Conditionally speaking, Flyers in fine form
At first, there were whispers. Then texts. Then face-to-face warnings.
“Phone calls,” Wayne Simmonds said. “We were all hearing it. We all knew to get ready.”
That was how it began, in the middle of last summer, through the start of the Flyers’ training camp. Because of recent seasons of maddening inconsistency and a cruel trick by the NHL schedulemaker involving a four-game trip to the coast winding back through Nashville, the Flyers would need to prepare not for just any training camp, but for one like none other.
“We sweated,” Jake Voracek said.
They sweated. And, early at least, it showed. By the time the Flyers resurfaced at the Skate Zone Thursday for the first time since camp, they’d been anything but beaten down by the trip to San Jose, Los Angeles, Anaheim and Nashville to start the season. With the risk of an 0-4 start that could have punctured their season and positioned Dave Hakstol on a heated seat, the Flyers returned with four standings points, including a victory in overtime.
They also had a late lead in Nashville before a 5-on-3 Predators power play and a video review gone wrong cost them another point or two.
They were expected to do worse. They could have done better. Either way, they were prepared, in every literal hockey way, for the challenge.
“We skated more in camp,” Voracek said. “A hundred percent, it was tougher. And we are skating better. We skated better than those teams during those road games. When you think about that fourgame road trip, in tough buildings, and you play so well in the third periods, it shows how well we are skating.”
As impressive as the 2-2-0 record during the trip was the Flyers’ effort in the final 20 minutes and overtime. They have scored five goals in the third period or later, and in Nashville they unloaded four consecutive goals from the mid-second into the third.
While the trip didn’t validate them as contenders, it did reveal the Flyers as fit for that task.
“Because of the time changes, and the teams we were playing, heavy, heavy teams, the way we did play in the third period did show a lot,” Voracek said. “We had a good training camp. And I think that’s why we have been successful in the third period.”
The Flyers lost six of their first nine last season and did not make the playoffs. In 2015-2016, Hakstol’s first season, they lost their first two and nine of their first 13, though they did recover to squeeze into the postseason. But they knew they had to be ready this season because of a schedule so difficult that it could have revealed them as inept by the time they played a home game. That, they will finally do Saturday, when the Washington Capitals visit the Wells Fargo Center at 7.
“We wanted to make sure we were a well-conditioned team,” said Simmonds, who is averaging a goal a game. “The way to do that is to make sure you are skating and working hard. And everybody on our team came into training camp in really good shape. And we had high-paced, up-tempo practices and all sorts of things like that.
“We knew it was coming. We knew. We knew. The coaches put everyone on alert. I don’t know if every single player knew, but a few of us were told what to expect. This team likes to work hard. We relish working hard. So there was no problem at all.”
The target reward for such conditioning is not necessarily the first four games, but the middle 40, the final month and, maybe, the spring. The Flyers, though, will take their dividends one at a time.
“Not bad,” Simmonds said of the trip. “Obviously, we would have liked to get two points in Nashville. But I thought we played really good games. We were strong. We kept pressure on. We didn’t get too high. We didn’t get too low. We played hard every single game. That’s what it’s going to take. We can’t get down if we are down a couple of goals.”
In character, Hakstol minimized the impact of what the dressing-room consensus insisted was a more intense, skating-oriented, conditioning-centric camp.
“I think it has more to do with the attention of the players to conditioning over the summer,” the coach said. “Individually, every guy came in in excellent condition. They were ready to go in a tough, competitive training camp. But they’re the ones that did the work. And with some of the depth that we have and some of the mentality we have, we are able to build our game through 60 minutes.
“It’s early. So we can’t put a stamp on it yet. But that’s one of the traits that we like to have, to be a good team and a hard team to play against in the third period.”
That’s what Hakstol had planned, and it leaked to the team leaders, who spread it through the roster: Be conditioned, and be conditioned early.
“It was a pretty weird schedule,” Sean Couturier said. “I think we were playing our third game and some teams were playing their first game of the year. But it’s nice to get it out of the way.”
Because they were physically ready to skate for 60plus minutes, the Flyers even made it work.
Flyers winger Jake Voracek, right, and Anaheim Ducks right winger Corey Perry do a little puck racing last Saturday night in Anaheim.