Thanks to winning three of interim coach Scott Gordon’s first four games, the Flyers went into their holiday break feeling good about themselves.
When the season resumes Thursday in Florida, they get to face a Tampa Bay team that leads the NHL in wins (28), points (58), goals per game (4.08), goal differential (plus-48), and power-play success (28.9 percent).
In other words, Tampa (28-7-2) is the Stanley Cup favorite.
Thursday’s matchup will start a four-game road trip in which the Flyers will also visit the Florida Panthers, Carolina Hurricanes, and Nashville Predators.
Because of their awful start, the Flyers have left themselves with little margin for error in the season’s last three-plus months. They are eight points out of a playoff spot.
There are some good signs, however. Consider:
“I think a lot of guys got their confidence back and we’re rolling now, so it feels good. The last couple games, we’ve really played a team game and we’ve played fast,” said center Nolan Patrick, who hasn’t scored a goal in 18 games but gave the Flyers the win Sunday with a shootout tally.
“Our guys have done a great job of not cheating the game,” Gordon said, “and when you do that, you give yourself a chance to win every night. I told them ... that’s something that’s got to be our identity – making sure we bring it every night.”
As a group, defenseman Travis Sanheim said, “We’ve come together a little better and we’re putting together more of a 60-minute effort.”
Because of a busy schedule and the holiday break, the Flyers have had only one full practice under Gordon since he was appointed Dec. 17.
“It was a tough week for everybody,” Gordon said of his players. ”Not just physically, but mentally. And to come in, new coach, new goaltender, the whole routine was thrown out of whack – whether it was the pregame skate or anything we touched on system-wise, or different drills at practice. And yet they responded with six points out of eight and were very close to having eight-for-eight. That obviously is encouraging as a coach to get that kind of attitude and that kind of effort.”
A gargantuan effort will be needed to beat Tampa, which scored a 6-5 overtime win over the host Flyers and goalie Cal Pickard (six goals allowed on 26 shots) on Nov. 17. In that game, the Flyers overcame a 5-1 third-period deficit. Each team had three power-play goals in the game.
Travis Konecny had eight shots in that game, and he had two of the Flyers' four goals in a stunning 6:04 span that tied the game at 5-all late in the third period.