TAMPA – It’s tough enough playing the NHL-leading Tampa Bay Lightning players on their home ice right after a three-day Christmas break.
But to make it even tougher, some of the Flyers chose to take the official team flight down from Philadelphia on Thursday morning.
The plane left Philly at 8 a.m., landed around 10:30 and the players were on the ice at Amelie Arena for the morning skate just before noon.
Tough, indeed. So a number of Flyers, including Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds, Sean Couturier, James van Riemsdyk and Mikael Raffl chose to fly down to Tampa on their own Wednesday night.
At least they had a night to sleep on it before taking on the Lightning, who were set to enter this game with a 15-4-0 home record.
“I’m old, flying and playing the next day, it’s kind of a tight schedule,’’ the 30-year-old Giroux said with a grin. “I’d like to get a good night’s sleep.’’
It’s the only game this season where the Flyers fly and then play on the same day. League bylaws basically prohibit this sort of thing but for Christmas break, exceptions are made.
Travis Konecny was one of the players who did take the team plane and indicated it was not that big a deal.
Of course, when you’re all of 21, this sort of thing is not exactly a headline-maker.
“I did it a lot of times in junior,’’ Konecny said. “It’s no surprise.’’
Giroux said he did not skate during the three-day break, allowing himself to rest and recover. The Flyers finished up before the break with six games in 10 days.
Coach Scott Gordon knows this wasn’t an ideal situation.
How tough is it?
“Can I let you know after (the game),’’ Gordon kidded. “Today, everything is kind of rushed. But we’ll basically get everything in before 5 p.m.’’
Adjusting to Gordon’s style
The Flyers have had a handful of games to adjust to Gordon’s style and a couple of them said the one change they’ve noticed that Gordon puts an emphasis on details.
“He’s strong on details,’’ Giroux said. “Play all the same way. It’s a little different (than ex-coach Dave Hakstol). I’ve only been with him three or four games.
“He makes sure we’re all on the same page. It makes our job a lot easier if we’re all on the same page.’’
As mentioned in previous articles, Gordon seems to welcome good lines of communication, both ways.
“He likes to give you some feedback,’’ van Riemsdyk pointed out. “Certainly that’s a bit of a difference.’’
Konecny appreciates the candor.
“You always know what’s wrong, you always know what’s right,’’ he said. “He’s very vocal and I just think everybody is on the exact same page.’’
Andrew MacDonald played for Gordon when the two were on the Islanders some eight-nine years ago.
Gordon has made some changes in his style but the fundamental stuff is still the same.
“We weren’t a great team then,’’ he said. “We were a young team with some older guys. I think he was bringing in some new ideas and it took some time to gel.
“I think he’s done a real good job of communicating with us right away since he’s been here. He probably learned a lot from his American Hockey League experience.
Good measuring stick game
With the Lightning presenting such a great challenge, the Flyers viewed this test as a good measuring stick game to see how much progress they have made under Gordon.
“Especially at home, they’re a really good team. . .they play responsibly,’’ Giroux said. “They play a good system game and they have a lot of players who can play offensively.’’
Added Konecny: “We’re trying to build a consistent game and we want to keep it going tonight. It’s a challenge. I’m trying to look at the positive side for us.’’
Neuvirth gets the start
Gordon said he decided Michal Neuvirth for a second straight start, in part because of his strong effort in Sunday’s 3-2 shootout win over the Rangers at Madison Square Garden.
“It also gives Carter (Hart) a chance to get some work in in practice,’’ Gordon said. “Michal just played and this is a more favorable situation than for someone who hasn’t played in four days.’’
New Phantoms coaching staff
On Thursday, the Flyers announced that Kerry Huffman has been promoted from “acting’’ head coach of the Lehigh Valley Phantoms to “interim’’ head coach.
Also, former Flyers head coach Terry Murray was named an assistant coach. Murray took the 1997 Flyers to the Stanley Cup Finals and also played for the team in the ‘70s.