NASHVILLE - Even before they went on their current five-game winning streak, there were signs the Flyers were headed in a different direction than the sad-sack football team that plays across the street from the Wells Fargo Center.
In losses to Tampa Bay and the New York Rangers, you see, the Flyers dominated the scoring chances but ran into hot goalies. They have continued to get more shot attempts recently and have gotten superior goaltending of their own.
Here, then, is how the win-one, lose-one Flyers have transformed into the NHL's hottest team.
Steve Mason, the NHL's No. 1 star of the week, plays much better when he knows he is "the guy" and will get a majority of the starts. With Michal Neuvirth sidelined by a knee injury - he might return in mid-December - Mason has flourished while starting 10 of the last 11 games. He has a .945 save percentage and 1.71 goals-against average in his last four games, all wins.
Mason and Neuvirth are in the final seasons of their contracts. Once the oft-injured Neuvirth returns, it wouldn't be surprising if he is dealt for a draft pick before the March 1 trade deadline.
Knowing they had an eight-games-in-13-nights stretch and were in danger of falling further behind in the playoff hunt, the Flyers started playing with more urgency. They are playing hard for a full 60 minutes (and beyond, in some instances). That wasn't always the case in the first six weeks, when they had the tendency to take a period off.
Translation: Taking fewer dumb penalties.
In their five-game winning streak, the Flyers have had 23 power plays and have been shorthanded just 10 times.
Better five-on-five play
The Flyers' even-strength play had been a glaring weakness, but they have outscored opponents, 12-6, in five-on-five play during their five-game surge.
Put it all together and you have a 14-10-3 team that has climbed into a playoff spot, although the Flyers have played more games than the opponents that are chasing them.
"We're playing as a team. That's the biggest thing," said defenseman Michael Del Zotto after registering an assist and four hits Sunday in a workmanlike 4-2 win in Nashville. "All over the ice, we're a five-man unit and working together."
With a win Tuesday over a visiting Florida team that is injury-riddled, the Flyers would have their first six-game winning streak since 2011.
"The penalty kill has done a great job [lately], the power play has stepped up with some big goals, and Mase has been standing on his head every single night," Del Zotto said. "We had some inconsistencies at the start of the year, playing back-and-forth .500 hockey. But we've really come together and have to keep the foot on the gas and keep climbing in the standings."
"We learned from our mistakes," said high-scoring right winger Wayne Simmonds about the team's up-and-down start. "We're a team that's learned on the go."
They are getting pucks deeper lately and spending less time in their own defensive zone - which is important because many of their young defensemen are improving but are still a work in progress. (That said, rookie Ivan Provorov, at 19, might be the team's best defenseman.)
Michael Raffl, who scored the game-winner in Nashville with a power move that raised eyebrows, says the winning streak has "a lot to do with us accepting our roles on the team. Everybody is doing their job and doing it fantastically now."
Dave Hakstol had a matter-of-fact tone when talking about his team's turnaround.
"There's no magic formula," said the second-year coach, whose team took until January to get its act together last season. "It's just guys going out and getting prepared and doing a good job together."
To their credit, the Flyers have played well with second-line center Sean Couturier, one of the league's best defensive forwards, sidelined by a knee injury. When Couturier returns (perhaps later this month), he will likely drop down to the third-line center role, which, on paper, should make the Flyers even stronger.