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Greenberg: What to expect out West

by Jay Greenberg / Philadelphia Flyers

It’s beginning to look at lot like 2013-14, when the Flyers never were out of a game, and never ran out of season, despite a 3-9-3 start. They got into the playoffs, then had the goalie pulled in Game Seven against a Ranger team that would go on to the Stanley Cup finals.

Those Flyers had four lines containing seven 20-goal scorers that kept coming at you, won 18 times on the road, didn’t give away games in goal, and had enough brainpower and size on defense to play the system, regardless of a lack of foot speed. It wasn’t a great team, obviously, but it was a determined and proud one, well coached by Craig Berube. And this Philadelphia club is showing the same characteristics, with more talent on the back end besides.

Each defensive pairing now has a guy who can move the puck and get up into a play, which can tide the Flyers over effectively until their dream defense of Ivan Provorov, Travis Sanheim, Sam Morin and Shayne Gostisbehere is in place in a few years. When a long term injury to Mark Streit forced the Flyers to recall Gostisbehere on November 14, the team was in desperate need for an offensive catalyst at any position but it was best to have one on the D, where the kid’s passing and speed could energize more than just two linemates -- all 12 forwards, really.

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Michal Neuvirth has won the Flyers some games, too, backup goaltending they weren’t getting last year when Steve Mason was hurt or had a night off. And thanks to some Dave Hakstol changes in deployment in the neutral zone, the Flyers were a better team there even while they were struggling to score.

For reasons that are inexplicable, the starts are still too often bad but the letdowns over the course of 60 minutes are far fewer and the overall sense of their fragility is greatly reduced. With Jake Voracek and Wayne Simmonds starting to heat up, the Flyers are playing much closer to their potential. The teams they are competing against for the last three playoff spots are not better than them on paper or on the ice, so we’ll see who stays the healthiest or has the most resources to give up at the trading deadline.

“After we played the Flyers (December 4 in Newark) I was telling some of our guys that was the best game I have seen them play against us in seven or eight years,” said Patrik Elias, a veteran of Devils-Flyers wars since 1996. “No B.S. just focused on playing the game.

“They were the better team by far. They did everything right, had nobody doing their own thing, their D core was good and strong and moved the puck well.”

For whatever reason, the efforts fluctuated last season from game to game, period to period, but after a rough November, the daily reinforcement from Hakstol has taken hold. Rallying from 3-0 down against a team as sound as St. Louis takes a supreme faith. It is apparent that the Flyers increasingly believe they are a good team and that is a lot of the battle, as that battle continues with three games in California starting Sunday night in Anaheim.

The Flyers were six points out of a playoff spot when this 8-2-2 surge began. They are now three points out, an indication of the kind of pace it will take to qualify. These guys could make it easier on themselves by leading after the first period for a change and the third-most penalized team in the NHL has to take fewer.

Mostly though, the Flyers just have to keep doing what they are doing.

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