Flyers back to the drawing board
WAYNE GRETZKY, who turned 53 yesterday, once said:
"Skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been."
With that, the Flyers were back on the ice early yesterday morning - a rarity for a Sunday - in anticipation of the next puck drop. It was a day to hit the reset button, to mentally erase a disastrous week (0-3-1) that dragged them back out of a Stanley Cup playoff spot after months of hard work.
After practice, the Flyers trekked across the Delaware River to the Wells Fargo Center for hours of interaction with fans at the 37th annual Flyers Wives Fight for Lives Carnival.
"We get to see the fans and realize who we're playing for," Scott Hartnell said. "We're playing for these 15,000 fans that are paying $20 to get a picture with us. To play with efforts like [Saturday's 6-1 home loss to Boston], it's a knock against them and definitely a wakeup call for us."
In a way, yesterday's hourlong practice, which included plenty of skating, was oddly cathartic for the Flyers. With four games each week, it was their first full-length practice since Jan. 10.
"Eighty-two games is a long season. You're going to have times when you're not going to play well," Jake Voracek said. "Today, we needed to make sure that stretch ended [Saturday]. We are still confident. If we weren't confident, we wouldn't have gotten to where we were before this slump."
Yes, the Flyers' schedule is daunting: Detroit, Anaheim, Los Angeles, San Jose, Colorado and a must-win against Calgary in a six-game gantlet before the Olympic break. Yes, they are out of a playoff spot, with Carolina, New Jersey, Ottawa and Washington all lurking within two points.
But the Flyers have been here before. Remember, back on Oct. 21, when the Flyers were in 15th place in the Eastern Conference after a 1-7 start?
"We'll take it game-by-game," Claude Giroux said that day, "and we will make the playoffs."
Giroux's bold prediction drew laughter from around the NHL. Three months later, it doesn't seem all that bold. And Giroux isn't backing away.
"I feel the same way," Giroux said. "Why wouldn't I? Just because we lost a few games? We have a lot of character here. Guys want to win.
"Today was our first real practice in a while. We had a little reminder of how we wanted to play, what we want our identity to be. We were in a great position. We let points get away. You know what? We put ourselves in a great position because we played as a team. We know how to do that because of where we were."
On a day when the Flyers' standing looked as bleak as it had since October, coach Craig Berube said it was time to build his players back up.
"You've got to keep your players upbeat," Berube said. "They need to dig themselves out of a hole a little bit. They've done it once. They can do it again."
Naturally, after Steve Mason was pulled Saturday for the third time in January, the media circled around the Flyers' goaltender yesterday after practice.
Very clearly, Mason has not been stellar. His save percentage is just .889 since Dec. 8 - dating back well before signing his 3-year contract extension.
"I believe it's confidence," Craig Berube said. "I think there's parts of his game, like our team, that looks really good. Then when something goes wrong or something happens, his confidence level [drops]."
There are many other things to get in order in the Flyers' house before worrying about goaltending. It can't be counted on to cover up for other mistakes while allowing an average of 37 shots per game over the last six contests. Still, Mason is feeling the heat.
"I'm disappointed in not being able to play well enough to get the wins right now," Mason said. "I'd like to improve everything. When you're not having success, it's easy to overthink things. We're picking a terrible time to play some pretty crappy hockey. Teams that are around us are winning and we're falling behind."
Scott Hartnell missed yesterday's practice with what the Flyers called a "maintenance day." He was seen at the wives carnival sporting a walking boot, something Paul Holmgren said he's been wearing frequently since taking a shot off the foot in Buffalo on Jan. 14 . . . After giving up three power-play goals to the Bruins on Saturday, the Flyers' penalty kill dropped from fifth to 10th overall.
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