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GREENBERG: Keys to Success

by Staff Writer / Philadelphia Flyers
Suddenly the Flyers have won four of five, including back-to-back road victories against two teams among the top seven in fewest losses.  As they heading into a set of back-to-back games this weekend (one on the road and one at home) against Metropolitan Division rivals, they will look to keep that streak going  and move closer into the playoff picture.

Here are our leading five reasons the Flyers have gone streaking and the overall improvement:
  • The Flyers have a Ghost of a chance to score.  Not only does Shayne Gostisbehere have four goals in the last eight games for the lowest scoring team in the league but also it appears that even when not on the ice, he has increased the Flyers’ offensive belief. This may not be conscious on these guys’ part, and it probably is just a case of  somebody’s, anybody’s, goals, taking the pressure off other players who know that they must score for the team to win. But whether or not the team’s zonetime has increased, the Flyers are doing more to capitalize on it.
  • Steve Mason is back at the top of his game.  The 4-2-1 start, which saved the 2-7-4 swoon that followed from killing the season, largely was the work of Michal Neuvirth while Mason was in and out with an injury and a personal issue. But with the Flyers nursing slim leads in third periods at New York and Ottawa, he performed a shutdown goal.
  • Wayne Simmonds is scoring and linemates Sean Couturier and Matt Read have taken their turns, too, driving to the net.  Production from the second line remains the question that most needs an answer as to whether the Flyers are good enough to make the playoffs.  "We weren't necessarily getting inside the dots,” Simmonds said earlier this week.  “We got shots on net, but we were kind of one-and-done. For the last three games, I think we were starting to get inside on defenses, getting second and third opportunities."
  • Whatever problems Evgeny Medvedev is having with the physicality of the NHL, his return to the lineup from a benching has given the Flyers another puck mover on the back line, which is 80 per cent of winning defensive play in today’s game. He is a hard guy to hem in. And that goal Tuesday night in Ottawa with a quick and accurate wrist shot won’t be the last one he gets.
  • The penalty killers have knocked off 21 in a row.  Pretty much the same guys who were 27th in the league last year are more aggressive, a reminder that specialty team play is so much about confidence.

So that’s how they are doing it. And if this is going to continue, here is what still must happen:

  • Jake Voracek has to get going, of course, and he will. At some point he will carry the team.
  • The defensive play in the neutral zone can’t fall off, not that there is any reason to believe that it will. Even when the Flyers were not scoring, this was one area showing improvement from a year ago. Opposing teams aren’t gaining the zone as easily.
  • The Flyers must remain relatively healthy. Unlike a year ago, a loss of Mason for any length of time would not be dooming. But of course, if something happens to Claude Giroux, Simmonds or Voracek (never mind his current numbers) for any length of time, the chances of another great exhumation from an early season burial like the one of two seasons ago will be dead.
  • The road wins have to continue coming.  The Flyers already are halfway to their meager total of 10 victories in 2014-15.

The trust must be kept. In 2013-14 the Flyers made the playoffs with a less talented defense than this one, but the increase in puck-moving ability has to be moderated by good judgment. With the talent so spread out in the cap era and the coaching so obsessive, the system had become the game. This is another way of saying that the Flyers’ current 19th-place standing in goals against has to improve.
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