VOORHEES, N.J. -- The Philadelphia Flyers were one of the best teams in the NHL during the second half of the season but they couldn't sustain that level against the Washington Capitals during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Despite losing in the Eastern Conference First Round in six games, there is a feeling of optimism about what next season could bring.
"I think moving forward, if you look at what's coming up and what we did this year and we were able to get into the playoffs and battle, for a lot of guys in this team, including myself, to feel that playoff rush, I think next year will even be better," forward Brayden Schenn said. "A good start would go a long way and I think year-by-year you're going to see a better Flyers team."
The Flyers went 19-15-7 in their first 41 games under first-year coach Dave Hakstol. But from Jan. 13 to the end of the regular season, they went 22-12-7, and their 51 points in that span were the third-most in the Eastern Conference.
"I think everyone started to know the coach and the coach started to know the players," defenseman Radko Gudas said. "I thought we grew as a team together and we just got better every game."
WHAT THEY SAID: "We're a pretty good team overall. Just making it to the playoffs, not a lot of people believed in us. But we still did and I thought we showed what this team is capable of doing." -- Gudas
THE BURNING QUESTION: How do the Flyers build after a strong second half of the season got them into the playoffs?
The Flyers have struggled early the past four seasons. This season they won seven of their first 22 games. In 2014-15 they won eight of their first 25; in 2013-14 they won seven of their first 18; in 2012-13 they had eight wins in their first 19 games. They made the playoffs in two of those seasons, but it's not a sustainable plan. Playing must-win games for the final two months of the regular season left the Flyers on fumes once the postseason started. But the hope is having a strong understanding of Hakstol's systems will allow them to get off a better start next season.
"Can't have the starts we've had the last couple years and have to really have to grind it out the last two months to try to make the playoffs," forward Ryan White said. "It's too much; too taxing on your body, too taxing on your mindset going into the playoffs. Having that little bit of a head start is going to be big for us next season."
Video: PHI@WSH, Gm5: White scores off deflection in front
INJURIES: Center Sean Couturier said he sustained an AC joint separation in his left shoulder on the hit by Washington's Alex Ovechkin in Game 1 that ended his series. Couturier said with rest he expects to be fully healthy in a few weeks.
Forward Scott Laughton missed the final two games of the series after sustaining an upper-body injury in the first period of Game 4. He was removed from the ice on a stretcher but said he never lost consciousness. He refused to comment when asked if he had a concussion.
General manager Ron Hextall and Hakstol were not available to discuss any other injury issues.
WHO COULD GO: White, forward Sam Gagner, defenseman Evgeny Medvedev and goaltender Ray Emery will be unrestricted free agents on July 1. White likely is the only one who will return. He scored 11 goals, a personal NHL-best, and was used on the second power play.
"You're hoping to get something done," White said. "Love to be back, love to be a Flyer again. We're hoping."
Schenn, who set NHL bests in every offensive category this season, will be a restricted free agent. He said he's hoping for a long-term contract.
"You want to be here long-term," Schenn said. "I believe in this team. I believe in the guys in that locker room."
Gudas, defenseman Brandon Manning, forward Nick Cousins and forward Jordan Weal also can become restricted free agents.
Forward R.J. Umberger said he expects have the final season of his contract bought out.
Defenseman ark Streit could be traded if the Flyers look to add another young defenseman to the lineup, possibly Ivan Provorov, the No. 7 pick of the 2015 NHL Draft. Goalies Steve Mason or Michal Neuvirth also could be on the move.
WHO COULD ARRIVE: Hextall said during the playoffs that he plans on addressing a lack of size at forward; whether that's through a trade or free agency remains to be seen. The Flyers also need to get faster defensively. That could come through an influx of prospects, including Provorov and Travis Sanheim, the 17th pick of the 2014 NHL Draft
2016 DRAFT PICKS: The Flyers have 10 picks, including five in first three rounds.
REASON FOR OPTIMISM: The players felt things got better once they adjusted to how Hakstol wanted them to play.
"I think it took a lot of us some time to comprehend everything," White said. "When someone tells you do to something and you don't necessarily see it in your own mind why, I think you're stuck between your old habits and doing what he wants you to do. Once you realize this is going to work, and if we do it all together this is going to work, I think that was a big step.
"We all started to really commit to it and do whatever we needed to do to understand what the system was and to execute it."
The belief is the pieces are in place for more success next season.
"I don't think the team is going to change much," Gudas said. "A lot of guys know what they need to do better and everybody knows what they need to work on. I'm sure [Hakstol] talked to everybody or is going to talk to everybody about what he wants from them. I thought it was a great season. If we can continue, we can do more damage in the playoffs."