VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Where else can the Flyers work in a game between now and Tuesday?
Medicine Hat? Red Deer? Saskatoon?
Whatever the case, Western Canada has turned around the Flyers' fortunes as the team swept the Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver portion of its schedule all in regulation for the first time in 21 years. Thursday, the Flyers knocked off the Canucks in a convincing 4-1 victory at Rogers Arena, winning three games in a four-day span (see observations).
“Since I’ve been with the Flyers, I don’t think we’ve swept the West like that,” Claude Giroux said. “It’s good for our confidence. We changed a couple of things, the way we play and our identity as a team, and everybody’s bought into it.”
The Flyers have strung together their longest winning streak of the season off the heels of a 10-game winless streak, while working their record back to .500 at 11-11-7.
Several key changes have benefited the Flyers greatly during their current run:
• Switching up all four lines, including pairing Jakub Voracek with Valtteri Filppula and Michael Raffl.
• Utilizing a 1-2-2 zone at key moments, which has given the opposition trouble, especially late in games.
• Shortening the bench by not putting late-game pressure on some of the younger players.
“We had to buy into something,” goaltender Brian Elliott said. “Everybody’s understanding their role and where they’re supposed to be on the ice, and simplifying things a little bit. Along with that we’re making the smart decisions and not turning pucks over at the blue line.”
Michael Raffl applied his golden touch, scoring his fifth goal, all in the last eight games (see highlights). In fact, Raffl scored the game-winner in each of the three games of the road trip and has found some chemistry with Voracek, who collected seven assists and now leads the NHL with 30.
“We knew it was going to come,” Voracek said. “We’ve played some good hockey the past three games. We could have scored more than one tonight, especially in the third, we had lot of chances.
“I think I’m more experienced now. I’m almost 30 years old. I’m making more simple plays than I used to, so that’s a good thing.”
Starting games on consecutive nights for the first time this season, Elliott bailed out his teammates in the opening seven minutes when the Canucks outshot the Flyers, 9-0, to start the game (see video).
“He did a great job,” said defenseman Andrew MacDonald, who passed the Ric Flair robe over to Elliott as the Flyers' Player of the Game. “It’s never easy for a goalie to be put in a back-to-back situation. We were a little slow out of the gate and they came out pretty hard, and he made some crucial saves early that let us just calm down. That’s the veteran goaltending presence that he brings.”
Overall, Elliott stopped 36 of 37 shots, and 103 of the 108 shots he faced on the road trip for a .950 save percentage. He also earned his 200th career victory, becoming the 87th goalie in NHL history to reach that milestone.
“My goalie coach just sort of shook my hand and said 200,” Elliott, a ninth-round selection in 2003, said. “It’s pretty special for me. You get your first win and you just try and stay in the league and play your game and try and win a Stanley Cup. Reaching milestones like that means a lot. Hopefully, I can go for another 100.”
The Flyers' power play came to life, scoring two goals for the first time since Oct. 10 — a span of 25 games. Defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere opened the scoring when his slap shot from the point was deflected by Sam Gagner and past goaltender Jacob Markstrom.
“We have a lot of character in this room, and like I’ve said before, it’s one of the tightest groups I’ve been with," Giroux said. "We’re playing as a team and let’s keep rolling here."
Western Canada has been so good to the Flyers, they’re staying an extra day as they’ll enjoy a day off in Vancouver before flying back to Philadelphia Saturday morning.
Whatever they’ve discovered, they need to bottle it up when they open a five-game homestand starting with the Maple Leafs on Tuesday.