Berube: Flyers will test their mettle out West

uspresswire-flyers-sean-couturier.jpg

Berube: Flyers will test their mettle out West

VOORHEES, N.J. -- The Anaheim Ducks occupy first place in the Western Conference’s Pacific Division. The San Jose Sharks are in second. The L.A. Kings currently sit in third.

And over the next week, the Flyers will face each team -- as the visiting squad.

“It’s a big road trip,” coach Craig Berube said. “It really is. I think we’re going to see what we’re all about here.”

It’s been said plenty of times this season: Certain games, or stretches of games, can act as measuring sticks and show what kind of team the Flyers really are.

How they fare against three of the NHL’s best teams will go a long way in demonstrating their true identity.

“It’s going to be a tough trip, with the time change, the tough buildings, teams that have been playing well -- not just at home but on the road, as well,” Steve Mason said. “It’s going to be a great challenge for us to see where we stack up against some of the best teams in the Western Conference.”

The trip kicks off Thursday night in Anaheim, against a surging Ducks team that has lost just twice in regulation at the Honda Center this season. The Ducks are the best team in the NHL at the moment, with an intimidating 39-11-5 record.

And it won’t get much easier from there. The Sharks are 7-3 in their last 10, and while the Kings have taken a dip in the standings recently, they’re 16-7-3 at home this season.

“It’ll be hard hockey,” Berube said. “You got to really grind it out against these teams, and you’ve got to give it your best, because they’re big and talented. It’ll be tough games.”

Of course, there are benefits to being on the road. Historically, the Flyers have used their time away from the Wells Fargo Center to regroup and focus on the basics. On their most-recent Western road trip, the Flyers went 5-1. On a three-game Canadian tour in December, they went 2-0-1.

Though the Flyers dominated Tuesday night at the Wells Fargo Center, the games that had preceded the victory were some of their worst of the season on home ice. It's not unreasonable to believe getting out of Philadelphia will help them continue to dig their way out of their slump.

“It’s not a bad thing, going on the road,” Wayne Simmonds said. “All the guys are together all the time, so I think it helps build up the team a little more. We’re with each other, having meals together, probably playing a lot of practical jokes on each other. Just keeps it light."

After their California swing, the Flyers will return home to play two games before the fast approaching Olympic break. They'd like nothing more than to return home having proved they can hang with the league's top talent.

“Anytime you play against a hot team, a team that’s good on the road, good at home, you’ve got to make sure you’re ready to go,” Claude Giroux said.

“If you don’t bring your A-game, that’s when you’re going to get in trouble.”

Matt Read out approximately a month; Flyers recall Taylor Leier, send down Scott Laughton

Matt Read out approximately a month; Flyers recall Taylor Leier, send down Scott Laughton

Updated: 7 p.m.

Flyers winger Matt Read will miss approximately a month with an upper-body injury suffered in Sunday's 4-2 win over the Predators when he was checked by Filip Forsberg. Sources tell CSNPhilly.com's Tim Panaccio the injury is an oblique muscle pull in Read's upper torso.

The 30-year-old has six goals and four assists for 10 points through 27 games. Five of those goals came in the Flyers' first five games.

To replace Read's roster spot, the Flyers recalled Taylor Leier and sent Scott Laughton to AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley. That likely means penalty-kill specialist Boyd Gordon (back), who is eligible to come off long-term injury reserve, will be activated.

Leier, 22, has been playing well with the Phantoms, posting six goals and 14 assists in 22 games (see Future Flyers Report). This is Leier's second stint of the season with the Flyers, albeit his first was short — one game on Oct. 25 in which he was a healthy scratch. He made his NHL debut last season and played six games.

Laughton was a healthy scratch the past five games.

If for some reason Gordon is not activated, the Flyers can call up another forward from Lehigh Valley. Jordan Weal is tied for second in the AHL with 24 points (nine goals, 15 assists) in 20 games, while veteran winger Colin McDonald is an experienced, bottom-six option.

Hakstol proud of Flyers' consistency since low point in Toronto

Hakstol proud of Flyers' consistency since low point in Toronto

The low point of the Flyers' season thus far came less than a month ago.
 
On Nov. 11 at Toronto, the Flyers were horrific in a 6-3 loss to a Maple Leafs club they should have beaten handily.
 
Since then, there has been gradual improvement, some setbacks, yet a calming effect has taken over Dave Hakstol’s Flyers, who are a riding a five-game winning streak in early December.

They've pulled within four points of the Metro Division-leading New York Rangers. And they own the No. 1 wild card in the Eastern Conference.
 
Indeed, Hakstol’s club has come a long way since the Toronto loss, when the Flyers were sixth in the division and 13th overall in the East.
 
“You go back to that poor performance up in Toronto, which was about a dozen games ago,” Hakstol said.
 
“Since that point in time, I think we’ve really taken pride in the consistency of our play and worrying about what we do on a day-to-day basis. It’s real important that we continue to do that.”
 
This is the best the Flyers have been after 27 games since 2013-14, when they were 12-13-2 with 26 points and within two points of the wild card.
 
“It’s an absolute dog fight every night and it’s going to continue to be the same dog fight in the standings all the way through,” Hakstol said.
 
The last time the Flyers won five straight was March 15-22, 2014 under Craig Berube.
 
There’s been a number of heroes during the five-game streak. Obviously, goalie Steve Mason sits atop those reasons with a 1.71 goals against average, .945 save percentage and four wins over that span.
 
“His play over the last stretch has been outstanding and he’s been a strong anchor for us,” Hakstol said. 
 
“His confidence kind of goes hand-in-hand with our team’s confidence. They both feed off one another. You can see that throughout our entire game.”
 
Rookie Anthony Stolarz had the first victory to begin the streak against Calgary.

Mason will start Tuesday against Florida at Wells Fargo Center as the Flyers try to make it six in a row.
 
Offensively, the Flyers have gotten some significant contributions from others, too.
 
Jakub Voracek has a goal and six points, while Wayne Simmonds and Claude Giroux each have five points and a combined six goals.
 
Brayden Schenn and Chris VandeVelde, often overlooked for his offense because of his focus on the defensive side of the puck, each have four points and a combined three goals.
 
And don’t overlook a couple of defensemen who have had some moments — Michael Del Zotto and Ivan Provorov have a combined four goals during the streak.
 
Brandon Manning returned from a concussion on Saturday against Chicago, then had two pivotal plays near the end of Sunday’s game in Nashville by twice clearing the puck with the Preds attacking with six players.
 
His second clear resulted in VandeVelde’s clinching goal.
 
Little plays mean a lot during a winning streak and right now, the Flyers are getting them.
 
Read update
Matt Read suffered an oblique muscle pull, sources said, early in the game after being checked into the net by the Predators' Filip Forsberg during Sunday’s victory in Nashville.
 
The 30-year-old is out approximately a month (see story).