Flyers are playing like road warriors

Confidence is a funny thing.

There is a reason why the Flyers — as do most

professional sports teams — employ sports psychologists.

Most players will tell you that it’s hard to have any

sustained success without them. The mind can trump talent on most

nights. On every team, it comes and goes during the course of a

season.

For the Flyers , it had been missing since a demoralizing 5-4

defeat on Nov. 23 in Colorado. But after a painful month-long

hibernation, it seemed to rear its head on Sunday on Long Island.

No, the Islanders, Hurricanes and Lightning won’t be confused

as Stanley Cup contenders. But as Ian Laperriere said at Flyers

practice on Monday, the only way to get confidence back is to win.

For the Flyers, life on the road has gotten them back on that

road. All three of the Flyers’ wins on this current six-game streak

have come away from home.

“We’re playing a lot better than we were,” Chris Pronger

said. “We’ve rattled off three wins in a row here that we

desperately needed. The road has been a place for us to kind of

relax and keep the game simple. We’re not trying to put on that

much of a show. We’re playing the game we know how to.”

“Sometimes you don’t try to be as fancy when you’re on the

road,” Laperriere explained. “It has worked for us in the past

three games.”

Scott Hartnell said Sunday that he thinks the Flyers have

their “swagger back.” Undoubtedly, some of the team’s recent

success is owed to the players that have returned to the lineup.

While still not completely healthy — goalies Brian

Boucher and Ray Emery are still out and Ryan Parent is suffering

from back spasms that have kept him off the ice since Saturday

— the Flyers’ forward lines have filled out.

Simon Gagne, Blair Betts and Darroll Powe are big upgrades

over Andreas Nodl, Jon Kalinski and David Laliberte.

In fact, last Wednesday in Tampa Bay was the first time all

season that the Flyers’ top 12 forwards had been in the lineup at

the same time. Arron Asham was a healthy scratch for the season

opener in Carolina.

The Flyers have also cut back on penalties. When Peter

Laviolette took over as coach, the Flyers took more penalty minutes

per game than any team in the NHL. The Flyers have been shorthanded

10 times in the last three games, for an agreeable average of three

times per game.

“I thought our discipline has been getting better,”

Laviolette said. “The last three games have been very good.”

Saturday in Carolina, the Flyers entered the third period

with a 3-0 lead but coughed it up. On Sunday, they clamped down on

defense. The Flyers outchanced the Islanders 16-5 for the game, but

didn’t allow a single scoring chance in the third period.

Laviolette has been preaching baby steps for the Flyers

moving forward. He knows that taking a step back tonight at Madison

Square Garden against the Rangers, possibly distracted by Friday’s

Winter Classic in Boston, the Flyers’ three-win progression will

have meant little.

“That Ranger game, I don’t know if there is a bigger game,”

Laviolette said. “I hope we’re not jumping the gun. The Winter

Classic is a great event, but the Rangers are right there. They

beat us the last time out. If we want to take another step forward,

we’ve got to go through the New York Rangers.

“It’s small steps. You can’t play for the Stanley Cup today.

You need to keep taking steps and getting better.”

With two points, the Flyers could be right back on the

playoff bubble. For this team, that isn’t an accomplishment, it’s

just bringing them closer to their goal.

“For sure, we’ve won our last three games,” Laperriere said.

“But everyone knows we’re not where we want to be. We know we still

have a lot of work to go.”