Team looks towards critical stretch ahead
(Voorhees, NJ) – After suffering what was probably their most disheartening defeat of the season last Saturday, the Flyers had a three-day break to enjoy the holiday and take some time away from the rink. Although the players began the time off with a bad taste in their mouths following the aforementioned 6-5 shootout loss to Buffalo, the team hopes that it can move on and reload for what is a critical time in the regular season.
Critical, because the Flyers have lost six straight games and have seen the lead built by their 6-1 start all but evaporate.
|Derian Hatcher (left) is hopeful the Flyers can climb back up in the standings this week. (Getty Images) |
“We know where we’re at. We’re concerned. But we also know if we go out and have a good week here we’re right back in it,” said Derian Hatcher after a noon practice on Wednesday at the Virtua Center Flyers Skate Zone
Despite the recent losses and the drop to fifth in the Atlantic Division, the Eastern Conference standings remain almost unbelievably tight as Hatcher alluded to. Ottawa has a comfortable lead with 52 points, but just seven points separates the second-place New Jersey Devils and 13th-seeded Flyers. Philadelphia also has two games in hand on the Devils and Pittsburgh Penguins (38 points), and three in hand on the Rangers (40 points).
“There’s always ‘ifs,’ but if we win these [this week] we’re right back up in fourth, or whatever,” continued Hatcher. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen it where things are so tight; it’s actually kind of amazing.”
The biggest difference between October’s Flyers and December’s Flyers has been defense, according to John Stevens.
“Our commitment to defense early on was what really made the difference for us,” said the head coach. “Our penalty kill has given up too many goals as of late and our five-on-five play is not where we want it to be. To me, it’s a real sense of urgency that makes that stuff happen. We haven’t been blocking as many shots as we were, and plays at our net that we’re getting beat at is a sign of a [lack of] urgency.
“Our whole focus and intensity has to pick up, and our defensive play, and it will make every part of our game better around it.”
While six losses in a row sounds bad on paper, there are some positive signs that the team is starting to come out of its funk. After all, two of those losses have come in a shootout and two more were just one-goal defeats.
“I actually think that in four of the last five games we’ve played decent hockey games, but didn’t get a whole lot out of it,” said Hatcher. “I think the work is coming back and we’re starting to put our game out there instead of waiting for the other team to dictate the game.”
The first post-holiday challenge for the Flyers will be on home ice on Thursday night, where they have won just one of their last 10 games (1-5-4). The Toronto Maple Leafs will present the opposition, as well as a chance for the club to completely move on from the last two-plus weeks.
Toronto lost in overtime to the Islanders on Wednesday night, 4-3.
“This is a game that we need to find a way with the three days off to kind of forget about everything that happened lately,” said Danny Briere
. “I’m hoping it reenergized everybody where we can refuel and get going again.”
“We have to look at the game tomorrow as a must win,” added Hatcher. “I know it’s game , but we need to win that game tomorrow and get things going back the right way.”
Briere still likes the makeup of the team and is confident that the Flyers will get back to their winning ways from the start of the season.
“I know we’ve been on a little slide right now and we’ve been struggling with consistency the last couple of months, but I look at our lineup and I still love the build and look of our team, how much speed we have, [and] how physical we are,” he said.Gagne Progressing
Simon Gagne is feeling more and more like his return is close.
Gagne, recovering from a concussion/neck injury, continues to skate with the team during its normal practice and stays on the ice after everyone else to work on his conditioning. Although he is still not 100 percent, he is hopeful that he can be back in a game shortly.
“It’s very tough to say when I will be back, but I have the feeling it’s coming,” he said. “I get the feeling a game is coming soon. On the other side, I would like to make sure my neck is fine and be 100 percent.
“I feel very good physically on the ice and conditioning is starting to [get] better. We’re still working on the neck issue. That’s the only thing stopping me to go to where I want to be.”
In another injury note, defenseman Randy Jones, who missed Saturday's game with a right knee sprain, took part in a full practice on Wednesday and looked good according to Stevens.