Just when the orange and black appeared to be a lock to earn one of the top eight seeds in the Eastern Conference, the club embarked on its worst losing streak in franchise history, going 0-8-2 from Feb. 6-23. In the process, the Flyers dipped in the standings and seemed destined to miss the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second straight season.
That never happened, of course, as the Flyers righted the ship and advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals, where they fell in five games to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
|A need for the Olympics |
Shutting down the NHL for two or three weeks in February once every four years so NHL players can skate in the Olympics is worth it, according to Flyers captain Mike Richards.
"I think it's great for the NHL to kind of have the world's best on the ice at the same time," he said. "I know as a Canadian you always feel honored to put the Canadian jersey on, and talking to people from different countries, they enjoy it, too. It's just a good thing. Everyone gets excited for the Olympics, players and fans, so I think it's a good thing for hockey in general."
At this point, Richards feels it's too early to project favorites for the Vancouver Games.
"I'm not too sure,'' he said. "I've never really looked at or thought about it too much, but I think Sweden, being the defending champs and having so many great players, has to be the favorite. To tell you the truth, I think with the players in the NHL right now, you can look around the League and see superstars on every team from different countries.
"It's going to be hard to name a favorite and going to be hard to kind of say which team you're going to have problems with because every country has different superstars."
-- Mike G. Morreale
"I think everyone learned from that last year," Flyers captain Mike Richards said. "I don't think anything needed to be said this season because everyone kind of remembered the situation we put ourselves in. As long as we don't do that this year and keep on the path we're on, if not improve, I think that's the biggest thing right now. We don't want to stay the same; we want to keep improving as a team."
Lessons learned from that rocky road have helped the Flyers remain focused throughout much of the 2008-09 campaign. Since Nov. 11, the club has not suffered more than two consecutive losses at any point while compiling a 26-10-6 record during that span.
"It's nice to see that we can bounce back after a loss but, that said, it seems like we can still do a little bit better with consistency in a winning way and not have those letdowns after a big win or two big wins," Richards said. "It's encouraging to see how the team responds after a loss. I still think we have a little bit of a ways to go to get better, but we like the team's drive right now."
The Flyers will look to remain in the playoff hunt and perhaps even catch the Atlantic Division-leading New Jersey Devils, with whom they still have two games remaining. The club plays consecutive home games this week against Buffalo on Thursday and Pittsburgh on Saturday. Richards, who returned to the lineup Feb. 11 and after missing three games with the flu, knows the club must play better.
"It's always tough throughout the year (to remain consistent) because you play so many games that you're not going to have good legs, you're not going to play well and get the bounces every single night," he said. "It's just putting yourself in position to win the hockey games, and with injury problems and the flu bug going around pretty heavily right now, it's different people stepping up in different situations. We've had that all year. Hopefully we can continue doing that, and hopefully we get healthy pretty soon."
Richards, who centered Scottie Upshall and Darroll Powe in his first game back before moving back to usual partners Simon Gagne and Mike Knuble, has 20 goals, 52 points and a plus-18 rating. He leads the team with 99 hits, and leads the team's forwards with 58 blocked shots.
Flyers defenseman Ossi Vaananen wasn't a part of last season's losing streak, but knows the players are adamant about not allowing history to repeat itself.
"Consistency is the key, but we don't want to let our guard down," Vaananen said. "We've played a lot of hockey already, but that's when the professionalism comes into play. You have to stay focused and keep it up night in and night out; there's no letting down. Right now, if you can keep your level high, you're in good shape because a lot of teams are tired."
We don't want to stay the same; we want to keep improving as a team." - Mike Richards
One consistent part of the Flyers this season has been special teams. The power play is ranked fourth in the League at 23.9 percent, while the penalty-killing unit is seventh at 83.4 percent.
"Our penalty killing is good because of the pressure that we put on the teams," Richards said. "We don't give them too many opportunities to set up, and when they do, I think our goaltenders make big saves and we collapse the middle and do a great job of getting in the way and blocking shots. If you don't give the other team time to make plays, they're sometimes going to panic and make plays that they normally wouldn't make."
That's the reason Richards leads the League with five shorthanded goals -- including his NHL-record third career three-on-five goal Sunday against the Rangers -- and teammates Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne have four.