On the road again
A big test on the road looms for Flyers as they hit Western Canada
Even with the luxury of chambermaid service, the Flyers have made their own beds in winning only six of their first 19 away games.
“On the road we tend to not fall asleep but not push the issue enough at certain times,” said Craig Berube. “And we end up letting our guard down a bit.”
The Flyers hit the road again for the next six having lost their last four in white jerseys. In three of those games they had a lead, and in the fourth, last Saturday in Columbus, it felt like they did after rallying back to a tie against the same team they overwhelmed with five third-period goals two nights earlier.
Perhaps the Blue Jackets got lucky in the third period with a couple of long-distance, seeing-eye shots from behind screens. But the Flyers can’t hide the fact that they have established a pattern of letting up.
At Carolina and Washington, they surrendered goals with the goalie pulled, then lost in overtime. At Dallas and Chicago they played strong, responsible first periods then collapsed with second periods so awful there was little chance to recover.
The blowouts were exceptions though. Since a rally from a 3-1 deficit to a 6-3 victory in Detroit on December 4, the Flyers have been all around their next road win and been unable to pull it in.
The starts generally have been okay. So here we have a team that gets on the bus in plenty of time, then throws itself under it. Whether the Flyers’ bad stretch occurs in the second or the final period, it still is bad enough to kill them. When the opposition crowd gets going, the Flyers don’t, which has to change starting Saturday night in Edmonton.
“I didn't see us getting rattled or anything like that,” said Berube. But if composure holds and concentration still ebbs, isn’t that really the same thing?
The intimidating arenas with smaller ice surfaces and lower, even overhanging, balconies all long ago met the wrecking ball, replaced by creature-comfort monstrosities that don’t hold the noise as well. The arenas mostly look and sound the same, making it easier for teams to play their same game on the road as they do at home. Eighteen of 30 teams currently have winning away records so the Flyers (6-9-4) have to figure out how to get one of those, too.
And it’s not complicated.
“For me, you’ve gotta play a simple game, can't force things on the road,” said Berube. “You’ve got to understand when you're at Chicago Stadium they're going to come with a lot of energy and they're going to be fast.
“You have to be smart with the puck. It takes a lot of discipline on the road.”
Alas, discipline is not the long suit of a team leading the league in penalty minutes by three whole minutes per game. At 17.2 that’s almost an entire period of every game.
“We take too many penalties that aren’t needed,” said Berube.
Of course they do that at home, too, but there the Flyers kill them at a higher rate -- 85.2 per cent at Wells Fargo Center as opposed to 81.2 everywhere else. An even more telling stat is that the Flyers lead the league in shorthanded situations on the road.
That means less time on the attack and more in their own end to take more restraining fouls and suffer more goals off caroms. And of course, the more minutes on special teams, the less opportunity to roll four lines and keep a team’s energy level at its highest.
The Flyers took 11 penalties in winning that game in Detroit, making even their proudest away this season – next best is a win in Pittsburgh – one in which they survived themselves. They don’t have to stay at Holiday Inns to be smarter on the road, just can’t keep providing room service to a home team that almost universally starts the game more likely to get officials calls.
The Flyers are knocking down the home wins with great regularity, building confidence they should be able to put to good use when they come home on January 8 with only 16 their 37 remaining games away.
But even in winning nine straight home games to build this 16-9-4 run, the Flyers remain one loss away from plummeting from third place (the last guaranteed playoff spot) to seventh. Now that is tight, too tight to tolerate going an 0-5-1 or a 1-4-1 on this journey, which includes games against two playoff longshots – Edmonton and Calgary – and concludes against New Jersey, one of the teams the Philadelphia likely will have to beat out to make the playoffs.
So on this hayride, the Flyers can’t afford not to make some hay.
“We need to be a .500-or-better team on the road,” said Berube.
That’s what the good clubs do.