VOORHEES, N.J. – Some people thought the Christmas break was too short. Some felt it was just right. Regardless, the Flyers returned to skate zone for a quick, yet up-tempo practice before embarking on yet another lengthy road trip that kicks off tomorrow in Edmonton.
At nine days, it’ll be the second-longest road trip of the season piggy-backing off a 13 day trip earlier this month.
(Technically it’s a six-game, 11-day trip if you include the game in Newark against the Devils at the end of it, but the Flyers will return home two days earlier and practice at Skate Zone before heading up the New Jersey Turnpike).
And it’s probably the most crucial nine days of the season.
The Flyers come out of the Christmas break in a playoff position in the mediocre Metropolitan Division, but it’s a fluid spot, and they know it.
The key will be to still be holing it when they next return to home ice in nearly two weeks against Montreal.
“If we lay an egg [on this trip] we’re going to shoot ourselves in the foot,” said Scott Hartnell. “We had a lot of home games the first month an got off to a poor start, but we’ve gotten back to where we want to go at this point. But, if we let that slide on this road trip we’re going to be scratching ourselves in April looking back wondering what went wrong and we can look at this road trip saying it’s the turning point.
“We have to focus, be prepared and do the right things off the ice and get ready to play hard and get some points.”
And that’s been a challenge of late on the road for the Flyers. After dropping their first three road games, the Flyers had a brief stretch of road success, going 4-0-2 between October 24 and November 24.
But since then, it’s definitely been a struggle, as the Flyers have gone 2-6-2, including coming up on the wrong end of the score in the last five games away from home.
“We were playing so poorly at home [in October] that it was almost a relief to go on the road at the beginning of the year,” said Braydon Coburn of the team’s brief road success. “Once we started scoring goals and turned that around a little bit it was a lot more fun to play at home obviously.”
And the Flyers have been having a lot of fun on home ice, winning nine straight at home for the first time in eight seasons and have used that momentum to climb above faux .500 (points percentage, not winning percentage) and grab a playoff spot for the time being.
But, that could easily be undone if the team doesn’t start finding a way to earn wins on the road against Western Conference foes.
“On the road we have to play a simple game,” Coburn said. “When we play a lot of these teams from the West that we don’t see too often we have to be really sure that we stick to our game plan and no matter what happens in the game, try to win close games.”
Coburn was definitely alluding to fast starts the team had last road trip in Dallas and Chicago, where the Flyers played excellent first periods and lead both games before losing focus and getting blown out of the building.
“Those two games in particular we had the lead in the first period and then kind of got away from our game,” Coburn said. “The Dallas game was a little odd because we spent so much time in the penalty box, but we got away from the structure of our game. When you are on the road, the structure is what really good road teams tend to rely on.”
And the Flyers are likely going to be tested right away as far as that structure is concerned as there is a good chance they will be going up against Ilya Bryzgalov in goal tomorrow when they face the Oilers.
How they approach that matchup is important – and not in the way that will make headlines or dominate conversation on television broadcasts, but rather on making sure they stick to what works and not try to freelance to try and one up a former teammate.
“Our team needs to not worry about who is in net, they need to worry about their game – that’s it,” coach Craig Berube said. “If they don’t do that, we’re not going to be successful. That’s the kind of stuff I’m talking about. You need to think properly and get your head right.”
NOTES: Edmonton plays Calgary tonight and the Flyers tomorrow, so there is a chance the Flyers don’t see Bryzgalov. Asked to describe him in one word, Hartnell called him “Goofy.” Claude Giroux said, “I can use a lot of words,” but rather than get into them, he chose to call Bryzgalov “Interesting…” Steve Downie was a full participant at practice and said he feels good enough to go in the game tomorrow. Downie will likely return to the lineup, but who he places remains to be seen. Adam Hall seems like a possibility to be replaced – at least in Edmonton – as he has been dealing with the flu and didn’t practice Friday…. With Downie coming back, Berube is not apt to re-shuffle lines. He was happy with the game played by the Hartnell-Brayden Schenn-Wayne Simmonds line against Minnesota Monday and wants to keep them together for now. There’s no touching the top line and Berube said Vinny Lecavalier looked good playing with Sean Couturier and Matt Read. That means Downie will likely have to play on the fourth line, and Berube said, “It’s my job to make sure he gets his minutes,” so it’ll be interesting to see how it goes… The foregone conclusion is Chris Vandevelde might be the odd guy out, but Berube has liked what he’s seen from Vandevalde on a limited basis and praised him for his work ethic, his speed and size, his faceoff ability and his versatility – as he can also kill penalties and has filled in on the power play.
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