Flyers look to avoid another holiday hangover

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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 re-sign restricted free agent Anthony Stolarz

Flyers re-sign restricted free agent Anthony Stolarz

General manager Ron Hextall is nearly finished wrapping up contracts for his restricted free agents.

And his goalie picture is now clear for 2018-19.

The Flyers on Wednesday re-signed netminder Anthony Stolarz to a one-year, two-way contract. The deal is worth $761,250, according to a report by hockey writer John Hoven.

With Stolarz back, defenseman Robert Hagg remains the Flyers' lone restricted free agent.

Stolarz, a 2012 second-round pick, underwent a nightmarish 2017-18 season just a year after he made his NHL debut and performed well in seven games with the Flyers. The 24-year-old tore the meniscus in his left knee during early September, the same injury he suffered at the end of 2016-17 with AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley.

He played in just one AHL game and three ECHL contests as a result. In 2016-17, he made his way to the big club and put up a 2.07 goals-against average and .928 save percentage in a small sample. Then the injury occurred with the Phantoms and it's been an uphill battle ever since for the 6-foot-6, 210-pounder.

Stolarz will have his work cut out for him — if he hasn't already — as playing time will be earned at Lehigh Valley with Alex Lyon back in the fold and Carter Hart joining them.

"It's just competition. No one is going to go in there and hand you a job, so you have to earn it,” Stolarz said in June after an on-ice workout at Flyers Skate Zone. "I think the thing for me is to prove I'm healthy. I don't think I've skated since the end of January. I had the one flare up before one of my games and it had nothing to do with my knee injury. It was a separate injury. I think the biggest thing is proving I'm healthy and going out there and working to prove I'm still a high-caliber goalie."

The Flyers' goaltending tandem is set with Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth, both of whom are in the final year of their contracts. Things obviously can change this offseason, as Neuvirth and Stolarz seemed like realistic trade candidates.

But as of now, it's Elliott and Neuvirth with the younger trio pushing and competing.

"I'd rather have too many goalies than too few," Hextall said earlier this month. "If something makes sense and we can make something happen, we'd at least look at it. We saw it last year. All of a sudden, a couple goalies go down and you're scrambling for goalies. If we start with five, we start with five. Not a perfect situation, but again, I'd rather start with five than with three."

More on the Flyers' goalies

• Following 'gloomy' time, what's next for Elliott?

• Why Neuvirth's NHL career hinges on this offseason

• Hart says so long to Twitter, hello to pro life

• No arbitration needed for Flyers and Lyon

• Sandstrom hungry to prove he's not the 'other' goalie

Former Flyers goalie Ray Emery dies at 35

Former Flyers goalie Ray Emery dies at 35

Former Flyers goaltender Ray Emery died Sunday morning. First responders pulled his body out of Hamilton Harbour, where he had been swimming with friends. An investigation into the cause of death is still ongoing. 

Emery was 35.

According to local authorities, Emery was checking out a friend’s boat docked at Royal Hamilton Yacht Club when the group he was with decided to jump in the water around 6:30 a.m. Emery’s body never surfaced and was eventually recovered around 2:50 p.m. Sunday afternoon. Hamilton police say Emery’s body was recovered in close proximity to where he was last seen.

Emery was last seen publicly with a handful of his former teammates Saturday night as the goaltender participated in Zac Rinaldo’s charity hockey game in Hamilton. Emery can be seen standing during the playing of “O Canada.”

"The Philadelphia Flyers are stunned and extremely saddened to hear of the tragic passing of former Flyers goaltender Ray Emery," president Paul Holmgren said in a statement from the team. "Ray was an outstanding teammate and an extremely gifted goaltender. He had exceptional athleticism, was a fierce competitor and battled in every game he played with the Flyers.

"His performances through the 2009-10 season were a very big part of the team's success in making the playoffs and reaching the Stanley Cup Final. Ray's talent, work ethic and determination helped him enjoy a successful 11-year NHL career. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends during this difficult time."

Several of Emery’s former teammates over the years offered their condolences via Twitter after learning of the tragedy.

Former Flyer Daniel Carcillo shared the he was crushed by the news (NSFW).

Jakub Voracek also shared his condolences (NSFW).

Emery joined the Flyers in June 2009 on a one-year contract, shutting out the Carolina Hurricanes 2-0 in his Flyers debut. The goaltender’s first stint in Philadelphia was cut short when he suffered a muscle tear in his abdomen in December missing the remainder of the season. Emery was later diagnosed with avascular necrosis — a degenerative condition to the bone tissue in his hip.

After undergoing successful surgery, Emery eventually joined the Ducks before winning a Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks in 2013. Impressively, Emery finished the regular season with a 17-1-0 record. He re-signed with the Flyers that summer as a backup to Steve Mason.

Emery’s most infamous moment in Philadelphia came during an ugly 7-0 loss to the Washington Capitals on November 1, 2013, as the Flyers netminder pummeled Caps goalie Braden Holtby during a line brawl in the early stages of the third period.

Emery faced criminal charges over a handful of off-the-ice incidents and altercations. Most recently, he was arrested for assault with a weapon in 2017 against former fiancé Keshia Chanté. 

Emery played a total of 287 NHL games, 88 with the Flyers.