(Voorhees, NJ) – With their most recent win on Tuesday night against Los Angeles, the Philadelphia Flyers moved into sole possession of first place in the Atlantic Division with 61 points. It also placed them second overall in the Eastern Conference behind Ottawa, which has 68 points and has played two more games.
While the Flyers are pleasantly surprised that they have been able to make up so much ground on the team that was running away with the regular season points title early in the year, there is still no reason to be concerned with catching them in late January, according to Danny Briere
“They were so far ahead of everybody that it was kind of like everybody forgot about them. It’s still a little early to start looking at that,” he said after Wednesday’s practice at the Virtua Center Flyers Skate Zone
“Right now, we’re trying to make a separation with eighth and ninth place, and we’re moving. When we came out of the break, it was great that we’re first in the division, but we’re only five points from ninth place (now seven). It’s important that we keep making ground on Pittsburgh and New Jersey. No one has really talked about Ottawa. We’re trying to concentrate on ourselves, and next month we’ll see how it goes.”
John Stevens is also not very preoccupied with gaining the first overall position in the East at this point.
|The Flyers have won both games against Ottawa so far this season. (Getty Images) |
“It’s a little surprising that we were able to close the gap on Ottawa. They were so far ahead, kind of like Detroit is in the West,” said the head coach, whose team is 2-0 against the Senators this season. “But, I think it’s really important that we not look outside ourselves here and we continue to try to improve ourselves as a team, because if we don’t win games it’s not going to matter what goes on around us.”
Briere views the Flyers’ recent rise in the standings, thanks to 12 wins in 14 games, as having gone a bit under the radar. But that’s just fine with him.
“Even now, especially in Canada, if you mention the Flyers, they are a dirty team or they take a lot of suspensions,” he said. “That’s the reputation that we got early on, and I don’t have a problem with that. If they don’t want to give us any attention, that’s fine. We’ll keep on doing what we’ve been doing the past month.”
While Philadelphia has been unable to gain any real distance from the Devils and Penguins, it has picked up points recently on a team that visits the Wachovia Center on Thursday night. The New York Rangers have won just four of their last 13 games, including a 6-2 defeat at the hands of the Flyers on January 10 at Madison Square Garden. They currently sit in ninth place in the conference and last place in the division with 54 points.
Still, Stevens views the preseason Atlantic Division favorites, according to many publications, as a tough challenge and certainly a team that can’t be counted out.
“They’ve got a great goalie, some potent offensive players and they’ve got some grit. They have all the attributes of a good team,” he said. “I think they are still finding their way like a lot of teams are, but there’s no question they’re a dangerous team.”Coburn impressing
With all of the young players that the Flyers have seen drastically improve this season, Braydon Coburn
has to be counted among them. The 6’5’’, 220-pound defenseman has been playing big minutes against the opposing teams’ top lines with partner Derian Hatcher, and even has a current five-game point streak.
|Braydon Coburn is tied for the team lead with Mike Richards with a +12 rating. (Jack Cassidy) |
Watching him lately, it’s hard to imagine that this is still his first full season in the NHL.
“I’m still working on it,” said Coburn of his game. “There’s lots of things I need to work on. I still want to work towards just being rock solid in the [defensive zone] and moving the puck with good, smart decisions.”
As for the point streak…
“We’ve got a real skilled group here, and when you get it to those guys they can make plays. I’ve just been fortunate enough the last couple of games to have some passes that resulted in goals. I’m always looking to contribute when I get the opportunity.”
Stevens thinks that the veteran Hatcher has helped speed up the learning curve for Coburn, who is tied for the team lead with a +12 rating.
“The composure that he plays with is really starting to come around, and I think Hatch deserves a lot of credit for that,” said Stevens. “Hatch is a really smart player and never gets rattled out there, and he and Coburn have played extremely well together.”
“He’s always there and he’s always got something positive to say for me,” added Coburn of his mentor.
Stevens will start Antero Niittymaki in net against New York on Thursday, while Martin Biron will get back between the pipes for Saturday’s home game against Anaheim. Niittymaki stopped 39 shots in the 6-2 win on January 10 against the Rangers.
“I thought he played extremely well against the Rangers and looked sharp coming off the [All-Star] break in practice,” said Stevens. “If you look at our schedule coming up, it’s extremely busy. I think it’s important that we keep both goalies active and sharp in games.”
Stevens was pleased with Biron’s strong, 29-save effort on Tuesday.
“He looked like he really has good rebound control and looked confident in the net. It’s important to get him right back in the net against Anaheim, but I also thought it’s important to get Niitty back in and get him playing right away.”