PHILADELPHIA – What a difference a year makes.
Last year, at this point in the season, the Flyers were stumbling toward oblivion, a downward journey which would end with a .500 record and a fourth postseason miss in the last seven years.
Fast forward 12 months and the whole scene has changed.
A new coaching staff, a handful of new players and perhaps most important of all, a new attitude.
The Flyers were looking for their 37th win on Friday night and that would tie them with last year’s total for the whole season.
And there’s still basically a quarter of the season to play.
The aforementioned attitude change started in training camp when coach Alain Vigneault, a proven winner, instilled a system which made it easy for the players to believe in themselves.
Which could why the Flyers are second in the NHL in third-period goals. They’re on pace to score over 100 goals in the final period, which has them currently ranked second behind only powerhouse Washington.
“The second and third periods, I think we’ve been strong all season long,’’ Jake Voracek said. “That’s real important for us. When it’s going down to the wire we can be confident about winning the game.
“We really haven’t had a bad slump throughout the season. I mean we lost a couple but we always knew that ‘we’ll be fine.’ It’s a different feeling.’’
Last week the Flyers were down 3-1 at Columbus but stormed back and won on an overtime goal by Kevin Hayes.
It’s that never-give-up philosophy that has brought the Flyers to within a handful of points of the Metro Division leaders (Washington, Pittsburgh).
“When you lose a game, you can look at it that you played well,’’ Voracek said. “If you play this way, you probably won’t lose the next one.
“I think we can be proud of the way we played (in losses to) Islanders, Tampa. You have to focus and re-group for the next game. You can’t change the past.’’
There are other stark differences. Last year the Flyers used a record-tying eight goaltenders. This year only three, and the third, Alex Lyon, only got into a couple games.
The additions of Matt Niskanen and Justin Braun have made the Flyers steadier on the back end.
“We are extremely deep,’’ Voracek pointed out. “Everytime someone is off scoring-wise, somebody else is picking it up. That’s what good teams do.’’
Scott Laughton’s 12 goals have already tied a career high. He’s been around some eight years and senses a different feeling with the current cast of players.
“The new additions (including Hayes) I think brought a presence to our team,’’ he said. “With the new coaching staff and everything, I think it was just a fresh start for a lot of guys. Kind of a reset for this organization.
“I think it was good for us to push throughout after the start we had and all the travel (including the season opener in the Czech Republic). I think it’s come down to how consistent we’ve played.’’
As for the coaching staff, the players know they have to play the right way or there will be consequences.
“It’s been really good,’’ Laughton said. “I think a couple of the biggest things have been accountability. Right from the get-go he (Vigneault) was holding the top guys accountable. It kind of trickles down to the guys later in the lineup.’’
>Vigneault moves past Rangers
Vigneault was set to play his former team, the New York Rangers, twice in the space of less than 48 hours.
At Friday morning’s skate at the Wells Fargo Center, he said playing against the Blueshirts now isn’t all that emotional. The Flyers had already played the Rangers three times, including two preseason games.
“Obviously I’ve got great memories,’’ Vigneault said. “I had a really good time with New York but I’ve moved on and I’m sure they’ve moved on, too.’’
>Penalty kill rolling
Over the past month or so, the Flyers’ penalty kill has jumped from 16th to ninth in the NHL. And it should only get better with the additions of Nate Thompson and Derek Grant in trades this past Monday.
The PK entered Friday night’s game on a 20 out of 22 kills run.
“It was slipping a little bit (in January),’’ Vigneault said. “Our PK this year has kind of been a hallmark of our team. We were getting big kills in big moments.
“Now we’re right back at it. I would say in an 82-game schedule you’re going to get some ups and downs on power play and penalty kill. We’ve fixed it (the PK) by going back to the principles. . .one goes, all four go; pressure, the blocked shots, just giving up shots that the goalie can make the save.’’