Flyers set for grind of 48-game sprint

Flyers set for grind of 48-game sprint
January 19, 2013, 6:04 am
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Most years, the talk in Flyers training camp revolves around the 82-game grind. How important it is to pace yourself and view the season as a marathon that ends in early April.Not this time.All the talk these past six days has been about the sprint: 48 games in 99 days.There is no pacing here. Its all-out hockey. The key will be rest between games, fewer game-day skates, even fewer practices.Start slow and your hockey team could be doomed.We will all be learning, coach Peter Laviolette said. In a regular season, in a regular year, when it gets to be after Christmas, games become so important and those points become so important. Were there now.Look at the chart of the Flyers opening roster from October 6, 2011 in Boston and the expected roster this afternoon against Pittsburgh (see box).Many of the names remain the same, but the lines and defensive pairings are very different. Since there was no preseason and no full scrimmages, its impossible for Laviolette to know whats going to work.And whats not.Unlike the start of last season, the Flyers have some injuries to contend with to start 2013. Danny Briere will miss both weekend games, still recovering from a hairline fracture in his left wrist.Brieres misfortune became prospect Scott Laughtons gain. Hes on the roster for at least five games. If he doesnt go back to his junior club (Oshawa) after that, Laughton has to remain through the season.Given the Flyers used 11 rookies last year, keeping Laughton around would not surprise anyone.The more critical injuryrecovery is defenseman Andrej Meszaros. He is still a bit leery on his recovery from right Achilles tendon surgery.If he plays today against the Penguins, his ice time could be cut. If he doesnt play, newcomer Bruno Gervais will be in the lineup.The Flyers defense, more so than goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, is the big wild card for Laviolette in this shortened season.Its bigger with the additions of young Luke Schenn and older vet Kurtis Foster. But its not as mobile without Chris Pronger, Matt Carle and Erik Gustafsson, who remains sidelined with a right foot injury.Well, you take out a Hall of Famer in Chris Pronger and Matty is a good player as well, Coburn said.You know, we put some good players back in the lineup after Chris last year with Bruno Gervais and young guy Luke Schenn. I think it gives our defense pretty solid three pairings.Two of three defensive pairs are new. All four lines up front have changed.Many of the parts remain the same, albeit, in different locations.They gotta be on the same page in what you're trying to do, general manager Paul Holmgren said. I think the coaches are going to have a big say in this, what type of game they want to play.Holmgren was coaching in Hartford during the 48-game, 1994-95 lockout season.It was condensed, he recalled. It was fast. Like lightning in a bottle. It was fun, actually, a lot of fun.A lot of pressure, too.The one genuine edge the Flyers should have is that 19 of their 25 players they had in this abbreviated camp played somewhere during the lockout -- Europe or the AHL. Their 11 players in Europe were the most of any NHL club.They are all pretty much in game shape. Its just a matter of on-ice chemistry now.Theyre going to be in top shape than the other teams, Max Talbot said. Even though we were in a lockout, I think everyone was working out, training, in case the season starts.To a man, the Flyers believe this will benefit them greatly.I think it was great for us that most of our guys were playing somewhere, Bryzgalov said.Added Scott Hartnell, who did not play anywhere, For anybody who played during the lockout, theyre going to be a step or two quicker than anybody who just sat on their hineys and watched the news.Assuming thats the case, then gelling as a team without the benefit of a true preseason is the immediate challenge.So is finding a top line that clicks.Claude Girouxs unit with Hartnell and Jaromir Jagr was outstanding last season. Jagr and his 19 goals and 54 points are gone.Lukes brother, Brayden, gets the first stab at Jagrs spot.We had a couple of games together last year, me, Hartsy and Schenner, so its going to be important for us to get the chemistry going as quickly as possible, said Giroux, who is a first-year captain.Hes a good player. He can make plays and he has a good shot and hes physical. Hes a different kind of player than Jagr. We got to turn the page now. Jags is not here. Were focusing on Schenner.Bryzgalov says he has compiled a list of things he will focus on this season. He set goals he wants to achieve, but adds that hell keep them to himself.Around the NHL, most people dont give the Flyers any chance to win the Stanley Cup because of Bryzgalov.Is he the guy who dominated the league as Player of the Month last March? A guy who went 9-1-1 with a 1.27 goals against average and .956 save percentage at one point?Or is he the goalie we saw in the playoffs, after he returned from a foot injury, who gave up three goals or more in 10 of 11 games?This shortened season will determine whether hes here for the long haul or whether the Flyers use a compliance buyout and jettison him after the season.To his credit, Bryzgalov played well in just 12 games in Russia during the lockout. Then again, as Laviolette often says, Hes best when hes playing lots of games, and there hasnt been any for a while.My last game was Dec. 27, Bryzgalov said. Its been pretty much 20 days without games. Its tough to just practice. Its nice when you are playing.A game is different than a practice, when you have a chance to play the game and compete against one another.Another change this brief season is John Paddock moving from the front office to the press box to scout what systems the opposition is using against the Flyers and how to combat them.Given the newness of the defense, if you will, its hard to imagine that Laviolette will go full bore with his pressing offensive attack. Even though he insists that he will.In all aspects of the game, youve got to continue to look at and work at it, he said.I dont think necessarily that systems win or lose games. Systems, you think about it, go back to the past five teams that won Stanley Cup championships, they played different systems.Some were big and strong on the forecheck. Some relied purely on defense. Teams like Pittsburgh were a high-scoring team and relied on a lot of offense. I dont think there is one set method to winning the Stanley Cup.Its the team who embraces their identity and plays it well and plays it well at the right time and stays healthy.Theres a lot of things that go into winning a championship. Certainly, systems are part of it. Its the way you play it. Its the pop you put into the game and way you are playing it. Theres a lot of things that factor into it.And this time they will factor in how many games.
E-mail Tim Panaccio at tpanotch@comcast.net.

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