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.”

Best of NHL: Capitals edge Oilers for 13th straight home win

Best of NHL: Capitals edge Oilers for 13th straight home win

WASHINGTON -- Justin Williams and Tom Wilson scored as the Washington Capitals beat the Edmonton Oilers 2-1 on Friday night to tie the franchise record with their 13th consecutive home victory.

Williams' game-winner in the third period was his 19th of the season. Washington's streak of home games with five-plus goals ended at 11, but Braden Holtby made 30 saves to pad the team's lead atop the NHL.

Evgeny Kuznetsov didn't have a point but was arguably the Capitals' best player against Edmonton. They have now outscored opponents 64-20 during their home winning streak.

Leon Draisaitl scored his team-leading 23rd goal of the season for Edmonton, which got 24 saves from goaltender Cam Talbot (see full recap).

Hurricanes’ Lack posts ninth career shutout
RALEIGH, N.C. -- Eddie Lack stopped 34 shots for his ninth career shutout to lead the Carolina Hurricanes to a 3-0 victory over the Ottawa Senators on Friday night.

Jordan Staal, Elias Lindholm and Viktor Stalberg scored, and Phillip DiGiuseppe had two assists to help Carolina snap a five-game losing streak (0-4-1) and move out of last place in the Eastern Conference.

Lack (2-3-1) was making just his sixth start of the season due to concussion issues.

Craig Anderson finished with 41 saves for Ottawa, which snapped a three-game road winning streak. The Senators squandered a chance to move into first place in the Atlantic Division.

Ottawa captain Erik Karlsson moved past Kyle Turris into sole possession of second place on the franchise's consecutive games played list with 308 (see full recap).

Johnson leads Flames past Panthers
SUNRISE, Fla. -- Chad Johnson made 36 saves during his first start in five games to lead the Calgary Flames past the Florida Panthers 4-2 on Friday night for their third consecutive victory.

Troy Brouwer, Mikael Backlund, Deryk Engelland and Sam Bennett had the goals for the Flames, who scored three straight in less than five minutes midway through the first period.

Aleksander Barkov and Nick Bjugstad scored for the Panthers. Roberto Luongo stopped 24 shots in his first start in three games.

The Panthers, coming off the first five-game road sweep in franchise history, have lost two in a row.

Calgary stretched its lead to 3-1 when Engelland swept in a loose puck in the crease with 6:09 left in the first (see full recap).

Elements will play factor for both Flyers, Penguins in outdoor game

Elements will play factor for both Flyers, Penguins in outdoor game

PITTSBURGH -- The ice on Friday afternoon at Heinz Field was watery and slushy.
 
That’s because the city set a historic record at 78 degrees for Feb. 24.
 
So what were the ice conditions?
 
“They were pretty good,” Sidney Crosby said. “It was pretty bright there. Started off the practice and the sun was beating down pretty good.
 
“I’ve played in a few of these and the ice was pretty good considering how warm it was. It’s supposed to cool down and I’m sure it will get better.”
 
The Penguins will host the Flyers on Saturday night in a Stadium Series outdoor game.
 
Pittsburgh took the ice Friday at 4 p.m. The Flyers got on the ice a little more than an hour later and things started to cool down.
 
“We had a pretty good practice given the circumstances,” Jakub Voracek said. “This is a little better setup than Philly. The fans are closer.”
 
It was much hotter when Pittsburgh took the ice, but the temperature was still warm after the sun went down.
 
Shayne Gostisbehere said, “It was hot for sure. … It was fun, but it was pretty hot.”
 
Defenseman Radko Gudas said the ice surface was, “playable, but a little rough.”
 
On Saturday, rain is expected, with temperatures falling to 42 degrees by 5 p.m.
 
During the game, which begins at 8 p.m., the temperature is projected to continue to drop and there will be wind gusts up to 31 mph. By the end of the night, the forecast says temps will be in the 20s. 

Players are more concerned about the wind than the ice at this point. Crosby, who has played in three previous NHL outdoor games, said wind is a huge factor. It happened to the Penguins at the 2014 Stadium Series game in Chicago.
 
“It can definitely be a factor,” Crosby said. “I want to say in Chicago that was something we kind of had to look at. We felt it a little more there compared to the other two [outdoor games]. If it's going to get windy like that, it’s something to be aware of.”
 
It remains to be seen how the NHL will handle which team goes into the wind first.
 
“Yeah, the wind,” Penguins assistant coach Rick Tocchet said of what element will be a big factor. “I hope you don’t have to backcheck. Who gets the advantage? They change in the third period. But who picks what end? There is a wind factor.”
 
Tocchet rated the ice Friday as “a little slushy.”
 
“It was good early and then it got tough because it was hot outside,” Tocchet said. “But we got a half-decent practice out of it.
 
“The one thing, the puck didn’t bounce, which was good. Players can adapt a lot better when the puck doesn’t bounce. When things bounce, it’s a tough night.”