Four and a half months without playing hockey is quite a significant stretch of time.
Even though that could be the length of a typical offseason, players still have the ability to train and stay as ready as possible for the following year. Due to the coronavirus outbreak, many were not able to even skate for the majority of the pause following the announcement of the NHL’s hiatus to keep up with social distancing guidelines.
This raised a lot of concern for when play would ultimately resume – conditioning, chemistry and the ability to pick up right where things left off.
Just a few weeks into the pause, it was clear those were concerns for players as well.
“I think our team had come together in a great way and we were really playing for one another and everyone was buying into the system that A.V. put together,” Kevin Hayes said in early April. “And now there’s a possibility that we’ll never see the outcome of that … I assume that we’re going to be this good all the time, but who knows if we’re going to have this feeling again.”
Looking back to right before the pause, the Flyers were the talk of the NHL. They won nine out of their last 10 regular season games, had the duo of Carter Hart and Brian Elliott making them a threat at home and on the road and it was clear that the team’s chemistry was unmatched.
Luckily, Hayes and the Flyers will be able to see the outcome of the work they put in, but would they be that good again? Would that feeling of being on top return once play resumed?
If you watched the Flyers’ exhibition against the Penguins or their first round robin game against the Bruins and wondered how the team stayed hot during all that time – you must not have been paying attention.
Since the calendar year turned, this team was more than a feeling, they were more than a hot streak – they were the hottest team in the NHL.
And yes, there is a big difference.
There’s a reason they’re one of the top teams in the east, there’s a reason they were able to pick up right where they left off after the hiatus. It’s time to start acknowledging the Flyers for what they are – and that’s a legitimate contender – now more than ever.
Before anyone truly knew how long the wait before playoff hockey would be tangible, if at all in 2020, the Flyers looked like a well-oiled machine.
Through the span of the last 25 games of the season, the Flyers never lost consecutively. They evaluated poor outings and came out swinging the next night. One of the best examples falls back to Feb. 6-8 when the Flyers were set to play the Devils and then Capitals.
The Devils finished their season 28-29-12 from a grand total of 68 points. They had more games played (69) than points themselves. This should have been an easy win for the Flyers, but instead, they were shutout 5-0 on home ice. It was probably one of the ugliest losses of the season – and the players knew it.
After an embarrassing loss to the worst team in the Metropolitan division, it was time to face the first-place Capitals. It was an opportunity to right the ship and make a statement that the previous game was not the identity of this team. And boy, it looked like they were on a mission.
Not only did they take down Washington in their home barn, but steamrolled over them. The Flyers pulled out a 7-2 victory, Claude Giroux earned his 800th career point and they were able to silence Mr. Great Eight himself, Alexander Ovechkin, while he was on the hunt for his 700th career goal.
The Flyers endured absurd travel at the start of the season, the always brutal midseason west coast road tip and injuries popping up at the most difficult of times – and all while competing in the tightest division in the league? That’s no small feat.
Because of their hard work throughout the season, Travis Konecny earned his first All-Star appearance, Alain Vigneault is a Jack Adams finalist and Sean Couturier a Selke finalist. Giroux earned quite the career milestone in points, along with Jakub Voracek, who earned his 200th career goal. Hart boasted an impressive home record of 20-3-2 and won nine of 11 starts following the All-Star break. Ivan Provorov ranked 8th overall in defenseman with average time on ice with 24:51 and played his 300th career game in just four seasons. They overcame the news in December when it was announced their teammate and friend Oskar Lindblom had been diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma. It has been a season like no other.
It’s not a fluke. The Flyers aren’t hot – they are on fire.
With the additions made in the offseason of Kevin Hayes, Matt Niskanen, Tyler Pitlick and others, the Flyers went from a roster with a few strong players to one of the most complete teams this franchise has seen in the past decade. Rookies Joel Farabee and Nicolas Aube-Kubel found their home with the big club in no time and only solidified things further.
Whether it’s the top line or the fourth line, you never know who’s going to step up and take control of that game. It’s great for the Flyers and absolutely terrifying for any opposing teams.
So, instead of looking at the opposing team and wondering what they did wrong – why not look at the Flyers and see what they’ve done right?
If you’ve paid attention from the start of the season, this should be no surprise.
The rest of the NHL better look out – this team isn’t going anywhere but up for the foreseeable future.
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