When the post-Olympic stretch run began last Thursday, the Flyers were facing 23 games in 46 days with 14 at home.
Big thing was, three games in four days –- two against key Metropolitan Division rivals.
The mini-hump is over after a critical weekend where the Flyers swept the Rangers and Capitals but now face a sluggish week with just two games over six days.
Here are 10 observations from this past weekend:
The Flyers were just that in the third period vs. the Caps, tying the game after trailing by two goals. Dmitry Orlov’s reactionary five-minute major on Brayden Schenn led to a Jakub Voracek power-play goal, then Claude Giroux tied it on his deflection of Voracek’s shot. The Flyers didn’t give up and eventually win on Vinny Lecavalier’s goal in overtime.
2. The Captain
Giroux was angry much of the afternoon because of Tom Wilson's charging into Steve Mason early in the game, then Orlov's running Brayden Schenn, plus Wilson's punching Giroux in the middle of the game. That anger carried over into Giroux’s offensive game in a positive manner, unlike Steve Downie, who seems incapable of channeling anger into something positive on the ice. Channeling anger into something constructive on the ice is part of team discipline.
The veteran centerman hates playing left wing and feels uncomfortable shooting from that side. On the power play, Lecavalier will always drift toward the middle because that is his natural spot. In overtime, however, he had no choice but to move left, and got a drop pass from Kimmo Timonen, then shot behind his screen to win it. Lecavalier can score from the left side, yet seems to need convincing. Maybe this accomplishes that. Also, that’s the third time this season Lecavalier has scored in back-to-back games. Perhaps more than any other Flyer, the break in the schedule did him some good. His game-winner was his 900th career point.
Braden Holtby was unconscious in net for the Caps. That split save he had in the second period to deny Wayne Simmonds his 20th goal was surpassed only by the lunging poke check on Giroux’s open net backhander minutes later. Too often, the Flyers would get frustrated, but they stuck with it. They did the same against Henrik Lundqvist. Though they burned him for two goals on the first four shots of the game and it gave them confidence they were going to score some goals.
The Flyers were dominant off the draw against the Caps. Through two periods, the Flyers dominated Washington, winning 63 percent of the draws, and they finished at 62 percent. Against the Rangers, they won 56 percent of the draws in the game. Win the draw, you’re not chasing the game -- you dictate it.
6. Energy swings
You could plainly see it occurring in each of the three games since the Olympic break ended. Given their hard practices during the break, then the ramped up schedule once the break ended, the Flyers seemed to lose, then find their legs throughout the games.
Luke Schenn still seems indecisive at the net, staring down shots from above the circles. He has a tendency to block the goalie’s vision while watching the shooter instead of blocking the shot. If you’re not going to block the shot, get out of the way. That’s what happened on Orlov’s goal in Washington. Schenn (minus-2) was uncertain whether to block, screened Mason, then turned after Orlov shot and Mason lost track of the puck. Overall, the Flyers' defense did too much standing around that first period. They were passengers, not participants, and coach Craig Berube told them that between periods.
Zac Rinaldo clipped Wilson, who ran into Mason. It was Rinaldo’s elbow that was partially –- not entirely -- responsible, but the Flyers got a power play and a goal out of it. Still, tempers were boiling over after Wilson charged Mason. So what happens? Luke Schenn hits Jason Chimera after the whistle, giving the Caps another power play and they get a go-ahead goal three seconds after the power play ended.
Luckily, the Flyers' penalty killers were outstanding this weekend, killing off 8 of 9 power plays.
The Flyers had a strong opening to the second period against Washington, generating speed, offense and good scoring chances and then Downie buried John Erskine up against the glass with a high-stick, double-minor, giving the Caps a four-minute power play. Downie had played a good game against the Rangers before that.
The Caps had five power plays through two periods, which is far too many. Downie was on the ice during a crucial five-minute power play at the end of the game -– why was he even out there? -- and the first thing he did was get into a scrum with two players. The fact the Flyers remain undisciplined in close games this late in the season is troubling.
9. 60 Minutes
In all three games since the Olympic break, the Flyers have played bits 'n pieces of hockey, but not a full 60-minute game. Against San Jose and the Rangers, the Flyers played poorly in the second period after strong starts. Against the Caps, they were brutal in the first period, and terrific for half of the second period. The Flyers collapsed in the second half of the stanza, however, perhaps showing the strain of three games in four days. Stretch runs require consistency and so far the Flyers are struggling to find it through three periods.
Their goaltending -- meaning Mason -- is giving the Flyers a legit chance to catch up, which is encouraging. Mason had some key saves in the Caps’ win and kept the Flyers in striking range to get the game tied in the third period. Giving your team a chance when things aren’t perfect is all any coach expects of a goaltender. Mason has delivered.