Flyers deal with frustration as they regroup on day off
The Flyers played the Devils six times in the regular season, so it's easy to think they would know what to expect and how to counter anything New Jersey might throw at them.
But after three games, the Flyers find themselves trailing 2-1 in the Eastern Conference Semifinal series, and seem surprised by what they've seen and unable to handle the Devils' speed, size and physicality.
"Definitely they played a lot stronger and a lot harder than me personally would have thought they'd come with," Scott Hartnell said on a conference call with reporters Friday. "I think especially the last two games, they've outhustled us. I think they've won the majority of the battles. Not sure on faceoffs, but they've won the majority of those, and that's not just centers, that's the wingers helping out. It's frustrating to almost always be defending all game. It's something that needs to be addressed."
Addressing it will start Saturday, as coach Peter Laviolette gave the team a full day off the ice Friday. Having a two-day break prior to Game 4 on Sunday (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC) is something he said he wanted to take advantage of.
"Playing overtime games and the schedule, the way the playoffs go, we've got two days before the next game, which is a break that really allows the guys to get away and still have a good practice," Laviolette said.
As much as the physical rest is good, Hartnell said having a mental day off after the disappointing overtime loss in Game 3 is just as useful.
"They've been on a high in the last few weeks," Hartnell said. "Beating Florida in Game 7, and then to have to step off that plane and take a bus [to Philadelphia] to play, they're riding that high. They've been playing really strong, playing really hard. For us, maybe that week off was affecting our play so far. I think to have this mental day off, come to the rink [Saturday] excited, to realize that it's not 3-0 it's only 2-1, and if we win the next game, we get home-ice advantage back."
One way they can help earn back that advantage is a rapid improvement on the power play. After setting a team record with 12 power-play goals in 23 attempts in the first round against the Penguins, they're just 2-for-16 against New Jersey. They went 1-for-5 in Game 3, including a pair of power-play chances in overtime on which they were able to generate just one shot.
"We focus on it anyway, whether we score three goals or we didn't score three goals," Laviolette said. "We did get one [in Game 3], certainly we would have liked to generate more chances in that overtime period, but we didn't get the looks. They play an aggressive style. They had a good year on the penalty kill. We continue to look at it regardless of success or not success. Specialty teams factors into the games, and wins and losses. It gets its due attention."
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Another way they can earn their way back into the series is by their best players playing like their best players. Laviolette switched around his three top lines in Game 3 in hope of generating more offense. They certainly created more than the 20 shots they had in Game 2, but beyond Danny Briere, the Flyers' top guns have been firing blanks.
The team's presumptive top line -- Hartnell, Jaromir Jagr and Claude Giroux -- have combined for just one goal and four points, only one of which has come at even strength.
Giroux seems especially frustrated, especially after his dominating first round that saw his coach -- among a list of others -- crown the 24-year-old the center the best player in the world.
"I know I have to step it up," he said after Game 3. "I have to be a better player. I'm aware of that. Just have to find a way."
Hartnell, though, said Giroux is far from the only Flyer feeling like he has to give more.
"I think everyone is frustrated," Hartnell said. "I know me personally, I've been frustrated. You can tell with [Giroux] that he wants to make something happen every time he's on the ice, and we all know that's basically impossible. Whether it's losing a puck battle at the wrong time or whatever -- it seems like it's almost contagious right now. It's OK to be frustrated to a point, but we have to get back to our focus and get back to doing what we do well whether it's hitting ... I don't expect Claude Giroux to go in and hit [Dainius] Zubrus or [Bryce] Salvador, those guys -- that's my job. I have to get back to hitting, those guys have to go back to handling the puck and doing what they do with the puck with me going to the net.
"I think we're all just kind of out of sorts with each other. It's good to have a couple days between these games to get re-focused again."
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK