The Philadelphia Flyers are last in the Eastern Conference and have a long way to go to put a dismal early season behind them. Still, they feel a whole lot better after a couple of rousing victories that gave them their first winning streak of 2006-07.
Philadelphia (5-12-2) looks to conclude its four-game road trip with a third straight victory when it faces the San Jose Sharks (14-6-0) at HP Pavilion on Saturday night.
No team has fallen faster than the Flyers, who figured to be one of the league’s top clubs again this season after finishing with 101 points in 2005-06. However, a 1-6-1 start—the team’s worst in 17 years—led to the resignation of general manager Bob Clarke and the firing of coach Ken Hitchcock on Oct. 22.
The team hadn’t been much better under interim coach John Stevens, winning only two of its first nine games (2-6-1), including a six-game losing streak.
The Flyers, though, ended that skid in impressive fashion Wednesday, scoring five goals on their first 11 shots and going on to a 7-4 victory at Anaheim, the team with the best record in the Western Conference. Philadelphia pulled off an even more improbable 4-3 win Thursday in Los Angeles, scoring three straight goals in a 3:10 span of the third period.
“The whole key is that you keep playing, stick with it, get pucks deep and don’t give up hope,” Stevens said after the victory over the Kings. “I thought our guys showed a lot of resolve, and it was a huge win for us.”
R.J. Umberger scored the tying and go-ahead goals and Mike Richards finished with three assists for the Flyers, who won consecutive games on the same road trip for the first time since going 7-0-1 from Dec. 23-Jan. 6 in the first eight games of an 11-game trip.
“To win back-to-back games is a big building block for our team, and I think we are starting to come around,” Umberger said. “We’re getting good play from everybody. We knew we’d get our chances, and we just persevered and made it through.”
Philadelphia’s Southern California visit appears to have revitalized its offense. The Flyers’ 11 goals in the two wins equaled their total of the previous five games.
Veteran left wing Geoff Sanderson has goals in three straight contests after scoring once in his previous 12 games.
To extend their win streak to three, the Flyers will have to earn a victory in San Jose for the first time in more than seven years. They have two losses and a tie there since their last win Nov. 5, 1999.
Philadelphia could catch a break if Sharks right wing Jonathan Cheechoo is unable to play Saturday. Cheechoo, the NHL leader with 56 goals last season, sustained a left leg injury in Wednesday’s 4-3 win at Colorado and is listed as day-to-day. He has seven goals and eight assists this season.
San Jose had its four-game win streak snapped at Los Angeles on Monday, but rebounded to edge the Avalanche as Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau scored power-play goals 17 seconds apart in the third period.
The Sharks wouldn’t have had the chance to win in the third if not for the outstanding play of Evgeni Nabokov, who finished with 40 saves and stopped all 21 shots he faced in the second period. Nabokov proved he was fine after leaving his last start against Phoenix on Nov. 11 early with a stiff neck.
“We sleepwalked through the second period,” Sharks coach Ron Wilson said. “Fortunately for us, we woke up in time to score two power plays at the end.”
Nabokov has two wins and two ties with one shutout and a 1.76 goals-against average in five games against the Flyers.