WINNIPEG, Manitoba — Partly to sharpen their skills and partly to loosen up a slumping team that is gripping its sticks too tightly when presented with scoring chances, the Flyers held a shootout contest at the end of their practice Wednesday at Bell MTS Place.
Two teams of shooters competed, with Michal Neuvirth in the net at one end and Brian Elliott at the other.
There were hugs and high fives and loud cheers throughout the contest. Hockey was fun again.
Perhaps the best part: It took the Flyers' collective minds off the fact that they have been shut out in their last two games and haven't scored in 156 minutes and 9 seconds.
"If you don't enjoy the game, you're not going to win a lot of games," captain Claude Giroux said.
Giroux said the Flyers (8-8-2) aren't in panic mode.
"Our chances are there; we just have to find a way to put it in," he said. "We just have to bear down and find a way."
On Thursday, the Flyers will face Winnipeg (10-4-3) and try to avoid their third straight shutout loss, which would set an unwanted franchise record.
The Flyers also went through a dry spell last season after their 10-game winning streak ended.
"I think it was much more frustrating last year because we weren't generating those good opportunities. It was kind of one-and-done everywhere," said defenseman Andrew MacDonald, who skated Wednesday for the first time since he was sidelined by a leg injury Oct. 21.
"You see the puck possession in the O zone and we're still generating second and third chances, where they probably weren't there last year," MacDonald added. "We know it's a matter of time before those start going in. I think guys are still confident here."
The Flyers have been shut out five times in 18 games. They have allowed the first goal in 10 games — and lost nine of them.
"We have to keep an even keel here," defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere said. "We realize there are a lot of games left."
Jets coach Paul Maurice said he hasn't decided whether he will use former Flyer Steve Mason (1-3-1, 3.76 GAA, .892 save percentage) or the team's new No. 1 goalie, Connor Hellebuyck, who is 9-1-2 with a 2.32 GAA and a .930 save percentage.
Right winger Wayne Simmonds was Mason's teammate with the Flyers and in several tournaments for Team Canada.
"I know Mase for long time," said Simmonds, who attended the goalie's wedding in the summer. "… But when you play him, it doesn't matter. It's just another regular game, and you've got to put the puck in the back of the net."
There is a chance center Nolan Patrick will return to the Flyers lineup after missing nine games with a concussion.
"I'm feeling pretty good," Patrick, who grew up in Winnipeg, said after Wednesday's practice. "Obviously, if I was able to play here it would be pretty cool to play my first game in my hometown, but that decision is not really up to me, so we'll see what happens."
Patrick's father, Steve, a former NHL player, watched the afternoon practice and planned to cook a venison dinner for his son later in the evening. Steve said he had a few concussions in his career, so he can sympathize with his son. The two talk on the phone every day.
"If the team is being real cautious, I'm fine with that," said Steve Patrick, a grinding winger who played with Buffalo, the New York Rangers, and Quebec in the 1980s. "Obviously, a lot of people want to see him play here and he really wants to play, but if the coach says no, that's the way it goes."