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Righting the Ship

Four things the Flyers need to do in order to bounce back on the upcoming road trip

by Bill Meltzer @billmeltzer / http://www.philadelphiaflyers.com/

With an opportunity to complete a five-game homestand with four wins, very little went right for the Flyers in a ugly 6-2 loss to the Anaheim Ducks at the Wells Fargo Center on Tuesday night. The Flyers had a subpar night in a host of different areas, with just about the only positive being another strong night overall by the top line trio of Sean Couturier, Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek. 

Now the team needs to bounce back quickly as they prepare for a tough Ontario road trip that will see the Flyers oppose the Ottawa Senators on Thursday night and the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday. 

Here are four keys to getting back on course:

1. DON'T DWELL 

Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere said it best when he was asked about the mindset the team has to take in the aftermath of its first blowout loss of the season.

"Short memory," Gostisbehere opined. "I mean we've got a lot of games left here, obviously this one stings a bit and humbles you a bit, it's our first bad lost as a team this season so I think it's going to show a lot about our team, how we respond."

Thus far, the Flyers have shown some resiliency after losses. The club has been shut out twice (in Los Angeles by Jonathan Quick and at home by Nashville's Pekka Rinne) in games where the team played fairly well. The most frustrating previous loss was the controversial 6-5 loss in Nashville that ended the season-opening four-game road trip. Each time, the Flyers bounced back for a win the next time out.

 

2. HONEST SELF-ASSESSMENT 

Having a short memory does not mean the Flyers should simply toss out what happened in the homestand finale. It simply means that the team has to get back to the things they were doing well in previous games and be honest with themselves about what went wrong against the Ducks. 

"You can't just say, 'Oh, I had a bad night but it's going to get better,' you have to get a little [angry] at yourself and look what you did wrong and what you can do better," Flyers defenseman Robert Hagg said late last week. 

The same principal applies after the blowout loss. Flyers coach Dave Hakstol identified specific areas where the Flyers were not good enough in Tuesday's debacle. 

"It's a pretty simple night. We didn't win a lot of the little areas of this hockey game. We gave the puck back too often and too easily. And because of that that led to a lot of opportunities against us," Hakstol said.

"We weren't good from our hash marks really to the far hash marks today. They are a heavy team, a hard team down low they are going to get some pucks. They are going to create some opportunities. They are going to create loose pucks and they did that. Once you work to defend that and are able to come up with, the puck we didn't have enough purpose with the puck coming out of the zone from the hash marks on north."

When a team gets outplayed in all of these areas, the outcome is usually going to be ugly. Now for the good news: the Flyers were much better in most of the aforementioned areas in the previous eight games (even the losses). Tuesday's game is the outlier until proven otherwise. It will up to the team to make it so. 

 

3. FOCUSED URGENCY  

In hockey lingo, coaches and players and announcers often say that a team "needs to play with desperation tonight." That's actually a misnomer.

By its very definition, a desperate hockey team is one that gives in despair. A desperate club plays with energy but too often makes reckless, low-percentage plays. A desperate club doesn't know how to stop the bleeding and get back on track when things don't go their way. Too often, they compound the problem with bad penalties, lack of puck support and trying to do too much as individuals offensively.

What is really meant is not actual desperation but, instead, a focused sense of urgency that doesn't dissipate even if the club faces some adversity against a tough opponent. 

When a team plays with actual desperation, there is often a negative snowball effect, such as in the second and third periods on Tuesday. A 1-1 tie entering the second period rapidly spun out of control.

"I think in the second we kind of got frustrated and undisciplined. Turned over a lot of pucks and cost us," Couturier said. "You've got to be a little smarter….We have to play with a consciousness of that. Right now, we are risking, making risky plays. I mean in the third we just chased after the game and tried to force things."

Once frustration is allowed to set in - whether it is self-directed, anger at officials, or impatience in a more tight-checking type of game - it is very easy to go off the rails with turnovers and bad penalties. Tuesday's game was the first time this season the Flyers truly let themselves lose their focus. 

"I think we've got to do a better job keeping our composure. We weren't happy with some of the calls. I was probably the first one to lose my composure. We got away from our game plan," Giroux said.

Come Thursday against at Ottawa team that typically makes opponents work hard for real estate, the Flyers will have a good test in getting refocused quickly. In particular, the team has to get back to the more disciplined nature in which adversity was handled in previous games this October.

 

4. BIG PICTURE IN MIND 

Over the course of an 82-game season, the Flyers aren't going to regularly steamroll teams the way they did in the 8-2 shellacking of the Washington Capitals in the home opener and the 5-1 blowout of the Florida Panthers in the second game of the homestand. Likewise, there won't be a whole lot of 6-2 losses like Tuesday's game.

That's not the way of today's NHL. Scoring is up leaguewide in the early going of this season but is likely to revert sooner or later to something closer to the norms of recent seasons. The preponderance of slashing penalties is likely to decrease. Teams will adjust and tighten up defensively, making the frequent multi-goal comebacks that have been common leaguewide rarer. There will likely be more games that resemble the ones played against Nashville and Edmonton - grind-it-out, low-scoring games played with good pace but not a lot of operating room - than track meets with scoring chances galore. 

Over the first eight games, the Flyers showed much improved five-on-five play - not just in terms of team speed but in the areas such as breakouts and back pressure that enabled the team to control the play. The team also showed a more balanced power play attack. 

Moving forward, the Flyers like all teams will have nights where the goaltending needs to step up. Michal Neuvirth has excelled in all three of his starts to date, although he has only one win to show for it. Brian Elliott has undeniably had some inconsistency in his play over his first six starts - two rough outings in losses, one very strong game against Edmonton and three workmanlike ones where he's given the team enough key saves to win- but shown in the past to be capable of getting on a roll.

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