The Flyers have put themselves in a pretty precarious position this week.
With consecutive losses to two teams that were, at game time, behind them in the standings, they’ve now stepped out on the precipice of their season.
Still clinging to a playoff berth, the Flyers suddenly find themselves facing a brutal stretch of games and need to dig deep to find the fortitude to hold onto that position or improve it.
Seven straight games against tough opposition began Thursday in Columbus, and if it was any indication of how the Flyers are going to play, it’s not a good sign.
A 5-2 loss to the scorching-hot Blue Jackets dropped the Flyers (25-21-6, 56 points) into fourth place in the Metropolitan Division and they’re just two points ahead of Detroit for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference – and the Red Wings have two games in hand on the Flyers.
In the game against the Jackets, much like the game against Carolina Wednesday that the Flyers lost 3-2, they seem to be suffering from the same simple mistakes over and over again.
Coach Craig Berube identified it as poor defense, bad breakouts, too many penalties and spending too much time in their own end of the ice – and he’s right.
These are the things that ail the Flyers, no matter how much better or more prolific the offense has become.
“We need to do a better job defensively and follow the system,” Claude Giroux said during a televised postgame interview. “Everyone needs to play better. The last two games I don’t think [we competed hard enough]. We have to work better as a team. We’ve worked better individually but not together. We’re not supporting each other. But that’s going to change and we’re going to start winning again.”
And if the Flyers are going to do that, they’re going to have to run a gauntlet of sorts. There are seven games remaining before the Olympic break. Four of them will be played at Wells Fargo Center, the other three are on the road.
But the first six of those seven is as daunting as a baseball closer without his best stuff coming into a game with the bases loaded and no outs trying to protect a one-run lead against Murderer’s Row (bonus points to the under-30 sect who can name the members of Murderer’s Row in the comments section below… without looking it up!)
First up is Boston, then Detroit before a West coast trip against three of the best teams in the game in Anaheim, Los Angeles and San Jose before coming back home to meet Colorado.
“The Last few [games] have been frustrating,” said Ray Emery who made 34 saves – and still allowed five goals – in a postgame interview that was televised. “We have tough patches in our game and teams have been capitalizing.”
And the teams that have done it are the likes of Nashville, the New York Islanders and the Hurricanes.
The Blue Jackets are no longer a slouch and they did it too – and it was glaring. There’s no reason to think that any of the next six opponents won’t be as opportunistic, if not more so, if the Flyers fumble pucks like they have of late.
It’s pretty safe to say that the Flyers need to come out of these next seven games with eight points to feel good about where they are heading into the Olympic break.
Go .500 in the six-game, land-mine filled maze and the beat Calgary – because you should.
Fans can’t chortle at a 3-2-2 mark. Anything less could be dangerously bad. A complete meltdown could cost them a shot at the playoffs.
Regardless, the loss to Columbus should be the needed wake up call for the entire team. They seem to have deviated from the gameplan – and gotten out of the systematic hockey that brought them so much success for much of the past two months.
That run made it obvious that these Flyers have what it takes to play the right way and win hockey games, now they just got to get back to that – and they have to do it in the midst of their most difficult portion of the schedule.
However, if they can, they will find themselves much better off over the final 20 games of the season then if they don’t.
NOTES: The Flyers have gone three games without a win for the first time since Dec. 7-11, when they were also 0-2-1 in three games. Their 2-4-2 record (six points) in the last eight games is their lowest point total in an eight-game stretch since the group of games that resulted in a 3-9 start to the season… The Flyers dropped their fourth consecutive game in Columbus, where their last win came in December 2005… Vinny Lecavalier scored a power play goal, his second goal in the last six games. The Flyers now have at least one power play goal in six of the last eight games…The Flyers were outshot 39-28, marking the fourth time in the last five games they’ve been outshot. They’ve allowed an average of 36 shots per game in that span… Brayden Schenn scored and led the Flyers with five shots while also recording a hit, a takeaway and winning his only faceoff of the night. He now has three goals in the last five games… Andrej Meszaros had an assist and now has six points in his last six games. Meanwhile, Wayne Simmonds and Scott Hartnell both had their five-game point streaks snapped.
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PHILADELPHIA – Ray Emery might have a losing record. His overall stats, at a glance, might not seem all that impressive.
But if you look closer, and sift through a few things, you’d find that Emery has truly been invaluable at times for the Flyers this season.
