February 27, 2018 | 9:45pm ET
By Anthony Di Marco, The Fourth Period
SURGING FLYERS FUELED BY CHEMISTRY
Claude Giroux, captain
MONTREAL, QC -- The month of February is always an important time of year around the NHL. Not only does it feature the ever popular Trade Deadline, but it also usually serves as a measuring stick for where teams are at when it comes to the standings.
By late January, most teams will have a good idea as to whether or not they have a chance to challenge for the Stanley Cup (or even sniff the playoffs), while others will identify that it is just not their year.
For Ron Hextall, he had found himself in a rather unfamiliar spot this deadline. Unlike his first three seasons as General Manager, the Flyers’ chances of making the playoffs are not considered a long shot as we close out February. In fact, the Flyers are currently in first place atop the Metropolitan Division heading into Tuesday night.
The road has not been easy for Philadelphia. It was not too long ago the team’s season resembled that of an 18-wheeler tractor trailer going off of a cliff. A 0-5-5 stretch at the end of November (that spilled into December) left the Flyers in the basement of the Metropolitan Division, resulting in the fans at the Wells Fargo Centre calling for Coach Dave Hakstol’s head.
“We’ve been through a lot this year, it wasn’t easy, it wasn’t fun,” said Flyers captain Claude Giroux following Monday night’s 1-0 shootout win in Montreal, the team’s 10th win in 12 games. “But we stuck with it, we just kept working harder and good things happened.”
The team’s hard work has been evident and has paid off in spades, as Philadelphia has been on a remarkable stretch since early December. Since their infamous losing streak, the Flyers have gone 26-8-3, which is the best out of any team in the NHL during that time. If that’s not good enough, the Flyers have not lost in regulation in 12 games (10-0-2), the longest point streak the franchise has had since 2003.
“Who would’ve thought (this) two months ago,” said Sean Couturier when asked about the Flyers overtaking first place in the division. “We have this thing going right now, but at the same time we can’t be satisfied, there are a lot of games left and we have got to keep rolling.”
To put it frank, the Flyers are feeling it.
But despite the Flyers being the league’s hottest team and sitting in the top five of the Eastern Conference (currently fourth behind the Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins), Hextall stayed relatively quiet during the deadline.
After picking up goaltender Petr Mrazek in a much needed trade a week before the deadline, Hextall made just one other move, claiming veteran defenceman Johnny Oduya off the waiver wire from the free falling Ottawa Senators.
Oduya carries extensive experience and two cup championships on his resume, and should fit in nicely as the team’s 6/7 defenseman. With defenseman Mark Alt being claimed off waivers from the Colorado Avalanche, the addition of Oduya for depth is that much more important.
The team’s tight nit mentality has definitely been a contributing factor to the success. The majority of the group has been together for before this season, as Jori Lehtera, Brian Elliott, Mrazek, Patrick and Oduya are the only members of the roster who were not part of the organization last year. For a team that has been together as long as the Flyers, it’s nice to know that their General Manager has their backs and has confidence with the group that got them to where they are.
“We like our group, we’re pretty tight,” Couturier explained when asked about the passing of the Trade Deadline. “We stick together with whatever happens.”
The group of players that stuck together and pulled themselves out of that massive hole are poised for a playoff push, and will need to be just as resilient if they hope to make any noise come mid April.
While the Flyers stayed relatively quiet during the deadline, their division rivals made additions. The Penguins added yet another weapon to their offensive arsenal in centre Derek Brassard, while the New Jersey Devils added offensive depth in wingers Michael Grabner and Patrick Maroon. Getting out of the first two rounds will prove to be no easy task for any team.
Although the road will be tough, the Flyers have proven that they are prepared for anything that is thrown their way. The playoffs will be tough, but nothing will be tougher than the adversity this team has gone through this season.
“Chemistry is a big part of this,” Hakstol said of his team,” and that has been a major factor in our group being able to dig out of a big hole a few months back.”
Hakstol’s words speak volumes to the character of his team, and with the Flyers having their best month of February since 1975, there is every bit of reason to believe that this team is for real.
Hextall stuck by his players and coaching staff through the dark times, and his loyalty was greatly appreciated by the players. He showed faith in the team to get them where they are, and will allow that same group to carry them into the post-season. It is clear that there is a lot of brotherly love in the Flyers’ dressing room right now, and we will see if that will be enough to extend their season beyond the month of April for the first time in six years.