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Flyers relying on better start, defense stepping up

by Adam Kimelman continues its preview of the 2014-15 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout September.

Craig Berube spent 17 seasons in the NHL as a player and seven seasons as an assistant coach. But when he got a promotion to coach of the Philadelphia Flyers three games into the 2013-14 season, he saw things in an entirely new way.

"It wasn't like I got surprised by anything, but from game in and game out it's the competitiveness of the League and how tight the League really is," Berube said. "There's just no room for error. You're playing all these teams on different nights here and there, how good these teams are and how well you have to play and how consistent you have to be to be a really good team."

Though he had 79 games to install his system and style of play, Berube said training camp would be big for him. He's hoping to lock in his game plan and improve some of the things that didn't work as well last season.

"I think from my standpoint … it's getting that system down to a T right away so when that puck drops Oct. 8 we're ready to go and we're not busy thinking about what we've got to do," Berube said before camp opened. "We know what we have to do, we have our skating legs and we're ready to really compete. That's really important for us as an organization."

Here are three things that will have to happen for the Flyers' season to be successful:

1. Have a better start -- Last season the Flyers lost their first three games and seven of their first eight. Though they were able to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs, their terrible start allowed them almost no margin for error.

Berube said he felt the team wasn't in optimal physical condition when last season began. That's why he spent this summer raising the bar on what would be acceptable when training camp opens.

"There was a real focus on the off-ice conditioning and what kind of shape you have to be in to be a Flyer and what we're looking for," he said before camp started. "That's a high standard. We really held it high this year. I think it's really important that they're coming into camp in great shape. And we're really working and competing and getting our guys to where they need to get to at the start of the season. That's very important."

2. The defense must step up -- The closest thing the Flyers have had to a No. 1 defenseman has been Kimmo Timonen, but the 39-year-old may never play again due to blood clots in his leg and lungs.

Timonen's loss hurts the Flyers on and off the ice, where he is counted on as an honest, dependable veteran voice.

Berube is confident the holdovers on defense will step up, and believes that Michael Del Zotto, signed Aug. 5, can be an important addition.

"I've seen this guy play real good hockey for the New York Rangers at one point," Berube said. "I think he's going to get back to that standard."

3. Consistent goaltending -- The 2013-14 season was Steve Mason's best since he won the Calder Trophy in 2009, and he was rewarded with a three-year, $12.3 million contract extension that starts this season. The Flyers are betting Mason, 26, will maintain that high level of play.

"I think it's maturity more than anything," Berube said. "Him and [goaltending coach] Jeff Reese really have a good relationship and they've made a few subtle changes in his game, some different things they're working on, and that's the biggest key for me. Mentally he feels good, he's played really well for us. I don't see that changing."


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