Through 20 Games, Flyers at Same Mediocre Mark
For a solid 10 days, the Flyers were turning the corner...until they were not anymore.
The Flyers entered the final game of October with a dismal 4-7-0 record through 11 games. In the next six games, four on the road and two at home, they went 5-0-1, earning 11 of 12 possible points in the standings. Suddenly, the Flyers were 9-7-1 and back in the hunt.
But in three games last week, the Flyers suffered regulation losses to Florida and New Jersey and an overtime loss to Tampa Bay that only was because of a frantic four-goal rally in the final 10 minutes of the third period.
The momentum of the six-game points streak is gone, and a 9-9-2 mark and 20 points through 20 games is really not all that different from any other season under Dave Hakstol.
Just look at the three records after 20 games in the first three season under Hakstol.
- 2015-16: 6-9-5 - 17 points
- 2016-17: 9-8-3 - 21 points
- 2017-18: 8-8-4 - 20 points
The Flyers did make the playoffs in two of those seasons, but when you consider the path and process of the Flyers getting to 20 points this season, it is flawed and fragile.
The Flyers opened the season with a 5-2 win in Vegas. It would be another two weeks before the Flyers got a quality victory, a 5-2 win over the Devils on Oct. 20. They finally started to string together the end result on a road trip, but there were signs that winning wasn’t sustainable.
The power play was struggling until an outburst in Saturday’s overtime loss to Tampa -- where they went 3-for-5 after a 3-for-45 stretch. The penalty kill is an abomination, allowing an NHL-leading 22 goals in 70 times shorthanded. That’s a 68.6 success rate.
The Flyers have also worked around several injuries, notably in net. Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth have each missed time twice with injury. Cal Pickard was a waiver claim that has turned into a No. 1 starter. Alex Lyon is now the backup goalie. None of it is sustainable. The Flyers watched Elliott get hot and turn that into four wins in a six-game stretch. Pickard allowed four goals to Arizona on Nov. 8 and got pulled and allowed six goals on Saturday. Those are his last two starts.
While the Flyers do seem to be having better starts to games, better scoring depth and generally solid 5-on-5 play, they are losing too much ground on special teams and in routine defensive fundamentals coupled with poor goaltending that the results are often still the same, one step forward and two back.
In Saturday’s game, a lot of these flaws were clearly exposed. Nobody would bat an eye if the Flyers lost to Tampa Bay by a bit of a margin. The Lightning are certainly much better on paper than the Flyers. That said, the Flyers skated to a scoreless first period where they outplayed the best team in the Eastern Conference. They got through a large portion of the second without an egregious error defensively that set up Tampa.
Then Tampa struck for two quick goals. The Flyers got a goal back on the power play, and surrendered another late in the second period by allowing inside positioning at the net-front.
In the third period, two penalties gave the Lightning 1:28 of 5-on-3 time. It took Tampa just 10 seconds to score at 5-on-3. But then the Flyers had a complete breakdown off the ensuing face-off. It took 11 seconds for the Lightning to score again.
It’s the kind of discombobulation that was seen in an 8-2 loss to San Jose in the home opener, or when allowing two shorthanded goals on the same power play to Arizona or in a 6-1 loss to the Islanders before the six-game points streak. This Flyers team runs so hot and cold. And even at their best, there are still flaws.
The reason all of this is so important is because standings placement has been critical as the calendar hits Thanksgiving. By late November, if you are in the playoff picture, chances are you will be in the running in March and April when it counts. A week ago, the Flyers were in a tie for second in the Metropolitan Division, in the position you want to be in late November. Now, they are back on the outside looking in, two points back of third in the Metro, but just three points ahead of not only last in the division, but last in the Eastern Conference.
While the Flyers were probably due for a clunker soon enough, losing to Florida and New Jersey in regulation proves to be disappointing. Both currently trail the Flyers in the standings. New Jersey had just one win on the road entering Thursday’s game in Philadelphia.
Now, the next four games to close out November become of great importance to show that the six-game points streak wasn’t an anomaly. And they will have to do it against some stiff and upstart competition.
The Buffalo Sabres have been a very solid team all season, posting a 12-6-2 record and 26 points, good for third in the Atlantic -- though if Buffalo played in the Metro, they would be tied for the division lead.
The New York Rangers are in third in the Metro in a season where they were written off fairly early after an offseason that indicated rebuilding. That doesn’t seem to be the case.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have been a close second to Tampa Bay in the standings all season. If Tampa is arguably the top team in the East, Toronto at least makes it easy to round out the Top 2.
Finally, the Flyers face Ottawa, who despite having a few games that showcase their lowly roster in total rebuild mode, are ahead of the Flyers by a point in the standings.
And this is nothing new. It’s not the inconsistencies and struggles the Flyers display this season. It’s that penalty kill and goaltending and frustration setting in and mediocre Octobers and long losing streak have really become the norm of a Flyers season. If they don’t happen, it’s not your average Flyers season.
And that’s why this season, more than ever, people care. There are certainly moments fans don’t care as much as they used to because, to be frank, when something repeats itself enough, it becomes maddening and the only thing to do is make a change. And when the team won’t make the change, then the fans will and stop watching or going.
But the fans do care, because this was supposed to be a year where things take a step forward. Granted, there is a fine line between being on top in the division and last. Only nine points separate the Columbus Blue Jackets in first in the Metro and the Pittsburgh Penguins at the bottom. In November, that’s nothing, especially for a team like Pittsburgh who can easily turn things on and start a streak.
The Flyers have been able to turn things on and go on a winning streak too. You just saw it on the West coast. But it always seems like the next game is a big one, this season more than ever. The next game could define the season. Fall behind too often, you chase the games and the playoff race. Get ahead and the team could easily slip into a collapse or be forced to squeeze into the playoff picture.
This is gut-check time for the Flyers. They cannot enter December on another slide like they did last season. The results need to change and the play has to match it. And that’s a tough task for a team with so many problems, it’s mired in mediocrity.
Kevin Durso is Flyers insider for 97.3 ESPN and Flyers editor for SportsTalkPhilly.com. Follow him on Twitter @Kevin_Durso.