The Flyers have regained their equilibrium during December, but they face a pivotal point in their season.
The Flyers embark on an eight-game road trip. A rough road trip could cause them to lose contact with the back end of the playoff pack. A good road trip could set them up for a nice run in January, when, following two road games at the end of the trip, nine of their 11 games are at home.
The road trip doesn’t get off to an easy start. The Flyers play Toronto and Winnipeg on Saturday and Sunday. The Maple Leafs are 19-10-3 record (through Thursday’s games). The Jets ate 16-10-6. The Flyers then move on to Minnesota (16-12-2) on Tuesday. A Christmas break is followed by a game on Sat., Dec. 28 against former Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette and the Predators (20-8-2).
It’s conceivable the Flyers could be winless after the first half of the road trip. If that’s the case, the second half of the road trip, against lesser opponents, would be a catch-up mission rather than a chance to build momentum for January.
The road trip ends with back-to-back games against the Hurricanes and Devils, both of whom the Flyers beat during the four-game homestand that ended with Thursday’s shootout loss to the Panthers. Those games serve as a bookend to the road trip with this weekend’s back-to-back games against the Maple Leafs and Jets.
This is a pivotal time for the Flyers, who need to pick up some points to avoid being buried during the first half of their lengthy road trip.
SHOOTOUT WOES: The Flyers’ shootout loss to the Panthers on Thursday was their 10th straight shootout defeat. It was almost a victory when Jakub Voracek scored on the third shootout shot to force a fourth round. The Panthers won in six rounds.
I hate the shootout, but the points the Flyers are losing in shootouts might be the difference between making the playoffs and missing the playoffs.
WAYNE’S WORLD: Until being held scoreless during Thursday’s 2-1 loss to the Panthers, Wayne Simmonds had six goals in his previous six games. Eight of Simmonds’ team-leading 14 goals have come on the power play.
COUTURIER CONTRIBUTING: I’ve been preaching patience with young center Sean Couturier. In the previous Flyers Notebook, I noted that his offensive game had picked up. Couturier continued to score, stretching his point streak to six games before it ended with Tuesday’s 3-1 loss to the Lightning.
BACK IN BLACK (AND ORANGE): After being scratched for seven straight games, veteran center Vincent Lecavalier returned to the lineup Thursday against the Panthers. Lecavalier replaced Chris VandeVelde in the lineup, playing primarily on the fourth line with Zac Rinaldo and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. That line produced the Flyers’ only goal – but it was with Jakub Voracek on the ice instead of Lecavalier.
SGT. SCHULTZ: Nick Schultz, who was almost an afterthought at the start of the season, has played very well lately. The not-flashy Schultz gained some attention against the Lightning on Tuesday with a tremendous kick save behind goalie Steve Mason.
MASON REGAINS FORM: Goalie Steve Mason has picked up his play, holding the opposition to one or two goals during his last five games. Unfortunately, the Flyers only scored more than two goals once during that five-game stretch, leaving Mason with a 2-1-2 record despite his terrific performance.
FORSBERG TRIBUTE: The Flyers always do a good job honoring former players, and Tuesday’s tribute to Peter Forsberg wasn’t an exception. Forsberg only played for the Flyers for two seasons, but they were a memorable two years.
Forsberg’s time with the Flyers is often remembered for the foot problems that caused him to miss a lot of games. But he registered 115 points in 100 games, which is amazing for a player struggling with foot problems.
It was a classy move for the Flyers to recognize Forsberg’s recent Hall of Fame induction.
AVOIDING MUMPS: The Flyers have avoided the spread of mumps around the NHL. The latest big name to get the mumps is Penguins center Sidney Crosby. The last thing the Flyers need is for their lineup to be depleted by players catching this highly contagious disease.
RECORD TIME: The Lehigh Valley Phantoms scored three goals in the first 36 seconds of Wednesday’s game against visiting Binghamton, tying a 52-year-old AHL record for the fastest three goals at the start of a game. Petr Straka scored 15 seconds into the game, Jason Akeson scored 9 seconds later, and Andrew Gordon completed the record-tying performance at the 36-second mark.