The Flyers are a different team with the 10-game winning streak now over.
And not just within the standings.
It’s a new ball game for the Flyers.
“We’ve reset the bar a little bit for ourselves in terms of expectations — that we can beat anybody, we can go on a run and be competitive every night,” general manager Ron Hextall said at practice on Sunday, per Flyers public relations. “So we just need to continue on.”
Winning the most consecutive games in franchise history since 1985 will change a team’s outlook. Hextall said the Flyers always had expectations, but did he ever anticipate such a run so early in the season?
“I’m not sure you ever envision, in this day and age, a 10-game winning streak. They’re hard to come by,” Hextall said. “I think you expect your team to play better. I think we’ve got a good team and we do have expectations that are reasonable, but also, we expect to win. I don’t know if I say I expect a 10-game winning streak, but do you expect to win maybe 10 of 12 or 10 of 13? Yeah, I think that’s fair during times of the year.”
That’s part of the bar being raised by the streak. The Flyers have evidence of what they’re capable of accomplishing.
“Even without this streak, we knew we were a good team,” Wayne Simmonds said after Saturday’s 3-1 loss to the Stars. “Right before we started it, we were playing good hockey. We had full confidence.
“You build up a 10-game winning streak, it’s pretty cool. It’s over with now and we got to start again. You build on the positives you had during the streak.”
Hextall saw plenty of positives. During the 10-game spurt, the Flyers outscored the opposition, 36-22. They also shored up two areas in which needed drastic improvement: goaltending and the penalty kill.
Netminder Steve Mason went 8-0-0 with 2.33 goals-against average and .926 save percentage, while rookie Anthony Stolarz won two games — including his NHL debut — and delivered a shutout. A stifling penalty kill certainly didn’t hurt, going 25 for 29. The Flyers allowed two goals or fewer in seven of the 10 games, something they had done that just five times in their previous 22 games.
“I thought everybody was a part of it,” Hextall said. “When you’re winning 10 games in a row at this level, in this day and age, you need contributions from everywhere and I think we got them. You look at [Pierre-Edouard Bellemare] and [Chris VandeVelde] on the PK and say, ‘Wow, those guys are doing a really good job.’ Obviously our power play, obviously our top guys, obviously [Mason] was good for us. The one game he wasn’t that great, the guys picked him up. That’s what a team is all about.”
Struggling to simply win back-to-back games before the streak, the Flyers now stand at 19-11-3 entering Monday’s game against the Predators and are tied for fourth in the Metropolitan, what has become the NHL’s best division, sporting five of the league’s top-seven teams. The Flyers are in a good spot, but Hextall cautioned that they can’t afford to get comfortable.
“It appears we’re locked in but that can change in a hurry,” Hextall said. “There’s never a point, to me, in pro sports where you say, ‘OK, well we’re locked in, we need to just go here.’ You need to keep pushing. Individually and collectively, we need to keep pushing. That’s pro sports. You want to be successful, you’ve got to continue to push and it’s got to be an expectation. Not a, ‘Oh, a 10-game winning streak, this is great, now we can back off.’ No, you’ve got to continually push.”
Things won’t come easy for the Flyers, who play 12 divisional games in their final 15, while half of their next 18 games come against Metropolitan foes.
“I think the competitive nature of our franchise, I like it,” Hextall said of all the divisional games packed together. “The travel, I like. And the other thing, our division, it’s no secret, our division is very strong and it does give us a good measuring stick on where we’re at. But it also gives us the opportunity to put ourselves in a good position. They’re four-point games.”
So what does Hextall think of the Flyers’ current state?
“I think we’ve got a lot of work to do,” he said.
Monday’s game against the Predators is another start.
“I’m really interested to see [Monday], because typically when you come off of one of these [streaks], you really want to respond the right way,” Hextall said. “So I’m interested to see how [Monday’s] game goes.
“Not necessarily win or loss, but more in terms of how we play, the effort, the focus that’s there. I think human nature is we’re disappointed right now and you come back and maybe there’s a little bit of a letdown, so I’m interested to see which way that goes.”
Hextall said there’s a chance center Sean Couturier (knee), defenseman Mark Streit (shoulder) and winger Matt Read (oblique) return in December, but the expectation is after New Years in January, including goalie Michal Neuvirth (knee).
“It’s going good with all of them,” Hextall said of the recoveries. “It’s kind of a day-to-day thing. I think the Christmas break (Dec. 24-26) is a little bit of a deterrent in terms of trying to keep a grip on where they’re at.”