Kevin Hayes isn't afraid to say it: the Flyers were on a roll before the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic forced the NHL to suspend its season in mid-March.
It's not a stretch. After a nine-game win streak spanning nearly a month, the orange and black sat one point out of first in the Metropolitan Division, fourth overall in the Eastern Conference, and sixth in total points across the league. They'd quickly turned into one of the best teams in the NHL.
Commissioner Gary Bettman said earlier this week that he's not even considering cancelling the rest of the 2019-20 season.
From a purely hockey-focused standpoint, then, the pause's timing makes Flyers fans — and players — wonder if their momentum can be reclaimed if and when the NHL resumes its season.
During an appearance this week on the Spittin' Chiclets podcast, Hayes was asked the same question. It's clear he's thought about the topic — and what could get in the way:
CHICLETS: You guys had some momentum. Going into the postseason, I imagine you guys would've clinched a playoff spot. Do you think you'll be able to get back in the swing of things with a couple-week training camp, and be able to kick it into high gear?
HAYES: I hope so. We have a great leadership group there. Guys have been there for a while, like Coots, Jake, and G. They run a great locker room. Obviously new, older guys came in this year like myself, Niskanen, Braun, Stewie, Pitlick, and even Moose is an older guy there.
It's a fun team, to be honest. There's a lot of fun going on at the rink, and away from the rink, and we were really, really confident at the time. I would argue we were, I don't know — besides the Bruins, maybe the hottest team in the league? I hope that we can. I think we have the right leadership to get back, two weeks of training camp, to get the mojo back.
The thing that's — I don't know if scary's the right word — the thing that sucks is, playing in front of no fans is going to be really, really weird to kind of grasp.
Hayes calling the Flyers the second-hottest team in the league at the time of the league pause feels about right. The talent level, and the leadership level, is there.
But the question of how an empty Wells Fargo Center will affect the Flyers is a big one. The Flyers' 25-6-4 home record was the best in the league, no small feat.
When the Flyers are hot, Philadelphia is a place no opposing team wants to play, as we all saw during that win streak. The Flyers were suddenly the talk of the town, and a part of their home-ice advantage was directly attributable to the fans' intensity.
Hayes' confidence about the Flyers' season through 69 games, and his uncertainty about what comes next, both echo what Brian Boucher said earlier this week during an appearance on NBC Sports Philadelphia's Flyers Talk podcast:
The Flyers were really humming and you wonder what this team would have looked like heading into the playoffs in a normal scenario. I would think that teams would have been scared to play that team. I don’t know how it’s going to play when they come back.
If the NHL returns and heads directly to the postseason, it'll be very interesting to see if the Flyers' leaders can ramp the team back up into full momentum mode in time for a deep run.
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