Now, sitting in second place in the Metropolitan Division with half a season to play, is no time for the Flyers to be beating their chests.
"I think this is a time to really stay humble and know what we have in front of us," defenseman Nick Grossmann was saying in a quiet corner of the locker room at Jobing.com Arena on Saturday night, after the Flyers rallied to beat the Phoenix Coyotes, 5-3. "This was a good trip. A great trip. I think it shows the character of our team, our resilience.
"But there's a lot of games left. We've got to find that middle balance."
The Flyers have seen that other side already - three wins and the firing of a coach in the first 12 games of a season will do that to you. There was finger-pointing. There were unpleasant meetings. There was a trade.
Through Saturday, only St. Louis (21), Boston (20), Chicago (20) and Anaheim (18) had more wins than the Flyers (17-8-4) since Nov. 5.
"It's a lot different attitude in the dressing room compared to the first month of the season, that's for sure," Scott Hartnell said. "We'd go into games looking for someone else to do it instead of looking at yourself in the mirror, trying to go and take it."
Brayden Schenn said the Flyers now "believe we're going to win instead of hoping we're going to win."
Part of that has to do with the coaching change, Grossmann and Schenn agreed. Craig Berube changed the Flyers from a misguided team to a defense-oriented one to a team that has scored three or more goals in nine of its last 10 games.
"He keeps you honest," Grossmann said. "It doesn't matter who you are. Everyone knows what to expect of him and what he expects of us. It doesn't matter if it's a morning skate, a practice or a game - if you do anything soft, it's not going to work out too well."
Berube cannot point to one magical moment or event where the lightbulb went off with his players. But this successful road trip, which continues with one last leg tomorrow night in New Jersey, was one of a series of turning points.
Grossmann said the Flyers did it by a series of "small acts of good habits."
"I thought this trip changed our road mentality," Berube said. "We weren't that good coming into this trip [6-9-4] and I think we turned it around."
The Flyers won the two games they were supposed to (Calgary and Edmonton), won two against teams with significantly better records (Phoenix and Vancouver) and lost in Colorado in what may have been the game they played best on the trip. Hartnell said the Flyers played "stupid hockey" at varying points away from home, but still got their act together.
"Not to sound cocky or anything, we were 4-1 but I still didn't think we played our best hockey," Grossmann said. "Edmonton and Calgary, Vancouver, we didn't play great but we still came away with two points."
That ho-hum, nothing-is-too-big attitude is the Flyers' next hurdle in a season with 82 of them.
"It's too tight," Berube said of the standings. "Teams are right on your tail, there's no room to lose two or three in a row. That pressure is real."
Hockey Canada is scheduled to announce its Olympic entry tomorrow morning with a press conference that will be televised internationally. Is there any chance Claude Giroux is not a part of that group? From this vantage point: no.
Talking to Hockey Canada general manager Steve Yzerman on Dec. 4 at Joe Louis Arena, when he came to watch Giroux play, Yzerman said he would let a slow start for a veteran player slide. Giroux has come alive in the last 2 months. Only two players - Sidney Crosby and Patrick Kane - have scored more points than Giroux (31) since Nov. 5.
He is playing at a 97-point pace if an 82-game season were played out over the last 60 days. Giroux, who turns 26 on Sunday, will need to adjust to playing on the wing with Canada's overload in the middle, but he should be a lock. He lives and breathes Canadian hockey, admitting that playing for Canada in the Olympics is something he's dreamed about since he was a kid. Slow start or not, Yzerman is too smart to not include a talented competitor like Giroux.
3: Regulation losses for Steve Mason (15-3-4) since Nov. 5.
12: Consecutive penalties killed off for the Flyers in their last four games.
13: Points in nine games for Wayne Simmonds. He has at least one point in eight of his last nine games: Nine goals and four assists.
18: Combined regulation and overtime wins for the Flyers this season, the reason they’re ahead of the Capitals (also with 46 points) in the Metropolitan Division. Washington has just 12 ROWs this season — they’ve gone to the shootout more than any other team — and it could come back to haunt them in the standings.
THE WEEK AHEAD
at New Jersey
Tomorrow, 7:30 p.m.
After a quick practice at home today, the Flyers will play their first game in the Eastern Time Zone since Dec. 23 tomorrow night at Prudential Center. The Flyers split their series with the Devils in November when they played twice in a span of 5 days. One team was shut out in both games, with a
total of four goals scored.
Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.
Wednesday marks the second time this season the Flyers will face Montreal on the second night of back-to-backs with travel. It worked out in their favor on Dec. 12, coming off a blowout loss in Chicago. After sitting out as a healthy scratch last week, Danny Briere scored twice and added an assist Saturday against Ottawa. He had just 10 points in his previous 39 games with the Canadiens.
vs. Tampa Bay
Saturday, 1 o’clock
The Lightning may be the NHL’s most surprising team, entering last night’s game in Edmonton 13-7-4 without leading scorer Steven Stamkos since his gruesome injury on Nov. 11 in Boston. Without him, they’ve managed to keep hold of second place in the up-and-down Atlantic Division.
at N.Y. Rangers
Sunday, 7 o’clock
The Flyers will make their first trip to the completely redesigned, $1 billion palace on Broadway — Madison Square Garden — on Sunday night.
Under Alain Vigneault, the Blueshirts have sputtered along at 21-20-2, mostly because $59.5 million man Henrik Lundqvist has been a below-average goaltender this season. Former Flyer Dan Carcillo was traded from the Kings to the Rangers on Saturday for a seventh-round pick.
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