Are Flyers finally past early-season woes?
The Flyers have outscored their opponents 11-3 during during their current three-game winning streak. (USA Today Images)
WINNIPEG, Manitoba -- A lot has happened during the month of November for Craig Berube.
His Flyers are 4-2-1 and have crept to within three points of a playoff spot.
Yeah, it’s way early to think playoffs, but keep in mind, since 1993 about 75 percent of the teams nestled from first through eighth place on Thanksgiving Day qualify for the playoffs.
At various points in October, the Flyers looked like a team without any kind of playoff shot, behind by seven points at late as Nov. 7.
And then … this club got angry after being annihilated 7-0 by Washington, had a team meeting after losing to New Jersey at home, the owner called the club “pathetic” and voila! Three straight wins to get back into the hunt, just three points behind the eighth-seeded Rangers.
“For me, it’s about one game at a time,” Berube said as the Flyers pulled into The Peg on Thursday afternoon, after their everything-on-the-ice 2-1 win in Pittsburgh the night before.
Earlier this week, Berube mused privately that it would be nice to go on a six-game win streak and get this team’s foundation where it should be.
He’s halfway there with the final game of this three-game road swing Friday against the Jets.
“As a coach, obviously, in your mind you want to go on a streak,” he said. “But it’s been one game at a time and that is all we have preached. Take care of tonight’s game. And we’ll move on. And when it’s over, forget about it … get ready for the next one.”
He didn’t bother to give the team a speech before this crazy, cross-country trip began, starting in Ottawa, then going to Pittsburgh, then flying all the way to Manitoba for three games in four nights.
Berube said the Flyers started off so poorly, every game since has been do or die. The Flyers need points every night to gain ground. They are 7-7-1 under him.
“Oh, I know this is a big [trip], but it’s been important for a while now,” he said. “I can go back to that Jersey game at home and how big that was. We didn’t play good enough to win it.”
He says there’s enough pressure on this group just to crawl back into the race one game at a time without being pressured by the coaches reminding them they need quantum points.
The Flyers have played two near flawless road games with the 5-0 blitz in Ottawa and the 2-1 win over the Penguins.
Berube has been harping about play away from the puck and defense as the standard by which all good things will emerge.
Both came into play during those two victories, along with outstanding goaltending from Steve Mason and Ray Emery.
Also, the Flyers have just six giveaways in the past two games versus 30 by the opponents.
“It’s skating, it's the forechecking, it’s getting on people,” Berube said. “That is a big part of it. When you are working, reloading and skating and getting on people, they will turn pucks over. When you don’t and you give them time, they’re going to make plays.”
Players, especially team captain Claude Giroux, are feeling good about themselves. Heads are high. Some of the old Flyer swagger is visible again.
You know it’s going good when Evgeni Malkin crosschecks Sean Couturier after the whistle, hits him again and Coots pushes him back without taking a penalty.
Berube said getting out of town for this road trip was helpful for the Flyers to settle themselves down.
“The way things have been going at home with the fans and everything," Berube said. "Pressure has built up there.
“On the road, you can play a little bit more relaxed. You don’t hear [boos]. You don’t have to be perfect on the road. You just play. At home, sometimes, we get a power play and it’s not clicking and the fans get on you. You tense up. It’s natural.”
There’s still one more road game to go against a Jets club that has been a problem for the Flyers in this city with a 2-2 record since the franchise relocated from Atlanta a few years back.
“It’s just a start,” Berube said. “It’s not where it needs to be yet. We have to keep working on it. It’s my job to get harping on it and driving it home.”
Berube said that while Michael Raffl was healthy, he was also wiped out by the flu and needs to get some skating in. … He also said there is really no reason to make lineup changes, but if and when he does, he is often “tweaking” things based on the opponent and not necessarily the players coming out of the lineup. … Look for Mason to start Friday in goal.