Flyers

Flyers look to avoid another holiday hangover

usa-michael-raffl-flyers-kings.jpg
USA Today Images

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.”

Flyers have clear path to postseason but ...

ap-scott-laughton-flyers-devils.jpg
AP Images

Flyers have clear path to postseason but ...

It’s about to get real for the Philadelphia Flyers.

Real serious and potentially really hard. The Flyers have played the fewest divisional games of any team in the NHL.

That might be beneficial if the team located about 40 minutes off the shores of the Atlantic Ocean actually played in the Atlantic Division. The Flyers have hammered Atlantic teams this season: an 8-4-0 record including a win in Tampa and their most recent three-game series sweep of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Whereas the Atlantic houses a collection of domesticated poodles and Pomeranians, the Metropolitan Division is more a breeding ground for vicious Dobermans and pit bulls.

And the Flyers are about to enter the teeth of that beast.

Dave Hakstol’s club plays 19 of their remaining 37 games against the rock-solid Metropolitan, the only 8-team division in hockey without a legitimate doormat or two. 

“It’s good or bad depending on whether you’re winning or not,” general manager Ron Hextall said.“It’s great taking points from other teams and adding to your total. It does put a higher importance on those games for sure. Every game is important, but certain games are just a little more important. Your lows can’t be too low. That’s the bottom line.

“They’re divisional games. They’re huge games for us, especially with how tight it is with that wild card spot,” center Sean Couturier said. “We’ve got to step up and be ready for the challenge.”

Unfortunately for the Flyers, their sore spot over their past two-plus seasons has been their play against the Metropolitan elites — the teams they’re typically chasing in the standings.

4-4-1 vs. Capitals
3-5-2 vs. Rangers
3-6-1 vs. Penguins
2-3-4 vs. Blue Jackets

Collectively, that’s a 12-18-8 record in the Dave Hakstol era with just a 4-9-6 mark on the road. Interestingly, defenseman Brandon Manning believes roster formation has been part of the reason behind the success of the Flyers' opponents.  

“Credit to them, I think they’ve done a good job of getting better every year,” Manning said. “You look at what Pittsburgh does with their turnover and still finding a way to win. Columbus is so much better and you look at Jersey, which hasn’t been the greatest team the past couple of years, but this year they have a really good hockey team. I think credit to those teams for finding a way to get better.” 

And if there’s a direct path to the postseason, then winning these crucial divisional games has to be the way to get there. Since the formation of the NHL’s current four-division alignment in 2013-14, the Metropolitan has sent 17 teams to the playoffs and only once has a team reached the postseason without a winning record within the division — the Pittsburgh Penguins finished 9-17-4 in the Metro in 2014-15. 

The Capitals, Rangers and Blue Jackets also have the luxury of rostering a Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender in crucial divisional games, whereas, Hakstol will rely more on a platoon based on Elliott’s first-half workload and Neuvirth attempting to regain his early season form.  

“I haven’t studied the schedule that much in depth, but considering Moose started a stretch of 25 out of 30 games, that’s a real heavy workload,” Hakstol said. “I would expect the workload to be more spread out than that. We’ll find the best rhythm to be able and have both of them help our team.

“You need two goalies. I don’t care who you are,” Hextall said. “Look around the league. I said it before, there’s no Marty Brodeurs.”

Maybe not, but Saturday it all starts with Brodeur’s former team and with a back-to-back against the Devils and the Capitals this weekend. The Flyers' position within the division can change very drastically one direction or the other.

Pleasant surprises in a first for Flyers

Pleasant surprises in a first for Flyers

BOX SCORE

When asked what he thought about the current Flyers team prior to his retirement ceremony, Eric Lindros admitted he really didn’t know all that much regarding this year’s team. 

After Thursday night’s 3-2 win over Lindros’ hometown Maple Leafs (see observations), "Big E" and a sold-out Wells Fargo Center crowd learned something about the Flyers that no one in Philadelphia had been privy to.

The Flyers capped off their first win this season when trailing by two or more goals entering the third period. Interestingly, the only other third-period comeback that led to a victory was when they trailed this same Toronto team, 2-1, on Dec. 12. Prior to this game, the Flyers were 1-12-2 this season when trailing after two periods.

Certainly, the Flyers needed goal scoring, but more importantly, they also received a handful of momentum saves from goaltender Michal Neuvirth.

“Huge," Neuvirth said regarding his 29-save performance. “When we tied it, it was like, 'OK, here we go. You gotta be at your best right now.' So I was just focusing on the next shot. Just happy the way the guys responded in the third.”

Neuvirth had little, if any, margin of error after the Leafs scored twice in a 28-second span to grab a 2-0 advantage, but the Flyers' backup netminder provided a handful of momentum saves that allowed the Flyers to win in overtime.

• A minute after Wayne Simmonds tied the game at 2-2 with a shorthanded goal, Neuvirth stopped Auston Matthews and Connor Brown on back-to-back shots, including an impressive blocker save on Brown from up close.

• With 2:48 remaining in regulation, Neuvirth made the save of the game with the Leafs coming down on a 2-on-1. Neuvirth expected Nazem Kadri to shoot. Instead, he passed it to his left, forcing Neuvirth to make a full extension on Patrick Marleau, turning aside the shot with the tip of his right pad (see highlights).

• Neuvirth denied Matthews from in tight with another pad save just 10 seconds into overtime. That save created a 2-on-1 scoring chance resulting in Sean Couturier’s game-winning score. 

“At least three 10-bell saves by Neuvy. He was tremendous,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “We generated a lot in the third period, but when you give up those chances against, Neuvy stole the show in my opinion and you need those saves sometimes to win games. For me, he was first star.”

Neuvirth and the rest of the Flyers needed an initial spark and 19-year-old rookie Nolan Patrick was surprisingly the one to provide it. After taking a shot that hit the side of the net and caromed behind it, Patrick chased down Mitch Marner, stole the puck and fired a quick shot on goaltender Frederik Andersen for his first goal in his last 25 games.

“I tried to forget how many games it was in a row without a goal and just keep playing,” Patrick said. “I thought I was playing some good hockey lately and I knew it would come.”

A minute and 52 seconds later, Simmonds tied the game at 2-2 with the Flyers' second shorthanded goal of the season, extending his point streak to six games.

Struggling to find the right overtime combinations, Hakstol elected to go with the trio of Couturier, Travis Konecny and Ivan Provorov to start the extra session. Couturier continued his magical run and now has 11 goals in his last 12 games, while also providing five game-winning goals in the Flyers' last 10 victories. 

“He’s hot. We keep calling him ‘Rocket,’" Simmonds said, referring to Hall of Famer Maurice “Rocket” Richard. “You just keep giving him the puck and he’s going to find the back of the net. When you’re hot, you want to keep giving it to a guy like that. Hopefully, he’s going to continue to score for us.”

More Couturier goals and more game-changing saves, and the Flyers will find themselves rocketing up the standings.