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Hockey / Sports

Flyers in a groove before Olympic break

PHILADELPHIA -- Since their franchise-worst 1-7 start, the Flyers have gone 29-16-6, won 10 games with third-period comebacks, climbed into third place in the tightly contested Metropolitan Division, and shown that when they play as a team, they can compete with the NHL's elite.

And, so, yes, Team Resilient deserves some rest and relaxation. But in moderation.

With the exception of the team's five players who are competing in the Olympics, the Flyers have 10 days before their next practice and 18 days until their next game.

If they're not careful, that's a lot of time to eat, drink, get out of shape, and not be ready for the final 23 regular-season games.

In short, the non-Olympians must show discipline and work out on their own to avoid damaging their commendable last three months.

"Our players have to be ready to go "before we start practicing," coach Craig Berube said after the Flyers went into the Olympic break with their fourth straight victory, a 2-1 win over hardworking Calgary on Saturday. "I know you're going to take some time off and stuff, but make sure you're staying in shape and doing the right thing so you're ready to go."

When the Flyers return to the Skate Zone in Voorhees on Feb. 19, "we'll get five, six days of practice in, and then you've got a big stretch of games," said Berube, who has become a coach-of-the-year candidate. "The key is to be ready to go before we start practicing, and not work your way into practice. I want to get going right away when we get back and practice fast and hard."

Some of the players can benefit from the time off before they return to the rink. The players who are nursing injuries or not totally healed from them -- such as Nick Grossmann (shoulder), Vinny Lecavalier (back) and Zac Rinaldo (ankle) -- fall into that category.

"I've got to take care of some things in my ankle, so I have to relax and take it easy for a couple days and then I'll be back on the ice," said Rinaldo, the team's energy-supplying winger.

Rinaldo plans to work out and skate in his hometown of Hamilton, Ontario.

"Even if you don't get on the ice, it's important to ride the bike or go to the gym and get the wheels in motion," he said.

During the break, defenseman Braydon Coburn will skate back home with friends -- and his young daughter -- in Calgary. He also will be in the gym.

"It's important to get good rest, but you can always supplement it with a good workout, and I think that helps you recover, actually," Coburn said. "You feel better when you work out, anyway. Even if I wasn't playing hockey I'd be working out."

Winger Matt Read is among a handful of Flyers headed for a warm-weather vacation -- he's traveling to Turks and Caicos to golf and enjoy the sun -- but he will find time to stay fit.

"Right now you're in midseason shape ... and you want to do the little things each day to make sure" you don't lose it, Read said. "Go for a little run or do some kind of workout every day, so when you come back, you're still in the same shape and don't miss a step."

The Flyers have had all four lines contributing lately, and the lines have more balance ever since Berube put left winger Scott Hartnell back on the top line and dropped emerging rookie Michael Raffl to the fourth unit. Improved play from the defensemen and outstanding goaltending -- Steve Mason and Ray Emery have combined for a 1.34 goals-against average and a .958 save percentage as the Flyers have won five of the last six games -- have put the team in a good spot.

The Flyers play 14 of their last 23 games at home, which would seem to be advantageous.

"When you start thinking that way, you're looking for trouble," Berube said. "Home or road in this league, you've got to be ready to go. Teams are going to come in here looking for points. It'll be tough."

That said, the lack of long road trips should be beneficial.

"I think the month of March we have only one-game road trips," said Hartnell, whose play has improved dramatically in the last two months. "It seemed like in November and December, we were on the road the whole time and you're not sure what your hotel room number is. It'll be exciting to be home and get some groceries finally that don't go bad in the fridge when you're gone for a couple weeks."

Hartnell laughed. It was the laugh of a player who, like his teammates, had put the franchise's worst-ever start in the rearview mirror.

(c)2014 The Philadelphia Inquirer

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