VOORHEES, N.J. — The Flyers returned from their global retreats Friday afternoon set to resume the second half of their season. Looking to work off the bye-week rust, head coach Dave Hakstol put his team through an up-tempo 45-minute practice.
“The energy and mental concentration and that level was really good,” Hakstol said. “You've got to work right back into it, mentally and physically. You can’t just expect that to be there [Saturday] night.”
“We wanted to get our legs under us,” captain Claude Giroux said. “We don’t have time for mental mistakes Saturday. The first period is going to be very key for us. Make sure we make good decisions and be very responsible with the puck.”
Ideally, the Flyers would like to mirror their effort and start from last Saturday’s game against the St. Louis Blues. Prior to Friday’s workout, the team recalled forward Tyrell Goulbourne from Lehigh Valley to replicate the intensity and straight-forward physical play that led to the Flyers' first goal that game (see story).
“He’s here for a reason. He did a good job,” Hakstol said. “I liked the elements he brought in the first two games. Obviously he played limited minutes but that’s part of his role, and he did a good job in that role.”
The Flyers' pursuit of a playoff spot will go straight through the Metropolitan Division where they will play 21 of their final 40 regular-season games. The NHL schedule-makers also sandwiched the Flyers-Devils rivalry together tighter than a grilled panini, with four of the next 15 games to be played against each other.
“When you see each other up close and personal like these two teams are going to do several times here, the team will get familiar with each other real quick,” Hakstol said.
“It’s perfect for us. It’s right where we wanted to be,” forward Wayne Simmonds said. “This is where we need to make up a lot of our points and the best way of doing it is to play teams within our division. Especially since we’re chasing them. From what I’ve heard, [the Devils are] a really fast team. Obviously, there are young guys on the team who fly around, and they play a really exciting brand of hockey.”
This Devils team is a distant memory from the three-time Stanley Cup champion that took great pride in neutral-zone traps, defensive-minded hockey and world-class goaltending. This Devils team plays a much faster-paced game ranked in the top 10 offensively, averaging 3.1 goals a game to go along with the league’s sixth-ranked power play.
Aside from the Vegas Golden Knights, the Devils are perhaps one of the biggest surprises in the league this season, currently third in the Metropolitan Division with 52 points after finishing with an Eastern Conference-worst 70 points last season.
“It looks like they find ways to win. They have guys who can score goals,” Giroux said. “Their goaltending has been pretty good this year. Cory (Schneider) is one of their best players and I think it’s important to attack him right away.”