VOORHEES, N.J. – Skating is the most fundamental part of hockey yet often it doesn’t get the attention it deserves.
When a team is skating fast and doing so in a synchronized fashion, it can be hard to beat.
Just ask the Flyers, who have been moving their feet a lot better since they left on a road trip two weeks ago.
The Flyers used their skating to start forechecking better, right from the outset of games.
Result? After watching an opponent score the first goal of the game in 10 of the first 11 games of the season, the Flyers have scored first in six straight games.
By no mere coincidence, the Flyers are 5-0-1 in those contests.
If you boil it down to basics, it’s just a matter of moving your feet in rapid fashion.
“Everyone’s skating, everyone’s supporting each other,’’ Wayne Simmonds explained after Monday’s practice. “We’re swarming. And you can’t do that unless you’re skating.’’
During this six-game run, the Flyers have reduced their negative goal differential from a minus-14 to a minus-3.
“You want to be the one who’s initiating,’’ Simmonds said. “You don’t want to be counterpunching. You want to get there for the first punch.
“And you want to get that first goal. See how they react to it (being behind). You score the first goal and see how the other team reacts. Sometimes you score first and you take the wind right out of their sails.’’
Claude Giroux believes a strong “five-man’’ forecheck, especially at the outset, can set the tone for a game.
“I think when we have five guys forechecking and everybody is on the same page, it’s a lot easier,’’ Giroux said. “When your forecheck is going, you’re going to have the puck more.
“It creates all kinds of chances, especially early on in a game. When your forecheck is on, you keep the puck in (the offensive zone) and create turnovers. It’s been a lot better.’’
Van Riemsdyk back Thursday?
James van Riemsdyk, out since Oct. 6 with a foot injury, took part in a full practice for the first time on Monday, raising speculation he might be ready to return to action as early as Thursday against New Jersey.
JVR was still wearing an off-color yellow jersey in practice (indicating he’s an extra) but he said he’s pretty close to getting back into the lineup.
As for contact, he said: “I’ve been in some competitive situations and I’ve been feeling good with that. It’s a matter of getting your timing and your awareness back.’’
He was asked if Thursday is a possibility.
“Yeah, we’re taking it day by day now,’’ he said. “Just seeing how everything responds each day and go from there.’’
His imminent return presents a pleasant problem for coach Dave Hakstol.
In the season opener, van Riemsdyk was playing on second line left wing, a spot currently held by the red-hot Oskar Lindblom.
Hakstol suggested it’s a pleasant problem to have.
“You want to have good players come back into the lineup,’’ he said. “When that time comes, it will be a nice addition to get James back into the lineup.’’
Still no word on whether goaltender Michal Neuvirth has resumed skating yet. Neuvirth has played in only one game this season and had to fly home from the west after he aggravated an earlier groin injury. . .The Flyers Wives Carnival is coming up this Sunday at the Wells Fargo Center and all the Flyers will be there. Tickets are on sale at PhiladelphiaFlyers.com. . .Andrew MacDonald (lower-body injury) is back skating with the team but there’s no timetable for a return. . .Florida visits Tuesday night and Sean Couturier said he doesn’t expect quite as wide-open a game as the two teams displayed in an Oct. 16 contest at the Wells Fargo Center, won by the Flyers, 6-5, after blowing a three-goal lead. . .Radko Gudas was given off from Monday’s practice for what the team is calling a “maintenance day.’’