The Flyers are the third-best road team in the NHL, and the primary focus, of course, will be on getting victories. But the indirect benefit of the four-game journey, which starts tonight in Winnipeg and ends Feb. 28 in San Jose, is that it will force the new guys to acclimate with their unfamiliar teammates.
Agitated at the recent skid of losing six of their last eight, general manager Paul Holmgren went out and acquired defensemen who might look better as Eagles linebackers. Nicklas Grossman (6-4, 230 pounds) was picked up on Thursday. Pavel Kubina (6-4, 258) was acquired Saturday. Kubina's first practice with the Flyers was yesterday.
"He's a big, hulking guy that provides a presence back there. He plays with an edge," coach Peter Laviolette said. "He's got a big righthanded shot, which is something different for our unit. We don't have any righthanded defensemen back there. His experience - he's won a Cup before - and what he'll be able to bring to the table from a physical standpoint will be an important factor. The guys we picked up, more than anything, bring us some size and physicality."
Kubina, 34, was acquired from Tampa Bay, where he helped the Lightning win the 2004 championship. They beat the Flyers in seven games in the conference finals during what is known around here as the Primeau playoffs. Kubina is a free agent at season's end and said he'd be open to wearing orange and black beyond 2011-12.
"I would like to stick around," said Kubina, who is in the second year of a $7.7 million deal. "I was never the type of guy who liked to test the [free agent] waters. If I play well for this team and they want me, I don't have to test the waters. That's the way I am, and, hopefully, it's going to go that way."
Kubina was paired with Matt Carle during yesterday's practice, and Grossman was with Andrej Meszaros. Laviolette wouldn't commit to those pairings for tonight's game. After all, the new guys had to skate with somebody.
Kubina has a limited trade clause in his contract that enables him to provide a list of five teams to which he could be dealt. Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman had asked for the list, but the deal with the Flyers came through before Kubina could provide it. Fortunately, one of Kubina's five teams was the Flyers, who surrendered a second-round pick in either 2012 or 2013, plus a fourth-rounder in 2013.
"This is an opportunity for me to be in the playoffs," Kubina said. "I've been in the league for 14 years and made the playoffs [four] times. It's pretty special to have a chance to be there again."
Tampa Bay is in 11th place in the East and would need an unforeseen push to get into the postseason.
Whether the additions spur rejuvenation for the Flyers remains to be seen. One thing not disputed was the message Holmgren sent.
"Usually, when you have some change, you get shaken up a little bit, and it's a little bit of a wakeup call for everybody," Briere said. "There's a reason why those trades were made. Management is doing their part to get us out of that little funk that we're in. That's certainly a message and, hopefully, a way to send us on our way."
Jakub Voracek tripped over goalie Sergei Bobrovsky and fell awkwardly into the boards during a drill yesterday. He got back up and briefly resumed practice before leaving the ice earlier than his teammates. Claude Giroux also departed ahead of everyone else, but he was not seen absorbing any collision. Neither player was available after practice, and general manager Paul Holmgren said the team had no new injuries. Presumably, both will be in the lineup tonight . . . Zac Rinaldo is eligible to come off his two-game suspension for flattening Detroit's Jonathan Ericsson on Feb. 12 . . . The Jets are 3-0 against the Flyers this season, outscoring them 17-13. In the one game at Winnipeg, on Nov. 19, the Jets won, 6-4.