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December 22, 2017

Some hope could lie ahead for more confident, relaxed Flyers team

Flyers NHL

The Flyers just won four of five on their recent home stretch and tonight will be playing the woeful Buffalo Sabres, arguably the worst team in the NHL. With a 7-1 record over their last eight, it appears the team that was in a funk just three weeks ago is now heading in a good direction.

The Flyers still sit in last place in the NHL’s Eastern Conference Metropolitan Division, tied with identical 15-12-7 records, each with 37 points. And they’re just three points behind the New York Islanders for the final playoff berth and five behind the New York Rangers.

But there have been strong signs of life. 

Wayne Simmonds has produced seven points over the last eight games. That obviously has a lot to do with the line juggling coach Dave Hakstol has done, moving Simmonds up with the first line, paired with Sean Couturier, who’s already scored a career-best 16 goals and looks on track to double his previous best of 14 goals last season, and Claude Giroux.  

Simmonds, however, said something recently that also may be a reason why the Flyers have been playing well. 

“I don’t think everyone is pressing like we were [during the Flyers’ 10-game winless streak],” Simmonds said early in the week. “Guys are more relaxed. We know what we have to do and that’s play more consistent. A lot of what happened [during the winless streak] were mistakes we were making. We knew that they were [correctable]. We just needed to have a few things go our way, get some confidence back and relax.” 

Another huge factor, it appears, is a healthy Giroux, who is on pace to possibly have his best season yet as a Flyer. He’s just one goal shy of tying his total from all of last season (14). Perhaps this is the most telling: through 34 games, “G” has 26 even-strength points (9 goals, 17 assists). That’s what he had for 82 games last season. 

Giroux is also playing with a great feel for where his linemates are on the ice, and perhaps no play may personify that more than his assists on Couturier’s goal, the Flyers’ go-ahead score in a three-goal third period of their 4-2 victory over Toronto on Dec. 12. Giroux was pinned up against the boards, and he had the wherewithal to pinch the puck out and slide a no-look, pass between his skates to the breaking Couturier, who beat Toronto goalie Frederik Andersen high over his left shoulder.

The Flyers are not in the class of the Los Angeles Kings, which bore out Monday night against amazing Jonathan Quick. But they're not that far behind their 19-11-4 (42 points) record from last year, and this team seems strong and healthier than that team was — Brian Elliott is certainly providing better goaltending than Steve Mason did (Elliott is 13-7-6 after 34 games this year).

This season, by the way, Mason is 2-5 with a 3.26 goals-against average for Winnipeg. Elliott has kept the Flyers in games with a 2.67 GAA.

According to the Hockey News, “Since Nov. 1, Elliott has been among the best goaltenders in the league. In his past 19 games, 18 of which have been starts, he’s turned in a .923 SP and 2.43 GAA to go along with an 8-5-5 record. During the 10-game losing streak, he dropped only two of seven starts in regulation and still managed a .908 SP. His 5-on-5 over that time, too, was an incredible .942 — only six goaltenders were better.”

In the Flyers’ last eight, Elliott has had a 1.98 GAA.

The Flyers appear headed in a good direction, just three points behind the New York Islanders for the final playoff berth and five behind the New York Rangers.

This weekend could tell more with visits to Buffalo (tonight, 7 PM ET) and then the Columbus Blue Jackets, and one of the NHL’s best, former Flyer goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, on Saturday (7 PM).

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