TAMPA – It was the most glaring thing on the Flyers schedule when it was released a little over two months ago and now we’re almost there:
A gaping hole of five consecutive days off in a condensed schedule.
It was unexpected in a season of 48 games in 99 days. But it definitely stood out. Especially for a Flyers team that played more games than any team in the league to this point.
The players are being given two complete days off to do as they please – vacation with the family, sit at home and vegetate… whatever – before returning for practice Thursday as the prepare for the final playoff push and a grueling 18 games in the final 35 days of the season.
In a lot of ways, this is the hockey version of “Get Away Day” which, in baseball, is often viewed as a day when players’ minds are elsewhere, leading to a less than stellar effort.
The difference is, no one in the Flyers locker room is viewing it that way. After all, they can’t afford to do that at this stage in the season.
The Flyers enter play tonight four points out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, and although they can close that gap to two with a win coupled with a victory by the New York Rangers over Carolina, they have to sit around and watch for five days while both teams they are chasing and those behind them play in 17 games that will have an affect on the Flyers position in the standings.
“I think they’re pretty focused on the game,” coach Peter Laviolette said after the morning skate. “There’s hasn’t been any talk about the break…. I’m [also] going to stay away from [discussing] the three day break. There’s a big game tonight. I haven’t even thought about the rest of the week. I’m going to focus on the game tonight. That’s where I’m going to stay.”
To a man the players pretty much had the same attitude, choosing to focus more on the task of defeating the Lightning to get in the best possible position in the standings heading into that break.
Although some admitted the break does come at a good time in the season as it allows the team a chance to get fresh and healthy before that last push.
“It’s going to get us some rest, which is good,” Max Talbot said. “Also, we’ll get a few hard practices in and be ready for the rest [of the season] come Sunday.”
Laviolette mentioned that he was sticking with the same line combinations and defensive pair from the shootout win against New jersey last Friday despite struggling some offensively.
“We didn’t generate a lot last game. Offensively I don’t think we were firing on all cylinders last game. We have to do a better job of winning puck battles in the offensive zone; moving the puck and moving for each other.
“I think lines always move around a little bit from day-to-day, but there won’t be any adjustment to them tonight.”
Ilya Bryzgalov will make his 28th start of the season for the Flyers tonight, most in the NHL. He, along with Evgeni Nabokov of the New York Islanders are the only goalies in the NHL to be credited with each of their team’s victories this season.
Vincent Lecavalier is out of the lineup for Tampa Bay. The Lightining are loading up their top line, playing Martin St. Louis with Stephen Stamkos and Teddy Purcell. Anders Lindback is in goal for the Lightning.
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