Emery has six wins and one shootout loss. That’s 13 of the 56 points the Flyers have to this point this season.
And with the exception of the win he picked up as a relief pitcher for Steve Mason against the Islanders last Saturday – one in which he faced only five shots in 26 minutes (stopping them all) as the Flyers stormed back for a victory – it can be argued that Emery was primary reason the Flyers picked up 11 of those points.(Click "Full Story" for more...)
UNIONDALE, N.Y. – Matt Read didn’t have a bet with the coach of the Iceland hockey team, and no, he doesn’t want the nickname Gordon Bombay.
But when he plays the New York Islanders, he simply finds ways to score, whether by knuckle puck or by hitting three bars – as he did in the Flyers 4-3 shootout loss to New York Monday.
Read scored two goals Monday – his third two-goal game this season. One goal was shorthanded, the other even strength. Both came courtesy of power moves down the left wing and sniper-skill shots to the top corners of the net.
The shorty went far side off the right post to give the Flyers a 1-0 lead in the second period. The 5-on-5 tally hit left post, crossbar and plopped down into the net. He now has 15 points (10 goals, 5 assists) in 14 career games against the Isles.(Click "Full Story" for more and videos of his goals...)
VOORHEES, N.J. – The first line and the third line wore orange. The second line and the fourth line wore white. The defensemen wore black.
And then there was one shadowy figure in grey, wearing a tinted visor fully participating in practice.
To say it was a surprise to see Marc-Andre Bourdon on the ice Sunday would be an understatement.
Almost a forgotten man in the Flyers organization, sidelined for the past 14 months with post-concussion symptoms, there was some belief that the one-time Flyers prospect may never play hockey again.(Click "Full Story" for more..)
PHILADELPHIA – The timing of Steve Mason’s contract extension with the way things went for him in his first game as a $12 million man couldn’t have been worse.
After all, Mason was the “victim,” as coach Craig Berube called him, of some shoddy play in front of him and had to be pulled from a game in which the Flyers eventually came back and won 6-4 over the New York Islanders.
Giving up four goals on 24 shots in just 34 minutes of work is not indicative of what $4.1 million a year goalies are paid to do.
However, despite a more up-and-down stretch of starts for Mason in the past few weeks, trying to pin the blame on him for any of the four goals allowed would be ludicrous.(Click "Full Story" for more...)
In a seven-game audition last season and through 36 appearances so far this season, Mason made his case.
And today, the Flyers rewarded him.
PHILADELPHIA – To see Andrej Meszaros jump up from center ice into a play, take a pass, fire a shot and score a goal with three seconds left in a period, and then celebrate with a thrusting fist pump was like climbing into a time machine.
It was so 2011.(Click "Full Story" for video and more...)
PHILADELPHIA – When Scott Hartnell came back from a fractured foot last season, he decided to wear skate guards to protect his feet for the remainder of the season.
But, old habits die hard, and Hartnell started this season without the guards – a plastic outer shell that surrounds the soft part of a skate boot – once again tempting fate.
Considering what happened in Buffalo Tuesday, he's got to wonder if he's got a little rabbit DNA, because the status of his left foot can only be described as lucky.(Click "Full Story" for more...)
BUFFALO – What a difference one month makes.
Scott Hartnell didn’t register a point in the month of October. He scored a goal on November 5 and over the span of the next 40 days had all of 12 points (a span of 20 games).
In the last month the Flyers have played 14 games. Hartnell has 14 points.(Click "Full Story" for more...)
BUFFALO – Chris Vandevelde figured his fate had destined him to go to Europe.
That was until he received a late summer phone call from a friend’s father.
“I didn’t have much going in the summer and I was talking [with my agent] about going overseas,” Vandevelde said. “Then I got a call from Ron Hextall and I signed an AHL-only deal.”
Vandevelde knew the assistant general manager of the Flyers because he was teammates and friends with Hextall’s son Brett in college at the University of North Dakota.
Hextall got to see a lot of Vandevelde, and when the Flyers were looking for depth forwards who could come up to the big club in a pinch and be versatile enough to play in multiple roles, he immediately thought of his son’s former teammate.
And even though Vandevelde could have gone to play somewhere in Europe, taking an AHL-only deal had him closer to the NHL and a shot at getting back to the big show, so he decided to stay stateside and see what happened.(Click "Full Story" for more...)