VOORHEES, N.J. – There are a number of reasons why the Flyers find themselves in first place, not the least of which is the role of the team’s leadership group.
In last year’s exit interview press conferences, Jake Voracek reminded everyone this veteran cast – including himself, Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier and Wayne Simmonds – hasn’t won a playoff series since 2012. . .and better start changing that trend fast.
Well, it looks like it will get another legitimate shot this season, given its recent 10-0-2 run, not to mention a spectacular 26-8-3 record since Dec. 4, which puts the Flyers squarely in a playoff spot with less than a quarter of a season to be played.
So what about it, Jake? Has the leadership group been inspired by your declaration?
“It (as a motivating factor) is huge,’’ Voracek said after Wednesday’s practice at the Skate Zone. “We don’t only want to get into the playoffs, we want to do some damage.
“We have a lot of young guys who haven’t been in the playoffs yet. Obviously we know where this team is heading. Maybe in a couple years we become (Stanley) Cup contenders.’’
The numbers kind of tell the story. Couturier is having a career year, Giroux and Voracek are enjoying bounce-back campaigns and Simmonds was on track for another 30-goal season until he suffered a lower-body injury which will keep him out several weeks.
“You want to get those (young players) some playoff experience,’’ Voracek said. “Every single game in the playoffs is priceless in terms of experience because it’s such a different level.
“The last time I felt good in the playoffs was against the Rangers (2014). That’s four years. The last couple years we had guys hurting, banged up. They weren’t at the top of their game. I think that’s what we’re doing this year.’’
Coach Dave Hakstol acknowledges the veterans have been a driving force in this turnabout.
“It (the success) is a reflection of the leadership group,’’ Hakstol said. “And the confidence and the experience that this group has.
“I still believe that group through that entire stretch (a 10-game winless streak in November-December) remained very even-keeled, very focused, very strong in their convictions with what this team is trying to accomplish.’’
Giroux suffered through perhaps his worst season in the NHL last year, part of that due to recovery from 2016 offseason abdominal surgery.
He’s been a steady force in guiding a rebuilding team to a surprising level of consistency.
As Hakstol mentioned, remaining even-keeled has been a key.
“It’s weird to say but when we lost 10 in a row, it (the vibe in the locker room) is pretty much the same,’’ Giroux said. “We have a good group here, coming to the rink everyday is a lot of fun.
“You wouldn’t know the difference if we lost 10 in a row or now when we’re playing some good hockey. It’s good to see the guys stay tight and we enjoy being at the rink.
From a technical standpoint, the Flyers couldn’t be playing better hockey.
They went 10-1-2 in February (only the second time they have won double-digit games in February in franchise history) and part of that had to do with staying out of the penalty box.
In fact, they have allowed only six power plays in their last six games. If you allow only one power play per game, you’re going to come away with a lot of wins in those contests.
“We have to be careful with our sticks,’’ Giroux said. “We’ve done a good job with that. You don’t want to put your team in a tough spot by going to the box. You lose momentum. I think guys are just more careful now.’’
Defenseman Johnny Oduya, acquired off waivers from Ottawa on Monday, has not yet arrived from Canada. Although the Flyers have made no definitive statement, it is believed there are some visa issues, so Oduya will not be ready to play in Thursday night’s home game against Carolina. . .Jori Lehtera did not practice due to a maintenance day.