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Even Strength Play Key for Stevens

by Kevin Kurz / Philadelphia Flyers
Flyers solid during five-on-five in win over Calgary

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(Edmonton, Alberta) – In order for the Philadelphia Flyers to compete for a playoff spot, improved play in five-on-five situations is going to go a long way towards achieving that goal, according to John Stevens.

Fortunately, if their preseason and season opening win against Calgary is any indication, that area of the Flyers’ game could be a real strength for the club. The Flyers allowed just two power play goals and scored two out of their three during even strength play in the win against the Flames.

“Other than the third period in the Washington [preseason] game, we were very good five-on-five. That is clearly an area that we’re going to have to be good at if we want to compete for a playoff spot this year,” said Stevens after an afternoon practice on Friday at Rexall Place in Edmonton.

“Our five-on-five play last year, in my opinion, was my biggest area of concern.”
Jason Smith spent the previous five seasons as the captain of the Edmonton Oilers. (Jack Cassidy)

That isn’t to say that Stevens and the Flyers were pleased with everything they saw during the 3-2 win at the Saddledome on Thursday night. Philadelphia allowed the Flames to erase an early two-goal deficit to tie the game, and withstood heavy pressure from the home team in the third period.

“One area of our game I think we could be a lot better is just composure with the puck,” said Stevens. “We turned some pucks over in key areas and they ended up in our net.”

“We played well offensively, but defensively in the second half of the game they spent a little too much time in our end,” added Simon Gagne, who registered two assists in the win. “Marty [Biron] did a great job and made a couple big saves.”

Despite all of that time in the Flyers’ end, though, Biron felt that the defense did an admirable job.

“As much time as we spent in our zone, a lot of it was under control,” said the Flyers’ goaltender, who finished with 24 saves. “We gave the points up a little bit and they got some shots that could have gotten through and we iced the puck a couple times, but we were able to stop the bleeding and keep them to the outside.”

Biron, who had an outstanding preseason, was able to keep his strong play going in the regular season as he allowed two goals in which he had no chance to stop in a redirection and a wide open tip-in, both by Daymond Langkow.

“If you want to go on the road and win hockey games your goalie has to be one of your best players, and he was [Thursday] night,” said Stevens.

Smith Returns to Old Home

Flyers defenseman Jason Smith will surely receive a thundering round of applause on Saturday night when he returns to his old home. Smith was the captain of the Oilers for five seasons and a fan favorite during his tenure with Edmonton before being acquired by the Flyers this summer.

If he’s nervous at all, though, he certainly isn’t letting it show.

“I’m excited. I had fun playing here and I know a lot good people. I’m just looking forward to playing,” he said.

“I’m completely motivated and excited about being [in Philadelphia]. It’s a fresh opportunity and a new challenge.”

Lupul Feeling Fine

Joffrey Lupul, who also played for the Oilers last season, was able to make his Flyers debut on Thursday night while recovering from a left wrist sprain that kept him out of the final two preseason games.

He took a big hit from towering defenseman Dion Phaneuf of the Flames late in the second period, but said that he felt fine on Friday and after the game.

“There’s a little pain but it was pretty heavily taped. Other than that, it just felt good to be in a regular season game again,” said Lupul. “The first period I was sucking wind pretty good after not playing for I think nine days, but after that I felt really good.”

Stevens said after practice that Riley Cote could be inserted into the lineup on Saturday, presumably for Jesse Boulerice. … The Flyers will not skate on Saturday morning, instead opting for a team meeting. … Immediately following Saturday’s game, the team will fly to Vancouver and then bus to Whistler, British Columbia, for three days of team-building.
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