Reeling Flyers face rough schedule

Posted: January 26, 2014

The Flyers, losers of three straight, are about to face perhaps the toughest part of their schedule, and they must regroup to avoid having their season spiral out of control.

The team that went 24-12-5 in an impressive three-month stretch has become soft to play against during the last three games. They are allowing too many odd-man rushes, too many shots, too many long cycles. Their breakouts have been poor, and their forecheck - which had been consistently good as they rebounded from their 1-7 start - has been virtually nonexistent for most of the last three games.

And now they get to face Boston and Detroit, two difficult opponents, before heading on a West Coast trip and playing Anaheim, Los Angeles, and San Jose - teams that have a combined 55-9-8 home record.

Gulp.

Claude Giroux, the Flyers' slumping center, sees the schedule as a welcoming test, not as an albatross.

"To play those tough teams is a challenge for us," said Giroux, who has just one goal in his last nine games. "I love it. That's when you find out what kind of team you are, what kind of character you have."

Steve Mason will return to the nets Saturday afternoon when the Flyers (25-21-6) host the Atlantic Division-leading Bruins (31-15-3). Mason has a 4.21 goals-against average in his last five starts, but he has not received much defensive support.

Flyers opponents have had too much time and space and have launched shooting galleries in recent games. The Flyers, who have slipped to fourth place in the tightly contested Metropolitan Division and are tied for eighth in the Eastern Conference, have allowed 43, 36, and 39 shots in their last three games, respectively.

"We've got to do a better job defensively; follow the system right," Giroux said. "I think everybody on the team needs to play better."

After winning 10 straight at home, the Flyers are 1-2-1 in their last four games at the Wells Fargo Center. They need to return to a defense-first mentality.

On Saturday, they will face a Boston team that is allowing just 2.16 goals per game, second in the NHL.

"You get one win against a good team, that's when you bounce back; your confidence comes back and you start believing in yourself a little more," Giroux said.

In Thursday's 5-2 loss in Columbus, coach Craig Berube moved Vinny Lecavalier from third-line left winger back to center on the second line, shifted Brayden Schenn to left wing on that unit, and dropped left winger Scott Hartnell to the third line.

Berube plans to keep that setup for now.

Lecavalier is a "natural centerman and it wasn't working at wing, so we changed it up," Berube said. "I thought he was better in the middle, so as of right now, that's where he'll stay."

In Thursday's defeat, Lecavalier contributed a power-play goal - his second tally in the last 19 games - but won just 20 percent (2 of 10) of his face-offs.

Breakaways

Mason displayed a new mask featuring current Flyers as zombies. He also had his goalie stick zombie-fied.. . . Winger Zac Rinaldo, who has been sidelined by a high ankle sprain, took part in Friday's practice in a noncontact jersey.. . . Erik Gustafsson may return to the lineup Saturday to give the Flyers' defense more speed. . . .Actor David Boreanaz will be celebrity co-chairman of the 37th Flyers Wives Carnival at the Wells Fargo Center from 1:30 to 6 p.m. Sunday. For ticket information, call 1-800-298-4200.


Rough Patch of Ice

After losing three straight games against teams with worse records than their own, the Flyers face five critical games against a more elite group of teams.

Here are their next five games:

Saturday, 1 p.m., vs. Bruins (31-15-3, 2d in East)

TV: CSN

The Flyers haven't played Boston yet this season. The teams will meet three times.

Tuesday, 7 p.m., vs. Red Wings (22-18-10, T9th in East) TV: CSN

Detroit is 14-7-3 on the road and coming off an emotional home shootout win over the Blackhawks.

Thursday, 10 p.m., at Ducks (38-10-5, 1st in West) TV: CSN

Anaheim is 21-1-2 at home, the only loss coming in overtime to the Devils in mid-November.

Feb. 1, 4 p.m., at Kings (29-17-6, 6th in West)

TV: CSN

Los Angeles (16-6-3 at home) allows the fewest goals per game (2.04) in the NHL.

Feb. 3, 10:30 p.m., at Sharks (33-12-6, 4th in West)

TV: TCN

San Jose, 18-2-3 at home, is another scary visit. The Sharks have won five straight overall.


scarchidi@phillynews.com

@BroadStBull

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