Flyers Can Go Into Break Enjoying Recent Results
It was two weeks ago that the Flyers started a stretch that no team in any professional sport would envy. In the course of a week, they faced a team tied for the NHL’s lead in standings points three times. The only other game in that stretch was against the league’s hottest team, rapidly climbing the standings on a nightly basis.
It started on Jan. 8 with a 3-2 regulation win over the Washington Capitals, the team with the NHL’s best record. Alain Vigneault went home that night to celebrate with a martini.
Tuesday’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins was one final marker against another of the NHL’s Top-5 teams.
At the end of a seven-game stretch that featured five of the top six teams in the league as of Wednesday morning’s standings, the Flyers came away with a 5-2-0 record. Against those five teams, they were 4-1-0 with the only loss being a 1-0 defeat to Tampa Bay. So forgive Alain Vigneault if he was in the mood to celebrate this win and going on a break the way it started.
“You know what I���m going to do? I’m getting on the plane tomorrow, I’m going on my pontoon and I’m having a martini,” the Flyers head coach said. “Maybe more than one.”
The Flyers can certainly go into the break feeling good about the recent results. They defeated the top two teams in the Metropolitan Division in regulation. They rallied from a three-goal deficit against the Atlantic Division leaders for a shootout win. They took the Western Conference’s best team to overtime and secured a victory.
You can even point to the Flyers win over the Los Angeles Kings, the worst team in the West, as impressive. The Flyers had to answer the call after a disappointing effort against Montreal. They made sure the game against LA didn’t get away and won it handily.
With their win over Pittsburgh, the Flyers improved to 19-6-4 in games against the Eastern Conference and 9-2-2 against the Metropolitan Division, two huge areas where the Flyers will no doubt need success. Why? Because there are a pile of teams competing for, at most, five playoff spots.
With records like that, you would think the Flyers wouldn’t need every result to sway their way within the division. But if the season ended today, the Flyers, tied for the 10th most points in the league, would miss the playoffs because of tiebreakers. Of the 10 teams tied or ahead of the Flyers in the standings, only two are from the Western Conference. Five are divisional foes.
When the Flyers get back from the break, they will be tasked with a similar stretch to the one just completed. Aside from two games against Detroit and New Jersey, the Flyers next 11 games feature nine matchups against Top-10 teams. In other words, if the Flyers have felt that this five-game stretch shows they can hang with the big boys of the league, this will really prove it.
“We have a lot of gamers on the team that love playing these types of teams, where you’re playing against top of the standings teams,” James van Riemsdyk said. “Obviously, we are still searching for this consistency night in and night out, but I think it is a good sign that, in these situations, we rise to the occasion.”
The Flyers will have to continue to rise to the occasion when the break ends. There are definitely points to be had against every other team they will face -- the non-divisional opponents where every point counts in this battle to make the Top-5 of the Metro and especially the Western Conference games, where the Flyers have just a 8-11-2 record.
But with nine days off now before a return to action, the Flyers get a break to reflect on where they are. They get a chance to recharge before a stretch run where they will need to be much more consistent than they were in the first half of the season.
“When we feel good and we play the right way and dialed in, I feel like we’re a pretty good team,” Claude Giroux said. “We have, obviously, a lot of work to do to be consistent. Teams that make the playoffs and make a run for it, they’re very consistent on the road and at home. So, we have some work to do, we know that, but at the same time, we’re happy with how we’re playing.”
For the first-year head coach, sure, things could be better. A team with the success the Flyers had have on home ice and within the division and conference should not have to be on the outside looking in on the playoff picture. But this is the reality of playing in the toughest division in the league.
What the Flyers can hang their hat on is that they have played with the best and managed to maintain pace, to the point where the final 32 games don’t feel like as much of a chase as in years past.
“I would say that we’re about on track to what I expected as far as bringing the team together,” Vigneault said. “I think the veteran players are buying in and what it takes to play winning hockey. It’s a battle. Every game is so hard.”
So it’s off to break for the Flyers, where they can pause feeling good about an excellent victory over Pittsburgh and recuperate. Because once they return, the battle will be on again.