The mood was more upbeat than perhaps most days at Flyers practice on Monday, after the team enjoyed Sunday off following back-to-back wins over Nashville and the New York Rangers – the latter a 3-0 shutout that ended the Flyers’ 10-game losing streak at Madison Square Garden that had lasted almost six years.
“It’s always easier coming back to work the next morning after you have a little bit of success,” said Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol. “That’s a nice feeling to have, and one you want to build off of. Guys went out and worked hard today, and overall execution and focus was pretty good coming off a day off.”
Hakstol said he was very happy with the way his team bounced back from a couple key points in the two games – the late game-tying goal that Nashville scored on Friday, and the first-period hit on Nick Schultz and subsequent fight involving Luke Schenn that left the Flyers with four defensemen for a long period of time.
“They were both a little bit different games, obviously, but the Nashville game I thought we stayed with it and played a pretty complete hockey game, even though we gave up a lead with a few seconds to go,” Hakstol said. “That was a complete game for us against a team that’s hard to handle in terms of their speed of attack. I liked the way we were able to answer in overtime. And against the Rangers, that’s the biggest thing I liked as well – reaction to any adversity we faced, whether it was guys in the box, a little short on D, whatever it might have been, it seemed we had a good answer for that adversity.”
This is the Flyers’ second trip to Ottawa in less than two weeks. Back on November 21, they were shut out 4-0 despite taking 36 shots and directing a total of 81 pucks toward the net. Crucial in that game were two goals around the first intermission – one with less than 44 seconds to play in the first period, and one just 1:22 into the second period.
“First period, we got scored on late in the first, and we just got away from the game,” said Flyers right wing Jake Voracek. “If you get scored on one goal, it’s not the end of the world. You’ve just got to keep playing smart, the same way, and hopefully you get more going in than the other team. We just have to make sure tomorrow we bring the same effort as we did against the Rangers.”
A big part of the success over the past two games has been the Flyers’ special teams. The penalty kill has nullified 19 consecutive shorthanded situations, which is the longest streak the PK has had since killing 26 straight in December 2013/January 2014. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare has been instrumental in that run – he leads all Flyers forwards with an average of 2:34 of shorthanded ice time per game this season – and it’s probably not a coincidence that it started soon after Bellemare returned from missing eight games with an upper-body injury.
“Our timing when we press and when we don’t press is a little bit better,” Bellemare said. “A lot of the goals that we let in were mistakes where we go too quickly or when the puck is not the right situation to press, so I think we’ve been a little bit better that way.
“Besides changing the momentum of the game, you might frustrate their top five guys. Every team is going to have that top line; if you can frustrate them, you’re halfway done.”
Voracek, who’s generally not part of the kill but is a big part of the power play, can appreciate what his PK teammates are doing. And he can appreciate the expertise that Flyers assistant coach Ian Laperriere, who’s in charge of the penalty kill, brings to the table. “It changes the momentum of the games drastically,” Voracek said. “The guys are doing a great job. I don’t think the other team’s had many scoring chances, and if they did, we blocked it or Mase or Neuvy stopped it. Special teams are huge. Lappy was a great penalty killer throughout his career, and he knows what he’s talking about. You can tell the guys are doing a great job.”
Hakstol said Laperriere and the penalty killing units are communicating very well, and that’s shown in the results on the ice.
“[It’s ] just the details of preparation and I think a message of confidence, a message of being smart and aggressive as a group,” Hakstol said. “I think those are some of the keys. [Laperriere has] done a real good job of preparing the players and they’ve done a real good job of going out and working hard together.”
Although the Flyers are still a game below .500 and are 12th in the Eastern Conference, their recent collection of 10 out of a possible 16 points in the last eight games has them just four points out of a wild card spot. Hakstol’s not harping on the standings, but he said the team isn’t ignoring them either.
“I think you’ve got to know where you’re at, and we know where we’re at,” he said. “To effect where you want to get to, you’ve got to concentrate on the job at hand. We know where we’re at standings-wise, performance-wise, growth-wise… I think we have a pretty clear picture of those things. What we have to control is today – how did we practice, did we get a little bit better, did we prepare ourselves for tomorrow’s game, which is the most critical? Every next game you play is the biggest game of the year for us. That’s the case tomorrow.”