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Practice Update: Breaking the Cycle

With "good hockey" not getting it done, Flyers look to step up their game

by Brian Smith @NHLFlyers / http://www.philadelphiaflyers.com

Groundhog Day is, of course, a February staple for predicting the end of winter - especially in Pennsylvania. It's also become a term to describe the notion of spinning the wheels while not going much of anywhere, as created by the Bill Murray film of the same name where Murray's character gets stuck in a time loop on February 2, one from which he is released after learning some life lessons.

For most of February, the Flyers have been stuck in a similar loop. Their actual Groundhog Day featured a win over Montreal, and then a 1-0 overtime loss to Los Angeles. But the eight games since then have been a bit of a bizarre time. The Flyers have outshot their opponent on all eight occasions, and it's safe to say that in seven out of those eight games, they were pretty happy with the way they played. Yet they have only four points to show for their troubles. Despite outshooting their foes by a total of 266-196 during that stretch, the Flyers have only 13 goals, and just eight at even strength.

 

You don't see it very often. The Elias Sports Bureau found that it's been more than 10 years since something like this happened to the Flyers, with the last time coming in a stretch from Oct. 20 through November 9, 2006. The Flyers did the same thing in that run - outshot the opponent in eight straight games, while going 2-6-0 in the standings. It's been five years since they outshot an opponent eight consecutive times at all. 

As it is, it defies logic. The Flyers have been saying for weeks that they generally have deserved a better fate, and for the most part, they have. Sure there has been the occasional breakdown, or a puck that slipped through into their net. But there's been more that have gone in on unfortunate bounces, or after plays elsewhere on the ice where similar bounces occurred in favor of the opponent. Meanwhile, at the other end pucks slip through goaltenders and hit goalposts instead of goal nets.

However, the Flyers have reached a point in the season where they can no longer wait for the bounces to come back their way. With 21 games left, they now need to press the issue, lest they run out of time to climb back into a playoff spot.

"I do believe we've played some good hockey games, but it's having that one goal to give us the lead or to tie up the game, I think that's what we're missing," said Flyers captain Claude Giroux. "We're playing some good hockey right now. We're trying to build up our team and be the best team we can be. You look at our results and you think that we're a bad team and we're not going in the right direction, but I strongly believe we are going in the right direction. We've got to keep pushing, keep playing as a team, and stick together. I think that's the most important thing."

Video: Flyers talk importance of winning games

Said goaltender Steve Mason: "I think our top guys have to be our top guys. We have to have strong goaltending. We have to just swarm teams. We can't give them anything. Our penalty kill has to be good. Honestly, we just need an all-around team effort, and come away with the end of the game, [can't] be we were happy with the effort but not the outcome. We need everything."

 Head coach Dave Hakstol mirrored his players' sentiments.

 "You have to push the bounces," Hakstol said. "Sometimes you have to do a little extra to have the bounces go your way. Have we had much puck luck on the offensive side… no, but I think we have to take that upon ourselves to all try to do a little bit more."

 One thing the Flyers don't want to do is try to force things on offense, which often leads to miscues that result in goals for the other team.

 "When you start pressing, I think that's when you get in trouble," Giroux said. "In the position that we are now, a little desperation is important. We can't be stressing about the past. We have to be worrying about the next game now. Colorado's coming to town and we have to be sure we're ready."

 So at this point, the goal for the Flyers is no longer to just play good hockey - it's to take a step above that.

 "We've had real good efforts," Hakstol said. "We'll know that great effort after we come out of a game with the two points. I think that's what it's going to take right now. We've had real good efforts against two good teams the last two nights, but we haven't gotten the results. It's absolutely results-based right now, and that's the bottom line."

 TRADE DEADLINE LOOMS

It's an annual period where hockey fans glue themselves to the Internet and players hope their phones don't ring. The NHL's trade deadline is at 3pm Wednesday, with some clubs looking for the final piece for a Cup run while others evaluate what they can get to help plan their future.

 The Flyers are firmly in the middle of that situation. Ron Hextall has made it clear he won't be a buyer, but at the same time he doesn't want to weaken a team that could still make a playoff run with a strong final six weeks. 

 In particular is the Flyers' goaltending situation, where both Michal Neuvirth and Steve Mason are impending free agents. Further complicating matters is the expansion draft, where the Flyers have to make available at least one goaltender under contract for the 2017-18 season; right now, the only such eligible option is Anthony Stolarz.

 Mason knows the situation is out of his control, so he will spend the coming days focusing on his games and the things that he can control.

 "I don't think I'd be surprised by anything," Mason said. "Everybody understands the situation we're in, that some current players are in with contracts. Hexy's got his job to do for what he sees best for the Philadelphia Flyers and not for any one player in particular. I'm not exactly sure what's going to happen, but I'll be prepared for it." 

 Giroux has been through eight of these, half of them as the team's captain, so he's used to the sentiment.

 "I think it's the same story every year," he said. "When the trade deadline comes there's a lot of rumors and speculation. At the end of the day we need to focus on the right things, and that's the game tomorrow. We like our hockey team. Whatever happens, happens."

 MANNING SUSPENDED

Brandon Manning received a two-game suspension for interference from the NHL on Monday, stemming from a hit placed on Jake Guentzel in the Stadium Series game in Pittsburgh. 

 "He's been a real good solid piece for us," Hakstol said. "He brings that physical edge… he's been reliable every year and he's been a staple for our lineup. That's a hole that we'll have to fill over the next couple of games here."

 Either Michael Del Zotto or Nick Schultz figure to slot in for Manning during this week's homestand against Colorado and Florida. 

 Manning described the hit to reporters following practice:

Video: Manning talks about his suspension

 

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