The last time the Flyers hit the road for multiple games, it was awful. They lost three in a row. They already had some injuries, then Joel Farabee got suspended. The biggest punch in the gut was the Oskar Lindblom news. The Dec. 11-15 trip left them understandably wobbled.
But then they came home. Turned Lindblom’s cancer diagnosis into #OskarStrong, vowed to play the season for him. James van Riemsdyk started scoring, a four-game winning streak ensued, and they went into the three-day Christmas holiday in a good mental place. Mostly, they "just let the body recover,” said Ivan Provorov, the team’s ice-time leader.
Well, the break’s over.
The Flyers left Friday afternoon on a season-long six-game, 12-day road trip that presents an immediate logistical challenge off the top: at San Jose on Saturday (7:30 p.m. PT start), at Anaheim on Sunday (5:30 p.m. PT start).
“I like this trip,” Flyers coach Alain Vigneault said a couple times after Friday’s practice in Voorhees. He likes it but with a slight caveat.
“I’m not crazy about the fact that they are again making us play back-to-back in less than 24 hours,” Vigneault said. “But we’ve done it a few times this year. I guess you’ve got to get used to it.”
So what would constitute a good road trip?
At 21-11-5, the Flyers have won .635 of the total possible points. For six games, that’s equal to 7.62 points.
But on the road, they are 8-9-1 for a .472 percentage. That’s 5.66 points.
If this team is serious about getting to the playoffs and making noise, at least a 7-point trip (such as 3-2-1) would justify those expectations.
‘A huge opportunity’
The Flyers are 1-1-1 in the second half of back-to-back games with less than 24 hours between. There are five more left on the schedule, counting this weekend.
The three California teams they are starting the trip with occupy the bottom three spots of the Western Conference standings, and San Jose is playing Friday night. After California, the Flyers will play at Vegas on Jan. 2, at Arizona on Jan. 4 and at Carolina on Jan. 7.
(Oh, the league also slipped in a home game against the Capitals on Jan. 8.)
The Flyers are 12 points better than they were a year ago at this time, so there’s plenty of optimism around the club. Sean Couturier said these next 2½ weeks could define the next four months.
“It’s a huge opportunity for us to show that we’re better on the road than our record shows,” the veteran center said. “It’s a big six-game road trip where our season can go one way or the other.”
Vigneault will use Carter Hart in net on Saturday, which probably means Brian Elliott on Sunday. Like the rest of the club, Hart has been electric at home, mostly mediocre away from it.
“He needs to play well on the road, too,” Vigneault said. “A big part of a team having success is our goaltender giving your team a chance to win, and that’s what we expect from Carter.”
Flyers defenseman Justin Braun expects an emotional return to San Jose, where he played for nearly a decade and was part of the 2015-16 club that made it to the Stanley Cup Final before losing to Pittsburgh.
“I think it will be a little weird,” he said. “Nine years there; it’s a long time to be in one place. It should be fun, though. I’m just hoping it goes smooth.”
Braun expects to hear some colorful chirping from former teammates, especially Logan Couture and Brent Burns.
“I’m sure they’ll have plenty of stupid things to say to me,” Braun said, laughing.
Scott Laughton practiced on a line with Jake Voracek and Morgan Frost on Friday, his most arduous work since injuring his groin on Dec. 7. He’ll go through another practice in the morning before deciding whether he can play on Saturday night. “It’s a fragile injury, and you don’t want to mess with it too much,” said Laughton, who has missed the last five games. “We’ll see what happens here with all of the travel and stuff, but I hope to get in there soon.” ... Michael Raffl (broken finger) wore a non-contact jersey during practice. He can come off the injury list Sunday.