CONFIDENCE is a funny thing.
There is a reason why the Flyers - as do most professional sports teams - employ sports psychologists.
Most players will tell you that it's hard to have any sustained success without them. The mind can trump talent on most nights. On every team, it comes and goes during the course of a season.
For the Flyers, it had been missing since a demoralizing 5-4 defeat on Nov. 23 in Colorado. But after a painful month-long hibernation, it seemed to rear its head on Sunday on Long Island.
No, the Islanders, Hurricanes and Lightning won't be confused as Stanley Cup contenders. But as Ian Laperriere said at Flyers practice on Monday, the only way to get confidence back is to win.
For the Flyers, life on the road has gotten them back on that road. All three of the Flyers' wins on this current six-game streak have come away from home.
"We're playing a lot better than we were," Chris Pronger said. "We've rattled off three wins in a row here that we desperately needed. The road has been a place for us to kind of relax and keep the game simple. We're not trying to put on that much of a show. We're playing the game we know how to."
"Sometimes you don't try to be as fancy when you're on the road," Laperriere explained. "It has worked for us in the past three games."
Scott Hartnell said Sunday that he thinks the Flyers have their "swagger back." Undoubtedly, some of the team's recent success is owed to the players that have returned to the lineup.
While still not completely healthy - goalies Brian Boucher and Ray Emery are still out and Ryan Parent is suffering from back spasms that have kept him off the ice since Saturday - the Flyers' forward lines have filled out.
Simon Gagne, Blair Betts and Darroll Powe are big upgrades over Andreas Nodl, Jon Kalinski and David Laliberte.
In fact, last Wednesday in Tampa Bay was the first time all season that the Flyers' top 12 forwards had been in the lineup at the same time. Arron Asham was a healthy scratch for the season opener in Carolina.
The Flyers have also cut back on penalties. When Peter Laviolette took over as coach, the Flyers took more penalty minutes per game than any team in the NHL. The Flyers have been shorthanded 10 times in the last three games, for an agreeable average of three times per game.
"I thought our discipline has been getting better," Laviolette said. "The last three games have been very good."
Saturday in Carolina, the Flyers entered the third period with a 3-0 lead but coughed it up. On Sunday, they clamped down on defense. The Flyers outchanced the Islanders 16-5 for the game, but didn't allow a single scoring chance in the third period.
Laviolette has been preaching baby steps for the Flyers moving forward. He knows that taking a step back tonight at Madison Square Garden against the Rangers, possibly distracted by Friday's Winter Classic in Boston, the Flyers' three-win progression will have meant little.
"That Ranger game, I don't know if there is a bigger game," Laviolette said. "I hope we're not jumping the gun. The Winter Classic is a great event, but the Rangers are right there. They beat us the last time out. If we want to take another step forward, we've got to go through the New York Rangers.
"It's small steps. You can't play for the Stanley Cup today. You need to keep taking steps and getting better."
With two points, the Flyers could be right back on the playoff bubble. For this team, that isn't an accomplishment, it's just bringing them closer to their goal.
"For sure, we've won our last three games," Laperriere said. "But everyone knows we're not where we want to be. We know we still have a lot of work to go."
Ole-Kristian Tollefsen and Oskars Bartulis are two definite Flyers representatives in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Bartulis will skate for Latvia and Tollefsen for his native Norway. Neither player has made the cut for their Olympic team before.
"I am very excited," Tollefsen said. "It has always been a dream of mine so this is something I am obviously looking forward to."
Tollefsen has been injured for most of this season, sitting out since Dec. 14 with a sprained left MCL. He is slated to resume skating today and doesn't foresee an issue with the Olympics. Bartulis, 23, is the first Latvian to play for the Flyers.
Michael Leighton will makes his fourth consecutive start tonight. Peter Laviolette said Leighton had "earned the right to go back in there." Brian Boucher, still hampered by a cut on his right ring finger, will back him up. Boucher said he expects to start in the Winter Classic . . . Ryan Parent has not skated since Saturday. The report was that he was suffering from back spasms. Now it is "lower body." Usually, a player that is "day-to-day" is on the ice and skating.
BY THE NUMBERS:
1: Number of power-play goals allowed by the Flyers in their last three games, compared to 15 in their 10 games before that.
4: Number of goals scored by the line of Danny Briere, Scott Hartnell and Jeff Carter in the last two games.
10: Number of goals scored by the Flyers in these last three wins. They had scored nine in their previous seven games.
THE WEEK AHEAD:
at New York Rangers, tonight, 7 o'clock: In the first clash between these two Atlantic Division rivals on Dec. 19, the Rangers jumped on the Flyers to take a 1-0 lead in the first 5 minutes. Peter Laviolette blasted his team after the 3-1 loss, questioning its jump and desire to win the game. The Flyers can jump back into the playoff picture with a win tonight and take a four-game winning streak to Boston for Friday's Winter Classic.
at Boston, 2010 Winter Classic, Fenway Park, Friday, 1 o'clock: While all players would enjoy a picturesque skate at Fenway Park on New Year's Day, many of the Flyers spoke this week about a game that "actually means something," as Ian Laperriere said. The Flyers rallied from a 1-0 deficit in the third period to beat Boston 3-1 on Dec. 14. Boston faces Atlanta tonight at home but dropped a 2-1 decision in Tampa Bay on Monday. The Bruins are just 3-5 in their last eight games. Mark Recchi, 41, is third on the team in points with seven goals and 14 assists in 38 games.
at Ottawa, Sunday, 1 o'clock: This is the Flyers' third game with the Senators this season and the first in Canada's capital city. Ottawa stole a 2-0 win at the Wachovia Center on Dec. 10 in the Flyers' first game without Ray Emery. The Senators (20-15-4) - who have won two in a row heading into tonight's game with Colorado - haven't created nearly as much buzz on the ice as when forward Mike Fisher (team-leading 31 points) proposed to country star Carrie Underwood this month.