Here's a thought: Instead of shooting hoops or kicking a soccer ball as their usual warmup Thursday night, how about the Flyers knock each other around a little beforehand?
"It definitely helps when you're on the road and you get a hit early," defenseman Christian Folin said after practice at SkateZone on Wednesday. "You're trying to get your head into it. Even if you get hit, it actually helps you. It's OK; let's go. It pumps you up. They should do some research about that — what happens to the body when you get hit.
"People get put in a corner, they do amazing things."
OK, so knocking each other around isn't the most enlightened idea going, especially given this team's injury history. Still, the Flyers put themselves in that corner 12 days ago, after a 6-1 home shellacking at the hands of the New York Islanders. They were lifeless and listless, making what coach Dave Hakstol on Wednesday termed "reckless plays in the offensive zone," putting him on an early hot seat, and initiating conversations of breaking up a core that has in equal parts thrilled and tortured its fan base repeatedly throughout their years together.
That loss left the team 4-7, and seeking some sort of an identity that did not begin and end with the word fragile. They couldn't get the first goal. They couldn't kill a penalty, and couldn't score when given the man advantage. Their goaltenders seemed made of glass, and their skaters acted at times as if enrolled in a no-check league.
"That last game here left such a bad taste in everybody's mouths," said Folin, the free-agent signee who has been just short of a revelation since his auspicious fall in one of his early starts with this team. "So we went out there with the idea to set the tone early. We talked how we have to play with more of an edge."
Folin has. Now paired with Shayne Gostisbehere, he is a team-leading plus-6 and is carrying over from his previous season in Los Angeles what he believes was some of the best hockey he has played as a professional. Known for his physical play, Folin says that Ghost's skating "makes it easier for me to step up, because I know he's going to be able to cover me."
"It's got to be part of our identity," Folin said about physicality. "We don't have to go out and fight everyone, but if we play hard and make strong plays, that has to be part of our identity if we want to go a long way this year."
A successful 3-0-1 Western swing reinforced that. The Flyers trailed only once, when they lost to San Jose in overtime. After spending all but one of their previous 11 games chasing the lead, they scored first in all four games. Fragile morphed into edgy, exemplified by Folin's long skate into a scrum during their 5-2 victory at Arizona on Monday – a game that ended with nine penalties called over the final 20 seconds.
The Flyers will begin a five-game homestand at the Wells Fargo Center on Thursday night against the same team they last mixed it up with. They have yet to record a fight this season, these descendants of the most prolific fighting hockey team that ever existed, but if those end-of-the game scrums with the Coyotes have any carryover — and Hakstol believes they just might — the start of Thursday's game should be anything but lifeless or listless.
Which, if Folin is right, should only help to jolt the home team from those early-game lulls.
"We talked about that a little bit coming back yesterday," Folin said. "We know that we have a bunch of home games, so we have to set the tone right away. Get on our toes. … Play that road mentality."
Goaltender Alex Lyon and forward Tyler Goulbourne were reassigned to the Phantoms after Wednesday's practice. … Brian Elliott rejoined the Flyers for practice, but it seems unlikely he will start ahead of Cal Pickard on Thursday. For one, Pickard is coming off impressive starts in San Jose and Phoenix. For another, Elliott – who took a shot off the same dome that Travis Konecny inadvertently kneed in practice last Sunday – didn't sound as if he was quite ready. "It's been three days without skating,'' Elliott said. "Trying to be smart about it, not push things too fast."