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Stadium Series: Battling the Elements

Flyers hit the ice in their outdoor practice to prepare for Stadium Series showdown

by Jay Greenberg @NHLFlyers

Try as the Flyers might to manufacture some sense of normalcy, the there is nothing regular about this regular season game the Flyers and Penguins will play here Saturday night.

Friday they practiced at 6 p.m. on a rink plunked down in the middle of a football stadium, in 70-degree plus temperatures, on ice that appeared a lot slower than the season seems to be slipping away. Wearing snazzy black Stadium Series uniforms with larger numbers for the purposes of television, the Flyers posed for a team picture, something they assuredly will not be doing before the occasion of Tuesday night's game at Wells Fargo Center against 30th-place Colorado.

Most of the Flyers families are here, including Pierre-Edouard Bellemare's mother Frederique, all the way from France. "How many of these games are you going to play in your life?" said Pierre. "Having her here makes total sense."

The players and relatives had an hour of ice to enjoy after the practice, but the families went back to a different hotel. A media availability originally scheduled for following the skate was moved up to before it by order of GM Ron Hextall, who didn't want his team lingering at Heinz Field too long into the evening.Video: Hear from the Flyers as they prepare for Pittsburgh

With 22 games to play, and four teams between them and eighth place, the Flyers have to get hot and soon isn't good enough; it almost has to be now. After 60 contests a year ago, this team, with most of these same players, had the exact same number of points and made the playoffs, so it is hardly hopeless. But by late February of 2016, goals were going in. You could feel more confidence surging than you do now. 

That said, from a structure standpoint, lately there has been little wrong with how the Flyers have been performing, And now their last hope at saving the season is not to let their offensive struggles to cause them to let go of the rope.

Claude Giroux gave the following answer to a question about his personal scoring slump, but it really applies to the whole team.  

"It's tough not put pressure on yourself," he said. "When it's not going your way, you have to find a way to love the game and play with passion.Video: Claude talks about the in-state rivalry game in PIT

"I have been playing since I was three years old. I love the game a lot."

A little wind in the Flyers' faces Saturday night to remind them of the outdoor shinny of their youth perhaps won't hurt. Actually, there probably will be more than just a little wind in their faces, the forecast calling for gusts of up to 30 miles an hour.

The rain is expected to largely stop by the faceoff, when the temperatures will be dropping into the thirties. There may be lingering showers-obviously not great for the ice-but the understated element of all the ones the players will have to contend with is likely to be the wind.

"That's what I remember most from the [2012] game [at Citizens Bank Park]," said Jake Voracek. "It was really windy, blows the puck up on your stick and back and forth on it."

The open end of Heinz Field always has played havoc with field goal percentages at that side. The Penguins will be defending there for the first period, but probably not all of the third. In several outdoor NHL games, the two teams were informed before the third period that they would be switching at the ten-minute mark and that is likely to be the case Saturday night. 

"When we played outside in Chicago [2014], it really was a factor," said Sidney Crosby on Friday. "It makes a big difference, which side you are attacking and which you are defending.

This would normally be the place to quote one more player saying the conditions are the same for both teams, but that may not be really true. The Penguins have more speed, so if the big, bad wolf is huffing and puffing, that should be a little edge that the Flyers should be happy to have, along with the fact that the Pittsburgh defense is missing Olli Motta and Trevor Daley. While Kris Letang practiced Friday, he would be playing at less than 100 per cent.

So, while maybe there would be a better time for the Flyers to deal with all additional hype of an outdoor game, there have been worse times to catch the Penguins. Beating them anytime, anywhere, is good for morale. If Dave Hakstol's team is going to make another run, this very different place is as good as any to start.

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