Nearly two weeks ago, the Flyers arrived home from their latest disaster, a shutout loss in Toronto, to learn the general manager responsible for assembling this team had been unceremoniously fired. A day later an assistant coach had also been axed; and a teammate, Cal Pickard, was waived.
This could be one reason Claude Giroux appeared almost giddy when he met with reporters following Thursday’s 4-3 overtime loss, saying at one point: "The last two weeks a lot of things have been going on. And the worst part about it is that you don’t play a lot of games, so you’re sitting at home and you’re thinking about it a lot. The stretch we have coming here, we have games at hand, to get back into the playoff race."
Here’s another reason for the captain to feel upbeat: he and his team hit the road for those stretch of games. They play five straight on the road: in Buffalo on Saturday, then a trip across Canada, stopping in Winnipeg (Sunday), Calgary (Wednesday), Edmonton (Friday) and finally Vancouver the day after.
It’s a similar trip to the one last December in which this team rose from the ashes and ultimately into the playoffs, becoming the NHL’s fifth-best team from that point on.
“Fresh start," Scott Laughton said. “It will be good to get on the road with the guys.”
You know that old hockey staple about winning in the other team’s barn? Ain’t no big thing in this day of edgy mascots and fan experience arenas. Sure they’d like to see the home team win, but if the guy selling Goose Island IPAs isn’t at your fingertips, that upcoming power play isn’t enough to keep you from wandering into those expanded concession areas behind your seats.
Almost half the teams in the NHL won more games on the road last season than they lost. At 20-13-8 last season, the Flyers had the fifth-best road record in the NHL, and this season has continued that trend -- albeit barely. The Flyers are 6-5-1 on the road this season, compared to 5-7-2 at home.
“Look at last year’s playoffs,” Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said. Indeed, round after round, teams habitually fared better on the road than at home. After splitting a pair of wins in each other’s building, Washington advanced to the Stanley Cup by shutting out Tampa Bay at home in Game 7. The Caps won the Cup with two wins in Vegas, where the Knights had dominated.
“What the exact science is, I don’t know,” Hakstol said. “But for the most part, everybody’s rink is pretty similar. And for a team on the road your like is pretty simplified. It’s about your teammates and hockey.”
“It’s nice to play on the road,” Flyers forward Scott Laughton said. “You just play hockey. You don’t have any other worries. It’s good for team building too. It brings you closer. Lots of dinners and stuff like that. Lots of hanging out.”
That’s how it played out about a month ago, the Flyers shaking off three consecutive punch less losses by winning three of four during a west coast swing.
“You ask any team, they love getting out on the road together,” Hakstol said. “It simplifies life a little bit. It’s always a good chance for the team to be around each other, to hang out and you always get a little bit tighter when you go through some of the challenges on the road. It’s about your teammates and hockey.”
Breakaways: The Flyers recalled Phil Varone, the AHL MVP of a season ago who has continued to tear it up this season (11 goals, 17 assists). Varone, 28, has five goals in 50 NHL games but has been red-hot for the third-place Phantoms, with seven goals and 12 points over his last nine games. And the Flyers sure could use scoring of late. ... Goaltender Anthony Stolarz, who is from Jackson, N.J., will be visiting all four Canadian cities on this road trip for the first time. “The only Canadian city I’ve ever been to is Toronto,” he said after practice Friday. ... Samuel Morin, who again skated at times Friday, now has a name plate over a locker. No timetable has been given for his return, and it will likely begin with a rehab stint in Lehigh Valley, but it’s good to see him in pads again after being sidetracked by nearly a full season.