The Flyers held their annual team Christmas party Sunday, and for once, the schedule maker couldn't have been kinder. Had this been held seven days earlier, a day after a 3-0 home shutout loss to the Bruins pushed their winless streak into double digits, the mood might have been, well — a real humbug.
"No question,'' Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said after practice at the Skate Zone in Voorhees on Sunday. "That's still reality. You want to be able to enjoy the afternoon with your family. It's always a little easier when you're coming off a win.''
Actually, that wouldn't have done it. Not one win. Not after a 10-game skid highlighted by late lost leads and critical mistakes, a streak that began amid an alarming lack of secondary scoring and ended only after one of those secondary performers found the net in three consecutive victories – more than doubling his output over a 46-game stretch that included the final 21 games of last season.
Michael Raffl broke through for the first time in 42 games in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Islanders just before Thanksgiving. "When I scored that first goal against the Islanders, the first thing I did was turn around to the bench,'' he said. "And I really had to start laughing. I saw all those guys going nuts. It was a good feeling. Puts a smile on their faces. It's positive energy for sure.''
It was the sixth of those 10 games in which the Flyers ended on the wrong side of the score. But an important portal might have opened that night. Raffl, 29, once scored 21 goals in a season, before a series of injuries to his ankles and abs compromised his mobility. He began this season healthy but rusty, and despite doing a whole lot of things right on a fourth line that seemed too talented for its designation, could not bury some juicy chances early on.
That changed dramatically during last week's West Coast swing, when Hakstol, seeking, he said, only "a way to have something different to focus on,'' promoted Raffl to the second line with Jakub Voracek and Valtteri Filppula. The left winger was a plus-3 in Monday's streak-busting 5-2 victory over Calgary, scored early in the third period to give the Flyers a two-goal cushion in Wednesday's 4-2 victory over Edmonton, and had the game-winning goal in Thursday's 4-1 victory over Vancouver.
"You keep battling,'' Raffl said. "You keep telling yourself that everything is OK. But at the end of the day, positive results are positive results. It boosts up your confidence for sure.''
The goals were as emblematic as they were critical. Suddenly, the scoring potency that had made the early part of this season so promising returned. The Flyers received production from a first line, a second line, a third line. Of Raffl's three points Monday, one was assisting Scott Laughton – who had not scored in almost two months.
As Raffl met with reporters after Sunday's practice – looking more relieved than buoyant – Laughton passed behind him and smiled. It's a hockey cliché to brag about the closeness of a dressing room, but the Flyers walked the walk during their recent troubles and are justifiably proud to have emerged without any noticeable fissure.
"When you're at eight, nine, 10 in a row, most teams would start to point fingers,'' said Claude Giroux, the team captain. "Start to just find excuses. And that wasn't the case. We were all in the same boat, and no one went over to the dark side. We stuck together, and that shows a lot of what this team is made of.''
He was asked if he emphasized that to the team. "No, not even,'' he said. "We're a very tight group. We really enjoy spending the day together and working together. It just makes it a lot more fun when you win.''
Especially when there's a party in the immediate horizon.