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Flyers steadier this season thanks to lessons learned

Wednesday, 02.18.2009 / 9:00 AM / Player Profiles

By Mike G. Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writer

A year ago this week, the Philadelphia Flyers' season appeared to be spiraling out of control.

Just when the orange and black appeared to be a lock to earn one of the top eight seeds in the Eastern Conference, the club embarked on its worst losing streak in franchise history, going 0-8-2 from Feb. 6-23. In the process, the Flyers dipped in the standings and seemed destined to miss the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second straight season.

That never happened, of course, as the Flyers righted the ship and advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals, where they fell in five games to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

"I think everyone learned from that last year," Flyers captain Mike Richards said. "I don't think anything needed to be said this season because everyone kind of remembered the situation we put ourselves in. As long as we don't do that this year and keep on the path we're on, if not improve, I think that's the biggest thing right now. We don't want to stay the same; we want to keep improving as a team."

Lessons learned from that rocky road have helped the Flyers remain focused throughout much of the 2008-09 campaign. Since Nov. 11, the club has not suffered more than two consecutive losses at any point while compiling a 26-10-6 record during that span.

"It's nice to see that we can bounce back after a loss but, that said, it seems like we can still do a little bit better with consistency in a winning way and not have those letdowns after a big win or two big wins," Richards said. "It's encouraging to see how the team responds after a loss. I still think we have a little bit of a ways to go to get better, but we like the team's drive right now."

The Flyers will look to remain in the playoff hunt and perhaps even catch the Atlantic Division-leading New Jersey Devils, with whom they still have two games remaining. The club plays consecutive home games this week against Buffalo on Thursday and Pittsburgh on Saturday. Richards, who returned to the lineup Feb. 11 and after missing three games with the flu, knows the club must play better.

"It's always tough throughout the year (to remain consistent) because you play so many games that you're not going to have good legs, you're not going to play well and get the bounces every single night," he said. "It's just putting yourself in position to win the hockey games, and with injury problems and the flu bug going around pretty heavily right now, it's different people stepping up in different situations. We've had that all year. Hopefully we can continue doing that, and hopefully we get healthy pretty soon."

Richards, who centered Scottie Upshall and Darroll Powe in his first game back before moving back to usual partners Simon Gagne and Mike Knuble, has 20 goals, 52 points and a plus-18 rating. He leads the team with 99 hits, and leads the team's forwards with 58 blocked shots.

Flyers defenseman Ossi Vaananen wasn't a part of last season's losing streak, but knows the players are adamant about not allowing history to repeat itself.

"Consistency is the key, but we don't want to let our guard down," Vaananen said. "We've played a lot of hockey already, but that's when the professionalism comes into play. You have to stay focused and keep it up night in and night out; there's no letting down. Right now, if you can keep your level high, you're in good shape because a lot of teams are tired."

One consistent part of the Flyers this season has been special teams. The power play is ranked fourth in the League at 23.9 percent, while the penalty-killing unit is seventh at 83.4 percent.

"Our penalty killing is good because of the pressure that we put on the teams," Richards said. "We don't give them too many opportunities to set up, and when they do, I think our goaltenders make big saves and we collapse the middle and do a great job of getting in the way and blocking shots. If you don't give the other team time to make plays, they're sometimes going to panic and make plays that they normally wouldn't make."

That's the reason Richards leads the League with five shorthanded goals -- including his third career three-on-five goal Sunday against the Rangers -- and teammates Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne have four.

Contact Mike Morreale at mmorreale@nhl.com.
Quote of the Day

We want to make sure that whoever makes our team really makes our team by earning it and not putting them in situations where they get preference because of their status as a first-round pick or whatever it might be. That's not going to happen. Everybody has to earn their way on our team.

— Columbus Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen on the team's prospects at development camp