PHILADELPHIA – Much of the so-called blame for the Flyers’ failures in recent seasons has been placed, fairly or unfairly, at the feet of the team’s veteran leaders.
Be it Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, Jake Voracek or even some recently departed players such as Wayne Simmonds and Andrew MacDonald, the finger always seems to point to the top.
So shouldn’t it be fair to credit some of these gentlemen for what the Flyers have achieved this season, which is already about one-third completed?
The Flyers entered Thursday night action with a chance to move into second place in the Metro Division standings and that’s something few would have predicted back in September.
Kevin Hayes joined the Flyers this season and having compiled quite a bit of experience with the Rangers and Winnipeg, feels like he’s joining that aforementioned group.
He’s witnessed what Giroux & Co. are capable of achieving, given the right circumstances – such as capable coaching and above-average goaltending.
“When I was in college (Boston College), a team chaplain told a pretty good story that always stuck with me,’’ Hayes said. “It was a karate story where the best belts were in the back of the room.
“It went like from green belt, blue belt, yellow belt all the way back to black belt. He couldn’t understand that the best performers were in the back when they should be in the front and everyone should be watching them and see what they’re doing.’’
That’s where the Flyers’ front-line group seems to be positioned now.
“That’s how I try to live my life,’’ Hayes continued. “I put myself in that group (along with Giroux, Couturier, et al) that leads from the front.
“The longer you’ve been in this league, the easier it is to just kind of sit back and come to practice. It’s easy to show up and just go through the motions but when you have young guys in the room on a team that’s in and out of the playoffs and hasn’t made the playoffs in a while, you need your best character guys to lead from the front.’’
Of course, the true test will come if the Flyers make it to the playoffs and perhaps end a seven-year drought (longest in team history) of not winning a playoff series.
“You need (front-line) guys to show up every day and show guys who are entering their prime that this is how you do it here,’’ Hayes said. “What it takes to be a pro instead of just going through the motions.’’
Hayes, who reached the Stanley Cup Final in the 2013-14 season when current head coach Alain Vigneault was the Rangers’ bench boss, has been impressed by what he’s seen from players such as Voracek and Couturier.
“They’re true professionals,’’ Hayes said. “They show up to the rink everyday, handle their business in a professional manner, both on and off the ice. . .whether it’s in the gym or maybe if they are in rehab.
“Like I said, it’s easy to go through the motions, wake up in February and say, ‘Oh, I have to go to the rink again.’ They’re true professionals and if you’re a (Carter) Hart or a (Morgan) Frost, they’re easy guys to follow.’’
One thing the leaders have passed along to the younger players is a sense of accountability. If you make a mistake, own up to it. Take the blame, rather than passing it along.
“Guys are understanding the accountability factor that you need to have in the locker room to have success,’’ Vigneault said. “That’s got to continue to grow. I think we’re just at the starting point.
“When you’re winning like we are now, everything is hunky-dory. But we will be challenged as a group. I think we are building a foundation to be able to respond to the different challenges that we’re going to have.’’
Vigneault decided to go with seven defensemen against Arizona. The coach wants to keep Robert Hagg active. That meant recent callup Mikhail Vorobyev was a scratch.
Morgan Frost became only the fifth Flyer in team history to score in his first two games but has not connected in the six games since then. “He’s one of those young players who has a great skill set,’’ Vigneault said. “But he’s got to put it together, have the right attitude, the right work ethic. So far that’s what he’s doing.’’
Arizona entered the game with a 9-3-3 road record, one of the best in the NHL.