CHICAGO - On the first day of this marathon road trip, Nashville Predators coach Barry Trotz said what most other coaches have been thinking about the Flyers: They aren't a very fast team.
"We tried to take advantage of their footspeed," Trotz said, "or lack thereof."
It is something Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren admitted last summer, when trying to pick apart what caused his team to miss the playoffs for the first time in five seasons.
Seven months later, Craig Berube says speed is one attribute that creates such an enormous chasm in the standings between the Flyers and Blackhawks, who are on pace for a 122-point season.
"You've got to skate in the game today. There's no rest," Berube said. "That's a huge part of the game. You've got to make sure you're moving your feet all the time and attacking all the time. We've got to keep working on it and getting better at it."
Since he took over on Oct. 7, Berube has drilled his players to be quicker, more responsible and more aware. Back and forth they went, skating board-to-board in nearly every practice through the first 3 weeks of his tenure.
Tough skating practices, or sometimes any practice at all, are a luxury Berube did not have on this 6,801-mile jaunt that changed time zones five times.
Holmgren cannot overturn his roster overnight. And Berube cannot change the speed and agility of his roster in 8 weeks. But Berube can demand that his players be in better position to make them "seem faster" to opponents.
"I want our guys to understand that waiting 1 second is too long," Berube said. "I think we've got to change waiting behind for someone to keep the puck alive in the zone. I want to get back quicker. What that's going to do is make us a faster team all around.
"I think that's getting better, but still not where it needs to be. Habits take a while to change. We're working on it."
The difference in speed was evident last night in ways big and small, like when Andrew Shaw beat Andrej Meszaros around the back of the net to sneak in a second-period goal that gave the Hawks their first lead of the game, en route to a 7-2 victory. It wasn't even the first time Meszaros was beaten like that on the trip - there was a somewhat similar goal from behind the net in Detroit last Wednesday night.
After the first period, it seemed like the Blackhawks were skating circles around the Flyers, which enabled them to win puck battles and create offensive opportunities. Skating is a big reason why Chicago has scored five or more goals a whopping 15 times this season - compared to just five by the Flyers.
"It's more just mindset of skating and not resting," Berube said. "Your shifts have to be short, you have to be jumping all the time, leading the way getting back and checking. That's where you're going to get your offensive chances if you're doing that job."
Kimmo Timonen disagrees with Trotz, his former coach, with regards to team speed - and he has been the Flyers' most outspoken critic when it comes to skating.
But when you look at the Flyers' roster, you can count the number of fast skaters on the team on one hand: Braydon Coburn, Jake Voracek, Claude Giroux and Matt Read. You could even make an argument for Zac Rinaldo.
"In my mind, we're pretty fast when we skate," Timonen said. "When we skate, we're a good team. But it can be better. It's all about being consistent. It has to happen every game."
Timonen agreed with Berube's theory, though, that team speed may be dependent on his teammate's decision to skate and play sound positional hockey.
"Sometimes, you play a lot of games and a lot of games on the road. It's not that easy to just say it and do it," Timonen said. "It can be better."
The Flyers' current reality is that they will not be a truly faster team - with "talented, one-on-one" players like the Blackhawks, as Berube said - without some kind of overhaul from Holmgren. In the meantime, though, Berube wants his team to think like one.
"I think they can do it by not thinking about it so much," Berube said. "It becomes a natural habit."