The Philadelphia Flyers had one of the toughest stretches to close out the first half of the 2019-20 NHL regular season. Playing against the likes of the East-leading Washington Capitals, Boston Bruins, and Pittsburgh Penguins and traveling to the defending Stanley Cup champs St.Louis Blues was as brutal a stretch as they come.
Regardless of who was in their way, the Flyers stepped up and claimed wins over all four of those teams in the last week-and-a-half. Tuesday’s 3-0 victory over the Penguins at the Wells Fargo Center was another statement win for Alain Vigneault’s team, who continued to show they can beat the “big boys” in the NHL.
“When we feel good and we play the right way and dial in, I feel like we’re a pretty good team,” Flyers captain Claude Giroux said. “We have, obviously, a lot of work to do to be consistent. Teams that make the playoffs and make a run for it, they’re very consistent on the road and at home. So, we have some work to do, we know that, but at the same time, we’re happy with how we’re playing.”
After a grueling six-game road trip which spanned over 11 days and totaled over 5,200 miles, the Flyers returned to the Wells Fargo Center in mid-January and rolled off five wins over their last seven games overall. A 3-2 win over the Capitals, a 6-5 shootout win over the Bruins, a 4-3 overtime win over the Blues, paired with Tuesday’s latest success has the Flyers sitting on 60 points heading into this week’s All-Star Break.
While the other wins came against teams currently higher in the standings than Pittsburgh, anytime a team can shutout and dominate a rival is always going to leave a good taste in their mouths. Brian Elliott made 19 saves to earn his first shutout of the season, the line of Claude Giroux, Travis Konecny, and James van Riemsdyk totaled two points after a combined seven on Saturday, and the defense limited Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Co. who came in off a huge win over Boston of their own. It was the perfect way to head into the upcoming nine-day break.
“I would say that we’re about on track to what I expected as far as bringing the team together,” Vigneault said. “Wasn’t quite sure exactly what we have as far as a group were the young players were, I like their progression. I think the veteran players buying in and what it takes to play winning hockey. It’s a battle every game is so hard. This is a playoff caliber battle in the first not a lot of room on both sides, you have to stick with the plan you’re going to stick with the process, and we will capitalize in the second.”
The Flyers are sitting just outside of the final Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference, despite a strong ending to this current homestand. What’s even better is, Carter Hart and Shayne Gostisbehere are expected to be back after the break, giving Vigneault his young goalkeeper and another experienced defender to call upon.
Forward Nolan Patrick is hoping to be a part of the second half of the season as well, pending how his recovery from serious migraines goes. A stint with the AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley Phantoms is expected for Patrick, but should he return fresh and injury-free, then general manager Chuck Fletcher may not need to acquire any players prior to the Feb. 24th Trade Deadline.
All in all, the Flyers have exceeded expectations so far this season and still have around three months of regular season play to go. The young players are impressing, the veterans are excelling, and the confidence in the group is at an all-time high. Now it’s all about recovering and gearing up for 32 more games for a chance at postseason hockey.
“It’s definitely the best way to head into the break,” van Riemsdyk said. “I think in these sorts of games you have to be careful not to get too far ahead of yourself. I thought it was a pretty mature game from us knowing the situation. It’s a nice break coming up. You want to feel good about where your game is at going into it as a team and certainly, I think we did a lot of really good things out there. I think we handled the business we needed to do and now you can enjoy some time off.”