Post-Olympic stretch run will favor fresh Flyers

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Post-Olympic stretch run will favor fresh Flyers

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.”

Flyers-Predators 5 things: Going for longest win streak since 2014

Flyers-Predators 5 things: Going for longest win streak since 2014

Flyers (13-10-3) at Predators (11-8-4)
6 p.m. on CSN and CSNPhilly.com

The Flyers have won a season-high four games in a row. They'll try to make it five Sunday night when they visit the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena for the second game of a back-to-back set.

Let's take a look at five things you need to know.

1. Streaking like 2014?
Not only do the Flyers have a chance to extend their season-best winning streak, but they're also looking to win their most consecutive games since March 15-22, 2014, when they also won five straight.

The Flyers have put up strong showings in the back ends of back-to-backs, going 4-1-1 thus far.

“You just have to have the work ethic night in and night out," Steve Mason said Saturday after the Flyers' 3-1 win over the Blackhawks. "And, I think we were struggling to find that. There are games when we were swarming and giving teams no other option, and other nights we were chasing the puck.

"We have another tough test going to Nashville to play. So, we’re going to have to follow up with another great effort.” 

2. A Provorov encore?
Ivan Provorov's confidence has to be at his highest of the season.

In Saturday's win, the 19-year-old blueliner scored two goals in a 31-second span to double his goal total through the first 25 games.

Provorov said he thinks defense first, but the offensive production is a good sign.

“Score one goal in a game, it’s a good feeling. Score two in one shift, it’s unbelievable,” Provorov said.

“Every time you score, it’s like a confidence booster."

3. Predators finding stride
After losing eight of their first 11 games, Peter Laviolette's Predators have gotten on track, going 8-3-1 since.

Nashville ranks in the top half of the league in goals per game (3.00 — tied for fifth), goals against per game (2.61 — 15th), power-play percentage (22.6 — sixth) and penalty-kill percentage (84.5 — 10th).

Last time out, the Predators blew a 4-1 lead in the third period for a 5-4 overtime loss to the Devils on Saturday, so they should be extra focused.

4. Keep an eye on ...
Flyers: On Saturday, Brayden Schenn scored just his second goal in his past 18 games. Schenn can be streaky so maybe he feeds off that goal. He's also a career plus-4 against the Predators, with two goals and three assists in eight games.

Predators: Let's go P.K. Subban, who isn't exactly a favorite among Flyers fans. He's off to a nice start in his first season in Nashville with six goals and 10 assists, and eight points (three goals, five assists) in his last eight games.

5. This and that
• Flyers goalie Steve Mason is 7-7-5 with a 2.42 goals-against average and .916 save percentage in 20 career games against the Predators.

• Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne is 3-2-2 with a 2.91 goals-against average and .906 save percentage in seven career games against the Flyers.

• Claude Giroux is four assists away from passing Rick MacLeish (369) and Eric Lindros (369) for fifth on the Flyers’ all-time list.

Ivan Provorov buries Chicago nightmare by showing Blackhawks his true self

Ivan Provorov buries Chicago nightmare by showing Blackhawks his true self

Ivan Provorov moved on but didn’t forget.

The 19-year-old still remembers losing his footing on the United Center ice in front of 21,263 fans, alone in his own end and costing the Flyers a goal in a blowout defeat to the Blackhawks on Oct. 18.

In just his third NHL game, Provorov had his rookie moment. He also had a minus-5 rating when the 7-4 loss was all said and done.

Well, on Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center, he saw the Blackhawks again and made it a point to show them his best. Provorov ripped off two goals in 31 seconds of the second period to erase a 1-0 deficit and spearhead a 3-1 win for the Flyers (see story).

Better output than last time?

Provorov laughed, paused and then laughed again.

“A little bit,” he said. “I think so.

“I was trying to use it as a positive thing. Try to prove that that’s not me, that it’s just one bad game.”

Consider that job done.

“I didn’t play my best at that game,” Provorov said. “But I put it behind me, learned from it and this was a better result tonight.”

In 31 ticks of the clock, the Russian defenseman topped his goal total through the first 25 games (see 10 observations). Provorov uncorked a slap shot and slung a wrister for the tallies early in the middle stanza.

“I think you have to keep everything in perspective from a night like that,” Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said of Provorov’s first game against Chicago. “He is a guy that continues to work at his game and continues to build.”

Provorov didn’t net the hat trick, but in the same period, saved a goal on the defensive end when he quickly pounced on a puck dribbling toward the goal line off and behind goalie Steve Mason.

“I came from the left corner and I saw the puck was rolling on Mase’s shoulder,” Provorov said. “It went down, rolled to the goal line. I just got there as quick as I could and swiped it out.

“I think it was close. As soon as I saw the puck, I tried to get there as fast as I can.”

After experiencing some growing pains to start the season, Provorov has played better. Once he makes a mistake, he rarely makes it again.

“He’s just beyond his years in terms of maturity and the way he studies the game,” Hakstol said a little over two weeks ago. “He’s a young guy that I can probably ask him about a play that happened two weeks ago in a game and he would immediately have recall on that play. A very intelligent player, he’s handled the ups and the downs pretty well."

Mason isn't surprised by Provorov's development.

"When you come into the league at a young age, it’s not easy and you’ve got to get your feet under you," Mason said. "We’re starting to see that [with Provorov]."

And two goals in half a minute don’t hurt.

“Score one goal in a game, it’s a good feeling. Score two in one shift, it’s unbelievable,” Provorov said. “Two great plays by our forwards. The whole team, it was a great effort, we played a great hockey game, so it was easy to play.

“Every time you score, it’s like a confidence booster. For me, it’s defense first but when you get goals and assists, it’s always nice.”

The Flyers had the players’ dads on hand for Saturday’s game. Provorov’s father, Vladimir, couldn’t make it from Russia, but you can bet he tuned in.

“He watches every game back home,” Provorov said. “Today was a little easier because it’s only 9 p.m. back home when the game started, so yeah, I think my whole family watched it.”

He watches the other games at 3, 4 a.m.?

“Yeah,” Provorov said with a smile, “then he takes my brother to practice at 6.”