RALEIGH, N.C. -- The bags are all packed. The airplane is gassed up. The end of the longest road trip of the season is nigh.
It’s been mostly gruesome. Tuesday’s 5-4 overtime defeat at Carolina left the Flyers with five losses in the trip’s six games. Blown out a few times. Slipped from third in the division to out of the playoffs.
But the schedule ahead is actually more daunting than the one the Flyers just negotiated like a chihuahua on roller skates. Not only do they play Wednesday night, they get the Capitals, the best team in the league.
“Not very many times in my 17-year career have I gotten back from a 12-day trip and we’re playing the next day,” Flyers coach Alain Vigneault said. “But that’s what it is and you have to deal with it.”
Generally, coaches might spread the ice time a little bit more in the first game of a back-to-back; get the fourth-liners a little more playing time. That was not the case Tuesday.
“I’m going in with full focus on tonight and we’ll deal with tomorrow tomorrow,” Vigneault said earlier in the day.
Wednesday starts a run of six home games in two weeks going into the All-Star break, which begins Jan. 22. Here’s a look at the challenges ahead.
Jan. 8, vs. Washington: Best team in hockey, has beaten the Flyers five straight including a shootout in Philadelphia in November.
Jan. 11, vs. Tampa Bay: Won seven in a row entering Tuesday night.
Jan. 13, vs. Boston: Leading the Atlantic Division and still a tough opponent despite being 4-5-5 since early December.
Jan. 15, at St. Louis: Defending champs are the best team in the West and 13-4-3 at home.
Jan. 16, vs. Montreal: Wheels are coming off the Habs, who’ve lost six in a row. A back-to-back in less than 24 hours for both teams.
Jan. 18, vs. Los Angeles: Last in the Pacific Division, but beat the Flyers on Dec. 31.
Jan. 21, vs. Pittsburgh: Trashed the Flyers in October, 7-1, and Sidney Crosby appears close to returning from core muscle surgery. He hasn’t played since Nov. 9. Pens have gone 15-6-4 without him.
Justin Braun’s groin injury means Robert Hagg and Phil Myers can stop playing the healthy-scratch game. For now. Vigneault said the Flyers could make a move on Thursday or Friday but were just trying to get through the Carolina and Washington games.
“They’ve wanted to be in the lineup and they’re going to get a chance to be in the lineup,” the coach said, “so they have to play well for us.”
Myers and Hagg have virtually rotated as the sixth defenseman for the last six weeks.