You have to take it to the ice, says Craig Berube. You can meet, but ultimately there is no meat to the dinner, just conversation, if hockey players, however well intentioned, sit at the table just chatting about their issues.
So it was one thing, a good thing, for Captain Claude Giroux to call a players-only meeting in Calgary with just nine games to go and the Flyers’ playoff hopes all-but evaporated. But it was an even better thing for him to score two goals in Edmonton two nights later.
With the young Oilers giving the Flyers’ first line the most room in the offensive end it has seen in weeks, Giroux, Jake Voracek and Michael Raffl put the puck on a string for three goals on Saturday night. “With Mark Streit and Michael Del Zotto, it was a pretty lethal five guys,” said Berube.
|The Flyers make a return to home-ice where |
they are 5-1-2 in their last eight games,
and since Jan. 1 have earned a 12-4-3 record.
Indeed, except for a sprawling save by Ben Scrivens when Streit went to the net for a Voracek feed in overtime, the trip would have ended happily. Instead the Flyers lost after 60 minutes for an NHL-leading 16th time and came home still miserable, which nevertheless is a lot better than just plain coming home to play out eight games, six in front of their own paying customers.
People are still watching. In fact, the No. 1 spectator for the next three weeks will be Ron Hextall, checking to see if any of these players prone to allowing five-to-20 minutes slack in the rope will now let go of it completely.
Those are not the kind of guys the new GM wants to take forward, of course. And despite the Flyers slip backwards from playoff caliber this season, there is no indication those are the kind of guys that they have. When players are meeting to save what’s left of a regular season unlikely to end with a playoff spot, when they still are coming from behind twice in the final game of a winless trip, the problems are not in the room, but on the ice.
Since the cornerstone defenseman -- that two thirds of the teams in the NHL also don’t have --won’t likely be delivered in the next trade, free agent signing or callup, the No. 1 priority to make the Flyers at least a playoff team again is a productive second line.
Up front, the Flyers have the hardest part, a No. 1 unit that contains two of the league’s top 10 scorers, plus a left wing, Michael Raffl, who has 18 goals despite missing 15 games. With a little more game-to-game consistency and hunger around that net, Raffl could be the answer on that line going forward, but putting Bobby Hull there wouldn’t be the long-term solution to the Flyers’ even-strength scoring problems, if they don’t get secondary scoring.
All season, Berube has been robbing Peter to pay Paul. When the coach broke up the slumping big line to shake out some cobwebs and spread out the skill, Voracek instantly made Sean Couturier think more offensively, but then Giroux still wasn’t scoring at even strength.
Now, G and Jake are cooking and the other lines grinding, including grinding their teeth when they don’t score. As a result they shrink into defensive mode and don’t get the offensive zone time they should, putting more pressure on the defense than it can stand at certain times of games.
One more skilled set-up guy would be huge for Wayne Simmonds, who can be much more of a factor than he has been at even strength. With cap space tight, the answer may have to come from within, which it still can because Couturier is only 22 and Brayden Schenn only 23 and Scott Laughton, 20, has more playmaking ability than he showed in his trial with the big club this season.
But when the reliance on Voracek and Giroux -- who see the opposition’s best D on every shift -- shrinks, their point totals may yet expand. And these already are two of the very best players in the league.
Another guy -- or a young guy turning into a different guy -- would give the Flyers another shooter to win some more overtimes and shootouts, perhaps another penalty killer, all the things that have kept this team below the eighth-place line.
The Flyers were above it last year with the vast majority of these same, mostly young, players, which only adds to their frustration, why they closed the doors and reminded themselves that playing confidently for 50 or 55 minutes isn’t enough.
“We just wanted to make sure we are all on the same page and everybody is,” said Giroux. “It was all positive.”
They wouldn’t close the doors if they thought the season already was closed.