Berube: Flyers will test their mettle out West

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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.”

NHL Notes: Rangers' Kevin Hayes out 2-3 weeks with lower-body injury

NHL Notes: Rangers' Kevin Hayes out 2-3 weeks with lower-body injury

NEW YORK -- New York Rangers forward Kevin Hayes will miss two to three weeks with a lower-body injury.

The team announced the timeline Monday after Hayes underwent an MRI in the morning. Hayes left the Rangers' game Sunday against the Detroit Red Wings during the second period.

Hayes had seven points in his previous six games and is third on the team in points with 35. The 24-year-old has 13 goals and 22 assists in 47 games this season.

His injury is a major blow to New York, which holds the first wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. The silver lining for the Rangers is that Hayes will miss fewer games because of the upcoming All-Star break.

Senators sign Zack Smith to 4-year, $13 million extension
OTTAWA, Ontario -- The Ottawa Senators have signed forward Zack Smith to a four-year contract extension worth $13 million.

The Senators said that the extension goes through the 2020-21 season and carries an annual average value of $3.25 million.

Smith, 28, has 11 goals and 11 assists in 43 games this season and is averaging a career-high 16 minutes, 13 seconds per game.

He set career highs with 25 goals and 36 points in 2015-16. He has 75 goals and 61 assists in 443 games, all with the Senators.

Smith was Ottawa's third-round pick (79th overall) in the 2008 draft.

Dave Hakstol: Flyers 'played a full 64 minutes' in OT win over Islanders

Dave Hakstol: Flyers 'played a full 64 minutes' in OT win over Islanders

VOORHEES, N.J. — When a team is on a downward spiral where there’s little evidence of things improving, sometimes it takes an extraordinary effort to turn things around.
 
The Flyers got just that during Sunday’s 3-2 overtime victory in Brooklyn against the Islanders. To a man, you could see just how much that game meant to this group.  
 
You’d be hard-pressed to find a single player who didn’t dig a little deeper, as the Flyers snapped a nine-game losing skid on the road. They had lost five of six overall.
 
One play was symbolic of the victory and what it took for the Flyers to halt a three-game losing skid and erase memories of Saturday’s disastrous 4-1 loss to the Devils on home ice.
 
Midway through the third period, the Flyers’ PK units had to kill off consecutive penalties – the only power plays the Isles had during the game.
 
The first penalty kill really stood out as Ivan Provorov was in the box for hooking. The Isles had unrelenting pressure on Andrew MacDonald, Radko Gudas, Chris VandeVelde and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare for one minute and 43 seconds.
 
That unit played the entire kill and couldn’t get the puck out of the zone.
 
Goalie Steve Mason made four saves – three on John Tavares – while the Flyers had three blocked shots and one enormous clear at the end by Bellemare.
 
Thoroughly exhausted and chasing the puck up the right boards near the Flyers’ bench, Bellemare dove flat out with his stick extended to push the puck out of the zone at the blue line and down the ice.
 
Bellemare, who logs more shorthanded minutes than any other Flyers forward – he had 2:43 in this one – was so drained physically, he could barely lift his body over the side boards. He actually rolled himself over.
 
It was almost reminiscent of Sami Kapanen in the famed 2004 Game 6 semifinal playoff series at Toronto, where Keith Primeau had to fishhook Kapanen off the ice because he was concussed and had collapsed near the boards.
 
Bellemare’s extraordinary effort was typical of what it took for the Flyers to rise above their own self-inflicted mistakes of late for an emotional victory and key two points that got them back into the second wild card.
 
“We only had to kill two minor penalties, but we had to kill both in the last 10 minutes of the third period of a back-to-back,” coach Dave Hakstol said. “The extra effort on that kill, there’s a couple saves there that Mase made. 

“There’s a couple goal mouth scrambles where it’s all hands on deck battling down there. There’s a couple shot blocks by Belly and Vandy that stand out and then just the second effort to get the puck out of the zone and get off that kill, those are important things. 
 
“Obviously you have to have those to win games and I thought we had a lot of second effort, good effort in a lot of areas of our game.”
 
The emotion generated on the bench spilled into the overtime, where they won on Claude Giroux’s first goal in 12 games.
 
Now the critical question is, can this kind of performance have a carryover effect Wednesday night in New York against the Rangers.
 
“I think you can get some, you know what I mean?” Hakstol said. “I’m not a big believer of carrying momentum necessarily from one game to the next.
 
“But I think there’s a significance to the fact that we played a full 64 minutes and we had everybody contributing. I think that’s significant for us and I think that’s something we can carry forward.”
 
Incidentally, Hakstol used eight forwards in overtime, something he usually doesn’t do. Even rookie Travis Konecny got on the ice, which hasn’t been the case most times this season. 
 
“We’ve used seven or eight forwards before but specifically [Sunday] night on a back-to-back where we’ve got a lot of guys that are going pretty well, we used a lot of guys that are part of our 3-on-3 rotation quite often,” Hakstol said.
 
“But we also last night used Belly, who’s played regularly, with Cousins. They were our fourth pair on the rotation. Ultimately, if you look at it, we scored the game-winning goal against a tired group that the Islanders had on the ice.”
 
Tavares had gone up and down the ice twice – Mason made a tremendous glove save on him before the game-winning shift. Hence, Tavares was gassed when Shayne Gostisbehere came up ice with Jakub Voracek, went around the net and hit Giroux in front for the game-winner.
 
“Our guys did a good job,” Hakstol said. “They were all moving and going. We get a great save on the breakaway and that buys us the chance to go back and get the play at the other end.”
 
Loose pucks
Only five players took the ice for Monday’s optional skate after the 12th set of back-to-back games. … Players on ice were goalie Michal Neuvirth plus skaters Nick Schultz, Brandon Manning, Dale Weise and Roman Lyubimov. … The Flyers play back-to-back this week one more time before the All-Star break. After the Rangers, they have Toronto at the Wells Fargo Center on Thursday, where the wild card will again be at stake.