as if they were trying to burn off the extra calories of holiday eggnog. As they slumped into the New Year, they proceeded to win just two of their next 11 games and finished with a 19-21-6 record.

The Flyers believe they can learn from last season’s mistakes, and that includes bearing down on the final three games this week, including another back-to-back on the road against the Sabres and Blue Jackets.

“We know it’s the last push before we get a break. Everything, your mind, has got to be on hockey. Everything’s dialed in. You barely practice. You just play the game. That’s my favorite part of it,” forward Michael Raffl said.

“Now it ramps up. It’s a push toward the playoffs. Most of them are four-point games now, so it’s getting more and more important. It’s intense. You can feel it around here right now.”

Despite a 10-game losing streak that started in mid-November this season, the Flyers can pull within two points of the Eastern Conference's final wild-card position with a win Wednesday against Detroit. They don’t want to be slumping.

“At the end of December, you’re six or seven points out, it’s extremely hard to get into the playoffs," forward Dale Weise said. “I think we’re very fortunate where we’re at right now. Obviously, that six-game winning streak put us in a good spot, and we obviously have to find a way to string wins together.”

After this weekend, the Flyers' schedule will come to a grinding halt. While the team is currently in the midst of a seven-game, 12-day grind, the Flyers' next seven games coming out of the Christmas break will stretch out over a 23-day period.

“No, I don’t think there’s a balance there,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “The breaks — that’s part of our schedule. That’s the complete 180-degree different animal to what we’re dealing with when you’re in a real busy stretch.”  

More importantly, how the rookies and younger players adapt to this fluctuating part of the schedule, checking becomes tighter and the intensity grows with more intra-conference games, that will ultimately define how the Flyers' season plays out.

“I think it’s part of learning,” MacDonald said. “I think you have to find out what it takes game in and game out. You really got to find out what works for you. Collectively, as a team, we have to stay focused and committed, whether that’s in the video room or looking out for yourself.”

What are Flyers made of? We're about to find out

What are Flyers made of? We're about to find out

VOORHEES, N.J. — The Penguins have the Flyers on the canvas in a headlock.

The faces of the guys who wear orange and black are turning purple, and unless they put up a courageous fight as they did in Game 2, they will tap out of this best-of-seven series after just five games (see story).

General manager Ron Hextall spoke to the media for the first time since the series started and believes the Flyers have displayed a lack of mental fortitude through the first four games.

“A lot of it is mentality,” Hextall said. “We need to be stronger if a bump goes the other way. We need to be stronger and bounce back and create energy going back our way. The playoffs are a series of momentum [swings] — within a period and within a game. We need to do a better job of bringing the momentum back our way."

So where exactly does that start? The return of Sean Couturier would help considerably.

After sitting out Game 4’s 5-0 loss, the Selke Trophy finalist hasn’t ruled out playing in Game 5 after skating Wednesday and Thursday on his own. Hextall said Couturier would travel to Pittsburgh and nothing more than that.

“I’m feeling better every day, and we’ll see how I feel tomorrow,” Couturier said. “It’s really on me to see how I feel every day and hopefully, it keeps getting better. It’s really up to my body to see how it keeps progressing.”

Dave Hakstol switched up his lines once again Thursday, most notably installing Valtteri Filppula onto the top line with Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek and breaking up the top defense pairing of Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere.

Robert Hagg is also expected to make his series debut, playing alongside Andrew MacDonald as fellow rookie Travis Sanheim will serve as the healthy scratch.

“About time,” Hagg said. “I’m looking forward to it tomorrow. Hopefully, I can bring something to the team, some energy. I think it’s perfect and I can’t wait to go in and show what I can bring to the team.”

“He brings a different element than a couple of guys in the lineup if we’re so inclined to make that change,” Hakstol said. “We haven’t generated very much over the last five periods, but at the same time, we’ve given up quite a bit in some of the harder areas.”

Toward the end of Thursday’s 45-minute practice, Giroux gathered his teammates around and delivered a speech he hopes can galvanize the Flyers for Game 5 and bring the series back to Philadelphia for Game 6.

“I think it’s believing in ourselves," Giroux said. "All year we’ve done that, and we’ve talked about it before. You lose 10 in a row and find a way to make the playoffs. Tomorrow’s a big game for us, and if we’re going to go down, we’re going to go down swinging.”

Quick hits
• Speaking on the collision with Radko Gudas, Couturier said, "We've done this drill all year. It was bad timing and a fluke accident. There's no one to really blame, and I should have maybe had my head up there."

• Hextall believes Couturier should be the Selke Trophy front-runner based on his outstanding 2017-18 season.

"I think he should win it," Hextall said. "I know those other players fairly well, and yes, I watch Coots on a daily basis, but the two-way game that he brings to our team is in my mind, the best in the league this year."

• Penguins forward Patric Hornqvist will miss his second straight game.

Ding dong, the Flyers-Penguins rivalry is gone

Ding dong, the Flyers-Penguins rivalry is gone

Michal Neuvirth stood by his locker Wednesday night dejected, like the rest of his teammates, after the Flyers’ latest blunder, an embarrassing 5-0 loss on home ice to the Penguins in Game 4.

The Flyers are on the brink of elimination to the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions, and Wednesday's defeat was the latest reminder of their current state of affairs.

"Definitely good to get in the mix," said Neuvirth, who replaced Brian Elliott in the second period for his first game action since March 28. "But tough outcome tonight. We lost it to a better team tonight."

With that, Neuvirth perfectly encapsulated exactly where the Flyers stand in this first-round playoff series with Pittsburgh. It's definitely good to be in the mix, and they lost to the better team.

We've heard that before and we'll hear it again, but it doesn't make it any easier to swallow. This Flyers team isn't quite there yet, to compete with the Penguins or in the playoffs.

There are encouraging signs. The postseason experience will pay off in the long run — it's better than not being there. Nolan Patrick, 19, has perhaps been the Flyers' most consistent forward in the series. He was the only player who competed Wednesday.

But goaltending remains an eyesore and rookie mistakes are consistently being made by veterans, and some appear immune to accountability. Game 4 was as ugly as it gets (see story), and that's counting a series that included a 7-0 loss in Game 1.

The Flyers were never really in Wednesday's game outside of about a two-minute stretch in the first period, when they were buzzing in the Pittsburgh zone until a Scott Laughton centering pass turned into a Penguins odd-man rush.

Bang, 2-0 Pittsburgh. Ballgame.

"From our standpoint," Dave Hakstol said, "we have to look from within. There's going to be momentum swings, there are going to be pushes, but we haven't been able to reestablish our game quick enough to give ourselves an opportunity."

Wednesday served as another grim reminder. This Flyers-Penguins rivalry, well, isn't much of a rivalry and hasn't been one in quite some time now.

Coming into this series, we heard the old storylines, about how much these two teams hate each other, how close games are, but the hate hasn't been there for a while and the games, they haven't been close, either.

The Penguins have dominated the Flyers, this season especially. With the 5-0 win Wednesday, the Pens have outscored the Flyers, 38-17, in eight total games and 20-4 in games played at the Wells Fargo Center.

The hype machine was on full blast and we all bought into it. It's the playoffs, different animal, but some things never change no matter the environment.

At some point, it's time to bury the hatchet.

It was fun while it lasted, but for now, the Flyers-Penguins rivalry is no more.