VOORHEES, N.J. – Not even 10 games have been played and already it’s safe to predict the NHL’s Metropolitan Division is in for a real dogfight this season.
That’s why the Flyers know a quick start is essential to get things headed in the right direction for getting into the way-off-on-the-horizon playoffs.
Philadelphia made it through its western Canada swing with a 2-1 mark and overall stands at 4-2-1 heading into Tuesday night’s home game against the Arizona Coyotes.
Even with that success, the Flyers already find themselves trailing 8-0-0 Carolina, 6-2-1 New York Rangers and 5-0-3 Washington along with an improved Columbus team. Plus, two teams trailing them – the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins – figure to get on track at some point in the near future.
So it’s incumbent on the Flyers to keep pace because they do not have a history of successfully chasing down playoff spots late in the season.
“It is,’’ said coach Alain Vigneault after Monday’s practice at the Flyers Training Center about the dogfight situation. “You just look at the teams in our division, it’s going to be a dogfight right to the end. All these games are extremely important in getting off to a good start. One of the things with the competitiveness of this league, it’s tough to catch up. We’ve going at this with a game-by-game mentality and that’s not going to change. We have to improve, improve our identity and I think we’re doing that.’’
Keith Yandle has been in the league for more than a thousand games, so he knows a quick start makes it much easier down the stretch.
“It (fast getaway) is huge,’’ Yandle said. “If you look around the league the past five, 10 years, the difference making the playoffs is always tight. I think to get out to a good start and play good hockey, you feel good about yourself, that’s a huge thing because there are going to be some times in the season when you’re not playing your best and you need to find ways to win and playing good early is definitely a piece.’’
>Passing grade for road trip
“I thought we played smart and hard in Edmonton (a 5-3 win last Wednesday) and Vancouver (a 2-1 win on Thursday),’’ Vigneault said. “Two very quick teams and we did the right things to limit their top players’ looks. The Calgary game (a 4-0 loss on Saturday) they were by far the better team on the ice.’’
>Ellis skates but not ready yet
Defenseman Ryan Ellis, who made the road trip but did not play, practiced for a while on Monday but Vigneault said he’s still not ready to be cleared to play as his nagging lower-body (hip/groin) injury limits his mobility.
“He’s not playing tomorrow,’’ Vigneault said. “If I would have known prior to the road trip that he wasn’t going to play, I wouldn’t have brought him. I would have kept him here and do his rehab here. We thought there was a possibility and that’s why we brought him. It didn’t work out. It’s taken a little longer than anticipated. Hopefully he’s able to take some strides and help us in the near future.’’
Vigneault said if Ellis can’t participate in a full practice on Wednesday, he will not go on the two-game trip to Pittsburgh and Washington from Thursday to Saturday.
>Hayes getting closer
Center Kevin Hayes, who’s been sidelined since undergoing preseason abdominal surgery, has been skating and doing drills. Now, Vigneault believes he could be ready to practice “in a few days.’’
“I saw Kevin after practice and he’s coming along real well,’’ Vigneault said. “I thinking in the next few days he will be joining the team for full practice.’’
Vigneault said the Flyers are being extra careful with Hayes because this was his second operation on the same injury and they want to make sure there isn’t another relapse.
>Shayne, come home
Shayne Gostisbehere, who was traded to Arizona for salary cap considerations in the offseason, makes his return to Philadelphia with the Coyotes on Tuesday night.
“I really like Shayne,’’ Vigneault said. “He always gave you the best of himself. He had some real good moments with our team, real solid on the power play, real good with puck retrieval. But at some point our organization had to make decisions, part of the business and to free up some cap space, we had to make a move. But he was good for the Flyers – I hope he remembers his time here as a good time.’’
>Aube-Kubel back on fourth line
After two healthy scratches, it looks like Nicolas Aube-Kubel will be back on the fourth line against the Coyotes and Patrick Brown might sit out.
“I wanted to take a look at Patrick, got to do that for two games,’’ Vigneault said. “He works extremely hard, wants to be a hard player to play against. Aube-Kubel sort of brings in the same element so we’re going to put him back in.
>Sanheim new player rep
Trevor Sanheim is the Flyers’ new representative to the National Hockey League Players’ Association, succeeding James van Riemsdyk.
One of Sanheim’s first duties was to listen in on a conference call with the NHLPA regarding the recent disclosures about the 2010 Chicago Blackhawk scandal involving a sexual abuse incident which wasn’t properly handled by the union or the NHL.
On Monday, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman apologized to the victim, Kyle Beach.
“I’m interested to see what it’s all about,’’ Sanheim said. “This position is new to me, I wasn’t even an assistant last year. “JVR wanted me to take it off his hands. I’m excited, I’m always interested with what’s going on in the game.’’