After slow start, Flyers playing with swagger again

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After slow start, Flyers playing with swagger again

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.”
 
Loose pucks
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.

Flyers' outdoor game vs. Pens different because of football stadium

Flyers' outdoor game vs. Pens different because of football stadium

VOORHEES, N.J. -- He grew up as a youngster in Judique, Nova Scotia, as a Toronto Blue Jays fan even though the Boston Red Sox were closer geographically.

“My brother was the Red Sox fan,” Andrew MacDonald said.

While hockey was his passion, MacDonald loved to watch baseball. Joe Carter’s walk-off home run in the 1993 World Series clinched it for Mac, then a 7-year-old.

“Didn’t see it for a while though because we only had two TV channels,” MacDonald laughed.

“Yeah, I was Blue Jays fan from Canada.”

On Saturday, the Flyers visit Heinz Field for an outdoor game against their most bitter rival, the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2017 Stadium Series.

MacDonald was a starter for the Islanders during the 2014 Stadium Series game held at the new Yankee Stadium against the Rangers. He likes outdoor games in baseball stadiums even though that is not where this game will take place.

“When I had been to New York, I had gone to a few Yankee games at Yankee Stadium,” MacDonald said. “Obviously, I got to take in the experience of being a fan there. It’s a pretty great stadium. To be on the field, although it’s a different sport and setting, it was pretty special.”

Michal Neuvirth was the backup goalie for Washington in the 2011 Winter Classic held at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.

“It’s just as big as if you played inside for two points,” Neuvirth said. “I just backed up that game there but it was awesome. The big crowd and we won the game with Washington. A good feeling afterward.”

MacDonald said his experience at Yankee Stadium was similar.

“It was great,” he said of the Bronx affair. “Not everyone gets to play in one of those games, so it was special. Just being in that outdoor environment and the capacity of the crowd.  Really like a center stage, special experience.”

In both previous Winter Classics involving the Flyers, they were held in baseball stadiums -- Fenway Park in 2010 and Citizens Bank Park two years later. Incidentally, Claude Giroux is the only Flyer to have played in both of the franchise's two Winter Classics.

This “Stadium Series” game will offer a different “look” for players and fans because it occurs in the Steelers’ football stadium.

“Obviously, the setup of the ice surface will be right in the middle of the field as a rectangular field as opposed to baseball where it’s kinda on a different angle,” MacDonald said.

“It’s good. We’ll get a good skate in. A family skate. Yeah, I hope [weather cooperates]. It might not be the best ice, but hopefully, it goes according to plan and go off without a hitch.”

Hot temperatures Friday followed by heavy rain on Saturday could make things difficult.

“Tough to say as to what to expect,” said Neuvirth, who will start in goal. “For me, I am going to prepare myself for 8 o’clock and play my game.”

The most unusual thing players say that affects them during outdoor games is not having fans on the glass. They’re far away in the stands.

Yet in a baseball stadium, some of those fans are a lot closer to the ice than the setup in a football stadium.

“Yeah, it was kinda unique and took a while to get used to,” MacDonald said. “There’s no fans on the glass. You are kinda isolated by yourself there on the middle of the field.

“It’s not until the TV timeout where you can look around and take it all in. It’s almost has a practice type mentality when you are first on the ice and then you get acclimated.

“Obviously, once the puck drops you are ready to go and know what to do. It’s definitely a unique experience once you get going.”

When he play at Fenway Park as a freshman at Union College, Shayne Gostisbehere said his only regret was not taking time out to just stop and absorb what was happening around him.

He was so focused on the game against Harvard that day in 2012, he forget to cherish the moment.

MacDonald said that is something NHL players sometimes forget to do, as well. Take it all in because it night never occur again.

“Everyone is a little different,” he said. “You do have to play it as if it’s like every other game. There is a little adjustment period there with the fans so far away.

“That being said, you have an opportunity to embrace the moment. At the same time, you have to focus on what we’re trying to accomplish out there. Try to get the win like any other time.”

