VOORHEES, N.J. – There’s certainly a different feeling in the Flyers locker room these days then there was even two weeks ago.
It’s hard to put a finger on the reason why, but just being in there, you get the sense that they know something that no one else does. There are smiles. There are positive attitudes. There is confidence and a belief in the team.
Heck, even Peter Laviolette is joking around with writers lately.
The Flyers still sit a game below .500. They still are on the outside looking in of a playoff spot. They still have not won three games in a row.
So, why the optimism? Why the positivity? Why the shift from pervading uncertainty to burgeoning confidence?
It’s hard to say really, but it’s there.
Maybe it’s the break in the schedule. After playing 15 games in 27 days in February, the Flyers have just 13 in the next 34 days. Having time to relax and recover as well as time to work and practice will only be beneficial for the Flyers moving forward.
Considering the team went two full weeks without having a chance to have a full practice, the break in the schedule is welcome.
Friday, the Flyers practiced for nearly two hours, and coach Peter Laviolette was thrilled about it.
“It’s been a long time,” Laviolette said. “It was really good to get out there. There were 12 things we were able to touch on. The power play, the breakout, the shootouts… everything. It was a real productive day, but it was a busy day because we were still preparing for Ottawa tomorrow. It was good though that after having an off day yesterday to put in the work today.”
Maybe it’s also because the team is getting healthier.
Scott Hartnell has been back, but he’s started to look more like himself in the last game or two and is showing no lingering effects of fractured foot.
“It took a couple games to be comfortable and up to speed with (Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek),” Hartnell said. “They were hitting the blue line four or five strides before I got there. (Wednesday) I was right there with them if not ahead a couple times… I felt pretty good.”
Not just Hartnell, but it looks like Erik Gustafsson’s lower-body injury was minor enough that he won’t miss any time and is expected to be back in the lineup Saturday against Ottawa.
“It’s good to see Gus out there,” Laviolette said. “Just moving the puck, moving himself and [being] mobile back there, he’s really come in and done a nice job since coming back from his injury.
“He was finding his game. It was good to see him back out there and not hung up from the other night.”
Then there’s Andrej Meszaros, who is ever-closer to returning as well. Only Matt Read is sidelined long-term, but the fact that he skates with the team regularly suggests his recovery from torn rib cage muscles will be closer to the four week portion of his diagnosed return than the six week portion.
Maybe it’s the calming influence of a more veteran team. Sure, the Flyers are still young up front. But when you consider the roster moves that have been made to this team during the season – adding Brian Boucher, Mike Knuble and Simon Gagne – all three veterans who get what Flyers hockey is all about and can impart that on the younger players in the group – you can sense that they, along with the leadership group, keep things on an even keel and don’t let panic set into the locker room.
That’s why even though the Flyers are 10-11-1 and have yet to reach the .500 mark this season, the team isn’t focused on getting the one win needed to achieve that level of… well… mediocrity, but instead have their sights even higher.
“I don’t know if there’s a lot made of the .500 level,” Laviolette said. “Five hundred is not going to do anything for us. If we finish .500 we’re going to be looking back at this year saying, ‘What a mess.’ We need to win hockey games and get way above the .500 level if we’re going to have an opportunity to play for the Stanley Cup. We continue to chip away at things and move in the right direction and try to put wins in the column.”
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