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-Wild 5 things: Road trip about to become a horror story?

Flyers-Wild 5 things: Road trip about to become a horror story?

Flyers (33-31-8) at Wild (44-22-6)
8 p.m. on CSN, CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App; Pregame Live at 7:30

A four-game road trip takes a daunting turn Thursday night when the Flyers play the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center.

Here are five things to know for the matchup:

1. Hazardous road
You thought things were already ugly?

It looks like it could get much, much worse.

The Flyers now visit three of the NHL's top five clubs, starting with the Wild, followed by the Blue Jackets and the Penguins.

Those three are a combined 137-58-21 overall and 79-24-5 at home.

And it's safe to say the Flyers don't have any momentum heading into this gauntlet. They're coming off a 3-2 loss to the Jets, a non-contender decimated by injuries, and are 4-15-3 on the road since Dec. 19 with a minus-36 goal differential.

"We need to have a better effort," Steve Mason said postgame Tuesday. "We keep playing like this and we'll be mathematically eliminated before we know it."

2. Hole gets deeper
With a win over the Blue Jackets on Wednesday, the Maple Leafs moved past the Bruins for third place in the Atlantic Division, making Boston the current leader for the Eastern Conference's second wild-card spot at 82 points.

The Flyers, with 74 points, trail the Bruins, Islanders (80), Lightning (77) and Hurricanes (75), who have a game in hand, as well. Oh, and the Panthers are just one point behind the Flyers.

Ten regular-season games remain and Dave Hakstol's group needs a miracle.

In search of some type of spark, the Flyers will strut out a different look against the Wild.

"We're running out of time here, so hopefully a couple line changes here gives us a little spark offensively," Matt Read said Wednesday. "We've still got to play better defensively, but you know it's kind of do-or-die right now. So hopefully chemistry clicks right away and things can start going off the bat."

3. A look at the Wild
Minnesota, which went 30-6-3 from the start of December to the end of February, has cooled off a bit but is still one of the most well-rounded teams in the NHL.

The Wild are 3-8-0 in March. For the season, however, they rank among the league's top 10 in goals per game (3.22 -- second), goals against per game (2.47 -- tied for sixth), power-play percentage (21.3 -- ninth) and penalty-kill percentage (83.8 -- seventh).

Mikael Granlund, Eric Staal, Nino Niederreiter and Jason Zucker all have 20 or more goals, while netminder Devan Dubnyk has been a top-five goalie at 37-18-3 with a 2.17 goals-against average and .927 save percentage.

4. Keep an eye on ...
Flyers: Jakub Voracek has no goals and an assist in his last six games for a minus-5 rating. When he's not providing offense, the Flyers predictably struggle. The good thing: Voracek owns 16 points in 18 career games against Minnesota.

Wild: Ryan Suter has been a stud for the Wild. The defenseman leads the NHL as a plus-34 and is third with 27:07 of ice time per game. The 32-year-old is Minnesota's backbone and the Wild are 21-6-1 in games that he has at least one point.

5. This and that
• Mason will make his 11th start in the last 12 games. He is 7-6-1 lifetime against Minnesota with a 2.59 goals-against average and .911 save percentage.

• Dubnyk is 2-4-1 with a 2.72 goals-against average and .917 save percentage in seven career games against the Flyers.

• Brandon Manning is back in the lineup for Michael Del Zotto (see Skate Update). Manning missed the last fives games with a shoulder injury.

• Former Flyer Ryan White is out for the Wild with an illness.

Flyers Skate Update: Brandon Manning back in lineup vs. Wild

Flyers Skate Update: Brandon Manning back in lineup vs. Wild

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Facing a critical road game in Minnesota on Thursday night, the Flyers will welcome back a key defenseman to their lineup.

Brandon Manning, who has missed the past five games with a shoulder injury, will return and pair with Radko Gudas on the blue line.

“We’re playing a heavy team tonight,” coach Dave Hakstol said. “They’ve got some size up front. They’re a heavy team down low. So, we’ll need that pair to play that way. They’ve got to be an abrasive pair and they have to be on the heavy side defensively.”

Michael Del Zotto will be the odd man out as the Flyers have seven healthy defensemen again. Manning, with three goals and seven assists in 57 games this season, said he’s not worried about conditioning or the injury.

“I’m not too worried about that,” Manning said. “I’m feeling good, I’m feeling strong. Did some contact a few days ago and not even thinking about it.”

Toronto’s win in Columbus on Tuesday night allowed the Maple Leafs to surpass Boston in the Atlantic Division. The Bruins now hold the No. 8 spot in the playoff race with 82 points with nine games remaining. The Flyers are eight points back, with three teams in between, and 10 games left in the season.

Their play on the road is one big reason why the Flyers are out of a playoff spot. They are 12-20-4 on the road this season, tied for the second-fewest road wins among Eastern Conference teams. They’re winless in their last six road games (0-5-1) as they play the second game of a four-game trip.

“I don’t think there’s panic,” Manning said. “I think the focus is on each and every night, not really looking too far down the road. Obviously, the last couple weeks, we’ve probably given up points we don’t want to give up and put ourselves in a pretty tough spot. But we got a good group of guys in here, and guys that have played pro hockey long enough that know what it’s like.”

With Del Zotto's being scratched for Manning, Nick Schultz will play what could be his final game in the Xcel Energy Center, where he spent 10 seasons with the Wild. Schultz, a second-round draft pick by Minnesota in 2000, ranks second in franchise history with 743 games played.

Hakstol said Schultz’s history wasn’t a factor in keeping the defenseman in the lineup.

“He’s filled his role well the last few games,” Hakstol said. “He’s been good in that role with Ghost. So, he’s staying in for that reason.”

Goaltender Steve Mason will start for the 11th time in 12 games. He has a 2.25 goals-against average and .923 save percentage in his last 10 games.

Lineup
F: Read-Giroux-Voracek
Weal-Filppula-Simmons
Schenn-Couturier-Weise
Konecny-Bellemare-VandeVelde

D: Provorov-MacDonald
Schultz-Gostisbehere
Manning-Gudas

G: Mason