Confidence key to ending Flyers' losing streak

Confidence key to ending Flyers' losing streak
January 27, 2014, 12:00 pm
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The Flyers have lost four in a row -- and have one more chance to win on home ice before taking off on a six-day road trip to the West Coast. (USA Today Images)

No one has said it yet, but the Flyers must be thinking about it.

A few more days and then it’s off to the West Coast, where the Flyers will embark on their final somewhat lengthy road trip -- six days -- to visit Anaheim, Los Angeles and San Jose.

The last impression the Flyers want to leave on fans as they head out of town is that they’re incapable of playing competitively against top teams in the Eastern Conference.

Saturday’s 6-1 Boston Massacre was as uncompetitive as the 7-0 shelling to Washington back in November.

They’ll face another tough opponent Tuesday in the Detroit Red Wings, who will be making their only appearance in South Philly this season.

How can the Flyers reverse the cycle of mistakes that has engulfed them these past four games?

“The key to getting out of this is to have a good start the next game,” Wayne Simmonds said. “We haven’t been playing well as of late in all aspects of the game, offensively and, especially, defensively.

“We have to get a solid start to the next game. The practice helped. We went over systems more. Sometimes you don’t get a lot of practice time. It kind of slips, which it shouldn’t. We have to do a better job. That’s [lack of practice] not the whole reason, but obviously, guys have been saying we have to be more mentally prepared and ready. As individuals, come into the game and do our jobs, and we haven’t been.”

When coach Craig Berube talks about the team being “fragile” and lacking “confidence,” he is referring to what happens at the start of games.

Three straight games, the Flyers have been hemmed into their own end on the forecheck and it’s led to turnovers and early goals against.

Their composure is fragile with the puck, which explains blind, desperate heaves of the puck to clear the zone.

Their confidence to carry the puck out of the zone is gone. Given their inability to connect cleanly with passes, their overall lack of speed on the back end gets exposed.

If they improve the gaps and timing, they can compensate for lack of speed on defense.

If the Flyers settle down, they're fine. Really, what is the difference now from the team that went 9-2 against some of the best teams in the West last month? How about ... confidence?

The Flyers may not be in the same hemisphere as Boston or Pittsburgh in the East, but they’re better than what they’ve shown lately.

And it’s been coming for a while, players said, because without practice time, you tend to let things slide in games, especially, if you’re getting away with the mistakes.

“You can see some bad things creep into our game,” Simmonds said. “All of a sudden, you lose a game and they become more apparent and you keep losing. It was important to get a full day of practice in. Chief [Berube] talked with us about those things. It’s always nice to get little reminders.”

Several players said they were pleased with the results from Sunday’s up-tempo practice before the Flyers Wives Carnival. Monday is a scheduled off day without practice.

“It was great to do,” Vinny Lecavalier said. “We haven’t had a lot of practice and we really worked on everything we had to work on -- defensive zone, neutral zone stuff, we worked on a bunch of stuff. It’s a really, full practice of getting better ... I really think it helped.”

There was a lot of systems work, but in the Flyers' case, the only systems work they need is better breakouts against pressure. It worked in December and early January. It should work now.

“Practice helps,” Berube said. “Just get communicating with players. You've got to keep your players upbeat so they dig themselves out of holes during the year. We did it once and we will do it again. You gotta work at it. It’s about staying with it. I look at that Boston game, the late goal in the first period hurt us. But you have to come out in the second [period] and fight harder.

“That’s the way the game is. You got to battle back. We’ve done it before. It’s about being competitive out there and playing a team game, staying with and working your way out of it.”

Frankly, the Flyers gave up when it became 3-0 early in the second period against the Bruins.

Players were angry at themselves after the game.

“You gotta have execution out there and work and be competitive,” Berube said. “If you have those three things, you usually come out on top.”

You can make a case that the Flyers have been streaky this season under Berube since he took over for Peter Laviolette.

They went 4-2-2 to start November. Then 5-2-0 to finish.

They went 2-3-2 to start December. Then 6-1 to finish.

They started January 5-3-1 and are now 0-3-1 as the month’s end is drawing near.

Streaky doesn’t bode well once the stretch drive to the playoffs begins after the Olympics.

“It seems like that,” Simmonds said of the Flyers' winning/losing skids. “We haven’t been consistent enough. We do good things and we’re playing unbelievable and then it seems to drop off.

“There is no middle ground. We’re either unbelievable or we’re no good. We got to develop more consistency. We got to be more even keel. Not too high or too low. Obviously, our leaders in here and on the team have to do a better job.”

Between now and the Olympic break, the Flyers will play six more times. They need to get their act together because they -- and everyone else -- will be rusty coming out of the break.

“Every game is important,” Lecavalier said. “You set yourself up for the last 20 games of the year.”