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The Final 25 Begins in Montreal

by Kevin Kurz / Philadelphia Flyers
Philadelphia could get Coburn, Hatcher back for weekend

Related content: Flyers-Canadiens Preview

(Voorhees, NJ) – Although they have lost five straight games, the Flyers will have an opportunity to break out of that funk when they face Montreal in a home-and-home series this weekend. Philadelphia is at the Bell Centre on Saturday night (7:00 p.m., CSN), before hosting the Canadiens on Sunday night at the Wachovia Center in what is also Fan Appreciation Night (7:00 p.m., CSN).

The Flyers are hoping that the Canadiens will be their slump-busters. Surprisingly, Montreal has been a much better road team this season with an 18-9-4 record away from home as compared to a 12-10-5 mark in its own building.

On Friday at the Virtua Center Flyers Skate Zone, the Flyers held a 45-minute practice and addressed some of the things they need to work on in order to get back into the win column against a club that is four points ahead of them in the Eastern Conference.

Specifically, the five-on-five play is something that coach John Stevens would like to see drastically improve.
Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen chases after the puck with Montreal captain Saku Koivu on his back during a game at the Wachovia Center on Dec. 13. (Getty Images)

“We basically just took it on the ice and had a conversation about where we’re at,” said Stevens. “If you look at the five games we’ve lost, we’ve given up 19 goals. Five-on-five, we’ve given up eight goals in our zone. To me, that’s the number that’s inexcusable. That just comes from a commitment and a sense of urgency.

“We obviously need to be better in our own zone five-on-five,” agreed the team captain, Jason Smith. “We’ve given up more goals in the last five games five-on-five than we have in a long time.”

Despite the loss 5-3 Thursday night, there were several moments in the game that could have been easily avoided. A couple of blatant turnovers by defensemen led to a pair of Tampa Bay goals, and the Flyers also had several chances to jump out to a commanding lead early in the game.

Those are just some of the things that happen in the midst of losing streak, according to Danny Briere.

“Last night, we were leading 2-1 after the first but it could have easily been 4-1. Jim Dowd missed a point blank shot right in the slot, and Kimmo [Timonen] had a play back door where he hit the post,” said Briere. “It seems when things aren’t going your way, those little plays don’t work for you.”

The recent losing streak has seen the Flyers drop to sixth place in the conference heading into Friday night’s games, but they are still in the thick of the playoff race thanks mainly to their impressive run between the Christmas and All-Star breaks. With 25 games remaining in the regular season the stretch run is about to begin, if it hasn’t already.

“We all know that the race for a playoff spot is so tight,” said Sami Kapanen. “Losing five in a row is obviously something that no one was planning for at this point in the season, but we know there are 25 games left moving forward. This is the time to start making a push and winning games.”

The Flyers could have a couple of defensemen back for the weekend, as Derian Hatcher and Braydon Coburn both took part in the skate for the duration. Hatcher sat out Thursday’s loss to Tampa Bay with fluid on his knee, while Coburn has missed the last three games recovering from a ruptured artery in his buttocks.

“It felt better than yesterday,” said Coburn after practice. “It seems like every day I get a little bit more flexibility and a little bit more range of motion and power in my leg.”

Scottie Upshall, out for the last four games with a sprained ankle, is doubtful for the weekend although he did take part in the entire practice. He is feeling better each day, but may have to get used to playing with some discomfort for the remainder of the season.

“It’s something that will probably bug me for the rest of the year,” he said. “I have to get to the point where I’m not going to worsen it and be able to stop and start and turn on a dime.”

After Montreal it won’t get any easier for Philadelphia, which is in Ottawa on Tuesday and hosts the San Jose Sharks on Thursday.

“We’re in a position now where we have a lot of games coming up and that’s a real good opportunity to get some points on the board and help ourselves in the standings,” said Stevens.

The head coach is hoping that the recent struggles end up helping the team in the long run.

“Every time you [face] adversity you have to find ways to get through it, and when you come through it you come out stronger on the other side. That’s the approach we have to take right now.”
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