Exactly 1 year ago, Andreas Nodl was toiling in anonymity with the AHL's Adirondack Phantoms in the small town of Glens Falls, N.Y. Nodl had made his mark under John Stevens, appearing in 43 games with the former Flyers head coach.
Under Peter Laviolette, Nodl, 23, had lasted just five games, averaging less than 8 minutes per game in ice time, before being sent back to Adirondack. He was unsure what Laviolette had in store for him.
"It was pretty tough," Nodl recalled. "You're not that familiar with the guys. You're up and down a lot. You're not as comfortable around the locker room, you're nervous."
Today, Nodl is firmly entrenched on what many call the Flyers' top line, parked next to captain Mike Richards on the right wing. Despite missing four games as a healthy scratch - and two games with an injury since - Nodl has earned his way onto Laviolette's lineup card the hard way.
"I feel good out there," Nodl said. "I'm comfortable. I know exactly what my role is - to bring energy, get in on the forecheck, be solid defensively and hopefully start scoring more goals again.
"It's nice knowing that you actually belong on this team. Being up and down over the last couple years, it means a lot to have finally made that step."
Nodl started the season on fire, collecting 10 points in his first 14 games, including six goals. Posting a double-digit goal total - after netting just one in his first 50 NHL games - seemed like a formality.
Nodl is still hanging on with nine goals. He has just eight points in the last 27 games.
For most players, that would catch the eye of the coach. While Laviolette has noticed, Nodl has kept his same spot in the lineup because that's not his only role. He plays with Richards to help shut down the NHL's top lines on a nightly basis.
And it hasn't affected Richards' point totals, as he is on pace to near a career high.
"[Nodl] hasn't gotten the production that he's looking for, or that we're looking for, because we know he's a skilled guy and can put the puck in the net," Laviolette said. "But his work ethic and his play in hard areas has been very good. Some guys, when they stop scoring, they stop going in those hard areas and stop working hard. He just needs to keep working."
Laviolette said he has noticed Nodl is more comfortable in the locker room and with his teammates. He relishes in his role on the ice.
"Most people wouldn't think it, but it's pretty fun going against some of these lines to see how you're going to do," Nodl said. "I think we've been doing a pretty good job."
He still gets frustrated when he doesn't score. Sensing the frustration, Nodl said Richards is there with a word of encouragement.
"He's calm," Nodl said. "When I'm having a tough couple games, he calms you down and says, 'You know what, everyone goes through tough stretches. Don't worry about it too much.' I can't say enough good things about him.
"Everyone wants to score and everyone wants to contribute on the sheet. That's me, too."
Perhaps tonight against Carolina, with his mother visiting from their native Austria, Nodl can break his 15-game goal drought. Either way, he's still quietly celebrating his arrival in the NHL.
"Last year at this moment, we [the team] were struggling," Nodl said. "This year has been totally different. This year, it seems like I flipped a switch and things are clicking for me."
Carter: Faceoff king?
Over the course of 53 games this season, Jeff Carter has taken exactly 466 faceoffs for the Flyers. He leads the team with a 55.6 percent success rate, which ties him for 18th best in the NHL among players who have taken at least 400 draws.
But when asked about his success, Carter shrugs.
"I guess it's because I haven't taken as many as everyone else," Carter said with a laugh. "That always helps."
Claude Giroux, at 50.7 percent, is the only other Flyer who has won more than he's lost. But Carter is especially rare in the sense that he also wins more on the road (131) than he loses (113) away from home. No Flyer has a winning faceoff percentage on the road, where the home team has the right of putting their stick in the circle last.
"A lot of it is just timing," Carter said. "The home team has so much more of an advantage. I just try and stay a little heavy on my stick, because most guys just try to box you out. It's obviously a big part of the game and it's something that I've worked on a lot since I first got here."
The Flyers are 1-3-0 in the first game back after 4 or more days between games . . . Jeff Carter has five points in two games against Carolina this season . . . In 25 home games, Danny Briere has 10 goals and seven assists, compared to 16 goals and 12 assists in 25 road games.