PHILADELPHIA – While the Flyers haven’t exactly been tearing it up lately, they can take comfort in knowing they still control their own fate.
With just a dozen games left on the schedule, the Flyers still have control of third place in the Metropolitan Division going into Thursday night’s game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, one of the teams that’s hot on the Flyers’ heels.
It’s why Claude Giroux is calling it “the biggest game of the year.’’
Coach Dave Hakstol indicated he’s pretty happy with the position his squad is in, particularly with a favorable schedule down the stretch.
Six of the last 12 games are against non-playoff teams and aside from a three-game jaunt to Pittsburgh, Dallas and Colorado at the end of this month, the travel is minimal.
“You really can’t ask for more than that,’’ said Hakstol after Wednesday’s practice at the Wells Fargo Center. “To have the opportunity to control your own destiny.
“It’s a long, hard battle from game one through game 82 to be a playoff team but we came into this year with our focus pretty clear, knowing it’s a hard fight to get in. It’s a great time of year to be right in the middle of that fight and to control our own destiny.’’
Giroux knows Columbus has been playing well of late and will be a handful in this latest encounter.
The captain hopes the Flyers can slow down some of the Jackets’ momentum.
The key, it would appear, to stay emotionally even-keeled.
“It’s definitely the biggest game of the season,’’ he reiterated. “But sometimes you just can’t overthink it, you just have to go out there and play the game.
“If you don’t enjoy it, you’re not going to play your best. Just go out there and enjoy the game. They’re rolling right now, they’re playing some good hockey. They have some momentum so it’s important for us to get a good start and get our fans on our side.’’
Florida, the one team the Flyers have to keep an eye on, still has four games left with powerhouse Boston. So that’s also a factor and perhaps one of the reasons why Jake Voracek thinks the Flyers’ magic number is 92 points.
Which they need 11 more in the final 12 games.
“Our last two losses (Boston, Vegas) we lost in heartbreaking ways,’’ Voracek said. “We lost three or four points, it is what it is. We know we have this thing in our hands, we just have to focus on ourselves.’’
Voracek has made some late-season predictions the past few years and usually he’s on target.
“Ninety-two,’’ he said. “We play a lot of divisional games (meaning they can do damage to their pursuers). That’s the reason.’’
As mentioned, the recent losses have come late in games but Voracek insists the attitude is still a positive one. The Wednesday practice seemed to have a lot of energy.
“I think it is different if you are right on the bubble and you are in and out of the playoffs everyday,’’ he said. “We still have it in our hands. We worked really hard for that position. Now it’s up to us to take control again and move forward.’’
Wayne Simmonds believes the Flyers can get things righted.
“We’re playing decent hockey, we can always be better,’’ he said. “We know Columbus is good team, big guys up front. They like to get up the ice with their D (defense). It’s all about managing the game.’’
Defenseman Robert Hagg is expected to be out at least another week with a lower-body injury but did practice on Wednesday. Johnny Oduya, also day-to-day with a lower-body injury, practiced and said “we’ll see what happens.’’ Travis Sanheim is up from the Phantoms so there’s no reason to rush either Hagg or Oduya back.