Feb 28, 2010, 11:00 AM EDT
I don't know about you, but returning to the office, school, or whatever daily grind gets in the way of devotion to your more primal interests is always particularly rough after a long time off. Getting back to it the week after Christmas or New Year's, we may not exactly be back to speed right away.
After a relatively long break of their own, the Flyers hit the ice tonight, starting a west coast swing that has them in Vancouver, Los Angeles, and Anaheim over the next four days. Then they kick off the new year on January 2 in Detroit and trade a home-and-home with the Devils before heading back to the road for four straight.
Back to work indeed.
The obvious question (if you read the title or follow the well-beaten path of easy sports storylines) is whether there will be any ill effect from the break. More specifically, will the Flyers fare better than they did last season, when the NHL's Olympic break took a chomp out of some positive momentum they'd been building?
The Flyers weren't among the league's elite when the Olympics started in mid-February, with a coaching change, injuries to their original goaltending tandem, and generally inconsistent play scuttling the promise of a great season. But they went into that break having won four straight, owning a 32-25-3 record, and looking like a team that was finally getting Peter Laviolette's challenging system.
Then they returned to action with, incidentally, a three-game road trip, only to get off to a 5-3-2 staccato start before entering a 1-4-1 tailspin to end the month of March merely at .500 (counting OTLs as the Ls they are). They backed into the playoffs with a .500 April, putting the wraps on a frustrating regular season.
However, despite a harrowing 5-0 loss just before the current break, the 2010-2011 Flyers have looked a lot more like the club that put together a brilliant playoff run than the one struggled to even qualify for postseason play, and it may have actually started at or around the aforementioned Olympic break. Despite its immediate aftermath, the break is the point at which Mike Richards previously recalled the Flyers really getting on the same page with Lavvy.
"Everything has been unpredictable, beginning with the coaching change that (inspired) a change in the way we play." Richards was quoted as saying in an article by Fanhouse's Lisa Olson in late May. "It wasn't until the Olympic break that we really felt comfortable with what he was trying to do." [Read Olson's entire post for one of the more interesting stories in Lavvy's biography. I forget—is lightning striking your wedding good luck or bad?]
The on-ice results may not have immediately shown the gelling Richards saw happening around the time of the Olympic break, but a month and a half later, the Flyers were certainly a cohesive unit. Now over a full year into Laviolette's tenure as coach and holding the second-highest points total in the league, they are clearly not last season's team. They still have an "off" night or two here and there, but they're far more consistent overall, and their lapses haven't lasted long.
Beating Boston, Montreal, Pittsburgh and the Rangers as part of a 7-2-1 December, they passed their biggest test of the season to date. They still have plenty more, starting with a tough road trip against some very good Western Conference teams, allowing no time to scrub off any rust after a week off and just two games in a 12-day period.
They've also been relatively healthy this season, with the caveat of having lost their originally anointed starting goaltender until now. Chris Pronger will be on the shelf for a while, putting the team's depth to the test, but they are otherwise the picture of health. And, unlike after the Olympic break, the schedule features only its ordinary rigors, no accelerated pace to make up the lost time. The Flyers are also said to be better conditioned than they were last season, owing to their first full campaign under Lavvy.
In short, while injuries will come and there will probably still be anotherconsiderable slump or two, we're not expecting a similar swoon to the one we saw after the Flyers' last extended break. Most of the faces are the same, but this is a different team.
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