Flyers switch up travel routine in search of a spark

Flyers switch up travel routine in search of a spark

Diehard once ran a commercial in the 1970s claiming their battery could start a freezing cold engine that had been sitting on a frozen lake in Minnesota throughout the brutal winter months.

Sure enough, after a few cranks, the Diehard battery was as good as advertised. 

Thirty-one NHL coaches will be looking for a similar type of spark to their teams' motors when the NHL resumes play following a mandatory three-day Christmas break when teams weren't permitted to conduct any type of formal workouts. For most, if not every player, it was family time to the fullest.

With the majority of teams playing Wednesday, the Flyers will have an extra day before they tackle the remaining portion of their December schedule with back-to-back games against the Panthers and Lightning. In an atypical move for a team playing on the road, the Flyers elected to fly out early Wednesday morning and then proceeded with a 1 p.m. practice in Florida, whereas it's normally practice first and then board the charter.

"You've really got to find out what works for you," defenseman Andrew MacDonald said. "Collectively, as a team, we have to stay focused and committed whether that's in the video room or looking after yourself off the ice in the gym and just making sure you're well conditioned and ready to go."

Then again, the last time they deviated from their typical travel routine, they arrived in Calgary a day early and proceeded to sweep the Western Canadian portion of their road trip. 

What transpired during that extra day in Alberta explained a lot as Flyers forward Jake Voracek recently told Buffalo correspondent Joe Yerdon, "We got drunk, that helped. We sat down together, we talked about some stuff we wanted to do better. We had some heart-to-hearts and it worked out, so it was good."

Whatever they said, whatever they drank, it worked. The Flyers rolled off six straight wins to climb within striking range of a playoff spot. The Flyers feel fortunate, to some degree lucky, they can look at the standings and take stock they're only four points out.

"When you get to the end of December and you're six to seven points out, it's extremely hard to get in the playoffs," forward Dale Weise said. "Obviously, playing teams down the stretch, those two- and three-point games, it's really hard to gain some ground. I think we're very fortunate where we're at. That six-game winning streak obviously put us in a good spot." 

Now comes the sobering reality the Flyers are proving to be a streaky team, in both directions, while hoping they don't pick up where they left off — now winless in their last two with an absolute clunker in Buffalo. Dave Hakstol's challenge starting Thursday in Sunrise, Florida, is to provide a jolt of energy to a team that has been sluggish from the opening faceoff.  

"It's not always going to be there," Hakstol said. "The legs aren't always going to be there, especially when you're in such a busy stretch. So you have to find ways when things aren't going right to live for the next play and keep yourself in the hockey game and give yourself an opportunity to build and push for a win."

Quite frankly, it hasn't been there at all, at least at the start and throughout the first period. Would you believe the Flyers have held a lead after the first 20 minutes just once over their last 16 games, which came Dec. 7 at Vancouver? Still, the Flyers have found a way to win seven of those games. 

Hakstol realizes that can't be the pattern moving forward when teams prioritize locking down defensively in the second half of the season. 

"When you get a little bit of momentum, that's a big difference-maker," Hakstol said. "I think that's what we've been able to push toward here in this last stretch. It's a very slight difference, but it makes all the difference in the world."

"I think that's part of growing as a team is realizing when it's important to lock things down and when it's important to press forward and we're learning that," MacDonald said. "Obviously, we're coming off a great stretch of six straight and we want to get right back on that bandwagon."

The Flyers can only hope that bandwagon has one of those diehard batteries under the hood.

Flyers not surprised, but look it on Broadway

Flyers not surprised, but look it on Broadway


NEW YORK — Flyers players lifted their massive equipment bags onto carts outside the visiting locker room of Madison Square Garden.

There wasn't much energy or zealousness to such a mundane task.

Shortly before doing so, the Flyers made skating in the world's most famous arena seem just as mundane, allowing the New York Rangers to turn Broadway into breakaway on Tuesday night to the tune of a 5-1 loss (see observations).

"We just made too many mistakes that cost us," Jakub Voracek said. "Four goals out of five came off our mistakes, so it's tough."

The Rangers, not once, but twice during the first period, bolted behind the Flyers' slow-reacting coverage for nothing but open ice and Brian Elliott to beat. On both occasions, New York scored easily and took control of the evening.

It was a full exploitation of a Flyers team that had won four straight but wasn't "engaged in this game enough," as head coach Dave Hakstol put it.

With the Flyers holding a 1-0 lead just over six minutes into the contest, Pavel Buchnevich fed a stretch pass to Rick Nash streaking up the middle of the ice, leaving defensemen Radko Gudas and Brandon Manning in the dust. Both the delivery from Buchnevich and the speed of Nash appeared to catch Gudas and Manning by surprise.

"The first one, probably a better read by me and Gudy," Manning said. "We talked before the game, we knew that's what they were going to do, they were going to try and stretch us out. That one we can probably eliminate."

The second was deflating in every way imaginable. As the Flyers sputtered through their first man advantage, a pass behind Jordan Weal bounced off the side boards and right to Peter Holland. With most of the Flyers' second power-play unit pinching on the attack, New York rushed up ice and beat Manning in retreat as Holland hit Paul Carey for a shorthanded marker.

Whatever life the Flyers still had, it was sucked out of them.

