Flyers look to build off strong road trip in upcoming homestand
The Flyers will open a three-game homestand on Tuesday against the Ottawa Senators. (USA Today Images)
What a difference a week has made for the orange and black.
After playing three times in four nights, the Flyers walked away from their three-game road trip with five of the six points that were up for grabs and are slowly but surely climbing their way back into the playoff picture.
Sure, the season is still very young but things are finally starting to go the Flyers' way after they got off to their worst start in franchise history. They are no longer in the celler of the Metropolitan Division -- as of Sunday morning -- and are just four points behind the fourth-place Carolina Hurricanes with a game in hand.
The Flyers have picked up points in six of their last seven games and are looking more comfortable with head coach Craig Berube's systems. They're controlling the puck much better, forcing turnovers and taking care of their own end.
Now, the Flyers are in the midst of a three-day break from game action before they open a three-game homestand on Tuesday. With that in mind, here are a few storylines we'll be watching this week:
Home ice advantage?
For whatever reason, the Wells Fargo Center has been a house of horrors for the Flyers this season.
Through their first 10 home games, the Flyers have posted a pitiful 3-7-0 record in South Philly. Even worse, they've scored just 15 goals in front of their home crowd.
This week is a good opportunity for the Flyers to give their fans something to cheer about. They'll host the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday, the last-place Buffalo Sabres on Thursday and the slumping New York Islanders on Saturday. Those three clubs have combined for a 21-33-8 record and only the Sens are above .500.
It's been awhile since third-year Flyer Sean Couturier last found the back of the net. In fact, it's been 25 games dating back to last season.
That's not to say the centerman hasn't played well this season. Couturier, as we all know, plays a more defensive-minded game and has established himself as one of the Flyers' most reliable players in their own zone.
Under Berube, Couturier has played over 18 minutes in all but one game and, for much of the season, his line has been in charge of shutting down the opposition's top line.
Over the past week, however, Couturier's developed some chemistry with Steve Downie and Matt Read. He's fired 10 shots on net in his last six games and has had several other key scoring chances.
Couturier twice scored 96 points in junior hockey. That hasn't translated into the NHL, partially, because of his current role on the team but remember, Couturier is only 20. Will he develop into a two-way center? That remains to be seen, but if he keeps up his current level of play, the goals will come soon.
Rinaldo the penalty killer
Ian Laperriere was an exceptional penalty killer during his NHL career. Now, the Flyers' assistant coach finds himself passing along his PK knowledge to another high-energy player.
Fourth-line winger Zac Rinaldo has been given an opportunity to expand his role with the Flyers and kill penalties. It's a chance for Rinaldo to show he can bring more to the lineup besides grit.
In the Flyers' 3-2 shootout loss to the Jets, Rinaldo logged a season-high 1:34 PK time, but was on the ice for one of Winnipeg's two power-play markers.
Rinaldo has all the ingredients to be successful when the Flyers are a man down. He's quick, has no fear to block shots and has a great mentor in Laperriere.
With Max Talbot now in Colorado, you can expect to see more of Rinaldo when the Flyers are shorthanded. He's still a work in progress, but having Rinaldo learn how to successfully kill penalties could be a major asset to the Flyers.
Players to watch
Ottawa: We went with Bobby Ryan last week, so let's switch it up a little bit and go with Erik Karlsson. The offensive-minded defenseman is always a threat to pile up points. Karlsson ranks second on the Senators and first in the NHL among blueliners with 19 points in the same number of games.
Buffalo: He many not have many games under his belt as a member of the Sabres, but Matt Moulson is still a player the Flyers will need to keep an eye on. Since joining Buffalo, Moulson has two goals and seven assists in nine games.
New York: This is an easy one. Islanders captain John Tavares has been one of the league's top players over the past two seasons. He was a finalist for the Hart Trophy last year and could find himself in the race for that award this season. He leads the Isles with nine goals and 16 assists through 25 games.