Steve Mason has been lights out lately, and the Flyers return home Thursday for the first of two before the Olympic break. Credit: Getty Images
On paper the schedule stacks up for the Flyers not only heading into the Olympic break after Saturday, but after Sochi. No team in the NHL has played fewer home games.
Now can they turn that “paper’’ advantage into a real one when they step onto the ice.
Beginning tonight when the Colorado Avalanche come to town, the Flyers play 16 of their final 25 games before their adoring fans. Considering they recently had a 10-game home winning streak, that would seem to bode well.
Then again, before dispatching the injury ravaged Red Wings 5-0 and heading out on what turned out to be a successful 2-1 California trip, they’d gone 1-3-1 here.
What’s it all mean? If the Flyers can take care of business when sleeping in their own beds, they should be in decent playoff position. As ridiculously tight as the Metropolitan Division—where the top three automatically qualify—and East as a whole are, points are at a premium.
That makes each game more important than the next.
“As much as we got the points other teams are winning too,’’ said goalie Steve Mason, who’s been spectacular for the most part of late, shutting out both Detroit and L.A. “So it just ramps up our intensity. Every game now is pretty much a must win.’’
Indeed, despite their recent 3-1 stretch the Flyers are currently on the outside looking in when it comes to the post-season. As well as they’ve played clubs like Columbus, the Rangers and Toronto have been even better, nudging Craig Berube’s team to 9th in the Conference standings with 62 points.
“This trip gave us a lot of positive reinforcement,’’ said Matt Read. “Now we go home before the break with two games and have to take care of business.’’
After facing the Avalanche, who beat them 2-1 Jan. 2 and are currently fourth in the West, the Flyers face Calgary at home Saturday before Jake Voracek, Mark Streit, Michael Raffl, Andrej Meszaros and Kimmo Timonen head to Russia. The rest will stay behind and rest gearing up for the stretch drive.
Once they return the pace will get really hectic, especially with the stakes so high. Fortunately the Flyers won’t have very far to go over the remaining six weeks, St. Louis being the furthest they’ll travel.
More than likely, though, their fate will be sealed—good or bad—by how they play at home. In addition to the usual suspects—the Penguins, Rangers, Caps, Devils and the upstart Blue Jackets—the Flyers will also take on some of the NHL’s elite.
After facing the Sharks in their first game back Feb. 27, during March alone the reigning Cup champion Blackhawks, Kings, Blues and Bruins will all be their guests. In other words the points are there to be taken. They just don’t figure to be taken easily.
Still, if his club can continue to perform at the level it did out West, Berube likes their chances.
"Our guys battled hard all three games against good teams and we got results,’’ said Berube, who’s moved Vinny Lecavalier back to second line center while shifting Raffl to the fourth line. "We did real a good job without the puck. As a result of our checking it we had some good opportunities the other way. It boils down to being competitive.’’
And as simple as it sound, it boils down to the Flyers being ready when the puck drops—whether they’re home or away. If they’re not, with virtually no margin for error, they’ll have a long summer of regret to think about it.