Fly­ers hope 50th birth­day ends with a party

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS -

There will be time to see it on a power play, or in the fi­nal minute of reg­u­la­tion, or in a shootout, the Fly­ers should par­don the ref­er­ence.

There will be a res­o­lu­tion in the spring, in the play­offs, per­haps be­fore.

There will be, soon enough, ev­ery re­quired way to judge a hockey team.

Un­til then, Mark Streit will have his eyes, his ears and mostly, his 21 years in ma­jor com­pet­i­tive hockey. And that’s how he chooses to judge the Fly­ers.

“The guys here,” the learned de­fense­man was say­ing the other day, af­ter the fi­nal train­ing camp prac­tice, “they like to hang out to­gether. There are no groups. Ev­ery­body goes to lunch and din­ner with ev­ery­body. And it’s a good at­mos­phere.

“I think we have a good bal­ance be­tween know­ing when to have fun and when to let loose a lit­tle bit and when to work on the ice. And I think that is very im­por­tant go­ing into this sea­son.”

It’s been said be­fore, all of it, around the Fly­ers, around other teams on ev­ery level of ath­let­ics. But it is not al­ways said, and it is not al­ways said by some­one with as much his­tor­i­cal author­ity. So when Streit shared what he saw be­fore the Fly­ers rolled into Los An­ge­les to be­gin their 50th sea­son Fri­day night, it meant some­thing. It meant that the Fly­ers might have it right this time.

They were in­con­sis­tent last sea­son, start­ing poorly, re­cov­er­ing, flour­ish­ing for a while, dip­ping, then nos­ing into the play­offs, where they would show a hor­ri­fy­ing in­abil­ity to score. But, as it would hap­pen, Claude Giroux and Shayne Gostis­be­here were in­jured, and both would re­quire off­sea­son surgery. That com­pro­mised their power play, which dam­aged their abil­ity to win games. And even if ev­ery team has in­jured play­ers in the spring, that’s what hap­pened.

With that, Ron Hex­tall would face a test of his pol­icy. He was hired, in part, for his pa­tience. And even if he didn’t have much pa­tience, he would by def­i­ni­tion have more than most who had been run­ning the Fly­ers through their 2-for-49 frus­tra­tion. So, he would show some. He would bring al­most all of it back again. He would not make the (al­most) an­nual or­ga­ni­za­tional coach­ing change. He would not carry on and blame Giroux, still a won­der­ful player, if an oc­tave short of Peter Lavi­o­lette’s in­fa­mous yo­del that no one in the world was bet­ter. He’d try the two-goalie sys­tem again.

There was some­thing there. Some­thing worth one more shift.

“I am not a re­ac­tionary guy,” the gen­eral man­ager said. “I don’t like to make de­ci­sions based on small sam­ples. I an­tic­i­pate the coach­ing staff be­ing here a long time and our play­ers be­ing here a long time. I don’t nec­es­sar­ily like change. It’s got to make sense. I think sta­bil­ity in an or­ga­ni­za­tion at any level is a good thing.”

Hex­tall made some changes, im­port­ing Boyd Gor­don and Dale Weise for their size and un­der­stated skills, adding Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny for their youth and po­ten­tial. With that, the Fly­ers had a snug fit. They were a lit­tle big­ger, a lit­tle health­ier and a lit­tle younger around the edges. Yet they have just enough in-their-prime, hard­ened, des­per­ate vet­er­ans to ne­go­ti­ate a hockey sea­son’s chal­lenges. By the time they all landed in Dave Hak­stol’s sec­ond full train­ing camp, they were there to work, not to learn. So, they did.

“I would say we’ve got more speed,” Jake Vo­racek said. “Ev­ery­body is one year older than last year, with more ex­pe­ri­ence and more games un­der their belt.

“When you have two 19-year-olds mak­ing the team like that, with the way that Hexy thinks, it’s a sign that they are do­ing some­thing right.”

The stand­ings, and then the post­sea­son re­sults, will be the only such sign that mat­ters. And the Fly­ers have been trad­ing in ul­ti­mate dis­ap­point­ment for so long that al­most ev­ery photo of their last cham­pi­onship cel­e­bra­tion is in black and white.

“We have be­lief in our­selves,” Hex­tall said. “With that be­lief, it can’t be, ‘OK, we’re go­ing to get it done this year.’ We be­lieve, but we have to put the work in. It’s al­ways a thing that’s a lit­tle dan­ger­ous. We don’t make the play­offs two years ago, we make it last year and there’s al­ways a lit­tle think­ing like, ‘We’re go­ing to make the play­offs.’ Well, we can’t view it like that. We have to MAKE the play­offs. We have a lot of work to do.

“I think our group knows that and we have to get off to a bet­ter start. The first half has got to be bet­ter. But I think with the ad­di­tions, we are go­ing to be a bet­ter team.”

They are at the right age, with the right mix, with the right coach, with the right at­ti­tude, with the right power play, with the right goal­tend­ing, with the right re­cent post­sea­son ex­pe­ri­ence and frus­tra­tion, with the right level of pa­tience. And 50 is a nice, round num­ber. At least un­til the first shootout, just leave it at that.

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