Turns out there was a positive during the Flyers’ 10-game losing streak: The players never became divided, never started pointing fingers at one another.
“Everybody stuck together,” captain Claude Giroux said. “This is one of the tightest teams I’ve ever played on.”
That will suit the young team well in the future, though the damage done by the recent 0-5-5 skid may cause the Flyers to miss the playoffs for the third time in four years.
Then again, they won 10 in a row last year and missed the playoffs. No NHL team had ever done that.
Maybe this season they will lose 10 straight and somehow find themselves in the postseason.
“We were so close in a lot of those games, and we had leads in a lot of those third periods,” said goalie Brian Elliott, a veteran who has been a calming presence all season. “We knew we weren’t that far off from winning those games, and I just think making a couple of smart decisions here and there turned it around for us.”
“I still believe we’re a playoff team,” general manager Ron Hextall said.
And that was before the Flyers ended their losing streak.
Since then, they’ve won three straight – all during an impressive Western Canada road trip through Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver, where they finally learned how to close games in the third period.
But the Flyers’ inconsistency over the last two seasons has been maddening. If this team is ever going to be a legitimate Stanley Cup contender – and, yes, upgrades are required – it needs all facets of its game working in unison. Night after night.
That’s what happened on the 3-0 road trip. The Flyers got superb goaltending from Elliott. Their power play and penalty kill were excellent, and three of their four new-look lines were clicking. (The exception: Nolan Patrick’s unit.)
“Getting a couple wins lifts the spirits and the energy level as well,” said Elliott, who had a blistering .954 save percentage in the three games.
The Flyers used a 1-2-2 alignment during the trip, and it seemed to clog the neutral zone and prevent opponents’ rushes into the attacking zone. Yes, the Flyers allowed lots of shots, but most of them came from the perimeter.
Elliott likes the new style.
“I just think we’re not trying to dipsy-doodle through the neutral zone” as much, he said. “When you don’t have an option, you get it in. That’s how this league works. Everybody is waiting for those blue-line turnovers to come back the other way.”
When the losses were piling up, “we shot ourselves in the foot a lot,” Elliott said. “When we make the smart decisions, we get the goals, and we win. … You also have to bring your own storm and make them react to you.”
The Flyers’ brought a “storm” to Western Canada, outscoring their opponents, 13-5.
“We had to buy into something,” Elliott said of the new system, “because it wasn’t working.”
Making some tweaks “helped us dial in and refocus,” defenseman Andrew MacDonald said.
Now they must learn to how to win at home. Opponents used to dread coming to Philly. Players would mysteriously develop what was called the Philadelphia Flu because they didn’t want to take a punishment on the ice and on the scoreboard.
No more. The Flyers have won just four of 14 games (4-6-4) at the Wells Fargo Center, where they have lost six straight. Heading into Sunday, only Buffalo and Arizona had fewer home wins.
But maybe, just maybe, their recent road success will give them some much-needed swagger at home.
“We’re battling back now,” Giroux said. “We have a lot of character in this room … and we’re playing on the same page now. We’re playing as a team, and let’s keep going here.”