At the time, before it unfolded, they seemed to be in OK position. The Flyers were down, 2-1, but vying for an equalizer by turning to their power play, which had been 7 for 14 over the four-game winning streak. However, what transpired was New York taking a surprising 3-1 lead with 10 seconds remaining in the opening frame.

"Those are ones we can prevent," Hakstol said. "They're a good transition team, so when you give them opportunities, whether it's a turnover out of their defensive zone or a turnover entering the zone, they're a good transition team. But our awareness on those plays was not what it needs to be.

"I just thought in the first half of the game, in all the areas of the game that mattered, they were the quicker and hungrier team."

The Rangers showed it some more when they went on another semi-breakaway, this time midway through the second period for a 4-1 edge. Michael Grabner came swooping in to pick Voracek's pocket before quickly flicking a shot past Elliott, who watched another blue jersey barrel down untouched toward his crease.

"We put him in pretty tough spots tonight with the opportunities that we gave up in the first 30 minutes of the game," Hakstol said.

The goalie making his 18th start in the last 19 games still took blame.

"It's not the easiest way, but that's my job," Elliott, who was yanked ahead of the third period, said. "I didn't have them tonight. Go back to work and try to feel good about my game. That's not where I wanted to be tonight. I didn't really give ourselves a chance to win and I've got to own a lot of that."

Tuesday marked the Flyers' first outing against the Rangers this season.

Were they surprised by the opposition's transition game?

"No," Hakstol said.

Manning sounded like he will be far more ready when the Flyers come back to Madison Square Garden on Feb. 18 for the second of four meetings.

"I don't know if surprising is the right word, they have some guys who can skate and I think we were expecting that," Manning said. "We haven't played them this year, it's the first time. When you see it for the first time, it's something a little different."

The Flyers on Thursday night will see the Maple Leafs for the third time. The previous two matchups were won by the Flyers. Interestingly enough, Manning had his best game of the season with a goal, an assist and three hits in the October victory, while rookie blueliner Travis Sanheim played in the December win.

Hakstol will have to decide between the two for Thursday.

One will be an extra, the other will want to make sure breakaways are at a minimum.

Devils finally put an end to 6-game skid

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Devils finally put an end to 6-game skid

NEW YORK -- Damon Severson scored twice 1:26 apart in New Jersey's three-goal second period, and the Devils ended a six-game skid with a 4-1 victory over the New York Islanders on Tuesday night.

Kyle Palmieri and Taylor Hall also scored for New Jersey, which was 0-3-3 since beating Detroit at home on Dec. 27. Keith Kinkaid, getting the start after Cory Schneider was a late scratch due to illness, stopped 25 shots.

Anders Lee scored and Jaroslav Halak made 38 saves as the Islanders snapped a three-game winning streak that started with a 5-4 shootout victory over the Devils here on Jan. 7.

New Jersey trailed less than two minutes in but got four straight goals starting with Palmieri's score late in the first period.

Halak, who faced more than 35 shots on goal for his 10th straight start, made nice stops on in-close tries by Brian Boyle and Brian Gibbons with about 7 1/2 minutes left in the middle period to keep the score tied.

However, Severson gave the Devils the lead about 30 seconds later as he got the rebound of a shot by Gibbons and beat Halak from the right circle. It was the defenseman's fifth goal of the season and first in 12 games (see full recap).

Spezza scores 2 after benching in Stars’ win
DETROIT -- Jason Spezza responded to being benched by scoring two tiebreaking goals on power plays, helping the Dallas Stars beat the Detroit Red Wings 4-2 on Tuesday night.

Spezza scored on a lunging, one-timer below the left circle with 5:52 left in the second period. His first goal came on a redirected shot midway through the first.

The 33-year-old forward was a healthy scratch on Monday when Dallas won at Boston in overtime. He bounced back by ending his 14-game goal drought, scoring twice in a game for the first time since March 12, 2016. Spezza scored 33 goals just two years ago and has 323 career goals.

Dallas' Radek Faksa and Martin Hanzal also scored. Ben Bishop stopped 13 shots for the Stars, who have won six of eight.

Trevor Daley put Detroit ahead in the opening minute, but Faksa redirected a shot past Jimmy Howard at 2:48. Andreas Athanasiou pulled the Red Wings into a 2-all tie midway through the second period and Spezza's second goal 2:25 later put Dallas ahead 3-2.

Howard had 22 saves for the Red Wings, who had won five of their previous seven games (see full recap).

Blues rally late for overtime victory
TORONTO -- Alexander Steen tied it with 57 seconds left and Vince Dunn scored 1:43 into overtime, lifting the St. Louis Blues over the Toronto Maple Leafs 2-1 on Tuesday night.

Connor Brown put Toronto ahead on a short-handed breakaway midway through the third period, but Steen scored with goalie Carter Hutton pulled for an extra attacker by backhanding Alex Pieterangelo's rebound past Frederik Andersen.

Dunn snapped a low shot past Andersen after choosing to keep the puck on a 2-on-1.

Andersen stopped 40 shots and Hutton had 30 saves.

It was the Maple Leafs' first game back after the bye week. Their last game was a 4-3 loss to the Ottawa Senators on Jan. 10 (see full recap).