When the Flyers’ schedule was announced in July, one didn’t have to predict who would be hurt, who would be hot and who would be not to immediately circle December 11 in Chicago as the contest least likely of the 82 to be won.
On the last game of a six-game trip, in their 11th contest in 22 nights, this one against the Stanley Cup champs, the Flyers were going to win at the United Center only on a 5-goal night by Adam Hall, not that you would have predicted a 7-2 debacle, and not that you were shocked by it, either.
The schedule determines winners and losers in many games every year in the NHL, more than home ice (only 53 per cent home winners so far this season), In this age of the salary cap, there isn’t much to chose between the talent levels of the majority of teams, so a given night there are few superior clubs, mostly either a rested or a tired one, especially during a compressed Olympic year.
So if Claude Giroux believes Thursday night’s 2-1 victory over Montreal at the Wells Fargo Center was one of the best two-way performance of the season for his team, we’re not going to argue with the captain, especially on a night he finished off a pretty three-way passing play with Brayden Schenn and a reawakening Jake Voracek for the goal that turned out to be the winner.
Having shown a national TV audience they are not in the Blackhawks’ class, the Flyers landed at 2:15 a.m. and nevertheless reported 17 hours later fully ready to play that often-treacherous first home game back from a long trip. Maybe they were too tired to take any more dumb penalties, but that would have been the only fatigue factor on display as they performed with energy and intelligence all the way to “steal” a home game they didn’t figure to win against a 19-11-3 team that had been waiting in Philadelphia since Wednesday afternoon.
Thus did the Flyers go 1-1 against Chicago and Montreal, but really 1-1 against the schedule to move to within one point of a playoff spot in the forgiving Metropolitan Division. It may not seem like it sometimes, but the Flyers are 13-8-3 since a 1-7 start. If it is blasphemy to suggest that a 2-3-1 trip wasn’t so terrible, frankly that may be the case considering that on the journey, Ottawa was the only opponent that currently has a losing record.
Granted, today there are only nine of those in the NHL and at one game under .500 the Flyers still are one of them, not yet to be considered a good team, more as one remaining in recovery from a horrible start. Still needing one more good forward and one more defenseman to elevate themselves among the elite, instead they should be thought of as a club making progress with what it has.
When Michael Raffl, a goal scorer last night on another terrific assist by Voracek, sees the “light at the end of the tunnel” the rookie said, “I never thought I was in the tunnel.”
The fans’ vision may be Cup or Bust, but an offensively challenged team, four weeks without Vincent Lecavalier, is fighting hard to get its head above water.
“I think there is a lot of character in that room,” said Coach Craig Berube, “They certainly were not happy about that loss in Chicago because they wanted to show they could compete with that team.”
The Flyers will get another chance at that on March 18 at the Wells Fargo Center, where they have won six straight home games, building important confidence in the place where they play 41 times. They have good road wins at Pittsburgh and Detroit and as bad as they were in those second periods in Dallas, and Chicago, those gave the Flyers the opportunity to demonstrate a growing confidence best proven by their resilience.
If you are waiting for a hot streak to get really excited, the reality is the Flyers may have already had it with that 6-0-1 stretch that got them back into contention. Things are tight in the lesser conference (only four Eastern teams have winning records against the West) and probably will be until the end, where there is light at the end of the tunnel Raffl is not in.
After one more whopper 6-game post-Christmas trip – if you want to count a bus ride to Newark as No. 6 – the Flyers will come home to play 22 of their last 38 at home, most of them against Eastern opponents.
By the end of this season, you will want to feel like the expected additional $7 million in cap space next season can finish off a team of promise.
Nights like Thursday, the Flyers seem to be working towards that.