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Working it off

by Brian Smith | / Philadelphia Flyers

The Flyers were not at all happy with their performance Tuesday night against the Colorado Avalanche pretty much from start to finish, save for perhaps the first few minutes. Afterwards, there were meetings and discussions and postgame interviews filled with lament. Brows were furrowed.

After a night and a morning to digest the events, Dave Hakstol put his team through a highly-physical, contact-laden practice not often seen during the grind of a regular season, much less on a day between two games. The training session included some 45 minutes of body-banging 2-on-2 and 1-on-1 battle drills meant to mimic game situations, and perhaps to help the players let off some steam.

“I don’t think we were happy with our compete level last night,” Hakstol said afterwards. “We’re going to compete. We didn’t play hard enough last night. That was a hole in our game last night. So we came out and worked on that today in practice.”

Afterwards, several Flyers reflected on the practice by saying it was just what the doctor ordered.

“It was a good day for it,” Simmonds said. “I thought we played pretty well in Winnipeg, but we came back home and came out flat. It was a great practice for us. It wasn’t too long, but every single drill that we did out there raised our compete level.”

“We didn’t perform the way we wanted to, especially last game,” said left wing Michael Raffl. “It’s a tough practice, but it makes you better. If we bring that in the game tomorrow, we’ll be just fine.”

Said Steve Mason: “Today was the perfect example of the compete level that we have to have. That was a tough practice for the guys to go through, and I think if we can continue to have that kind of effort level, the games will be a much better outcome for us.”

So what exactly ails the Flyers?

It can be tough to put a finger on that. Sometimes it’s a team that is not fully playing within its system, in that players might not be doing the things they’re exactly supposed to be doing in concert with their teammates. But it doesn’t seem like the Flyers think that’s the issue. Rather, there’s a prevailing concern that they aren’t doing a good enough job of going to the places on a hockey rink that aren’t very fun – namely the corners and the area in front of the net between the slot and the crease.

Both are places where players get checked, shoved, poked at, and otherwise take a lot of contact. But they’re also the places where goals come from. In particular, Simmonds pointed out that “greasy” goals happen when players camp out in front of the net and can’t be moved, and he thinks the Flyers are making things too easy for their opponents in that regard.

“Sometimes we’re trying for the pretty plays and we’re not taking that opportunity to shoot the puck from bad angles where you would otherwise get rebounds squirting out,” Simmonds said. “Then you go to the net and if you’re stopping [there], you’re going to get those rebounds. I feel like sometimes we tend to be swinging off to the side. When you do that, you’re not going to put the pucks in the net.

“The last few games there’s been a lot of rebounds kicked into the slot area, and we’ve had guys there for like half a second, but eventually that guy swings away. I’ve been a culprit of that too. I think it’s imperative that we’ve got to go to the front of the net and battle for our space. You can work as hard as you want to get to the front of the net, but as soon as you peel off, all that work went for nothing. You’ve got to work to get there, and then you’ve got to stay there. You’re going to get abused there, but it’s worth it at the end of the day.”

It seems apparent that Hakstol agrees, but he’s also not looking for any excuses. Fatigue, travel, and other such circumstances, he said, can’t get in the way.

“There’s any number of factors that might have played into it last night, but at the end of the day, those factors don’t matter,” he said. “We’ve been about 50 percent as I look over our last four games. We’ve had excellent competitive level in two of those four games. 50 percent is not what we’re looking for.”

And the other popular notion of frustration – whether it be Jake Voracek not scoring or the power play’s struggles – is definitely not going to fly in the coach’s office.

“I don’t buy frustration,” Hakstol said. “I don’t like the term, I don’t like the word. You go out and you work hard and do the things that are in front of you. If that’s the case, then we’ve got to get over that. We’ve got to put that aside. Because that’s not a good reason.”

Michal Neuvirth
didn’t participate in the practice, instead heading out to a doctor for medical treatment. He indicated after returning that he is fine and can play tomorrow vs. Washington if called upon. Neuvirth has started four games in a row for the Flyers since being called into action due to Mason’s illness on the recent road trip. Mason hasn’t played in nine days – his last action was Nov. 2 in Vancouver.

Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Evgeny Medvedev, who have been battling injuries, were both on hand for the practice; however, Bellemare left early, along with Mark Streit. The Flyers returned defenseman Davis Drewiske to the Phantoms Wednesday morning. He had been recalled during last week’s road trip when Medvedev returned to Philadelphia to have an upper-body injury evaluated, but he did not appear in any games.

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