To a man they won’t use it as an excuse. Everybody was in the same 48-game boat, the players are quick to point out. They had the same chance of doing something special as the eventual Cup finalists, the Blackhawks and Bruins.
Yet now that the lockout-shortened season is only a bitter memory, now that things are back to normal in the NHL, the Flyers are confident they can be a team to be reckoned with.
“Last year, during the lockout, everyone did what they felt was best for them,” said defenseman Kimmo Timonen. “So it was kind of a weird feeling when we finally started. There wasn’t much practice time. Now, we’ve had a good training camp and preseason. Everybody’s healthy and ready to go.”
Being at full strength and conditioned to last over the long haul, there are many who think the Flyers still won’t have what it takes to change last year’s bottom line. While they should be bolstered up front by the addition of Vinny Lecavalier and Mark Streit on the back line, there are still questions about the defense and supporting forwards.
And that doesn’t even include the nightly game of musical goalies, with late-season sensation Steve Mason and free agent Ray Emery.
But, aside from a brutal 1-5-1 preseason, coach Peter Laviolette likes the product he’ll be putting on the ice. And if anyone should know how to rotate goalies effectively, it’s the man who once guided the 2005 Carolina Hurricanes to the Cup that way.
“We can’t use the lockout as an excuse for last year,” said Laviolette. “We made our bed and we laid in it. Other teams had the same shortened season and same amount of games, and they experienced success. But that’s last year and in the past. We’re looking toward to this year and moving in the right direction.”
The key, more than putting pieces together like captain Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek, Scott Hartnell and Lecavalier, to go with a veteran defense and a number of promising young forwards, is chemistry.
“What teams have on paper or what they pick up or lose in the summer, I don’t think matters as much as what they build together as a group,” said Laviolette. “It comes from guys in this room and how we come together. The identity and brand we create will be the difference between winning and losing.”
Last year, there was little of that. Yes, all teams had the same disadvantage. But for whatever reason, it hit the Flyers harder. Now, with enigmatic Ilya Brzgalov gone, there’s a general feeling of normalcy.
They are back to a normal schedule and routine, but they’re also playing in the new eight-team Metropolitan Division, part of a realigned East that now includes Detroit and Columbus.
“Whether we play in or out of the division, or out of conference, to put ourselves in position to qualify for the playoffs, we’re going to have to win some hockey games,” said Laviolette. “Once you do that, anything’s possible.”
Perhaps. Playoffs are certainly within reach for these Flyers, who need to finish among the top three in the Met or else grab one of the two remaining playoff spots among the fourth- and fifth-place finishers in each division. Beyond that, it’s unrealistic to expect much.
Then again, coming off a season which went wrong from the start, perhaps this is the year going back to basics is exactly what the 2013-14 Flyers need.