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.

Late rally gives Flyers something to show for strong effort

Late rally gives Flyers something to show for strong effort


RALEIGH, N.C. – Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol commended his team for a complete 60-minute effort that was needed to overtake and defeat the Carolina Hurricanes 4-2 at PNC Arena on Saturday night (see observations).

“It’s an important two points, but I guess, as important I thought it was a really hard-working, start-to-finish win for us,” he said.

Placing Alex Lyon in net to lead from the back end, the young netminder made 23 stops, many critical, that allowed the Flyers to generate momentum to strike all at once in the third period.

Trailing 1-0, containing the Hurricanes’ speed and ability to maintain puck possession was a priority – somewhat of ‘survive and advance’ mindset to have in March.

The Flyers won 27 of 48 draws, a stat that eventually evened out, but was a critical one that the Flyers led in for two periods, before taking advantage of Carolina turnovers in the third.

 “It was a grind,” Hakstol said. “I liked the way we played in the first two periods. We talked about a couple of little things we can maybe improve going into the third, but the biggest thing was making sure we went out and got a big penalty kill to start with and just go back at it.”

For 40 minutes, Hurricanes netminder Cam Ward stymied shooters like Jakub Voracek and crease cleaners like Wayne Simmonds, among others, but the force of the shield he presented eventually diminished late in the game. The Flyers scored all four of their goals in the final 11-plus minutes.

While giving the puck away 10 times, 15 takeaways allowed the Flyers to regain possessions and capitalize on their chances when it counted most. 

“I don’t know if there was a catalyst,” Hakstol said when asked to identify the turning point in the game for his team.

“A lot of times it’s the simple, hard things that you do. That’s what it takes to score at this time of year.”

The win pulled the Flyers back into a tie for third place in the Metropolitan Division, a floating buoy line extending to the wild-card spot they will tread beside for the remainder of the season, unless they can compile more wins like this one.

“We needed a win for a lot of different reasons,” Hakstol said. “We needed the two points in every respect, but we needed a win for our group in here to have something to show for their hard work. When you lose games and can’t put wins together, the negatives really start to magnify, even though there’s a ton of positives. On a couple of different levels, this was an important two points.”

Both teams in wild-card spots keep close to Flyers

AP Images

Both teams in wild-card spots keep close to Flyers

LOS ANGELES — Keith Kincaid stopped 38 saves for his first shutout of the season, helping the New Jersey Devils improve their playoff positioning with a 3-0 win over the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday.

Michael Grabner, Nico Hischier and Miles Wood each scored for the Devils, who moved into third place in the Metropolitan Division. New Jersey leads Philadelphia and Columbus by one point with both the Flyers and Blue Jackets playing later.

The Devils have won three in a row and four of five.

Jonathan Quick made 25 saves for the Kings, who are tied with Anaheim for third in the Pacific (see full recap).

Nutivaara's second-period goal lifts Columbus past Ottawa
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Markus Nutivaara scored a power-play goal in the second period, Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 22 shots, and the Columbus Blue Jackets beat the Ottawa Senators 2-1 on Saturday night.

Boone Jenner also scored -- his third tally in three games -- for the Blue Jackets, who have won a season-high seven straight and are holding on to the first wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference with 83 points, tied with Philadelphia and one point ahead of New Jersey.

Alexandre Burrows scored his fifth of the year and Mike Condon stopped 33 shots for Ottawa, which saw a three-game winning streak snapped on the second night of a back-to-back (see full recap).

McDavid's 3 points get Oilers past Panthers
SUNRISE, Fla. — Connor McDavid had a goal and two assists in the third period and the Edmonton Oilers rallied for a 4-2 victory over the Florida Panthers on Saturday.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Ty Rattie and Adam Larsson also scored for the Oilers, who are 4-1-1 in their past six games.

Cam Talbot made 40 saves for the Oilers.

Frank Vatrano and Vincent Trocheck scored for Florida.

Roberto Luongo made 32 saves for the Panthers, who lost for the first time this season when leading after two periods (23-1).

With Edmonton trailing 2-1, McDavid scored his 34th on a shot from the right circle 38 seconds into the third period, and Larsson's fourth of the season at 6:13 gave Edmonton the 3-2 lead (see full recap).