Loose pucks
• Flyers forward Jakub Voracek left the ice early with a slight limp. He was not available after practice but general manager Ron Hextall confirmed Voracek is fine and will play Saturday. The Flyers' leading scorer was hit with a deflected puck earlier this week in practice in his groin area but played without incident during Wednesday's game against Washington. 

• Flyers left for Pittsburgh this afternoon.

Flyers' disallowed early goal costly for team struggling to score

Flyers' disallowed early goal costly for team struggling to score

It was just pouring out of Flyers swing forward Dale Weise after Thursday’s 4-1 loss to the Washington Capitals.

A disallowed goal because of him.

A strong game in every respect from his teammates.

A realization that things never seem to change for Dave Hakstol’s club.

“We come out with a great start,” Weise said. “Get on the forecheck. The building is lively. We score what we think is a first goal which we haven’t done a lot this year.

“I’m not going to say it’s a game-changer. Whatever it was, it didn’t end the game. But that’s a pretty big part of the game.” 

Weise ended up grabbing Caps goalie Braden Holtby. He said he did so for support or he would have knocked him over since he was trying to position his stick.

Funny things is, Holtby apparently never felt the contact. When the Caps challenged Jakub Voracek’s goal on the first shift of the game, it was overturned.

“Yeah, I obviously didn’t see the interference part I just kind of followed the puck and next thing I know it was kind of out of the play so a little fortunate, a great call by our video coaches,” Holtby said.

Weise wasn’t sure what he did amounted to much because it happened before Voracek’s shot and not during the act of shooting that would have prevented Holtby from getting position.

“To be really honest with you I don’t think I really touched him that hard,” Weise said.

Goals are so hard to come by these days for the Flyers. To score one a half-minute into play in a huge rivalry game, with them so desperate for points, and then to lose the goal and the momentum early, it becomes a significant event in the overall outcome.

The Caps made the most of their chances. Just like Calgary did last week.

“Winning and losing is so thin in this league and when you’re playing a team like that who just has loads of offensive talent, you give them one, two opportunities and they score on it,” Weise said.

“For a team like us that doesn’t score very often, that’s tough. We are playing behind the eight ball every night. It’s frustrating. I’m not going to lie and say it’s not in our head when we get down because you can see the way we play.

“We’re gripping the sticks. I really liked our effort though. I thought we played hard the whole night. Full marks to our team but it’s just kind of the same story every night.”

It’s trite but the term “snake bit” has been used a lot lately in talking about the Flyers since their 10-game win streak ended.

“That’s a good way to put it,” Weise said. “Look at that one there. Touch the goalie, goal disallowed. [Ivan Provorov] hits the cross bar. We had a couple other chances in tight. Snake bitten, I don’t even know if there’s a word for how I feel right now.”

It doesn’t get any easier this weekend with the Flyers' playing in their first outdoor game in five seasons.

Another even more bitter rival: the Penguins at Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field on Saturday night. Taking two from the Pens will require a supreme effort and maybe a little luck for a change. The Flyers have been real short on luck all season.

The Flyers' dressing room after games, of late, has the feel of a morgue sometimes. Over the last 10 games, the Flyers have seven losses (including overtime). In six of those losses, they have scored one goal or no goals.

“We got a pretty positive group in here,” Weise said. “We try our best to come in every day and be positive. It’s a tough situation right now. Every day we’re fighting for our playoff life so that’s in the back of everyone’s mind.

“It makes it more frustrating when you’re playing, so well. I thought we played a pretty good game tonight. That goal disallowed we come right back. They make it two nothing on the power play.

“We kept going. We played well. We had a lot of chances. Good start to the second period again. We came out strong but we just can’t seem to finish.”

Veteran defenseman Mark Streit said they're playing well, but losing doesn’t make up ground in the standings. The Flyers remain three points out of the wild card going into the weekend.

Of their remaining 22 games, 19 are against the Eastern Conference, so mathematically, they have a chance to recoup points.

“We keep telling that we’ve been playing pretty well but lose a lot of hockey games,” Streit said. “We just got to find a way ...

“We have to find a way to turn it around, to get the bounces, just to get a little bit lucky out there, and to get the ugly goal. It’s tough. It’s frustrating. But it’s also the bloody truth.”