Flyers Season of Growth, Youth Rewarded with Playoff Berth
It may have taken all 82 games, but the Flyers crossed the finish line on reaching the playoffs for the second time in three seasons.
In a year that was going to be defined by the usage of young players and their own individual growth, the Flyers have been rewarded for their dedication to building through prospects with a playoff berth.
Last season, when the Flyers missed the playoffs, GM Ron Hextall made it clear that the time was coming to give the kids a chance. On the season’s final day, the Flyers had 12 players age 25 or younger on the roster of 26 players.
This was a young team that had to learn as they went about an 82-game schedule. There was a lot of learning done early.
The Flyers didn’t come out in October with a dominant start, but had a respectable month going 6-5-1. On Nov. 9, the Flyers were 8-6-2 on the season. Then, the Flyers just couldn’t seem to win a game.
Ten straight losses followed, five coming in overtime. When the Flyers finished off the 10-game losing streak with a 3-0 blanking to the Boston Bruins on Dec. 2, they were 8-11-7 with long odds to make a playoff run.
The team had a closed-door meeting. The players insisted the team was going to break through and get better. They insisted the playoffs were still going to happen. Ron Hextall said the same.
When the Flyers snapped out of the losing streak, they put together a significant winning streak to turn the tide. They won six straight games in December. In January, two frustrating 5-1 losses were sandwiched between four-game winning streaks.
As January ended and February began, the Flyers lost four straight games. And then they almost couldn’t loss. The Flyers finished February with wins in 10 of the last 11, getting points in each game to enter March in first place in the Metropolitan Division.
But one loss started a snowball effect. The Flyers opened March with a 4-1 loss to Carolina, then lost the next four games as well. They beat Winnipeg, 2-1, on March 10, then lost the next two games in regulation to enter gameplay on March 17 with a 1-6-1 record in March.
From that point on, the Flyers were in every game they played. They got points in their next eight games, winning five. That still almost wasn’t enough. Tuesday’s loss to the Islanders had the Flyers on the ropes, essentially needing two wins to keep a clinching scenario completely in their control.
The Flyers held on against Carolina for a 4-3 win, then knowing that one point was enough to clinch a spot, steamrolled the Rangers, 5-0, on Saturday.
For a young team, mission accomplished. The Flyers are in the playoffs. But it is more than that.
The Flyers have a second line that features two rookies and a ton of chemistry. The Flyers top defensive pairing is a third-year player and second-year player. For guys like Nolan Patrick, Oskar Lindblom, Ivan Provorov, Shayne Gostisbehere, Travis Sanheim and Travis Konecny, this is as valuable an experience as it gets.
Beyond that, these young players are the reason the Flyers have a chance to compete in a playoff series at all. Sure, veterans like Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier and Jake Voracek have made a huge difference, but it’s a primarily young roster that might even be ahead of schedule in getting here.
The playoffs are the reward for the Flyers, who throughout the season trusted several young players with key roles. It provides a chance for these kids to rise to the occasion on a national stage.
It is on this stage that players like Giroux and Couturier announced their presence. It’s now time for guys like Konecny, Provorov and Patrick to do the same.
And for the rest of the hockey world watching, it’s a chance for the Flyers to provide a little taste of what is to come as the young core develops even more.
Kevin Durso is Flyers editor for SportsTalkPhilly.com. Follow him on Twitter @Kevin_Durso.