When the Olympics end and the Flyers’ schedule resumes after a week of what will surely feel like training camp in February, Craig Berube should have reason to smile.
The stretch run to the playoffs favors the Flyers from the standpoint of the schedule. They have 23 games in 46 days -- essentially, a game every other day.
Better yet, 14 of those games are home, versus just nine away.
Plus, the Flyers will have just one extended road trip and that’s to Florida and Pittsburgh -- not all over Western Canada and the U.S. like they did on their five-game, post-Christmas road swing.
For a team that is sitting in third place (playoffs) in the Metropolitan Division and seventh overall in the Eastern Conference, you couldn’t ask for more.
“We put ourselves in a good spot,” said Berube, who is easily also on the short list for the Jack Adams Coach of the Year award, along with Tampa’s Jon Cooper and Anaheim’s Bruce Boudreau.
“In saying that, we play a lot of good teams. Even though you are at home, it’s a one-game-at-a time thing. We have to make sure that after this break we can compete and play at a high level right away. Right away.”
Every NHL organization worries how its players will return. Will they stay in reasonable shape? Or will they lose too much of their conditioning?
The Flyers' first game back is Feb. 27 at Wells Fargo Center against San Jose.
“We have a program set up already that hopefully they will follow,” Berube said. “It is not mandatory. Hopefully they are good pros and follow it. Keep yourself ready. I think the break is good, but make sure you're working out and training. That’s important.”
On Saturday, many Flyers began their treks to mini-vacations (see story). On Sunday, the five players going to the Sochi Olympics left for Russia.
The Flyers welcome a stretch run that is easier on the travel side.
“The month of March, it seems like we have one-day road trips,” Scott Hartnell said. “Looked like in November and December we were gone the whole time. Seemed to be on the road, not know what your room number was, so many.
“It will be exciting to be home. Get some groceries that won’t go bad in the fridge while you’re gone for weeks. That’s one thing I am looking forward to and so are the guys with families. They want to see their kids.”
Defenseman Braydon Coburn said the Flyers need to take advantage of playing at home. Earlier in January, the Flyers were in the midst of a 10-game home winning streak.
They are 16-10-1 at home versus 14-13-5 on the road. Most years, they're a better road club. Not this year.
“The fact we have a lot of home games and not a lot of tough travel is good for us,” Coburn said. “That being said, we have to take advantage of it. When you get an opportunity like that to have games in your conference at home down the stretch, it’s something you can’t take for granted.
“You have to keep your foot on the accelerator. It’s something Chief has been stressing to us. Get your rest over the break, then it’s full steam ahead to the finish line. When we come in here every day we get a chance to look at the standings and it’s a jumbled mess.
“The parity within our division and our conference is remarkable this season considering where it has been at in past years.”
The Flyers need to find separation between themselves and divisional opponents, such as Columbus and the Rangers. Yet they play the Rangers in only a home-and-home in March and Columbus once in April here.
They will also face the Washington Capitals in a home-and-home the first week of March, as well.
That’s not enough games to gain separation, which is why it’s more important for them to play well against all conference opponents.
“It kind of works in our favor playing a lot of home games,” Matt Read said. “It’s a tough league. Any team can come into Wells Fargo [Center] and win a game.
“We have to take every home game and play smart for 60 minutes and build as a team again. Keep our playoff spot and move from there.”
Berube hopes his players are mentally, as well as physically, refreshed when they return. Non-Olympians have the option of going back on Feb. 19. Camps open for everyone on Feb. 24.
“Everyone should be rejuvenated coming back,” Berube said. “Guys going to the Olympics, it will be different, obviously. Guys staying here are going to have a lot of energy and ready to go from that time off.
“Not traveling, not grinding, the games. It’s not so much practicing. It’s the grind, the schedule, the travel, playing the games. Not doing that for a couple of weeks will leave them fresh.”