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Back in the Saddle

by Brian Smith | / Philadelphia Flyers

The Flyers will be hit with a stiff test Tuesday night when the Dallas Stars come to the Wells Fargo Center for their only visit of the season. In addition to trying to shake off a five-day break in their schedule, the Flyers will have to do so against a Dallas team that has so far lived up to lofty preseason expectations.

The Stars are 4-1 this season and are outscoring opponents 19-13 as they motor through a four-game road trip. Patrick Sharp will make his first return to Philadelphia as a member of the Stars, where he was traded from Chicago in the offseason. Sharp, Tyler Seguin and Jason Spezza are among the many offensive threats Dallas poses, which is why many hockey pundits have them going deep into the playoffs in their preseason predictions.

“We’ve played some pretty good teams here in the early going,” said Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol. “Dallas is another team that can create offense, and they can do it pretty quickly. We’ve got to be good without the puck, and in turn we’ve got to have an attack mentality. But we’ve got to make sure we’re doing it our way. Sometimes that means you’ve got to put a puck to an area and go get it, and make it hard on the other team. Other times it’s just making good decisions with the puck – when to put it to an area, and maybe when to attack with possession.”

The Flyers have won their first two games at home, both in shutout fashion, and are trying to win their first three consecutive home games for the first time since 2007-08. They’re also trying to pitch three straight shutouts for the first time since October of 1999, and three in a row at home for the first time since January of that year. It remains to be seen which goaltender will start – Steve Mason is back and ready to return to the crease, but Michal Neuvirth is coming off those two shutouts. It’s safe to say that there’s a good likelihood they’ll split the back-to-back series.

“I’ve had a good couple days here,” Mason said of the layoff. “I’ve put the work in and made sure I did the best I could to prepare for my next game. Either way, it doesn’t matter which game it is – you’re excited regardless. Both real good opportunities, good teams that we’re playing against. It’ll be a good test either way.”

The Flyers are one of only two teams in the NHL, along with Washington, to have only played four games to this point in the season. Suffice it to say, the Flyers will be ready to roll again – but know they have to be careful with the mix of high emotions and any lethargy from the layoff. Those two things do co-exist, and they can lead to mistakes.

“It’s good to come out with a little bit of emotion,” said Wayne Simmonds. “We’re in our home building; we want the fans to feed off us and we want to feed off the fans. I think it’s natural for us to come out with a little bit of emotion, throw some hits and get the crowd in it. But we’ve got to be smart. You can’t do anything stupid, you can’t go out of your way and try to blow someone up, take yourself out of the play and cause an odd-man rush the other way. We kind of have to stay even keeled, no matter what it is.”

As for the Stars themselves, the Flyers are excited to see how they match up against another one of the league’s top teams.

“They have a lot to throw at you,” Mason said. “A ton of offensive power; speed off the rush. Real creative players. They added Sharp this offseason, I’m not sure what line he’s playing on right now, but I think Spezza’s on their second line. He’s a world class player that has a ton of skill and can make you pay. They just come in waves and waves. You look at their defense, they’re real solid back there as well. They made the move for Niemi in the offseason. So you just look at their team and they just keep coming at you. That’ll be a really good test for us with all the speed that they have.”

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