Voorhees, NJ – Although it was just one game, the Flyers are hoping that their thrilling, come-from-behind victory over the Rangers on Monday has erased some recent struggles. They will find out on Thursday night, as they travel to upstate New York to take on one of the more surprising teams in the league this season, the Buffalo Sabres.
Lately, it seems as if Philadelphia has been a better team away from the Wachovia Center. The team completed its franchise record 11-game road swing with eight wins, but has lost five of six games on home ice since its return and is 2-0 on the road.
"I think we press the issue a little bit at home when we don't get rewarded for our work in the first period," said Ken Hitchcock. "We've had some of these games where we've dominated in the first period and not had a lead and I think we've pressed and given up some odd-man rushes. That's been difficult for us at times.
"On the road, we seem to play with a little bit more patience. I think that on the road, you know that if you just stay with the program, that the home team is going to be the one that presses. That's what we've caught people in, is that when the game is on the line on the road they have been pressing hard and we've caught them in some odd-man rush situations or they have had a frustration penalty or whatever, and we've won a lot of points late."
Robert Esche, who will be making his second straight start for the first time since December 15, thinks that it might not be so complicated.
"I think we're maybe overanalyzing that," he said. "We've had some terrific home games as well. It was a long stretch of games that we just came home from, and it's the dog days of the season here in January and February. I wouldn't read too much into it."
There are also some different feelings in the room about the effect that naming Derian Hatcher the captain of the club had on the outcome on Monday night's game. After a 6-0 loss at home to Tampa Bay on Saturday, Hitchcock and Flyers General Manager Bob Clarke named Hatcher the captain on Sunday, and it paid immediate dividends.
"It's just a coincidence," said Mike Knuble. "I wouldn't read too much into that. If we had won 8-0 or 9-0, then maybe you could say it had something to do with it, but that was our stereotypical game for this team. Late goals and timely goals, good goaltending, and an overtime win. I guess you could say it's a bit more normal now than what we've seen."
Again, Esche provided a different view.
"The last game was more of a new direction we are going," he said. "We got a new captain, and I think it was a little bit of a relief to start jumping on board and following somebody."
Buffalo will prove to be a tough test, as the Sabres are currently in fourth place in the Eastern Conference with 67 points, three behind Philadelphia (although the Flyers would still hold the third seed overall since they are leading the Atlantic Division). In the only previous matchup between the two teams, Buffalo won in a shootout in Philadelphia, 2-1.
"They are another quick team, and a fast team," said Donald Brashear. "We're going to have to take that speed away and use our physical game and play some Flyers hockey."
"They are a terrific attack-oriented team," said Hitchcock. "They just come at you with speed, with skill, and their defensemen are part of a five-man unit of attack. They are tremendous one-on-one with their skilled players. They are never out of the game because of their skill level, and they score at will. They are playing tremendous hockey right now. They are a fun team to watch, I just hope we're not watching them tomorrow."
The Flyers will still be without defenseman Kim Johnsson and center Peter Forsberg for the game. Johnsson does not feel good enough to exercise yet, according to Hitchcock, while Forsberg's groin strain will keep him out of game action until at least next week.
On the other hand, defenseman Eric Desjardins continued to practice with the team and was cleared for full contact. He still does not have a timeframe for his return, however.