After playing 11 straight games outside of Philadelphia, the Flyers finally returned home on Saturday to play the Colorado Avalanche. The team with which Peter Forsberg amassed nearly 740 of his 801 career points. While the Flyers dropped a 4-3 overtime decision to the Avalanche, they were back on the familiar ice of the Wachovia Center for the first time since December.
When the Flyers left for their 11-game sojourn they were playing well and were sitting in second place behind the New York Rangers in the Atlantic Division. Fast-forward to the present and the team has launched itself into the number two spot in the entire NHL. At press time, they had yet to play league-leading Carolina, who they played Tuesday night. At that point, the Flyers had 63 points, tied with Ottawa, and were just one point behind the Hurricanes for tops in the league.
While playing in an NHL-long road trip, the Flyers seemingly found themselves and learned how to win in any way possible. They accrued an 8-2-1 record on the trip, with the regulation losses coming to New Jersey and Detroit. They also fell to Washington in a shootout. Prior to losing to the Devils, the team had secured a point in every game they had played. Out of a possible 22 points, the Flyers returned having earned 17 points. Not to shabby for an extremely lengthy, not to mention, unnecessarily long, road trip.
If the games went to overtime, there was a very good chance the Flyers were going to come out on top, which they did in all but one of the overtime games on the trip. On back-to-back nights, Sami Kapanen scored overtime game-winners, which is something you just don't see regularly.
So what's the point I am getting at? The Flyers left as a very good team, they return an elite team. While they did lose to Detroit and Colorado, it wasn't for lack of effort.
Entering the season the Flyers were a popular pick to win the Stanley Cup, but as the early part of the season progressed, many questioned whether they could compete with the makeshift lineup they had due to numerous injuries to key players. Currently, Keith Primeau, Eric Desjardins, Joni Pitkanen, and Robert Esche are shelved with injuries. That is just the current list, Kapanen missed 24 games, Forsberg and Gagne each missed some extended time, and countless other players have been forced to sit down with the injury bug.
How have the Flyers survived without their top players? They have an extremely deep and talent-laden minor league system. At this point, the Flyers have had 13 players from last seasons Calder Cup winning Phantoms squad play, and play well. Antero Niittymaki has been a rock in net in the absence of Esche. Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, RJ Umberger, Freddy Meyer, and Denis Seidenberg have played great in the absence of the top guys. Without the regulars, the subs have come up and the team seemingly not missed a beat.
These players know the system and come from a successful team, so that has helped the transition.
Can the Flyers continue their success now that they have returned home? All signs are pointing to yes, and the regulars are returning back from injuries, which should give the team a boost as it gears up for the stretch run after the Olympics.
If you have any comments or opinions about this column, email Nick Browne at email@example.com.