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PRACTICE UPDATE: Goals are the goal

Flyers head into tilt with Islanders looking to snap scoreless skid

by PhiladelphiaFlyers.com @NHLFlyers / http://www.philadelphiaflyers.com

With the Flyers' goal-scoring having run aground of late, the only possible silver lining is that both shutouts have come against Western Conference clubs. The two nights of rest the visiting team net at the Wells Fargo Center has received has not directly contributed to any pursuing opponents gaining ground on the team in the standings.

However, that will no longer be the case should this drought continue into Thursday. The New York Islanders come into town nipping at the Flyers' heels while enjoying three games in hand. An Isles regulation win would put them one point behind the Flyers, while the reverse outcome would increase the Flyers' cushion to five points.  

Hence the term "four-point game," and it's something the Flyers are fully aware of as they prepare for Thursday night's contest. It happened before the All-Star break - the Flyers were two points ahead of Toronto before fighting off the Maple Leafs for a 2-1 win on Jan. 26. Instead of going into the break tied with Toronto, they did so four points ahead. 

"We want to keep [the Islanders] beneath us," Flyers winger Wayne Simmonds said following Wednesday's practice. "It's a four-point game tomorrow. If we get the two points, that's two points they can't get on us. That's how it is."

The Flyers' scoring gap, which is at 122 minutes, 49 seconds heading into tomorrow night, is not something with which the players are unfamiliar. Largely the same roster went through a stretch in November 2015 where the Flyers didn't score for 167 minutes and 54 seconds, a stretch that spanned four games and - like this one - involved a game where the Flyers lost 1-0 in overtime, that one being to San Jose.

At that time, the Flyers were focused on creating more traffic in front of the net and getting second or third opportunities. This time around, the coaching staff is of the opinion that the overall number of chances is fine - it's just a matter of finishing them off.

"We've created the same number of opportunities, and pretty good opportunities, the past few games as we did earlier in the season when we were scoring at a higher rate," said Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol. "We've got to make sure we stay with it. We've been doing a good job without the puck; we've been doing a pretty good job managing the puck. We obviously have to tip things the right direction and find a way to score a couple of goals here. No question it will take a little bit of pressure off the players."

The players, for their part, are trying not to let any perceived pressure get to them.

"Sometimes it happens," Simmonds said. "It's hockey. You don't always put the puck in the back of the net the way you want to, but we just have to keep working at it."

But some players have said times like this do affect their confidence, something Hakstol feels they can fight through - at least partially by realizing things aren't as bad as they might seem.

"Guys are pretty smart and pretty sharp," Hakstol said. "They'll go out and do the job. The reality over our last couple weeks is that we're 4-2-1, yet you get the feeling on certain days that we haven't won a hockey game in three weeks. So, mindset is everything. Positive, sticking together, doing the things we do and go and do them well. Those are the things we're going to do."

Perhaps the Flyers will catch the Islanders at a good time for an ailing offense. New York has allowed five goals in each of their last three games. However, prior to that, the Isles went through a seven-game run where they allowed an average of 1.42 goals per game, including two shutouts.

Fortunately for the Flyers, they have been operating at a similar defensive level - during the aforementioned 4-2-1 run, the team has allowed 1.71 goals per game. Subtract the 5-1 loss in Carolina, and they've allowed just 1.16 goals per game in the other six contests.

"We've just got to handle our own business," Simmonds said of the run to the playoffs. "It's in our own hands right now, with as many games as we have left, the high 20s, something like that. Let's do whatever we can to get in."

NEUVIRTH ILL/GHOST FACTOR

Goaltender Michal Neuvirth did not participate in practice on Wednesday due to being ill, according to GM Ron Hextall. Taking his place for the day was Eric Semborski, the same goaltender used by the Chicago Blackhawks in an emergency situation, back in December.

Defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere once again put in extra time at practice on Wednesday and although he has been scratched from the lineup in each of the last three games, his attitude has stayed the same and is definitely using the time to his advantage.

"It's been tough, but I think that I've had a really good attitude about it," added Gostisbehere. "If you have a really sour attitude about it it's not going to help anyone, it's not going to help anything or myself so I have to have the best attitude and use it as work days. I got better in the gym, I got better on the ice and I just worked on some things and that's something you don't really get to do during the year and fortunately I did. You just have to apply it now."

While, it's still unknown whether Gostisbehere will be in the line up when the Flyers take on the Islanders, Hakstol sees the work he's put in day in and day out.

"It's been a good stretch for him to have some good quality practice time and work on some things and to get some real hard work days in."

For more form Gostisbehere, Hakstol and others watch post-practice interviews & highlights below… 

Video: Ghost and Hakstol on getting back in the lineup

Video: Players & coach talk upcoming Islander game

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