PHILADELPHIA – The second half of the current hockey season will start next week for the Flyers and it’s safe to say if they can duplicate this first half, they will be a pretty happy bunch.
Going into Thursday night’s home game against Columbus, the Flyers were in a spirited battle for one of the eight playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.
Sean Couturier, the defacto leader of the team, met with the media before the Blue Jackets match at the Wells Fargo Center and one of the more prominent questions was about what the Flyers have to do to keep their unexpected lofty position in the standings.
A pair of losses to Calgary and Edmonton kind of put a damper on a just completed five-game road trip with started off in promising fashion but ended with a mark of 1-2-2.
Coach John Tortorella has made it known it’s only going to get tougher from here. By the end of January, the process of separating contenders and pretenders will be underway.
Do the Flyers have belief in their current identity?
“I think we kind of know our identity,” Couturier said. “I think it’s more, can we bring that to another level? As the year goes on, the games are going to get a lot tougher. The pace of the games is going to get faster. So we’re already playing pretty fast. But if teams catch up to us, we’re not at any adtantage. We need to take another step forward.
“I think the games are going to get more and more important; little plays are going to be important. I don’t think we’ve been playing bad lately. But we have to clean our game up.”
The Flyers have been playing uptempo hockey since early November and, according to Couturier, they need to get back to that.
“I think just playing fast again,” Couturier said. “Finding our confidence, our swagger again. Just doing the right little things consistently throughout 60 minutes.
“I don’t think we’re playing badly, just not good enough at this time of the year. We just have to find another level to our play.”
Some games just a mistake here or two can make the difference. In today’s NHL, you can’t let your guard down for a minute.
“It’s throughout a game, 60 minutes, there are different areas you can contribute, not mess up, that can cost you the game,” Couturier said. “It’s just cleaning up everything overall. We have to find another gear to our game and that’s what we plan on doing.”
Couturier plays a rather basic, simple game without a lot of flash or risk-taking. That approach would help a lot of other players on this team.
“We’re kind of shooting ourselves a little bit,” Couturier said. “We’re getting rid of the puck, trying to do the right thing, put it deep but a lot of times goalies play it. We can’t set any forecheck, any pressure.
“Offensively I think we try to make too many plays. We have to get back to just basic hockey. Get some movement. Go to the net and get some more dirty goals. Off the rush we’re creating. It’s more sustained offensive zone time that I think we have to find a way to create more chances.”
The losses at Calgary and Edmonton can show what happens when they get away from that philosophy.
“Last two games it’s maybe been a little on and off,” Couturier said. “Not as good throughout the game. I guess we just have to get back to playing our way and we’ll be fine.”
Couturier missed a season and a half due to a pair of back surgeries. It’s taken some time but he feels he’s close to a hundred percent. He’s now posted 24 points in 35 games prior to Thursday night.
“It’s hard to put any expectations on myself,” he admitted. “I really had a lot of questions even myself going into the year. I’m kind of happy personally how the year’s going and it’s getting better and better. I’m starting to feel pretty good about my game. I’m just trying to move forward and get better every day.”