California, here they come!
But other than a nice change in the weather for a few days, this trip out West figures to be anything but a vacation for the Flyers.
Even after whipping the injury-riddled Red Wings 5-0 Tuesday–only the fourth shutout of Detroit in franchise history—to snap a three-game losing streak, they know what they’ll be up against heading to Anaheim, L.A and San Jose within a five-day span.
“We’re going on a really tough road trip against some big opponents out West,’’ said Scott Hartnell, who celebrated his return to the top line with a pair of goals while captain Claude Giroux added a goal and two assists in the Flyers most decisive win since a similar 5-0 shutout of Ottawa, November 12. “We needed to get our confidence back, get our confidence high going into that trip.’’
This was a good way to start, as Hartnell got them going, then Adam Hall, Giroux and Sean Couturier scored to break it open against a wounded Wings’ team missing three of its top five scorers plus goaltender Jimmy Howard. Meanwhile Steve Mason looked more like the goalie that had been their savior most of the season than the one who’d been so shaky Craig Berube was forced to pull two of his last three games, stopping 33 shots to record his second shutout.
“When we’re playing the three teams we have coming up we’re gonna make sure we have to play our best hockey,’’ said Mason, who’d allowed 22 goals in his previous six starts. “Because if we don’t have it out there we are not going to win hockey games.’’
They start out tonight in Anaheim, where the Ducks merely have the best record in hockey (39-11-5), though they’ve lost two of their last three home games. Prior to that they’d gone 20-0-2 at their Pond.
Then, after trying to contain Ryan Getzlaf (61 points) and Corey Perry (58) and hoping to get the puck past Jonas Hiller (2.39 goals against), it’s on to L.A. Saturday That means a date with old friends Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Justin Williams, whom they’ll be facing for the first time since the Kings hoisted the Cup in 2012.
This year the 30-19-6 Kings are third in the Pacific, sixth in the West. They’ve been a little more vulnerable on their ice than Anaheim, and San Jose–last leg on this journey—but still a solid 16-7-3. Plus, goalie Jonathan Quick, who may well lead Team USA in Sochi in two weeks, is back healthy.
As for as a way to beat San Jose at the Shark Tank Monday, the Flyers will focus on Joe Thornton, the NHL co-leader in assists with 47, along with his prime beneficiary, 28-goal scorer Joe Pavelski. They’re two of the main reasons the Sharks have gone 19-3-3 on home ice, to go with Patrick Marleau (22 goals).
In goal will likely be a painful reminder of the past, Antti Niemi, who managed to stop just enough pucks to help the Blackhawks beat them in the 2010 Cup Final.
“It’s going to be a tough road trip,’’ said Jake Voracek, who hasn’t scored in five games, though his 38 points ties him with Wayne Simmonds for second in scoring behind Giroux. (50) “Obviously we’re playing three tough teams.”
“We got back on track in this one. Now we have to make sure we bring the same intensity on the road.’’
The Flyers may be bolstered by the return of enforcer Zac Rinaldo, who’s missed the last 10 games with a high ankle sprain. And it doesn’t appear as if defenseman Kimmo
Timonen, who left in the second period after blocking a shot with his foot, will miss any time.
Regardless, they know nothing will come easy on this trip, before they return home to face Colorado and Calgary, then head into the Olympic break a week from Saturday.
But that won’t stop them from California dreamin’ of coming home with at least a few points to stay in the thick of the tight Metropolitan Division and Conference playoff races.