The Philadelphia Flyers have revived their season with a huge home stand this week. Last week, after a 4-game road trip, in which they lost 3 of 4, they posted a record of 2-6, tied for last place, with their season looking very bleak.
Already without defenseman Andrej Meszaros (shoulder), the news kept getting worse for the team. During their 4-game road trip, they also lost their leading scorer from last season, Scott Hartnell (foot) for about 4-6 weeks, and their second-leading goal-scorer, Wayne Simmonds, to a concussion.
The Flyers returned home to the Wells Fargo Center for the next 4 games with a daunting task ahead of them, as they desperately needed victories in this shortened, 48-game season. So on Feb. 2, behind their screaming fans, who will never give up on them, Flyers began to turn it around.
Week in review
Flyers 5, Hurricanes 3
The Carolina Hurricanes came into the building leading the league in shots per game (38), so the Flyers knew they had their work cut out for them.
Head coach Peter Laviolette knew one of the major reasons as to why the Flyers had struggled early in the season was due to their special teams. Being in the bottom 5 in the league on their power play and penalty kill, Laviolette knew his team needed to be better in that part of the game to be successful moving forward.
Against Carolina, the Flyers went a perfect 3 for 3 on the power play and 5 for 6 on the penalty kill, defeating the Hurricanes, 5-3. Kurtis Foster, Danny Briere and Claude Giroux all scored power play goals, while Ilya Bryzgalov stopped 39 of 42 shots preserving the all important 'W.' The Flyers had scored only 5 power play goals all season, yet they notched 3 in the game against the Hurricanes alone.
Flyers 2, Lightning 1
Next, the Flyers would face the highest-scoring team in the league, the Tampa Bay Lightning, who had destroyed them just the week earlier, 5-1.
Tampa Bay had only been held to under 3 goals once all season prior to this game, and with the Flyers having only scored more than 2 goals twice in their season, Laviolette needed to make some more changes.
The Flyers played arguably their best hockey of the season, holding this offensive juggernaut to only 1 goal. Laviolette used a trap-like system against the Lightning called a 'left wing lock,' which is basically a 2-3 system.
This means they used their left wing to pressure in the offensive zone and the center up the middle, forcing the opposition to move the puck up the right side of the ice. Then they had 3 men back, standing in a line, preventing the team from skating through cleanly into the offensive zone, while also avoiding odd-man rushes.
With a team that is so explosive as Tampa Bay, players such as Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier love to carry the puck into the zone, creating chances. The Flyers eliminated that by forcing them to dump the puck or attempt turning it over in the neutral zone. The left wing lock frustrated the Lightning all game, and the Flyers won 2-1.
Panthers 3, Flyers 2 (SO)
Brimming with confidence from their newfound winning streak, the Flyers now faced the Florida Panthers, a team they had dominated earlier in the season, winning 7-1.
Unfortunately, the Flyers may have taken the Panthers a bit lightly. Entering the 3rd period with a 2-1 lead, the Flyers failed to close them out, and sat back on their lead rather than adding to it. Florida tied the game at 2, and then beat the Flyers in the dreaded shootout.
Philadelphia is the worst shootout team in the league since its inception in 2005, converting only 35% of the time. They lost 2-0 in the shootout and 3-2 in the game to Florida. But they did gain at least 1 point in the standings after going to overtime.
Flyers 4, Hurricanes 3
Philadelphia closed out their 4-game home stretch very solidly against Carolina. The Flyers, who got a boost when they got Wayne Simmonds back from his head injury, won the spirited back-and-forth battle in overtime when Danny Briere scored his 11th career overtime goal, defeating the Hurricanes for the 2nd time this season and the for 14th time in their last 16 meetings.
The Flyers finished their home stretch earning 7 of a possible 8 points with a record of 3-0-1. They improved to 5-6-1 on the season, currently tied for 8th place with 11 points.
What's to come
After 4 straight home games, the Flyers now head off on a 6-game road trip over the next 10 days.
The trip will be a challenging one for the Flyers, as 5 of the 6 teams have a .500 or better record. The Flyers will attempt to get to .500 themselves for the first time all season on Monday, Feb. 11, when they go to Toronto to face the Maple Leafs.
Monday, Feb. 11 at Toronto Maple Leafs (7-5, 14 points)
The Flyers will play against against their former 2nd overall pick, James van Riemsdyk, who they traded to the Maple Leafs this off-season for defenseman Luke Schenn. Van Riemsdyk leads his team in goals with 7, while Luke Schenn leads the not only the Flyers, but the entire NHL in hits, with 46.
Tuesday, Feb. 12 at Winnipeg Jets (5-5-1, 11 points)
Since moving back to Winnipeg, the Jets have faced the Flyers 4 times, beating them in 3 of those 4 matchups. Despite losing 3 of 4 versus the Jets, the Flyers have scored 18 goals in those 4 games, with Danny Briere and Claude Giroux accounting for 6 points each in the series. The Jets are being led by defenseman Tobias Enstrom who has 13 points in 11 games.
Friday, Feb. 15 at New Jersey Devils (7-1-3, 17 points)
The Devils have been one of the hottest teams in the Eastern Conference, having currently won 5 straight. They also own an NHL best 5-0-1 record at home. Patrick Elias leads his team in scoring with 14 points, and has owned the Flyers throughout his career, registering 75 points in 77 games.
Saturday, Feb. 16 at Montreal Canadiens (6-4-1, 13 points)
After the Canadiens started the season off with a bang, winning 6 of their first 8 games, they have cooled down, losing 3 straight contests. Tomas Plekanec leads the Canadiens in goals (7) and points (10), but goaltender Carey Price (6-3) has been their star thus far, earning a 2.19 GAA in 9 games.
- Wayne Simmonds was concussed Feb. 1 against Washington, but would only miss 3 games. Simmonds returned to the lineup against Carolina and will look to get back into the swing of things this week, helping the Flyers offense score more goals.
- Scott Hartnell was originally slated to be out 4-6 weeks since January 22nd due to a broken bone in his foot. Hartnell had his cast removed on the 7th and could begin skating later this week, making it look like his return may be closer to 4 weeks.
- Andrej Meszaros' shoulder is also healing quite nicely. Meszaros was scheduled to miss at least a month since January 24th, but may also begin skating this week. If everything continues to progress, the Flyers could get Hartnell and Meszaros back in a little over 2 weeks.
- Backup goalie Michael Leighton was placed on the IR after sustaining an upper-body injury at practice on Friday. Leighton will be replaced by Brian Boucher, who was recalled from the Phantoms Sunday, and is expected to miss at least 7-10 days.
The Philadelphia Flyers gave defenseman Kimmo Timonen a 1-year, $6 million contract extension. Timonen, 37, has arguably been the Flyers' best player this season. He leads Philadelphia in assists (6), plus/minus (+4), average time on ice (23:07 minutes), and power play points (6). GM Paul Holmgren commented on Timonen's signing saying, "Kimmo's presence on the ice for us and in our locker room is invaluable. We look forward to him continuing his all-around play for us."