For the Flyers and the rest of the NHL teams fighting for playoff spots, the sprint is about to begin. No more extended schedule breaks. No more extra days off to recuperate from nagging injuries.
The Flyers will play their final 33 games over 67 nights.
“It’s going to be a dogfight,” Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said.
By winning eight of their last 10 games, the Flyers have climbed into a playoff spot in the oh-so-crowded Eastern Conference. They go back to practice Monday after three days off for the all-star break. That followed earlier schedule breaks for Christmas and an NHL-mandated bye week.
Now the grind begins.
“You have to basically bring it every single night,” said right winger Jake Voracek, who leads the NHL with 47 assists. “You have to be in good physical shape and be ready.”
The Flyers return to action Wednesday in Washington, then play in New Jersey on Thursday.
“We have to stay humble and keep working,” defenseman Radko Gudas said. “For us, we play our best hockey when everybody is buying in and doing their part. And I think the three days off will be huge for us. A lot of guys are battling some bumps and bruises and injuries, so the three days will be huge for the bodies to get some rest and be ready after the break.”
The Flyers were the definition on inconsistency in the first two months of the season, winning just eight of their first 26 games (8-11-7).
But they are 16-6-1 since their 10-game losing streak ended. Gudas’ return to the lineup after a 10-game suspension has stabilized the defense. The Flyers have also benefited from some line juggling by Hakstol, who now has dangerous scorers on the first (Sean Couturier, Claude Giroux), second (Voracek) and third (Wayne Simmonds) lines.
“I think we’re getting contributions from everybody up and down the lineup — first line to fourth line,” Simmonds said. “That’s huge, and all three D pairings have played pretty well. To be successful in this league, you have to have everybody going, and both of our goalies have played really well.”
Party because of defensive breakdowns in front of goalies Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth, the Flyers have allowed an average of 2.82 goals per game, 17th in the NHL. That number will probably have to improve if the Flyers are going to sneak into the playoffs.
“I don’t think there’s that much value in looking back,” said Elliott, a quiet but important leader in the locker room. “It’s better to just try to get better each day and being your best on that day. Sustaining it is really the key, especially in tight races like this.”
Just two points separate six teams batting for second place in the Metropolitan Division.
“It’s going to be a battle for every point, especially with a lot of division matchups,” Elliott said. “So I think staying in the day and not worrying about what you did before is important.”
The Flyers are 17th out of 31 teams on offense, averaging 2.88 goals per game despite having three of the NHL’s top 19 point producers.
“We have to keep working on our consistency; we have to be at our best every single period every single night … every single shift,” Simmonds said. “Obviously, we know we’re not going to play perfect hockey, so we just have to minimize our mistakes and bad games, and after we have one of them, we want to make sure the next game we’re at our best because you don’t want it to build slowly and build and build into a big snowball like it did when we had that 10-game losing streak.”
Simmonds was asked if all the schedule breaks make it difficult to get into a rhythm.
“I don’t think you really want one when you have momentum like we have, but that’s the way it is,” he said. “We’ve done pretty well off the other breaks … and just have to keep it going.”
The Flyers went 4-2 in their first six games after their Christmas break, then compiled a 5-2 record after their bye week.