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GREENBERG: Analyzing 12 games in 21 days

Flyers columnist on how the Flyers came through in a demanding schedule to start the year

by Jay Greenberg @NHLFlyers

Unsolved remains the mystery of how a Flyer team supposedly worn down from 12 games in the first 20 games of the season has taken 26 more shots than its opponents during third periods. But after one more game-Saturday night in Montreal-shoehorned into the busiest earliest schedule in the Eastern Conference, we can move onto more explainable topics. 

The Flyers finished their fourth back-to-back set of the season Thursday night in Brooklyn by scoring with the goalie pulled for the second time in two nights and third in nine days. Those fumes they are playing on seem to be filling up their lungs just fine. 

Claude Giroux, who was going through concussion protocol while Matt Read was tying the game on a six-on-four, returned to send Jaroslav Halak sliding halfway to Uniondale with the only shootout goal, just before Michal Neuvirth outfoxed John Tavares with a pokecheck to preserve the Flyers' third straight victory. That's pretty good for a club not nearly as tired at the cliché that fatigue makes cowards of us all.

A good guess is that, yes, the shortage of practice days has at times shown with costly coverage mistakes that have cost the Flyers the bolt from the blocks that they really wanted. But their legs keep driving, a good sign with 14 more of these back-to-backs to come this season, three more than a year ago, when Philadelphia went 6-7-2.

"What we are doing shows mental toughness and good team play," said coach Dave Hakstol. "Tonight I didn't think anybody tried to do to much, just their part, especially against a fresh team."

Let the record show that the four Islander wins this season have all come against clubs that had played the previous night. So certainly fresher legs can makes a difference but it doesn't trump confidence. The Isles, coming off a 6-1 lambasting by Tampa Bay, looked like an offensively-challenged team looking around for the departed Kyle Okposo and Frans Neilsen. The Flyers appeared to be a club that, as Hakstol implied, is learning how to manage a game, a critical trait in developing the kind of personality required to play into June. 

As much as the Flyers beat themselves up for night after night having to come from behind, they also have taught themselves to be comfortable doing so. As long as arrogance doesn't set in that they can win with just a 40-minute game, these rallies certainly beat the alternative, and besides Thursday night at the Barclay's Center the start was pretty good. Hakstol's team took 11 of the first 12 shots, drew two penalties and went on to control most of the contest. 

The Flyers did not look exhausted. It is much too early in the season for that. "Playing games is a good thing," said Giroux, "You get in a rhythm."

You can do that in January, too; the 2015-16 Flyers being an example. But as the freshness fades, the injuries pile up, and the races bring out more desperation in their opponents, the harder it becomes to get on a roll.

The Flyers, who haven't had a good sustained first 20 games start since their 11-6-3 in 2011-12, and vowed to have learned the hard lessons of repeatedly having to playing catch-up after December 1, probably wouldn't have signed up for 6-5-1 after 12 contests. But the reality of the reduced practice days, breaking in rookies Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny into instantly-trusted roles and goaltending not as good as it figures to become again, Hakstol's team has come through a demanding first weeks in relatively good shape.

The extra games, not just this three-game winning streak, have put the Flyers in the second wild card position. But 6-5-1 after 12 games beats last year's 4-6-2, the 5-5-2 of 2014-15, and certainly the 3-9-0 in 2013-14.

Twenty games will tell you more than just 12, just like 40 will tell you more than 20. 

After a respectable start, a ghastly 1-8-2 stretch in November put Craig Berube's 2014-15 team in a hole from which it never was able to extricate itself. So we are really just at the start of the start.

After Montreal, the Flyers enter a period when they will play only 11 times in 24 days. The next contests on consecutive nights are Thanksgiving week in Florida and Tampa, against two playoff teams in 2015-16. So the operative word for this schedule is that it only gets lighter, not easier. 

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