The last few weeks for the Flyers have been kind of like trying to run up a muddy hill. There's been a lot of hard work, some progress, and a few wins, but they have had trouble maintaining that success. On a couple occasions, even though the team won, the players weren't that thrilled with the way they played.
The hope, however, is that Sunday's win over the Islanders will finally push the Flyers past whatever invisible barrier has been holding them back. Although the Islanders took a two-goal lead, the Flyers were satisfied with their play - especially, of course, the way they were able to come back for the eventual 3-2 win in overtime.
"I think we were searching for a big win, and hopefully that was the win that gets us over the hump," captain Claude Giroux said on Wednesday. "Guys were pretty excited. It's been a tough couple weeks, but this group, we always like our challenges. You look at last year, what we were able to do at the end of the season… we got the whole team together on the same page and we plan on doing the same thing."
Video: Players and Hakstol talk about upcoming gamesThe Flyers were energized by the goal Wayne Simmonds scored in the second period to start the comeback, and felt like that was the boost they needed - not only to win that game, but perhaps use it to start a bit of a run.
"I think just the way the team played the majority of the hockey game is the way we want to play for the full 60 minutes," said goaltender Steve Mason. "We were able to claw our way back from a two goal deficit and come through in the overtime period, so that's something to build off of."
An ability to seize on Sunday's game would be huge for the Flyers primarily because they have appeared to be a team that could use a little confidence to get things going. Scoring has dropped across the board - heading into Sunday's game, they'd scored just 1.47 goals per game in the last 17 contests, which is less than half of their season scoring average up to that point. A comeback win like Sunday's could be a gust of wind into the sails of the Flyers and help get them back to playing their brand of hockey.
"Sometimes you press, no question," said Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol. "Sometimes I think you're pressing to get it to the net, you're pressing for a goal, rather than being a little more relaxed. Your best option from up top there if you have a lane is to get it to the net. If you have a lane, and traffic at the net, usually your best option is to get it there. If you haven't been scoring a lot of goals as a team, it's a little more difficult to relax and make that extra play, and look for one extra play before you put it to the net. That gets a little more difficult when you're pressing."
Some of that has carried over to the power play, which has been successful in spurts lately but since December 11 has lacked the consistency it had through the first two months of the season.
"We're kind of a streaky team," Giroux said. When we start scoring, we start believing a little bit more in what we do. Sometimes you just hesitate a little bit too much. We have all the tools we want to have. The power play's won us some games sometimes and lost us some games. It's important that we just stick with it. We know that the way we play it's going to be able to help us. We can't get discouraged here. We have to just keep it simple and find some greasy big goals here."
And if the Flyers can get one of those goals before the other team can, all the better - they've allowed the first goal more than any other team in the league this season, something they're eager to turn around.
"Playing with the lead is huge, especially if we can pad the lead to a two or three goal cushion," Mason said. Starting games behind the 8-ball, it's not easy for anybody, including goaltenders. From a team mindset, we definitely want to be able to strike first in a game. Any team that is able to get the first goal obviously has a big advantage regarding the outcome of the game."
The Flyers hope that starts Wednesday night on the big stage of Madison Square Garden, where they'll meet the New York Rangers in a nationally-televised matchup. It's the third of four meetings between the teams this year, all of which will be shown to a national audience, and the players understand the appeal of the matchup.
"They're always fun games to be a part of," Mason said. "They've come into our building and taken some wins from us, so we'd like to go there and have a good showing and come away with two points. We're going to expect a real tough game."