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Flyers Hitting Their Stride at Right Time

Every team has a moment in every season that defines their year. For the Philadelphia Flyers, that moment may have been their 4-3 overtime win against the NHL-leading Washington Capitals on January 27.

Instead of riding a four-game losing streak into the All-Star break, the orange and black not only enter the break on a high note, they’ve also moved to within five points of a playoff spot in the process.

Because these season-defining moments can work for either positive or negative, it’s the job of the coaching staff to not only recognize such occasions and react accordingly.

Two years ago, it was Claude Giroux’s prophetic declaration that the Flyers were going to make the playoffs. That, of course, came when the team sat at a disastrous 1-7-0 record, with former coach Peter Laviolette already fired.

At the time, the captain’s bold statement were just empty words. But afterwards the team rallied around Giroux–as well as ex-coach Craig Berube–to turn their worst start in franchise history to a 42-30-10 playoff-qualifying finish, it’s now viewed as that one special occasion that’s responsible for righting the ship.

Although dissimilar in event, Wednesday’s emotional victory holds comparable parallels.

“It feels good. We played such a good road game from the start,” said goalie Michal Neuvirth, per the Philadelphia Enquirer. “We were ready for them and it was a great team effort. . . . Our goal is to make the playoffs and the Flyers [organization] expects us to be in the playoffs. If we’re going to play the way we did tonight, I’m sure we’re going to do it.”

Neuvirth, a former Capital, has played a more prominent role than expected in Philadelphia’s standing heading into the All-Star break.

In stopping 27 shots on the 30 that were recorded on net against his former team, the 27-year-old backup improved to 11-6-2 on the year, complemented with a league-leading .933 save percentage.

Neurvirth’s consistency in net gives the Flyers a certain confidence in their backup net minder that they seemed to have lacked in years past, with his win against the league’s top team standing as evidence. What differentiates Game No. 47 from a “nice win” to a potential turning point were the contributions of star forward Jakub Voracek.

Since much was made of Voracek’s 16-game goalless drought to start the season, those throughout the organization knew then and now that their goal to reach the postseason is more realistic with their $66 million man producing.

Against Braden Holtby, Voracek not only potted a pair of goals, including the overtime game-winner, but notched his first multi-goal game of the season. How significant is this?

Consider the fact that Voracek’s efforts–as well as the team’s, for that matter–came the Flyers blew yet another two-goal lead, while in the absence of Sean Couturier, the Flyers’ top defensive forward, as well.

Tom Dougherty of CSN Philly writes:

In the last two months, Voracek and Couturier have been the Flyers’ best players. This is a team that’s struggling to score goals, but those two have elevated their games.

Couturier missed his third straight game Wednesday because of a lower-body injury. He is an integral piece for the Flyers’ puzzle, as they’re now 2-6-1 with him out this season.

Before Wednesday’s triumph in the nation’s capital, the Flyers suffered a trio of demoralizing defeats, two in which without the invaluable Couturier out of the lineup. During that span of defeats, Dave Hakstol’s team surrendered game-winning goals in the last minute of regulation in two of them – against Toronto and Boston.

With Couturier out of the lineup in the previous two tilts leading up to their showdown against the Caps, the Flyers had their five-game win streak in Pittsburgh snapped, formerly losing there last on March 24, 2013.

“You’re not going to have guys replace (Couturier),” Hakstol said, via The Reporter. “Over the last months, I think we’ve probably seen the importance of Sean to our lineup. That being said, injuries are a part of the game. Everybody has to chip in to help us win hockey games. If you look at our group (Monday) night, we asked them to be a stable group with (Raffl) going into the middle. I think they went out and did that. They were responsible two ways for us.”

Through Couturier’s 38 games this season, the Flyers have benefitted in every phase of the game.

At 5-on-5, only Matt Read has accounted for fewer shots per 60 minutes–excluding Nick Cousins and Colin McDonald, who appeared in nine games combined–than Couturier’s 27.89.

Shorthanded, only Wayne Simmonds, Shayne Gostisbehere and Voracek show fewer shots against under the same category than Couturier’s 45.68. The shutdown forward’s standing here makes his absence felt even more since he sees the sixth most average ice time on the penalty kill, surpassing all three of those listed above by a significant margin.

On the power play, the five-year veteran may not be the primary threat to score, but his shots for percentage to off-ice shots for percentage disparity of 88.68 percent to 88.07 percent shows that he’s anything but a liability.

Learning to win without key fixtures in the lineup is a measuring stick for any team in the league. Before Wednesday’s contest, the Flyers had previously won only one time in the eight games without Couturier. Adding that second win under the stacked circumstances of playing on the road against the league’s top team is an undeniable jolt heading into the layoff.

In order to make this particular win a galvanizing turning point in the season, the Flyers must immediately capitalize on such momentum when the puck drops next on February 2 against Montreal.

The need for improvement lingers in a handful of categories, such as their 29th-ranked 32.3 shots against per game, and inconsistent special teams play that consists of a 22nd-ranked 17.4 percent power play percentage, and a 26th-ranked 78.0 percent penalty kill percentage.

But despite hovering around 50 percent in all shot attempts percentage categories, and the league’s sixth toughest strength of schedule remaining, the orange and black have the pieces in place to use Wednesday’s experience as a springboard to make a late second half run.

With the combination of depth in net, Voracek returning to form, a healthy Giroux, Couturier’s impending return to the lineup, and Shayne Gostisbehere’s 22 points–which leads all rookie defensemen–Philadelphia could very well hit their stride upon returning to the ice.

The Flyers could consider themselves lucky should that prospect of events materialize. Then again, special moments always require an element of luck.

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  • Mr G

    I think this writer is a little premature stating that the Flyers are hitting their stride after a one game winning streak, he should remember that the Caps hadn’t played in eight days and most of their players where looking forward to the All Star break. Don’t get me wrong it definitely was a must win for positive attitude for the Orange and Black. The writer should have included in his story what the Flyers record is after a long break! The Flyers will not win a Stanley Cup with their current roster no matter what GM Hextall does. I believe it is time to trade Giroux while he is at the top of his game while he still has tremendous value along with Voracheck!!

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