Flyers' slow start nipped in bud
Team leaders helped turn the corner after a lopsided loss.
BEFORE THE Flyers' season got underway less than two weeks ago, the talk throughout training camp and the preseason centered on avoiding a slow start for the third straight season.
General manager Ron Hextall warned against it. New coach Dave Hakstol was tasked with avoiding it. The players in the seemingly grew tired of hearing the questions about how they could avoid it.
So when the Flyers started the year 0-1-1 on a trip to South Florida, including a 7-1 loss to the Florida Panthers, there was a little closed-door meeting with only the players.
"We wanted to have a good start, everybody's talking about it the whole summer and in preseason," defenseman and alternate captain Mark Streit said.
The Flyers, of course, responded with back-to-back wins, including Wednesday's 3-0 victory over the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks.
The word "accountability" came up a few times after Sunday's practice. Hakstol gave all the credit to the leadership group in the locker room for how it was able to right the ship after last weekend. That includes captain Claude Giroux and alternates Streit and Wayne Simmonds, as well as other veterans in the room.
"Those things come from the leaders in here and that's how they grow and become part of your everyday work habits," Hakstol said.
"I think there's a lot more guys in here speaking up, talking," winger R.J. Umberger said. "Some guys like myself and (Nick Schultz), who in another year here, we feel more comfortable. And the leadership group is taking another step. Even after the Florida game in Florida, it was quick for the players to squash it right away. We knew what happened, we knew what we have to do better and we were the ones that were expecting it from ourselves. Instead of waiting for coach to come in the next day or whatever, I think the group handled it pretty good."
Well enough that they'll take a 2-1-1 record into Tuesday's home game against the high-powered Dallas Stars. That record looks a lot better than what it could have been.
Another area the Flyers struggled with last year was closing out tight games. In last Monday's home opener against the Panthers, they hung on down the stretch for the 1-0 victory. Against Chicago, they were able to add to their lead before clamping down on defense.
Last season's Flyers were prone to giving up late goals. They would find ways to lose games instead of winning.
It's only been four games, of course, which isn't a great sample size. But early returns show a focused effort.
"I think it's a building process," Hakstol said. "We made some mistakes in the last 10, 15 minutes of the 1-0 win against Florida, but we also continued to play the right way. We got a save or two, we had a couple guys make second-effort type of plays that allowed us to win that game, 1-0. I think our group grew and grew in confidence a little bit out of that. Same thing against Chicago. I just thought we continued to play the right way. Little things have a way of building and growing."
It's a mentality thing, Streit says. And, also, that accountability word.
"Everybody has to buy into the system and everybody needs to do his job out there," Streit said. "We have to be able to execute and trust each other; and the accountability, it has to be there for 60 minutes. Yeah, there's going to be breakdowns, there's going to be mistakes, but for the most time, we just have to play within the system, especially if you face teams like Chicago, or Dallas on Tuesday, because it makes everything easier.
"So far, so good. But we still have lots of games within October and you want to keep going. I think everybody is old enough that he knows what his job is and what to do so we function as a team and we can be successful together."
After taking part in half of Friday's practice, R.J. Umberger followed Saturday's day off by being a full participant in Sunday's practice. Umberger said he felt good and there wasn't anything holding him back. He hopes to play Tuesday against Dallas . . . Coach Dave Hakstol said nothing was "definitive" about lineup decisions for Tuesday's game. Sam Gagner has played well in Umberger's absence and he's unlikely to come out. That lineup decision will likely become more clear at Monday's practice . . . Matt Read skated with former linemates Wayne Simmonds and Sean Couturier at practice Sunday . . . Hakstol also said it was too early to decide who was starting in net Tuesday, but it's fair to expect it to be Steve Mason, who is coming off a family issue that kept him away from the team for a few days. Michal Neuvirth was great in relief, posting back-to-back shutouts. He'd likely get the nod Wednesday in Boston.