Voorhees, NJ – After a rare mid-week day off Wednesday, the Philadelphia Flyers returned to the ice Thursday for a short, high-tempo practice as they prepare for the final 10 games of the season in just an 18-day span, beginning on Saturday afternoon against New Jersey (2:00 p.m., CSN).
The team was disappointed with its effort on Tuesday night in a 3-2 loss to Toronto, but hopes it was just a bump in the road. The rest of the schedule will not be easy, as eight of the 10 games are against divisional opponents. Only one of the final 10 games, against Pittsburgh on April 11, will be against a team that is currently out of the postseason race.
The first step in the final sprint to the end of the regular season came on Thursday.
"It was a good practice and something we needed," said Sami Kapanen. "There was a good tempo, but at the same time it wasn't too long.
"[Ken Hitchcock] is always demanding a lot and wants to have the perfect practice, and that's what we're shooting for. I absolutely believe that the way you practice is the way you play, so the better practice we have the better we're going to play."
R.J. Umberger knows that the team cannot afford to ease up or make any mistakes on any opponents or any teams the rest of the way, and Thursday's practice was an illustration of that point.
"He was stopping drills and making sure we're doing things right, and harping on perfection out there. There's no room for error anymore this time of the season," said Umberger. "The last game can't happen anymore. It was a little shorter but harder, and I think that's what we needed."
Philadelphia trails New York by four points for first place in the Atlantic Division, after the Rangers defeated the New York Islanders on Wednesday night. The Flyers still have a game in hand as well as two head-to-head matchups, but know that it will not be easy if they want home ice advantage in the first round.
"It's going to be hard right until the end. They're not going to give us anything," said Hitchcock of the Rangers. "We're going to have to go and take it.
"We don't want to have to rely on other teams. That was what was disappointing about Toronto, is we would have been in a terrific position to control our own fate. Right now we need a little help and we need to get ourselves ready for the weekend."
Hitchcock said after the loss to Toronto that he hoped his team learned a lesson. From some of the comments in the locker room after Thursday's practice, his hopes seem to have come true.
"We all know we can play a lot better than we did against Toronto, and we proved that playing against Ottawa and the few games before that," said Eric Desjardins, referring to the Flyers' four-game winning streak prior to the loss. "We know what we can do, and we just have to make sure the next game we start building another streak."
"Every game now is huge, especially these games in our division against the Rangers, Islanders and Devils," added Jeff Carter. "They are going to be tough games with everyone either battling for position or trying to get into the playoffs."
Simon Gagne and Petr Nedved both missed practice with minor aches and pains, but will be back on the ice Friday.
Potulny Takes Part in First Practice
Flyers prospect Ryan Potulny, who inked a two-year deal with the club on Wednesday, was already in town and taking part in his first practice.
Hitchcock was immediately impressed, and did not rule out using the 21-year old in case of emergency.
"As he moves along into next week we'll take a hard look at him. One day out there, I've got to tell you, he looks like a very smart, skilled player," said Hitchcock.
"The puck follows him around the rink. You don't score 40 goals in college by accident and have the numbers he's had. He has a gift around the net, and we saw some of that in practice today. If he looks like he can help us, there's no hesitation on our part putting him in."
Potulny knows some of the younger players in the locker room due to summer rookie camps that the Flyers hold every offseason.
"I had a chance to play with those guys in a couple summers camps a couple years ago so I know them a little bit," he said. "It's fun for me to have some of the younger guys here, and I can relate to them a little better. Carter already came up and asked me to hang out, so maybe he can show me the ropes a little bit. It's nice to have those guys here."
Umberger, himself a product of the NCAA, remembers what it was like.
"It's an awkward feeling but at the same time it's an exciting feeling," said Umberger. "He's going to start a long career."